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May 18 2008

Dead Bro Walking: Characters Of Color In Joss Whedon's Buffyverse. A critical look at race portrayal and relations in Buffy and Angel.

Hmmm. If you took out all the recaping, it would be a very short essay. I doubt that many people who are ignorant of the Buffyverse would want to read the essay, so that reasoning for including all the guff didn't stand up for me.

I'm not saying there are no race issues in the Buffyverse, but I don't think this essay gives a very convincing argument. I'd like to see a better written article on the subject.
Buffy definately had a lack of fully realised non-white characters, that I have no argument with, but the author grossly undermines their own arguments with some terribly forced examples of supposed racial inequality.

For example, the author mentions in their footnotes the character of Jasmine and alludes to the terrible racial connotations that are too expansive even for this essay. Of course, the real reason the author could not include Jasmine is because the character was actually not written as black or ethnic, just "beautiful". The fact the casting team chose a beautiful black actress is neither here nor there and the author makes an incredibly cheap shot to reference the character without justification.

I look forward to the day when a black character, or a character played by a black actor, can have any kind of story arc, positive or negative, and not have someone trying to find dubious motivations behind it.

[ edited by pfxcarty on 2008-05-18 11:02 ]
It's easy to construe racism from anything. To be honest, I'd be much more concerned about the racism that's still inherent in the justice system than constructing some tenuous arguments against a television series. There really is a lot of hypersensitivity about racism around these days.
Dr. Lynne Edwards addressed the issue of race in Buffy in her essay "Slaying in Black and White" which was included in the Fighting the Forces collection.

It's good stuff and, while there's plenty more to talk about, it's a fine starting point for those interested in these issues.
Thanks, mockingbird - I'll check it out.
Not only is most of this essay just recapping, but the author doesn't even get the facts right all the time. They go off on some assumption that Angel vamped Gunn at the end of AtS, when that is very clearly not the case.

I can understand why someone would be so lazy as to try to put one over on professors with factually incorrect papers (even if I don't agree with it), but to assume that it'd be all right to post online where real fans of the show would likely read it is extremely shortsighted.

[ edited by archon on 2008-05-18 13:22 ]
While there was definitely a lack of characters of color (or any other race aside from white, for that matter), what the author is insinuating in their article is just insulting. For someone to get so obviously offensive about something such as race on Buffy... I just don't know.

I also find it humorous that it isn't mentioned that Faith murdered Finch, because in my mind, that is most certainly the very reason Faith wasn't "textually acknowledged for her contributions." Or rather, I should say, she is acknowledged, hence the whole going to prison.

I don't think I can go on without becoming (more) irritated. This essay makes me feel extremely headachy and I disapprove of the author's intentions. For someone to know the shows so well, yet twist them into something so ugly... yech.
Yeah, I mean, there are things to be said about race in the Buffyverse, and critical things at that, but this paper is awfully tenuous...
Just a note that Gina Torres is of Afro-Cuban descent - neither here nor there :) As this wasn't an essay on racial problems in the justice system, I think its way off base to criticize it for not being one. It would be a whole different essay if Bianca Lawson had accepted the Cordelia gig... and if there wasn't erroneous mention of Angel turning Gunn (what?).
Personally I find it harder to understand why there are so few Chinese people in the Firefly verse than commenting on race issues in BTVS.

To me, the more interesting discussion would be surrounding the whole of programmes in general to see if there's a trend showing up there - rather than picking on one show to see if there's anything to say within it.

I don't know that much about US demographics, but from the few comments I have seen, Sunnydale would have been a white majority town. The show itself is about the subversion of the "Blonde Chick" in the alley mentality. Just because the show picks up on one type of sterotypical incident, doesn't mean that it has to cover every type of sterotypical incident, does it?
Doesn't the low count of honest to goodness Chinese characters have to do with their less distinct racial lines and Sihnon being a little more detached/set apart? I may be misremembering, /shrug.
I've always gotten a kick out of Mr. Trick's comment in the teaser for "Faith, Hope, & Trick":

"Sunnydale. Town's got quaint, and the
people: he called me sir, don't you
miss that? Admittedly, not a haven for
the brothers -- strictly the Caucasian
persuasion in the Dale -- but you
gotta stand up and salute their death
rate."

It's at least a small nod of acknowledgment of the reality of that particular 'verse.
Interesting perspective, but not a lot of actual point. Anyone can look at anything through a filter of anything and come up with anything. This essay does just that and ends up barely even saying anything. But then again, I'm not American and race isn't even a concept in my mind (I've always considered humanity as a whole to be one race, and all the differences to be in individuals and situations, not color-coded categories), so I suppose it could just be my Swedish perspective is irrelevant to such an American issue.

ETA: There were also a number of errors in the essay, such as the claim that it was revealed that Angel decided to turn Gunn into a vampire at the end of the series finale. I don't remember that happening.

[ edited by GreatMuppetyOdin on 2008-05-18 15:24 ]
Yeah, you and your damned Swedish perspective! ;) (SO JOKING!!!) Oh no, I'm using up my allotment of exclamation points early today.

I almost feel that an argument could be made that if you make an argument for Faith being coded as urban/minority, etc., you need to argue the same for Spike. Of course, most of the essay falls apart at that point, but what would really tear it down is that the large chunks of the Buffy-verse are about the Other/the Outsider/etc., which could all be read racially, sexually, by gender, or any other Other you'd care to name.
Gunn was introduced in Season 1, correct? Not "early S2" as the author states.
BtVS & Ats can be picked apart on race very easily, and have been. IMO if one is going to retrace this ground, one should bring some extra depth to the table. This paper flirts with discussing how the exploration of class and light and dark literary metaphors bring up racial issues, but in the end stays with the pedestrian arguments...while being factually inaccurate about a number of different things.

IMO any character in the Buffyverse could have been shown to be a racist construct if they were played by an actor of color, because all of them had major faults. I have never seen the faults and arcs of the characters played by white actors looked at in negative racial terms, however, so the discussion of the characters of color is, in that way, always in a vacum.

In other news, this comment by the author further down the page caught my eye:

"And I don't deny Kennedy had some development, but nearly all of it was in context of being Willow's girlfriend and since I wasn't talking about the skeevy issues with homosexuality in the source I left it out."

I am trying to be generous in my interpretation of this comment, but I am having a really difficult time.
I feel like the author of the piece completely missed the point of the Buffyverse. The "people of color" that the show focuses on are not human, but the demons. Since the first season of Angel to the inclusion of Clem in Buffy, demons have always been the show's way of tackling the issue of race and non-conformity in a conformist (white) society. Lorn isn't black, he's green, and as a result, subject to even more stares and prejudice, especially if you throw his horns into it, but by the end of Season 5, he shows himself the one character with the greatest abhorrence of killing and violence.

The question of interracial relationships were addressed in Xander/Anya, Buffy/Angel, and Buffy/Spike. One of the bedrock premises of the show was to open minds and close stereotypes and it did so not using the racial paradigms of our society, but the dynamics of the supernatural. The only real exception to this was the homosexuality of Willow, and that was portrayed almost entirely as acceptable and natural. In the Buffyverse, humans are humans, regardless of skin color. In one perspective, its almost the same means by which the original Star Trek challenged race issues in the 1960's by allegory, but from a supernatural stance, rather science-fiction. Anyone who views the show in purely black vs. white is missing the entire point.
As BreathesStory points out, Mr. Trick said it best. There are definitely some black person-shaped holes on the show.

That being said, I have to wonder... maybe stories like this have to pick which hill to die on. Joss rooted this particular story in the radical notion that women are people (and the less radical notion that high school is hell). If he'd also tried to bring in every oppressed minority ever, the show would never have gotten off the ground under its own weight. I think we have to remember the clear purpose of the Buffyverse and look elsewhere for a comparable story about race. It cannot be all things.

Take the Wire, for instance. (I'm always bringing up the Wire...) An unflinching look at race, poverty, and the War on Drugs. What's missing? Women... women are either jealous exes keeping kids away from their parents, or seriously masculinized.

No disabled people or Mexicans on either show, come to think of it...
I agree that BTVS could have used more non-white characters (and am very happy to see that Dollhouse is going to be more diverse) but I think there's a problem with making the argument that characters of color
were almost inevitably evil, insane, or quickly no longer of the living (or undead, for that matter).

I mean, isn't that true of most of the characters, regardless of color? What if Glory or Ben or one of the Trio or Tara or Anya or even Willow had been non-white? Being evil/insane/dead was quite popular around Sunnydale. All of the characters are pretty flawed.
I think the general consensus here seems to be that yes, there are issues in the Buffyverse with race, but that the author of this particular piece of criticism hasn't addressed them very well. I tend to agree. I think there are probably some good arguments in there that could developed further, but the majority of it isn't very convincing. There is also waaay too much plot recapping which isn't even relevant to the specific characters or situations being addressed. I dread to think how long the author's explanation of Jasmine would have been had they decided to include her, when you could sum up the most important aspects in one or two sentences.

I personally feel that the problems the Buffyverse has with race are to do with under-reprenstation more than anything else. There was a distinct lack of non-white main and regular characters in comparison to the huge cast of important white characters, however I think it's really unfair to suggest that the non-white characters were inherently less developed. The likes of Robin Wood and Kendra were as interesting and non-stereotypical as any other guest character, in fact a lot less than someone like Harmony, who never really transcended the stereotype of the selfish, shallow bimbo. Does that mean that the writers were being racist towards white people?

I think that's one of the other problems with the author's argument. You could pull up a list of most of the non-white characters from the Buffyverse and list factors about them which could suggest they were written from a racist viewpoint- being turned into vampires or killed off, yet the fact remains that there were also huge numbers of white characters who were vamped or killed off so even if non-white characters were underrepresented, they were at least represented to same extent and just as likely to be as heroic, villainous or disposable as any other character.

You could pick someone like Mr Trick or Jasmine and point out all of their evil qualities and suggest racial elements to their character arcs, but you could equally do the same to any white character. For example, in some of the footnotes and comments, it appears that the author is suggesting that the fact Jasmine was a villainous, monstrous god born from an incestuous white pairing was somehow a racist view of the character. Well why wasn't the portrayal of the Mayor as a villainous, monstrous demon with a fondness for young women equally a critique of rich old white men? And Jasmine was presented as a much more complex, morally ambiguous character than the slightly similar situation with Glory. I think in most instances the issue of race just isn't explored or commented upon and you could accuse any character with negative qualities of being a racial attack if you were inclined to do so.

But the issue of under-representation of different racial groups is a huge one which is prevalent in all areas of entertainment, media and even the Internet. I think that progress has slowly been made over the years but there is much more to do, but it is heartening to see a wider range of races appear on TV and film with each passing year.
Yes, Razor--that's exactly what I meant! But clearly I'm a lot lazier than you are. :)
This essay is a serious misreading of most of the show's arcs, and ignores completely the fact that the show is about bad things happening to good people. Mr. Trick was indeed black, just like the Anointed One was white--was there any real difference between their arcs, in terms of their overall importance to the show? "Perhaps if the myriad of white characters had all reached equally tragic, disturbing ends, the question of ‘what does the Buffyverse [and its creators] have against characters of color?” would never have to be asked." I *really* don't see how one can argue that Gunn's having to live on as a vampire is so much more tragic and disturbing than Wesley having to live on as a ghost-for-hire.

I think it is worthwhile to discuss Faith's season three/four arc and Gunn's season five arc in conjunction with each other though, as they both have similar features: underprivileged, lower-class individuals, according to the author, try to take what is entirely their right. Why does Buffy have a right to have sex with Riley and Faith doesn't? Obviously, according to the author, it's because Faith is a minority--not because Buffy is Riley's girlfriend, and Faith deceives him into thinking that she's Buffy. Obviously, Faith's stealing in "Bad Girls" etc. is portrayed as bad because of her race: why, what could be wrong with her actions, when she is obviously stealing only to protect the citizens of the town better. Gunn's arc is pretty similar to Willow's, in that what is evil is not trying to improve his social stature but lying and making deals with bad guys to do so.

It's true, though, that visual cues are used in the show, comparing black and white to good and evil, in particular with the contrast between Faith and Buffy, as well as Graham and Forrest (Riley's light and dark halves). But it's complicated by the fact that, in particular with Faith's case, she goes evil somewhat because of her underprivileged background, but is not evil because of it. Similarly, Gunn's season five decision *is* associated very much with whiteness, made most obviously in "Underneath" with the lily-white wife. He goes "Oreo," basically, and I think that the problem is not so much Gunn's desire to better himself but his turning his back on his background and where he came from--the people to whom he reconnects in "Not Fade Away."

And also: no, Robin is not portrayed as wrong for wanting revenge on Spike because he's black. He's portrayed as wrong because revenge is always portrayed as wrong on these shows. Willow's revenge on Warren is the most striking example.

I do agree that the lack of Chinese characters on Firefly is very, very strange; I read an interview of Joss', though, where he basically said, "Yeah, true, but I think that all the actors are the right people for the roles." I...don't disagree, but still wish that there were a better textual reason.
No question at all that the Buffyverse (and Firefly, for that matter) have some very serious problems with race. I mean really, does anyone remember that uber-stereotypical Chinese herbalist in Angel? Just painful.

But this essay is just a poorly written recap. And really, what is up with writing about Faith as though she were a character of color? Any critical essay on race in the show will need to write about the construction of whiteness, and therefore the white characters. But contrasting Faith and Buffy as though Buffy has white privilege over Faith makes no sense. Talking about every white person with dark hair as honorary-non-whites is a very strange choice.


I don't know that much about US demographics, but from the few comments I have seen, Sunnydale would have been a white majority town.

Not even close. A southern California with demons and vampires I can buy. One that is almost exclusively white is just weird. There are more people of color than white people in CA. To look anything like California, the show would have needed to include a lot more Latino/a and Asian-American characters, and probably a couple more black people for good measure. I grew up in one of the whitest corners of the state, and even there we had far more people of color than in Buffy.

Having a nearly all-white California (especially LA!) makes about as much sense as the whole "everyone speaks Chinese but there are no Chinese people" world of Firefly--although given the portrayal of East Asians on Buffy (comic-relief Cho-Ann) and Angel (the aforementioned herbalists) maybe we should be grateful. Daniel Dae Kim's role on Angel is the one real bright spot there.


Joss, I love you and I love your shows. But pretty pretty please, try to work on this. Heroes and Battlestar and Lost (though none perfect) are totally kicking your ass on having casts that actually look like our world.
To add to my previous post: actually, this essay has inspired me to write my own series of works on "Lost," "Battlestar," and "Firefly."

Let's have some fun by the way. Spoilers for all shows.

LOST: Race is quite problematic, as the show's most prominent black characters were Michael, who became a murderer, and Eko, who died an ignominious death. The Latino-American Anna Lucia also died shortly after her introduction. The Korean couple, Jin and Sun, are often not given their own flashback episodes and have to share them with each other--as if they are not worth devoting entire episodes to them alone! Often the dialogue written for minority characters is not very good, and mysteries surrounding minor characters often go unresolved for entire seasons. The portrayal of an Iraqi, Sayid, is espeically problematic, as he is portrayed as a torturer and a very violent man. The character of Rose, a black woman, has existed since the very first episodes, but has long been denied main character status. Of the recent introduction of four new cast members on the show, by far the least likable and character portrayed as most selfish is the character of Miles. In a recent episode, the white Sawyer instructed him to stay away from the white Claire, as if no minority has the right to the privilege of a relationship with a white woman.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: Of the seven opening-credits characters, only one comes from a visible minority, and she is portrayed as a Cylon, the race of villains who are portrayed uniformly as evil. Indeed, many of the Cylons are portrayed as people of colour, such as the minor character Simon who is given much less focus than other, white Cylons. Similarly, minor characters of colour are portrayed in a negative light; Petty Officer Dualla marries one of the main characters, the white Apollo, who, it is implied, marries her only because he cannot have the white, Germanic Starbuck. Eventually, when he has the opportunity, he begins to have an affair. In the Battlestar Universe, this is the only fate of persons of colour: to be used and dispensed with on the whims of the upper class white males.

FIREFLY: Of the nine main cast members, two characters are black: the ship's first mate, Zoe Warren, and a "Shepherd" or clergyman, Derria Book. These characters are viewed as so minor that, in the film "Serenity," the only two characters that are killed are Book and Zoe's husband, Wash--clearly indicating the show's habit of inflicting pain on characters of minority and no others. During the course of the series, Zoe continuously takes orders from her captain Mal, even when she does not think they make sense, and her husband, Wash, denies her the right to have children, because she is black. In another episode, Book is shot, and the doctor of the ship, Simon, opts to stay on a planet and help individuals there who treat him badly and kidnap him and even try to burn him at the stake rather than help treat his own crewmember.

All joking aside, I agree with rufustfyrfly among that none of these shows are perfect, and in particular that Joss' shows underrepresent minorities by a large margin. But I disagree with the rest. Minority characters, when they appeared, were almost without exception treated the same way as white characters on Joss' shows.
given the portrayal of East Asians on Buffy (comic-relief Cho-Ann)

I'm with you there. Cho-Ann is my least favorite thing in all of Buffy, including the way a normally worldly, well-educated Giles turned into an insensitive buffoon around her.

Gavin made me very happy.
Of course Gavin was evil... which goes back to people in the Buffyverse generally being treated equally. I don't see Chao-Ahn as being the problem with Chao-Ahn, I see Giles turning into a moron for comedic purposes as the problem. That and none of you racists spelling her name correctly ;)
I have no memory of the black legal secretary with whom Gunn had a brief relationship in the fifth season. Does anyone know what episode(s) she was from?

On the whole, I agree with pretty much everyone else on this post. I think the essay had a good premise, but it didn't sell me at all, and in addition there were several factual errors/questionable recappings that I found distracting. Buffyverse is so large though; it must be difficult to be concise while viewing the series as a whole.
Minority characters, when they appeared, were almost without exception treated the same way as white characters on Joss' shows.

Not buying this. I'm not saying that having most of the characters of color be less than pure good and/or die is the problem. Nearly all characters overall--including white people and demons--are less than pure good and tend to get killed. (And really, who wants unfailingly good characters? Boring!) The lack of long running, well developed characters of color is, yes, a function of underrepresentation.

But that doesn't mean that the few depictions of characters of color didn't sometimes fall into some pretty bad stereotypical portrayals. Such as:


I don't see Chao-Ahn as being the problem with Chao-Ahn, I see Giles turning into a moron for comedic purposes as the problem.

The problem is that there is a history of Asian and Asian-American characters being used as comic relief in a very similar way. Think the horrific stereotype character of "Long Duk Dong"in 16 Candles. Chao-Ahn isn't as patently offensive, but is still part of that tradition. They wouldn't have used a non-English speaking white character for that role, that isn't the social script they were following. She exists only to be "foreign" and uncomprehending, and to give Giles some very out-of-character jokes.
I have no memory of the black legal secretary with whom Gunn had a brief relationship in the fifth season. Does anyone know what episode(s) she was from?


I think this is a reference to the W&H employee who helped Gunn in the season 4 finale 'Home'.
Wow. It's so sad that someone has to rip apart a TV show (or two), especially one that has "cult" status, to try to make a point that they're bitter about something.

I never once thought "This could use more blacks" while watching "Buffy." I never once thought "Boy, that's strange - they rattle off Mandarin, and yet the only Chinese we see are in little groups selling grilled dog planetside" while watching "Firefly."

I did think, often, "Man, I've been there" when something painful happened to a character, or yelled at one being a particular insensitive knob. I watch the shows for the stories, not for how many other-than-white characters are in it. Because if you're gonna go down that road, then...what about the season finale of CSI: Vegas?

And how come no one mentions Rona? A Slayer of color who did NOT die. I know a lot of fans didn't like her, but I did. In fact, in "New Beginnings," the first of my After the Fall of Sunnydale arc, I have her going to Cleveland to work with the new Slayer there, and becoming the first Slayer to also be a Watcher.

And there were several Potentials who were clearly not Caucasian. Names escape me at present, since I've only watched the season once.

And yes, Giles was misused in Season Seven. Which saddened me greatly. It was only towards the end that he started to regain some of his old spark...which Joss dashed against the rocks in the first four issues of the comics. Grr.
While race in the Buffyverse is problematic, I would argue more for the relative lack of people of color rather than their treatment when they appear, this essay is just a plot summary rather than a critical analysis of race on the show. This reads like a good first draft of a paper that needs to pushed to find a theoretical perspective for the analysis, to make a clear statement of argument, and to interpret each character through that perspective, linking the interpretation back to the argument.

That being said, the Buffyverse exists within a context of a racist world and thus reflects that racist world, whether or not it is the intention of the show's creators. I think these issues can be problematized without condemning the show and perhaps we can also recognize that interpreting people only on the basis of the categories to which they belong short-changes everyone involved.
I fear I must take exception to:

They wouldn't have used a non-English speaking white character for that role, that isn't the social script they were following.


Now, now, how can you forget the glorious Sven from "Inca Mummy Girl"? ;)
It's so sad that someone has to rip apart a TV show (or two), especially one that has "cult" status

Hey now, everyone here has a penchant to discus cult tv shows ad nauseum. That's what this community, in fact much of the internet, is here for! Some people like to talk about the literary aspects, or the characters. Some people like to talk about the political implications of their favorite shows. Nothing sad about any if that, if you ask me.
Nothing sad about that to me, either. On the subject of asian stereotypes: check this. Was happy to see the sidebar with Adriam Tomine's classic one-page on the subject. Worth reading.

ETA - don't forget to check out Stuff White People Like, if you haven't :)
Now, now, how can you forget the glorious Sven from "Inca Mummy Girl"?


I was about to post about Sven myself.

I also don't see anything wrong with the herbal shop owners. It's like a Chinese restaurant. They play up the Chinese aspects in order to make money. Like the Greeks at the Greek restaurants. I see the herbal shop owners the same way.

[ edited by Caleb on 2008-05-18 19:41 ]
don't forget to check out Stuff White People Like, if you haven't

Oh, thanks for that. So so funny.
I'm not sure what was 'glorious' about Sven ?
But as a stereotype he is easy to live with, he even gets the last laugh "Does she even know how to speak english ?".

I will always remember the 'trying' to speak Swedish in Selfless though, made me love the character Anya even more.

[ edited by jpr on 2008-05-18 20:14 ]
BreatheStory, rufustfyrfly I simply meant that it's sad someone has to rip something apart to make a point.

Why couldn't they have just said, "I'm going to look at the racial inequality of all television programs in general, and a couple shows in specific" instead of giving off a "'Buffy' sucked because they killed off the only black characters" vibe?

It would be interesting to hear the Big Purple's take on this whole thing - was he deliberately not using actors of color in his show, other than a few "token" characters, or was he simply writing characters and the casting director selected who they felt best fit the part, regardless of skin color?

For instance, was the vampire Spike set on fire to save Giles written specifically to be "large, overweight, and black," or simply "a heavyset vampire" that incidentally was black?

And if we're going to get into this, why not make a point of Lyle and Tector being your stereotypical "big dumb Texan" vampires, who both eventually get dusted? Or the fact that the only English character who wasn't evil and/or insane was Giles? (Ok, technically Wesley wasn't either one, but he wasn't there very long, whereas Drusilla & Spike were.)

Or portraying someone who feels strongly about their religion as actually being a soul-sucking demon from hell who lures the down-trodden to his realm to become his slaves?

Etc, et bloody cetera.
In Angel, in for example, there was frequent examination the demon communities as metaphors for ethnic colonies or race enclaves, and frequent challengning of the notion that "demon = bad" contrasted with "demon = people who look different trying to get by in a culturally divided Los Angeles." BtVS approached the issue with comparable (but differently-framed) metaphors.

I think it's a victory, not a shortcoming, that the Buffyverse approaches race relations as a metaphor with a variety of faces, because then you're actually examining the issue. It's hard to tell if the author of the article overlooked these episodes, or if the idea is that only the literal "counts" in some way (and if only the literal counts, Buffy/Angel are the wrong shows to examine, because they show their moral and social stances as metaphor more often than not).
To address a few things:

- ShadowQuest: The lack of British characters who weren't evil or insane (i.e. Giles being the only one) : I really hadn't thought of the portrayal of British characters ... with it being such an America-centric show, it does seem kind of lampoonish to cast European characters (accented people, strictly, since Angel and Darla are old enough to be 'of Europe' and not American) in a light in which they are either evil (Spike and Dru) or bumbly (Wesley).

- rufustfyrfly : The problem is that there is a history of Asian and Asian-American characters being used as comic relief in a very similar way. Think the horrific stereotype character of "Long Duk Dong"in 16 Candles. Chao-Ahn isn't as patently offensive, but is still part of that tradition. They wouldn't have used a non-English speaking white character for that role, that isn't the social script they were following. She exists only to be "foreign" and uncomprehending, and to give Giles some very out-of-character jokes.

I fully agree - the superbowl commercial involving the Chinese pandas comes to mind - not the fact that the commercial used pandas to represent Chinese people, but that the pandas spoke in a stereotypical broken-English accent, and we all should recognize (I'm not saying anyone here isn't) that the language barrier is not a sign of stupidity...being an immigrant myself (grew up in the U.S.) seeing the stereotypes come back after so many years in which they seemed to be done with, it's a little awkward. The character of Chao-Ahn to me, was a misstep in comedic relief...I understand that people don't necessarily need to be scholars in Asian languages to prepare for one potential slayer coming, but Giles of all people didn't learn enough Chinese to get by? To ask questions properly? That in itself speaks more about the joke (that it is at the expense of the ethnic minority) than Chao-Ahn's 'lactose intolerance' line.

- Several people mentioned Rona...I didn't like her, but it wasn't that she was black. I genuinely didn't like her character, but the fact that she was black played into a stereotype, IMO. How many times have we seen the stereotypical black girl who is from 'the ghetto'? By all accounts, Faith is working class and from an urban environment...is she just poor or is she from 'the ghetto'? Poverty, urbanizaion has no race lines, but the show did not seem to delineate that. They were not given enough time together, but I did think Faith and Rona would have a lot to talk about, with Faith being the de-facto 'girl from the other side of the tracks.'

- The portrayal of Principal Woods. I found his character fascinating, and again, it had nothing to do with color. The fact that they chose a slayer of significance to Spike obviously had part in how they cast the character, racially, but it wasn't as if they made him a vampire hunter with a vengeance kick - he helped Buffy, he was kind to her, he gave her a job. And he protected people. He was definitely not a throwaway character.

- What about Jonathan, Andrew and Warren? All scrawny white guys. What does that say about the stereotypical nerds? They're all white, right? And they're all smart, they all love comic books and they spend hours and hours playing Dungeons and Dragons...but the most important part is that they're WHITE. I didn't really have a problem with the trio being white...I just find it interesting that the author likes to point out instances where there are SO MANY WHITE PEOPLE and yet does not acknowledge the race factor when the context doesn't cast an ethnic minority in a 'stereotypically white' role.

Actually, the show Psych comes to mind, in which Gus, who is black, is the science fiction geek and Shawn, the white guy, is the cool one who rides a motorcycle. It's not reverse racism, it's just who the characters are ... is it a statement? Maybe.

- I was just talking about this the other day...that in America, 'white' and 'black' are used in such a way as to describe color. But that Asian people, Native Americans, Hispanics..there is no 'color' for them. Of course, there ARE terms, but none that are tossed around so casually like 'white' and 'black.' We readily accept saying "he's white" or black but we surely wouldn't say "Oh she's yellow"...but in Europe, I see a lot of nationalities and ethnicities tossed in lieu of color. There is no black or white as a color, words like 'the Frenchman' or 'Pakistani' are used...as if you don't need to have a color, but using the place of someone's nationality or ethnicity is enough to bring connotation to your words...how there's a bit of prejudice against Indian people and the chosen hateful words are to call them Pakistani (Or "Paki's" to be more insulting).

I didn't find the article to be extremely well balanced...it was extremely long, and thus hard to keep reading...taking out all of the recapping, one would be able to break it down into several succinct points.
"Faith being the de-facto 'girl from the other side of the tracks.'"

Or the de facto girl from _this_ side of the tracks, from some perspectives (mine, for example) ;)
ShadowQuest, don't forget Olivia. Wait--does she count as black or as British? Gotta keep track of the boxes we're putting people in.
jclemens She's black, British, and a "throw-away" character. (Except, ya know, for those of us who sail the Golivia 'ship.)

So, what surprised Buffy more? Walking into Giles' flat and finding a woman wearing nothing but socks and one of his shirts, finding a black woman wearing nothing but socks and one of his shirts, or walking in and finding a black English woman? The only other two "love interests" he had were both white...oh, wait - Jenny was Gypsy. So...hey! There's another one! Gypsies as a secretive, superstitious clan who curse people/vampires, deceive people and then get killed.

And Willow was Jewish. Let's not forget that. A Jewish lesbian, no less. A Jewish lesbian witch, even! Oh, the horrors!

Geez. Lighten up, folks - it's television. An escape, ya know? Next thing ya know, someone's gonna complain about there not being any black Terminators.

CaffeinatedSquint (Lovely handle, btw) Well, I grew up around folks who used "white," "black," "red" and "yellow" to describe people of color. Mom was from the southside of Milwaukee, which was predominately white. In fact, one of her brothers was so excited the first time he saw a black man that he ran home and told his mother he'd seen a "chocolate man."

We didn't use the N-word, although people on my father's side did (And still do, sometimes) use the derogatory I-word for Native Americans. I prefer Natives, myself. Thing is, not all black/brown-skinned people can trace their heritage to Africa, just as not all brown/red-skinned people are Native or Mexican. As I told the speaker in one of my college lectures - "If we all worried about not accidentally insulting someone by trying to be politically correct, we'd never be able to say anything." For instance - I wear glasses, I'm relatively short (Compared to others in my 6' family), my father's ancestors were from Ireland and I'm what you could call petite. So...am I a vertically-and-visually-challenged, small-sized Irish-American female? No. I'm me. Born & raised in America, but proud of my Irish heritage. (Mom's side has a lot of mix to it, but there's German, Prussian, and a bit of French.) Shrug I'm me. I don't fit nicely in a box. We'd all be pretty boring if we did. My best friend happens to be on the larger side, bi & from New York. Don't care - I like her, not what "groups" she fits into. (Or doesn't, as the case may be.)

I liked the characters & the stories told on "Buffy." Didn't bother me one whit that the lead was the only blonde until Tara & Anya, and Anya frequently changed her hair color & length.
Star Trek TOS only had one real black actor and cameos and episodic one shots with African American Males.

Dr. Who in its first incarnation (thirty year plus) only had a few instances of any African descended Europeans in any episodes that I can recall. Once during the Tom Baker Era and an appearance here or there during the Davison/Baker/McCoy eras.

While the new era of the Doctor did finally get a black female companion Martha Jones, Mickey Smith, who is the first black male companion to travel with the Doctor, starred in the beginning of the new series as a complete cowardly piece of…

He eventually helps saves two universes from a Dalek/Cybermen war.

Babylon 5 only had one major African American actor, Richard Biggs (RIP) and he ends up strung out trying to keep up with the body count of the shadow war, nearly killed in the middle of the run down section of B5 and eventually in charge of xeno-biology for the newly formed Interstellar Alliance.

His father is shown in a few episodes as nothing more then a hawkish general who despite all his son has done in the field of medicines for the Earth Alliance regrets his kid’s lack of willingness to hand over data on the Minbari that were waging war on Earth a decade earlier so that a virus or super plague could be crafted to help commit genocide on the alien race or at least slow them down so that the Earth Forces could get the upper hand in a losing battle.

Avery Brooks premiered as the top ranking officer of Deep Space 9 but it would be several seasons before he would be promoted to the rank of Captain on the show. He even got snubbed by TV Guide in the real world during a retrospect of Star Trek captains which technically he wasn’t (they later apologized of course).

As far as any of Joss’s buffyverse creations go, in my mind, Gunn actually made out the best in the Angel series because at least he and Fred came closest to some type of lasting love with each other during one very long apocalypse even if only for a short time.

Given that Angel will never be with Cordie or Buffy at this point and that as far as was seen Wes was in love for one TV week before Fred ends up gutted by Illyria and is now (post TV canon) an eternally damned slave to the unholy trio of the Wolf, the Ram and The Hart as was Lilah, the other woman he did love in a way but she could never be what he wanted, Gunn being turned to a vampire seems a silly sticking point.

Given what everyone else endures between seasons four and five and that as of season 6 the entire population of LA (with no knowledge of why) is sent to Hell just because the WRH are ticked that the Black Thorn were destroyed narrowing things down to one character on the basis of race also seems silly.

Whew!

While its always fun to nitpick over the nature of people and their portrayals over the ol’ boob tube (science fiction or otherwise) in the real world I simply try to love you all the same no matter what color, gender or religion you are or how badly you were screwed up by your childhood!

Some days are better than others ;-)
We didn't use the N-word, although people on my father's side did (And still do, sometimes) use the derogatory I-word for Native Americans.

Wait, what? I is now as bad a word as N? When did this happen? I've always considered the former word more a monument to the legacy of ignorant Europeans who didn't know where the were than any sort of inherently derogatory term--that is, I don't use it because it's offensive, I don't use it because it's stupidly wrong. It certainly can be used in an offensive manner, (usually as or with an adjective) unlike the latter term which is not used in polite or formal conversation at all, unless we happen to be discussing the word itself. (and even so, I've obscured the text in deference to those more sensitive than I about discussing evil explicitly) We still have many official government organizations in my state who use the first term.
No, American Indian is not an offensive term. Many people prefer it. A quick Google search came up with this:
"A 1995 Census Bureau Survey of preferences for racial and ethnic terminology (there is no more recent survey) indicated that 49% of Native people preferred being called American Indian, 37% preferred Native American, 3.6% preferred "some other term," and 5% had no preference."
(from http://www.infoplease.com/spot/aihmterms.html a nice summarization of the issue but the site does have some popups)

As far as the article, I think one of its weaknesses is that it tries to cover all black characters on both shows (while ignoring some like Jasmine and Olivia). An examination of Faith coded as other including info about Mr. Trick would work as would an examination of Gunn and race in general in Angel.

[ edited by theclynn on 2008-05-19 11:00 ]
Not much new there really. I'm sure most of us noticed the "whiteness" of Sunnydale and thought it unlikely and maybe slightly disappointing but I don't really find the argument that non-white characters were specifically treated poorly to be very convincing, especially with the level of cherry-picking in this essay.

And no, Indian isn't as bad as nigger (IMO the word is given undue power by blanking it out but I can see both sides) and in fairness to those "ignorant Europeans", it's pretty easy for us with our GPS, globes, atlases etc. to pour scorn. They made a mistake based on faulty assumptions and the name stuck, whaddya do ?

None of us fit in a box, obviously but we all fit in any number and which boxes people choose to put us in reflects as much on them as on us. Faith as coded non-white ? Cos of her clothes ? C'mon. So "white hat" and "black hat" hasn't been an obvious metaphor for, like, ever then ? Nah not buying (though I do agree she was deliberately "designed" to be Buffy's opposite even to the extent of perpetuating the old "brunettes are more serious/dangerous" cliché). Faith was a misfit among misfits as were Anya, Spike, even Andrew and that was the main point of her character IMO - that she didn't even fit among those that didn't fit anywhere else.

Re: Evil English/European people, folk over here are so used to it that it's the subject of wry humour. If the yanks want pompous/arrogant/aloof/villainous English is the go-to accent, presumably because of, y'know, history ;).

(and I actually grew up on the tracks. We learned to bathe quickly in my "house" I can tell you ;-)
The article is absolute nonsense. The author clearly had a preconceived idea and then twisted the facts to get the result he desired. I posted a polite response pointing out exactly where he'd got things wrong and he refused to put it up.
jclemens Wrong I-word. Think less letters. :-)

And...were there never any bodies of different-colored skin in the Bronze? I don't mean during parties or anything, just...in general.

What about some of the bands? Were they all white, as well?
Do you mean "injun" (i.e. a slang term for 'Indian') ? If so that still doesn't compare IMO. Mileage clearly varies though. Course, fun as blind guesswork is, you could always just tell us ;).

Gotta say, if you have to ask then by definition there weren't enough non-whites to register. As far as I recall the bands were pretty much exclusively white (possibly partly due to the sort of music the show generally featured). Pretty sure we don't see exclusively white people in the clientele though.
I really get so sick of all this "Oh, this [obscure detail] is obviously racism!!" crap pseudo-intellectuals spew about to further their agenda of making the world feel bad for enjoying whatever they feel like enjoying. It's doubly infuriating when they approach the topic with such a one-sided perspective.

Here's an idea: somebody write a 7000 word thesis on how many WHITE PEOPLE in the Buffyverse were portrayed in a stereotypical manner, were killed off without proper character development, or suffered severe personal tragedy as a result of trying to better themselves. You looking for racism? Look somewhere else, idiot, because the Buffyverse may have many (MANY many) flaws, but it is most certainly equal opportunity "life-sucks-and-everyone-gets-screwed-over."
Portrayal of race is still a very real problem with most of television, Buffy included. This article does not offer a good analysis of the issues though.
1-First, I have tog et this out of my system. This is meant to be a college term paper? The spelling (not the "typisting," I'm not doing glass houses thingie here) and grammar, yeesh!

2-Blacks; I have to agree on the numbers, and I think Joss admitted it.
Mr. Trick fit several stereotypes. I have to wonder what kind of human he started as. A Carlton from Fresh Prince type?
As for the clientele, crowd scenes,e xtras; I got the impression most episodes featured, in the background, at least one black couple plus a white guy with a black girlfriend.
KEndra; I guess not a stereotype. Robin Wood was, sort of; a black paragon like Sidney Poitier's John Wade Prentiss or Greg Morris's Barney Collier. Someone you can't object to unless you do it for racial reasons only.

Much, much more, tomorrow.
Thank you, thank you, and in continuation:

3-More on blackness as metaphor; Let's assume Bianca hadn't had to ditch on Cordelia and then the "characetrization" and storyline had played out exactly the same. There would have been a lot of talk about how "The black girl is the b***h" and Cosby-style recriminations about her wealth and those would have been called racially negative images.

4-Non-whiteness as metaphor. Given the conventions of much past wEstern literature, in many, many albeit nowhere near all ways, a black character is just a more extreme example of a character of color. And so, many of the images are the same or close.
Had any of the added-on regulars or near-regulars been non-white, it would have been regarded as demeaning, because one or more of those stereotypes would have been evoked.
I'm speaking of Wesley, Riley, Tara and especially of Oz and Anya. Had Oz been played by a flat-out black actor, there would have been massive complaints.

5-Okay, as Hillaire Belloc reminded us, MEditerraneans are considered less white than "the Nordic man, Be as much like him as you possibly can." Ergo,classic-Mediterranean Robia and the half-Dinaric half-Nordic Eliza. then again, as light as theya re, Sarah and Seth are Ashkenazic Jewish as is ALyson's mother. So the steroetype is being stretched.

6-A truly sore point. Saying Faith 's characterization makes her a stand-in for blacks. I'm reimnded of the hyenas in THe Lion King being referred to as "urban blacks" and of Scar, a villain in the classic tradition, as being "gay-ish." On one hand as hard conservative myself, I get a bit of a chuckle out of the Post-Modern and Post-post-Modern LEft appropriating so many of the disgusting cliches of the Old Right. On the other hand, it revolts me that these are still being used seriously by anyone anymore.

7-I think Kennedy was Hispanic , but it was never stated. And (Topping to the contrary) I think the East Asian SLayer who died in "Chosen" wasn't Chao-Ahn, based on general opinions i've solicited. More on her later.
I never reallys aw any Chao-Ahn scenes but it seemed her comic-relief role was mainly setting up jokes that were actually on Giles. Even tho eh was out of character. Altho apparently she came across as clownish as well. It could have been good subversive humor if it had been Giles being shown as ridiculous to the audience in a "colonialist gets his comeuppance" sort of way,e xcept that would have been even more out of character, plus Joss doesn't work that vein of ore.

My research on Chao-Ahn's survival or not was for a fic of course. I ahd teams of lving and dead Buffyversers go into t he apst to help hsitorical ehroes stop a supernatural menace. Chao was teamed with Dead Lydia and Live Kennedy to help Cochise and I wanted to know which side Chao was in. (For example, Buffy and Tara helped Cyrano.)

My expalnation of why Giles seemed so "off" when he came back in S-7 was because he was gradually being possessed by Mephistopheles. Culminating in a fighty-fight in January 2006.

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