Are teens learning about racism from reality TV?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

That’s what Anastasia Goodstein argued recently on The Huffington Post. But what do you all think?

Here’s an excerpt from her post:

Where are teens learning about race and racism today? On reality TV, of course! Teenagers aren’t listening to Ivory Tower (how funny that the tower is ivory) academics on CNN or TV-friendly talking heads like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. The new forum for the unfiltered discussion of race has become reality TV.

It started years ago with “The Real World,” where racial tension seemed to be a prerequisite for casting. And in the past year we saw “Survivor” attempt to divide its teams according to race and Ice Cube attempt to have black and white families swap identities in “Black. White.” There is the unnerving minstrel quality to “Flavor of Love,” and we even see mixed race couples on “Wife Swap.” In many ways it’s the “unscripted” nature of a lot of reality TV and its casting of real diverse Americans from different socioeconomic backgrounds that gives us a sharper sense of race in America than scripted dramas with multicultural ensembles. I also happened to catch a pretty shocking discussion of interracial couples on The Tyra Banks show awhile back, which is very popular with teens…

…We all know that most reality TV is far from complex, at least on the surface. It’s over-simplified, raw ratings-grabbing conflict aired without a discussion guide — and kids and teens love it. At the same time, I think it offers an opportunity for parents and adults working with youth to use these types of programs as a jumping off point to talk about race and racism. I’m a believer in using pop culture as a teaching tool. I think racism for this generation tends to be more unconscious than conscious, but a dose of reality could help bring these issues to the surface.