The 10 biggest race and pop culture trends of 2006: Part 1 of 3

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

On episode 12 of Addicted to Race back in January 2006, Jen and I counted down the top trends of the previous year, 2005. They were: DNA tests, hate crimes, celebrities talk about race, how can I be racist? I’m in an interracial relationship!, blackface is back, race still black and white only, more products for mixed people and families.

I figured I’d continue that tradition by breaking down the top trends in race and pop culture of 2006. Thanks to everyone who submitted their ideas. Here are some honorable mentions that didn’t make it into my list as stand-alone items, though you’ll see that almost all will be mentioned as part of other items: non-apologies, anti-PC movement, comparing races, un-PC humor, all things Africa, black and gay half-brothers on sitcoms.

And by the way, be sure to check out Rachel’s Been There Done That List of Unfashionable Racial Issues and I’m So Hot I’m on Fire List of The Most Fashionable Racial Trends of 2006 .

So here we go with numbers 10 through 8 of my list. Check back tomorrow for 7 through 4, and Wednesday for the top 3.

10. Race-swapping undercover experiments
9. Hipster racism
8. The continuing obsession with interracial relationships

10. Race-swapping undercover experiments

TV during the first quarter of 2006 was all about undercover experiments, so much so that I actually wrote a post about it in late February. (And the queen of undercover experiments was undoubtedly Miss Tyra Banks.)

Not all of these experiments had to with race:

  • Tyra Banks goes undercover in a fatsuit to examine prejudice against overweight people
  • Journalist Norah Vincent goes undercover as a man and writes the book Self-Made Man : One Woman’s Journey into Manhood and Back
  • Tyra Banks dons “trashy clothes, a latex nose and a wig to disguise herself as a sexy dancer and took a secret film crew into a strip club” to expose the “sleazy world of strippers and pole dancers.”

But a great many of them were all about race:

  • The most notorious example was the reality series Black.White. on FX, in which a white family put on blackface and a black family put on whiteface to see what it was like living as a different “race.” As you can imagine, it was festival of racial stereotypes in which nobody learned anything constructive about anything.
  • Tyra Banks sends a black woman (who on a previous show declared she hated black women) out in whiteface to try and get at “the root of her hate.” She also sent the black/white mixed writer Angela Nissel (whom I interviewed on episode 24 of Addicted to Race) on dates “both as a black woman and as a white women to see if they treat her differently.”
  • Even Oprah got in on the race-swapping fun when she entered “The Human Race Machine” to see “what she looks like white? Asian? Hispanic?” Ugh!

Sometimes the race-swapping wasn’t done in an undercover fashion, but simply by putting a black person in a white community or a white person in a black community (because you know, those are the only two races that count on TV).

  • Dr. Phil did a god-awful episode about race in which he forced a white racist to spend two whole days with a black family in an effort to “cure” him of his racism. You can my rant about it in episode 13 of Addicted to Race.
  • Trading Spouses did an episode in which the Josephs (a black family from Harlem, NYC) and the Gibbons (a white family from Mendon, Massachusetts) swapped spouses.

9. Hipster racism

This is a trend we noticed back in 2005, at the height of the Kill Whitey parties and Blackface Jesus . It was still going strong in 2006 and unfortunately, began spilling over into non-hipster demographics (as you’ll see later on in the list).

  • The hipster label of choice, American Apparel, continues to showcase exploit biracial and multiracial models in its quasi-pornographic ads, often explicitly spelling out their mixedness by listing out their ethnicities (e.g., “Meet Carrie, Chinese/British/Canadian”). The New York Times picked up on this in April, writing that founder “Charney embraced the notion of “real” advertising, photographing young ethnic and mixed-race men and women with asymmetrical features, imperfect bodies, blemished skin and visible sweat stains on the clothes they are modeling.”
  • Sandra Bernhard appeared on The View in June and claimed responsibility for the success of Mariah Carey’s Emancipation of Mimi album. “Bernhard said it was her jokes eight years ago about Carey “being black only when it’s convenient” that led to the singer’s nervous breakdown, which eventually resulted in this current emancipation.”
  • John Mayer, some of whose best friends are black (Kanye) if you didn’t know, for some inexplicable reason tried his hand at stand-up comedy in June and supposedly used the n-word multiple times on stage. There were conflicting accounts of what exactly went down though, see here for a different take.
  • Gwen Stefani has been criticized by many thinking people, including Margaret Cho, for her using Asian women as living props who are contractually obligated to only speak Japanese even though they’re all American. In November she told Entertainment Weekly that Cho had it all wrong:”She didn’t do her research! The truth is that I basically was saying how great that culture is. It pisses me off that [Cho] would not do the research and then talk out like that. It’s just so embarrassing for her. The Harajuku Girls is an art project. It’s fun!” If that wasn’t rich enough, Stefani then explained how racist everybody else was! “Everybody’s making jokes about Japanese girls and the stereotypes. I had no idea [I’d be] walking into that.”

8. The continuing obsession with interracial relationships

Mixed race identity may be so over, but interracial relationships are still a source of fascination. The hype train kicked off right at the beginning of the year with the release of Something New (hear our review of it), the romantic comedy starring Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker, in January.

  • Something New prompted the publication of tons of articles like this one from The Washington Post, exploring interracial relationships (black/white only, of course) and the supposedly grim prospects for marriage of African-American women. It also inspired a pretty horrendous episode of Oprah organized along some of the most tired stereotypes out there: hair (why do black women stay in the hair salon for so many hours?), sex (once you go black, you never go back), dancing (guess who does it badly?), family differences (white people play bingo, black people play spades). Later in the year we also saw this stereotype-riddled article from Essence, leading me to write the post “Black women don’t give head, and other lessons learned from Essence.”
  • We started seeing more and more interracial couples in TV commercials. Virgin Mobile ran an ad campaign around a character named Cindy Yu, whose parents are an Asian woman with a vaguely Chinese accent and a Ali G-style white man. Helio recreated a guess who’s coming to dinner scenario, with a white girl bringing her Asian boyfriend. Volkswagen did almost the same exact setup in their Jetta ad, only with an Asian woman bringing home her white boyfriend. And of course, the much-commented-upon Mastercard commercial featured an white man and Japanese(-American?) woman getting engaged, and meeting each other’s families.
  • We saw dueling trends in the interracial marketplace. Many articles used Something New’s release as an excuse to publish fluffy trend pieces claiming that the biggest trend out there was black women deciding to date white men. ColorLines magazine though, claimed that the new trend was all about Asian women with black men. Then, following the release of the documentary Heading South, we heard that the real trend was all about white women engaging in sex tourism in “exotic” places like Haiti.