When will Glee stop ignoring race?

By Guest Contributor Tami Winfrey Harris, cross-posted from What Tami Said

I’m not quite a Gleek, but I do regularly record and watch Glee. It can be treacly and inconsistent, but I live for the moment when Chris Colfer busts out a Broadway classic like last night’s “As if we Never Said Goodbye.” The song occurred in the middle of the show’s much-hyped “Born This Way” episode, centered around the Lady Gaga song. The episode, which found the choir kids battling their insecurities, led to a denouement where they sang the Gaga anthem while wearing tees emblazoned with the natural traits they wrestled with most.

Rachel’s shirt read “Nose.” She had earlier decided against getting rhinoplasty that might erase one marker of her ethnic heritage. Kurt’s top read “I like boys.” And, in this episode, we saw the close of a storyline where he is bullied at school because of his homosexuality. Britney’s read “I’m with stoopid”–a nod to the running gag that is her questionable intellect. Mercedes, the sole regular black character on the show, wore a shirt that said “No weave.” I’m not sure exactly what her insecurity is. Does she hate that she wears a weave? Does she not wear a weave, but thinks she should? In this (customary) ignoring of Mercedes’ character development, Glee missed a chance to provide a window into what it’s like to be one of a very  few students of color (particularly a black girl) at a majority white school.

When I’ve complained in the past about Glee leaning on the fat, black and sassy trope for Mercedes, someone reliably counters that all of the show’s characters are stereotypes. Except the show has bothered to explore the real people behind “the gay kid,” “the pretty, blond cheerleader” and “the tough guy,” etc. Not so with Mercedes. And not so with the other characters of color, save Santana. As far as we can tell, Mercedes has no family or home life. She has no friends outside of glee club. She has no ethnicity, but for what can be demonstrated by Aretha-style wailing and that one trip to “the black church.”

And, on a show full of teen-aged hookups, Mercedes is alone among all the glee kids in having zero love life. It’s not because she is a geek, because all the main characters are geeks. It’s not because of her weight, because Lauren has shown that a girl can be big, bad and beautiful and has won Puck’s affection. So….what is it about Mercedes that makes her particularly undateable at McKinley High School? Being “the only” or one of a few in school has unique challenges, not the least of which is dating. I am reminded of my experience being one of very few black students in an overwhelmingly white college, and the stories my friends told of being one of a handful of black girls in high school. And just this week, my stepson and nephew were explaining to me how the few black girls at their schools “just stick together” and “don’t really date.”

I suppose Glee has got the marginalization of black girls and women down, except that the show never addresses it. That makes me think Glee is not building up to deeper exploration of Mercedes, but simply treating black female characters in the way they are always treated–as hook singers, as comic relief, as funny sidekicks, as advice givers, as checks on the inclusiveness scorecard, but never as fully-actualized human beings.

Glee, like most other shows, presents the experiences of white America and assumes that those experiences represent everyone. I suspect that the writers of Glee believe that in our post-racial America, teens of color would face no unique issues in a happy, middle class high school in Ohio. We have progressed far enough that we can refer to two characters as “Asian and Other Asian” and everyone will get that it’s just a harmless joke from a clueless and cartoonish character. (Except that a friend of mine told me that, throughout high school, her fellow students really did regularly called her by the name of the only other Asian student.)

I realize the implications of Mercedes performing the closing number with “Black” emblazoned on her shirt. I’m not suggesting that…or maybe I am. I suppose I’m saying that in an episode where the main characters are exploring the things that make them different, having the only black girl NOT mention what anyone who has ever lived through the same situation knows damn well would likely be a way bigger insecurity than hairstyling seems a cowardly and clueless move from writers who have been smart and aggressive about tackling other topics.

Glee‘s writers owe it to the Mercedes character to learn how to write a black, female teen. Surely both the viewers and the wonderful Amber Riley deserve more than another sassy cipher.

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  • Jess

     You know what else is annoying? Jezebel had a discussion on this very topic that Mercedes is the sole Glee character who has never had a romantic relationship. The Jezebel posters solutions was to write in a new black character, because you know she couldn’t date an existing character on the show. you know she couldn’t date an existing character on the show.

  • Anonymous

    Seriously? You think Mercedes lacks versatility? Did you hear her jazz duet with Puck?! 

    The Lady is a Tramp: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlMcxnMv0B8
    That is one of my absolute favorite songs. They don’t let her sing much outside of the “black diva” box and that is not the character or actress’ fault. They design the show to favor Rachel. End of story.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1130483506 Cleo Hines

    Actually, being in a glee club all through high school, and singing for most of my life, I can tell you that both Amber Riley who plays Mercedes and Naya Rivera who plays Santana have more vocal range and versatility than the girl that plays Rachel (don’t know her name, don’t care she annoys me) River Deep Mountain High anyone? Or did you see the episode where Naya sang that song she wrote about Sam’s lips as a Jazz rendition? The Rachel characters voice is more suited to Broadway, that very contrived way of singing that wrings the life out of music and makes it very stilted and unreal (I DVR and fast forward through most of her solos), the producers of the show seem to prefer that style of music overall btw, she can’t sing a pop song to save her life as evidenced by the way she mangled Firework, when I first heard that song and saw the video I actually cried, and she managed to suck the emotion out of it, Katy Perry must have been pissed. You can’t blame the actress (Amber Riley) for the material she’s been given particularly when all she mainly does is belt out the last few bars on a song, nor the pigeon hole she’s been put in. I for one, after watching 43 episodes of Mercedes being ignored I’m ready to jump ship.

    • Anonymous

       Agree. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I would love to hear more of Mercedes, Santana, Tina and the others. 

  • Rez

    Concerning the Prom episode, Mercedes wanting to find a prom date was a small plot point. In short, she was set up with Sam by Rachel. They danced, he called her beautiful, but they didn’t spend that much time together. Unfortunately, more time was spent with Finn being pissed over the return of Jessie St. James.* I can only assume the pairing will be dropped by next episode.

    *The shows, besides songs, gives a lot of story lines to Finn and Rachel. They get at least one an episode.

  • Emily R

    I so much appreciate what you have said above. I am a White individual, and I have come to realize that many other Whites are guilty of ignoring race and its implications, and with this they believe they are being “colorblind” and doing the right thing. However, race greatly affects all aspects of life, and needs to be addressed if any sort of equality will ever be reached.

  • http://profiles.google.com/freedmelanee Melanee Murray

    I agree one hundred percent with the post and my gripe is part of a larger issue about the whitewashing of American culture. The biggest affront for me is that Glee is a show about music and to a certain extent=musical theatre, which has its roots, believe it or not, in the African-American community. Music has been one of the most obvious contributions of blacks in America, and yet, there is no black “high school musical” version on television or film. Every single white pop song that they do on Glee can trace some of its major influences to black music. This whitewashing of our collective American culture is very disheartening and depressing to me on so many levels.
    I went to an arts high school and it was sixty percent black. I really do feel like there is so much diversity within the black people, so many different stories, and so many different types of black people. Our stories and characters are interesting and intriguing. I went to an arts high school in Baltimore, and I think it would be great if someone could do a story about the black, artistic people in the home of The Wire and Homicide. But alas, black people are only interesting if we are steeped in crime and corruption. It seems like it’s so hard for America to look at stories about us, despite how interesting our stories are. Why is that?

  • http://literarylens.org Lauren Felton

    The only other time Mercedes has ever mentioned her hair was in her “Hell to the No” song, where she implies that she wears a weave and has been pressured to change it or take it out. Overall, she’s the least explored and most inconsistent character on the show–I can never tell what the writers are doing with her (remember that ridiculous episode when she smashed the window of Kurt’s car? and the tots fiasco?). To be fair, Quinn goes back and forth from acting like a real person to being a totally stuck-up princess, but her character makes sense: she’s a selfish, popular girl who occasionally has her moments (reaching out to Mercedes when she was on the cheer squad, standing up to Sue a number of times, etc.). Mercedes’ character, though, follows no pattern at all. One day she’s inviting Quinn to live with her after she was kicked out by her parents, and the next she’s going insane over a lack of tots, and the next day she’s fighting with Rachel or some such thing. The writers clearly use her as a prop.In response the comment about Glee being relatively progressive in terms of it’s representation of sexuality, I’d actually have to disagree. I love the show and think that they are MORE progressive than many other shows in terms of race, class, sexuality, ability, etc., but the understanding of sexuality in Glee is as problematic as its representation and (lack of) discussion of race. Remember Blaine’s short-lived interest in Rachel? Perfect opportunity to discuss sexual fluidity–and then Kurt comes in to lecture Blaine about being gay. Kurt, though I think he’s an adorable and incredibly talented character, is this 1980s version of the white, gay male, and Blaine is no better. The ACTOR may not be entirely white, but his race is never addressed on the show–yet another example of society being accepting of white, gay men, but throw any other factor into the mix, and forget about it. I highly doubt we’re ever going to see Mercedes question her sexuality, or Artie experiment with men, etc. Sexuality and gender are raced just as race is sexed and gendered–I think it’s all intertwined here. Oh, and the asshole who ran Kurt out of the school being a closeted gay man? How predictable… and so messed up in ways the writers and producers probably can’t begin to understand.There’s a lot to say on this, but I’ll leave it at that. I don’t think there are many other shows where you’re going to see scenes like the one where Kurt’s dad reams Finn out for his homophobia, or where students band together to fund a school bus for a friend like Artie, but it certainly has it’s problems. What I do really like about the show is that even though it’s completely stereotypical and ridiculous, at least it’s conscious of that and takes a satirical spin on the exaggerated high school cliques. They don’t always get it right, though–whether it’s with Mercedes’ race, Kurt’s sexuality, Rachel’s whiteness (despite the fact that she’s Jewish and therefore “ethnic”), etc.

    • Anonymous

       I would so love it if they actually dealt with Mercedes sexuality for a quick minute. Like, how interesting would it be if Mercedes was a femme lesbian? Or actually got to date people on the show? And you’re right, they haven’t really dealt with sexual fluidity too much. You’re right that they like their little boxes and people can’t do too much outside of them. 

  • http://twitter.com/peachie_keen Fisi

    I was confused and annoyed by the NO WEAVE shirt too. I’m very familiar with the issue surrounding black women and our natural hair, but I mean…why would one refer to it like THAT, as though the weave is the insecurity? At age 16, if you’re wearing a weave, it’s foolish to assume you’re keeping it a secret. Ha

    Glee pretends to be all about challenging social issues, but they are essentially ignoring most of their potential plot lines, and only dealing with the ones they feel comfortable with. Which is not the point of Glee. How are you going to talk about Rachel’s *decidedly Jewish* nose for the whole episode… and then say nothing about Mercedes except that she’s not a fighter…? I think they should SIT DOWN.

    Then again, one could argue that in a realistic high school situation, most of the kids are going to put cop outs on their shirts.

  • http://handfulofearth.wordpress.com/ Handfulofearth

    You know, we could all twitter this question to the director himself, Ryan Murphy. His twitter handle is @ryan_murphy:twitter

  • Pingback: Fox Houston provides platform for homophobic hate-speech | HAY LADIES!()

  • http://tigergray.blogspot.com/ Tiger Gray

    I think they missed the boat with that one, too, because her shirt could have made sense if they’d bothered to go into it. I’m still not sure about the purpose of the slogans (have only seen part of the episode. I’ve been told it was supposed to be something they were uncomfortable with, but that seems wrong since Kurt doesn’t seem to find something wrong with the fact that he “likes boys.”) I perceive hair as being a fairly big deal for black women especially, since the pressure to straighten it or otherwise make it more white mainstream seems pretty heavy. But if there’s never any depth to that statement (“no weave”) then it remains a nonsense phrase that doesn’t do anything but confuse, and misses an opportunity that the character really needs.

  • thebibliophile

    What about the episode when Sue Sylvester recruited all of the “minority” students to the Cheerios? Does anyone remember that episode? I think it supports this idea that the Glee writen’t know what to do about race, unless its being deployed as a way to subvert any real/honest conversation about race – all thee while that othere differences are given a gloss and investigation: sexuality, pregnancy, appearance…but that episode when Sue Sylvester recruits the “minorities” and many of the lines from the episode had me thinking I would never watch Glee again…I wonder what others thought about it?

  • thebibliophile

    Wait…there was a Black male on Glee? Where’d he go? I missed it….lol

    • http://www.racebending.com Marissa Lee

      He was written off to make room for new characters this season, except IRRC every new character  introduced this season (except for guest star Charice) has been white.  (Sam, Lauren, Blaine, granted Blaine’s actor is multiethnic.)

    • http://www.racebending.com Marissa Lee

       There is also that black football player character.  He shows up every few episodes to make homophobic slurs.

    • Anonymous

       Supposedly he “transfered.” He was the other dancer alongside Mike. His name was Matt. 

  • http://twitter.com/acampaignforme Eva McKend

    Thank you Tami! I have been saying this for weeks. It’s really a disgrace to the reality of black women in predominately white environments. I love Glee. It’s a wonderful show, extremely funny and has a wildly talented cast. But where is Mercedes! Every time her story is ignored, it brings back my own painful memories of invisibility. I try to address these issues in A Campaign for Me, a movement I’ve started to celebrate black women in all of our various hues, hair textures and body types. If the writers don’t feel comfortable talking about Mercedes, they can always hire some writers of color. That is not to say people of color are the only ones that can write about people of color but something needs to be done. http://acampaignforme.blogspot.com/2011/04/born-this-way.html

  • Erinbailess

    I agree. I don’t think they really know what to do with her. And now, after making her character far-from-likable to repulsive in their latest attempt to flesh out her personality with the bitchy, immature “Diva” angle, the writers have lost much of the chance they had to address her “blackness.” Suddenly, I want Amber’s character to never open her mouth, except for to sing :( And, I don’t care about any plight she has. I almost wish they’d bring in a fresh new black face to address the issue of race. I mean, these kids have to graduate, sometime, right? Doesn’t Glee need some non-white freshman at some point?! :)

    • Golden Silence

      “I mean, these kids have to graduate, sometime, right?

      If it took the kids five years on “Head of the Class” to graduate, who knows how long it’ll take the “Glee” kids to.

    • Anonymous

      Reminds me, they tried to introduce a Filipina to the Glee crew but Rachel wasn’t having it. I think the girl got picked up by the other song group. But I don’t know if she makes many appearances among that group either. 

  • Jbrendanshaw

    Mercedes and Kurt both always trouble me. Until recently Kurt was similarly without a sex life and the show conveniently had him be the only character in the sex-starved show that was “afraid” of sex. Of course.

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    I can’t say I’m really surprised at the lack of characterization of “minority” characters…I was turned off by Glee after seeing how they advertised their show by sexualizing their two main white female characters (first with the Rolling Stone cover followed by other sexualized images in other mags).

  • Aiyo

    I don’t watch Glee after the first episode and I saw Mercedes was the big sassy black girl I was too through.

    I would be more impressed if they went the way of HUGE the character Becca was a shy, quiet, nerdy LARPing, desperate for friends, trying to be assertive and confident while struggling with her weight. OH my Diddy I thought I found my TV twin that summer it was on. However HUGE got cancelled

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=430798 Clara Shao-Tan

    Agreed on the commentary on Mercedes. I also want to point out that resident Asian Americans Tina and Mike get an absolutely terrible treatment as well. They always make the most inane “Asian” jokes, and their race and ethnicity are always used as the butt of jokes. Anything that is “Asian” (such as chicken feet, “asian kisses” “asian camp”) is portrayed as weird. What the heck is “Asian” camp anyway? And in the most recent episode, Tina starts out the episode on Brittany’s youtube video saying “everything you heard about Asian guys? not true.” Everything always rests on a blatant stereotype, and the writers fail to go into Tina and Mike’s background as well. I feel like the writers think they’re making witty, inside jokes on Asian Americans, but they fail so, so badly.

    On the t-shirt episode – I thought that the “no weave” label was because Mercedes doesn’t wear a wig and felt insecure about it…but then again, this was just my gut assumption so I could be wrong.

    • Jessica Zeiler

      I get tired of Tina and Mike only being defined by their Asian-ness. I am also tired of all of Tina’s solos getting interrupted. It’s pretty obnoxious. . 

  • http://profiles.google.com/mayawangrogers Maya Rogers

    Both in the series and the Glee novel (Yes, they have one. It’s terribly written and focuses on Rachel/Quinn/Finn, so I wouldn’t advise reading it. Ever) Mercedes has a dentist father, although that’s all anyone seems to know about her family. She was also apparently friends with Tina and Kurt (and maybe Artie?) before any of them auditioned for the glee club.

    Still, it makes me sad that we know way more about Lauren Ziszes and Sam the new kid than we do Mercedes, who was in the glee club before most of the other members like Quinn.

  • Kate

    I agree with a lot of what you say here, but is there a reason you didn’t mention Tina’s “BROWN EYES” t-shirt? Admittedly it went very fast in the episode, to the point where the writers had Rachel hang a lampshade on all of Tina’s character growth happening offscreen, but her insecurity was explicitly about being an Asian woman in a world that values white beauty standards. Tina is nearly as marginalized as Mercedes, so I’m not trying to defend Glee’s racial issues here, but it seems as though your use of “of color” and “race” specifically means Black here.

    • http://twitter.com/whattamisaid whattamisaid

      While my post was specifically about Mercedes and her marginalization as a black, female character. My use of “of color” did NOT mean just “black.” I acknowledge that Tina and Mike are exoticized and marginalized. I wrote:

      “I suspect that the writers of Glee believe that in our post-racial America, teens of color would face no unique issues in a happy, middle class high school in Ohio. We have progressed far enough that we can refer to two characters as “Asian and Other Asian” and everyone will get that it’s just a harmless joke from a clueless and cartoonish character. (Except that a friend of mine told me that, throughout high school, her fellow students really did regularly called her by the name of the only other Asian student.)”

      • Kate

        I completely understand the need to narrow your focus, so I wasn’t necessarily criticizing your focus on Mercedes, particularly since her representational issues are different than even those of similarly marginalized characters (as you mentioned in your article, Mike and Tina get to have a relationship, for example). My point was more that I didn’t quite understand your choice to begin by focusing on Mercedes’ Born This Way t-shirt and end with the paragraph you quoted above where you expand your focus without mentioning Tina’s t-shirt somewhere in between. I guess my larger point, illustrated by Tina’s BTW storyline, is that I actually kind of disagree with your thesis—I don’t necessarily think the writers believe that we live in a post-racialized America where people of color face no unique issues. With Tina’s t-shirt, and with the storyline mentioned by someone below where Sue uses the minority glee club members’ feelings of marginalization to plot a coup, as well as various other issues that have been raised and dropped, the writers seem at least cursorily aware that race is still an issue. Their choice to have the original (non-Rachel) members of the Glee club all be visible minorities in some way (Mercedes, Tina, Artie, and Kurt – I’m counting Kurt as visible given that he was heavily coded as gay since the first episode) speaks to that, I think.

        Where it goes wrong, though, is that they lack the courage and/or focus and/or interest to actually follow those issues through to their logical conclusions, and instead either resolve them offscreen (as they did with Tina and to an even greater extent Mercedes in BTW), brush over them with a fuzzy message of togetherness that doesn’t actually address the actual issue that was raised (as with Will’s “we’re all minorities because we’re in glee club!” speech at the end of the Sue’s Kids episode), or else hang a lampshade on it and think they’ve addressed the issue (as they’ve done several times when one of the characters marginalized by the show complains of being marginalized by glee club). They want the kudos of being a show that Cares About Issues and Values Diversity but don’t want to alienate middle America by challenging assumptions about race, or cut down on ratings and iTunes sales by giving the characters of color equal screentime to the white characters.

        Sorry to drop a wall of text on you, but thinking about why I was so bothered by seeing Tina’s t-shirt left out of your essay crystalized a lot of my issues with Glee’s representation of race for me. So, thanks for that. :)

    • Anonymous

      Wow. I didn’t see the episode so I’m glad you mentioned Tina’s shirt. I’m going to see if I can find the other shirts online. I’m curious if Mike got one as well as Santana. 

      Has Tina actually talked about these issues on the show? I doubt it. 

      But I agree with you. Brown eyes, instead of blue, green, violet and so on, which are often eye colors monopolized by white subjectivity. It’s an issue a lot of POCs deal with. 

  • Anonymous

    I am willing to be there are no black or other minority writers on the show. It seems that it is better to not have white people write dialogue and stories with black characters.

    • http://tigergray.blogspot.com/ Tiger Gray

      I disagree here if only because I don’t think it’s actually that difficult to try and comprehend someone else’s experience if you’re honestly interested and willing to listen. Then again I don’t really come from a particularly privileged position (though I do have some) so that might make it seem different to me. Someone said to me recently that people already on the playing field couldn’t see the game; maybe there’s some truth to that.

  • http://kineticculture.com/ NubianEmpress

    I watched Glee for the first time last night, and I really liked it, but I didn’t watch for a long time because of what the author pointed out. Good article!

  • Anonymous

    I figured they got rid of Matt, the black male student, because they didn’t have any more space for POCs. Mike managed to get speaking lines but they couldn’t keep Matt long enough to do the same. Not like the cast of Glee wasn’t white enough already, minus Blaine who seems to portray a white guy although the actor is multiracial.

    I have like no access to cable right now and maybe that’s a good thing. Most TV these days is total shit.

    • http://tigergray.blogspot.com/ Tiger Gray

      I don’t think they’ve ever really addressed Blaine’s in show ethnicity, but I could be wrong there. My Glee following is somewhat sporadic since I find all the bullying stuff really triggering.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1130483506 Cleo Hines

        There was a very vague reference to his ethnicity when Kurt and Rachel were waiting for him in the coffee shop during the scene where she kisses him, before he comes in she mentions to Kurt that he could eventually give her “vaguely Eurasian babies”, then nothing else was said about it.

  • Erickawrites

    Well, I’ve seen every episode of Glee except for one (the one where Rachel gets a crush on Mr. Schuester), and I’m not sure if this is a fair representation of Amber Riley’s character. There was an episode in the first season when Mercedes invited Quinn to live with her. Quinn agonized over being an outcast by being pregnant, and Mercedes said something along the lines of “being Black, I live with that everyday”. Quinn even asked Mercedes why she wasn’t angry all the time. It was probably one of the most honest race discussions I can recall on TV. I don’t get the whole “No Weave” comment on Mercedes’ t-shirt that she isn’t insecure about being Black, so why should she put it on her t-shirt?

    • http://www.racebending.com Marissa Lee

      That conversation rather frustrated me.  If I remember it correctly, Quinn was trying to equate being pregnant in high school to being a PoC.   I think it may have been skewered on a previous Racialicious article.

  • Facebook User

    And it’s not the first time. This season there was a plot line where Mercedes was helped to be more assertive (with Lauren’s help) by being a demanding Diva. But she STILL did not get to sing where she wanted to and it ended up going to Rachel.

    • Kate

      Actually that plot ended with Rachel deciding not to perform because she couldn’t follow Mercedes. It was done in a kind of condescending way and is unlikely to happen again, but Mercedes got to close the show, just like she wanted.

  • Val R.

    I watched the first episode of Glee and after seeing that the Black girl was going to be a neck rolling one dimensional character I have never watched the show again. And from what you are saying Tami, I’m so glad I haven’t wasted my time watching the show.

    • http://dcmoviegirl.blogspot.com MsGo

      My thoughts, exactly. I peeped this from the first episode. I never expected the writers to give Mercedes anything other than a “special episode” or two, if she’s lucky…but no, I definitely did not expect the writers to give her a life.

      So, I thankfully haven’t watched, since then.

      What’s that saying? If someone shows you who they are, believe them. White TV writers, have for years been showing me that they don’t care to flesh out minority characters and I believe them.

  • Melissa Lynnette

    I only caught the last half hour of last week’s episode so when I saw Mercedes’ shirt, I thought I had simply missed the part where she dealt with her hair.
    They really had her wear a “No Weave” shirt but didn’t include any scenes related to that in the episode? Oh Glee. smh…

  • Moviegirl

    Perhaps the word should have been invisible. It’s also worth noting that Artie’s word was four-eyes

    • Anonymous

      Wow. Have the creators of the show actually been watching Glee?! I mean, there was a whole dance number about Artie being able to walk.

      • http://tigergray.blogspot.com/ Tiger Gray

        I wonder if that one is more because Artie at least partially resolved that wish during that arc. I could see it as refreshing that all of his issues aren’t about him being in a wheelchair, but when juxtaposed against wearing glasses it does seem a little odd he would have chosen being nearsighted over having a paraplegic injury. (not that it couldn’t happen, but given the writing I’m not really willing to give the show that much credit)

        • Ewg109

          I assumed Artie’s t-shirt reflected the issue he was born with. We don’t knwo that Artie was born paraplegic.

          • Lele

            he wasn’t. They addressed this in season one – he was in an accident. @Ewg109

        • Anonymous

          True. All his problems needn’t be tied to his dis/ability. But Glee tends to focus on single issues with characters that are othered. In Tina’s case, I liked the idea that we had a goth girl with social anxiety until we found out she was lying about the latter. But they could have delved into the reasons why a little more. And they could have shown Tina among goth kids and what exactly is her experience as a goth chick. I’m out of the loop on this season so maybe they’ve done something a little more with her character. I like that Glee has dealt with gender nonconformity. 

          But why is the best solution for Kurt for him to leave school instead of promoting change and activism at their school. Things just seemed to go “back to normal” after he transfered. As though there were serious issues with bullying and blaming the victim. 

          Why can’t they deal with intersectionality of issues. In the case of Mercedes they could have dealt with fatphobia, self esteem, blackness, etc. All in one person. And I see gay men on the show. Are there any lesbians? I’ve seen bisexual portrayals but it seems mostly to entertain a male audience, though I liked Brittany’s perspective regarding her relationship with Santana. 

  • Logoskaieros

    During the “night of neglect” episode it was *so* awkward when Mercedes and Rachel were in the car together, staring at each other, and Mercedes asks “why do you get all the parts when I’m just as good as you?” and Rachel says–after a long pause in which any HALF AWAKE viewer would say to themselves (because of race!! (and also lack of fat acceptance)) “I don’t know.” And I sat there thinking, Does the show really want that to be their answer? Are they that oblivious? Or do they know, but they don’t want their characters to know? It was frustrating–and a glaringly obvious racefail even to me (who is white).

    The “no weave” shirt was also frustrating. Mercedes–I don’t think–has ever talked about her hair, so I spent the last five minutes of the episode trying to decipher which way that was meant–and then I felt bad that I was staring at Amber’s hair trying to see if I could tell or not. If I hadn’t been aware of crit. race theory, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t even know what a weave is (which is just sad in itself), and that would have gone over my head altogether. I love Mercedes’ character and I’m getting fed up that the more they ignore race in the show, the more I focus on how they’re not addressing it, and then instead of enjoying the song, I’m sitting there like a creepy person staring at her hair. Ug. It pisses me off too that Amber is there doing her job, watching all these other characters get fleshed out with multiple love interests, solos, etc, and she’s sitting there with her character mostly invisible except for wearing some of the most interesting clothes on the show. (Her blue dress in “Night of Neglect” was amazing.)

    But really, what does Mercedes want out of high school? What does she want to do with her singing? We know what Rachel wants (to be a star), and what Quinn wants (to marry Finn and be beauty queen b/c she thinks she’ll never leave town), and we even kinda know what newer characters like Lauren and Blaine want as teenagers (to be her kickass self and anything else that tickles her fancy and to find himself, respectively). But what does Mercedes want? Tater tots is the only concrete answer given so far (unless I’ve missed something), and that in itself is really sloppy and inconsiderate on the show’s part for a whole other reason.


    • Lele

      YEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!!!! I was thinking to myself ” This is it! This is when they are going to admit race is a factor is the marginalization of Mercedes. Come on, say it rachel!” – Response – “I don’t know”. *Crushed!*

      I’ve lost hope for this show.

      • MichelleToo

        Thank you! THANK YOU!!!

        I couldn’t believe that they punked out like that. The show has so many brave moments. And yet with race….they fail like cowards.

    • ohhh g(l)eeeee

      @d92a6be1aef1112fc30aa4e82dd32aa7:disqus said, “During the “night of neglect” episode it was *so* awkward when Mercedes and Rachel were in the car together, staring at each other, and Mercedes asks “why do you get all the parts when I’m just as good as you?” and Rachel says–after a long pause in which any HALF AWAKE viewer would say to themselves (because of race!! (and also lack of fat acceptance)) “I don’t know.” And I sat there thinking, Does the show really want that to be their answer? Are they that oblivious? Or do they know, but they don’t want their characters to know? It was frustrating–and a glaringly obvious racefail even to me (who is white).”

      I’m thinking that the producers couldn’t take that final step and really expose what’s going on here. The true answer would’ve reflected back to Glee as a TV show, to Fox, and to American television media. The real answer, “because things are structured for a white consumer audience, so Rachel, the white, skinny, talented girl is FAR safer and easier to digest than seeing a big, black woman lead the pack in every circumstance. Viewers (both within the TV show, and those who are watching it) could not “handle it,” and so Mercedes, inevitably is left to take the back seat (in all storytelling) despite being equally as good.” Additionally, “we don’t know shit about race, and hence, can’t really talk about it.”

      Glee producers/writers had a real chance to make a statement on the state of American media, but they backed off. Am I surprised? No. Because I have a feeling that despite how progressive their show might be in some areas (i.e. sexuality), they remain a part of the machine (in regards to race and other identities). Remember: these are three white, older men writing this show. One is Jewish, another is openly gay to give perspective on the issues they have addressed. This is not to say that they are doing this intentionally, but rather that they might be ill-equipped to write about race…and don’t seem to want learn how to do so.

      Need further evidence? Please go back and read this article.

      That said, maybe something addressing this issue is in the works. But probably not.


      • Lele


        Well said. Well said.

      • Junkster199

        Then they should just bring in another writer. I don’t understand how come easy solutions never get done, how come Amber Riley can’t say something. I never get the feeling that these actors say anything because if feedback was given about what they’re reading for their characters maybe the episodes would make sense.

  • http://twitter.com/Sayantani16 Sayantani DasGupta

    As someone who WAS that little kid of color in central Ohio during my formative years – I can tell you MY T-shirt definitely would have said BROWN on it. Making invisible Mercedes’ family/context/race/character development and using her to belt out great songs or give sassy snaps is akin to Spike Lee’s critiques of the “Magical Negro” in film and literature…

    • http://profiles.google.com/gail.sidney Gail Sidney

      Mine would have said Oreo – or any other foodstuffs that are darker on outside/white on inside. I got the feeling that the writers didn’t know many black people after how they treated the Luther Vandross songs in the first season.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/marroncito Aaron de Oliveira

    i’m a multiracial (brasilian/white) racial, white identifying cis-male. i write short fiction as a hobby. i remember encountering the same problem. “Glee‘s writers owe it to the Mercedes character to learn how to write a black, female teen.” i would write characters like myself that were well fleshed out. then when i wrote a character of a different ethnic background they would be very one dimensional. because of my lack of education beyond stereotypes, i couldn’t think of anything more pressing for my character to worry about than Mercedes worrying about weave. i noted the inconsistency. so i decided to educate myself.

    that’s one of the reasons i’m here. i’ve lived in a world of white & male privilege for so long. looking around i realize that the vast majority of the people in the world don’t share that same privilege. i want to understand the lives of the other 7 billion people on this planet.

    one of my mantra’s is that love is born from knowledge so i want to really know people that aren’t like me. i think that by knowing them and loving them we can both enjoy the best of everything.

  • Kidsistah

    I don’t watch Glee, so I can’t really comment on how/why race is not being addressed in that show. However, I am seeing this as a recurring topic across other productions in the last week (ignoring race in Fast Five, and on the new ABC comedy Happy Endings). I’ve heard the rationale that this is how much of America lives their lives–in a colorblind existence that simply doesn’t acknowledge racial/cultural differences. Whether or not it should be, this not my reality and I’m glad this forum exists to continue the conversation.