by Latoya Peterson
(Yes, I know Mad Men is about a bunch of white people in the era of segregation. No that does not let the writers off the hook for this bootleg ass characterization. I’ve written pages and pages on this, but I’ll sum it up in two words: Rachel Menken. She provided context without becoming a main character. That’s all we’re asking for people.)
Don argues with his new (and ethnic?) maid Cecelia. My friends and I couldn’t come to a conclusion if she was coded Italian or Puerto Rican, with more votes for Italian.
Characters of Color may be out of luck in this episode, but there was an errant civil rights reference: Andrew Goodman, one of the civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964, was referenced by Don’s Betty-clone on the date. She mentioned they were killed, but doesn’t go into the details. The three workers (Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner) were lynched by the members of the Ku Klux Klan, but the murders were facilitated by local law enforcement. It was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, one in which the nation had to face the facts that the racial climate in America led to the deaths of three idealistic twenty-one year olds, who were murdered and stuffed into a dam.
However, the reference struck me as a bit strange. Many American Jews were fixtures in the civil rights movement, and the “Freedom Summer” event was reported to have one of the highest levels of participation by American Jews. However, in Mad Men, most discussion of Jews is framed as anti-Semitic jokes, open curiosity, or thinly veiled contempt. Don’s companion mentions Goodman’s identity lightly, as if she were noting an interesting non-sequitur about someone who died in a freak accident, not race related violence. While she was uncomfortable, it was more random table conversation than any actual reflection or fear. But the scene did remind me of something – It is important to note that while I often point to Rachel Menken as an onscreen representation of being able to give voice to minority characters in the style of Mad Men‘s created world, her appearance began and ended in season one. And since then, the lens has continued to close, leaving less and less room for the voice of the “other” to be heard. Sal is gone; the alleged “greek chorus” (Hollis), who people seemed to hope would have a larger role, is back in the old building; Don is selling the house and employed a new housekeeper, leaving Carla’s fate uncertain; and even the extras appear to be on a fade.
But no worries – through small references and slight of hand, the writers will allude hey, we know there were black people then. Unfortunately, that’s as far as it goes. And where there is so much potential to develop plots that deal with race, the attitudes of the writers are eerily current. It’s okay to remember the past, but it is verboten to apply historical events to our current realities.
Remembering the past is easy – it’s learning from our history (not erasing it, not sanitizing it) that’s hard.
About This BlogRacialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable
Keanu ReevesJohn Cho newsflashes.
Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at email@example.com.
The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.
Comments on this blog are moderated. Please read our comment moderation policy.
Use the "for:racialicious" tag in del.icio.us to send us tips. See here for detailed instructions.
Interested in writing for us? Check out our submissions guidelines.
Follow Us on Twitter!
- Dyke Central on Queer Web Series Worth Watching
- Someguy on On Wayne Brady’s Rebuking of Bill Maher
- Rachel Kantstopdaphunk on Race + Higher Ed: Fear not, Suzy. You’re still #1!
- Shawn0680 on Table For Two: Star Trek Into Darkness
- Fifty Shades Of Erin Gray on A Few Thoughts On Star Trek: Into Darkness
- Race + Higher Ed: Fear not, Suzy. You’re still #1!
- Table For Two: Star Trek Into Darkness
- Watch: Fruitvale Station Has A Trailer And An Opening Date
- Short but Sweet: Kim Ho’s The Language Of Love
- Will Best Man Holiday Usher In A New Golden Era Of Black Rom-coms?
- Book Excerpt: “Seeing Things” from Godless Americana
- Race + TV: Four Summer Shows From Across The Pond
- A Few Thoughts On Star Trek: Into Darkness
TagsABC activism advertising african-american asian asian-american barack obama black blackface celebrities comedy culture diversity fashion feminism film gender glbt HBO hip hop hispanic history hollywood identity international interracial relationships latino media mixed race movies music muslim politics race racial stereotypes racism religion sex sexism sexual stereotypes stereotypes tv Uncategorized white youtube