The Colbert Report: all over Race and Ethnic Relations

Like many young Americans I don’t always have time to watch the news or read a paper in the morning so between checking CNN and BBC online I regularly watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.  Tonight’s Report covered several of the topics we touched on in class today including societal prejudices against other races and ethnicities such as blacks and Muslims as well as the importance of the combination of race and class.

Colbert’s show began discussing Muslims in America, referencing the woman who was demoted to a back stockroom when she wore her hijab to work at Disney.  Colbert reported that Disney offered her a similar headpiece that was “Disney-approved”.  The picture shows the blue scarf worn with a blue beret-style hat over it on a white woman.  Colbert pointed out that wearing the Disney version of the hijab would make the woman white like the woman shown in the picture. (For a picture please see: http://travel.usatoday.com/destinations/dispatches/post/2010/09/disney-oks-headscarf-for-muslim-employee/125413/1)  In addition to his commentary on the Disney incident, Colbert reported that Muslims are attempting to put mosques up everywhere and jokingly showed a picture of a mosque with Mickey Mouse ears as “more American”.  This related back to an early report that I can’t seem to find a copy of as of yet, (Colbert’s page is updated through 9/30/10) which basically had a man on it that said the sole purpose of Muslims in America was to spread Islam to eventually take over Christianity.  This furthered Colbert’s own interest for his March to Keep Fear Alive, which is to convince Americans that they should continue to be afraid of the current situation in America.  It is taking place on October 30th in Washington D.C..

For his special guest tonight, Colbert had Washington Post Associate Editor and columnist Eugene Robinson on the show.  Robinson’s latest book, Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America, will be released tomorrow, 10/5/10.  In his new book, Robinson discusses the history of black America using census data, polls and sociological studies along with his own personal experiences.  As his title suggests, Robinson breaks down black society in America into several groups.  He defined these groups to Colbert as follows: 1) an elite, transcendental group that is very wealthy and powerful such as Oprah and President Obama, 2) a mainstream middle-class which is where he placed himself, 3) an emerging immigrant population from Africa and the Caribbean and 4) an abandoned minority class that is suffering in poor, inner-city neighborhoods.

After our discussion in class today, I found this breakdown of black society particularly interesting.  Colbert’s most intriguing (and coincidentally his most serious) question was whether or not there was any tension between these four groups.  Surprisingly, Robinson reported that there is not.  This statement supports our discussion in class that race is a unifying factor and more important than class.  Until now, however, I would have thought differently.  Friendship-wise, I know I would have more in common with a black female of the same age and class as myself rather than another white girl who may have grown up poor, dropped out of high school at 14 and has been working since then to help support her family.  I figured shared experiences were more likely to unite people regardless of race rather than a shared history.  In addition, I would have thought that black people categorized into the fourth group may hold some resentment towards members of the first two groups because they have obviously had better and more frequent opportunities to succeed as a black American.  I have also heard the argument that black Americans who do succeed being accused of being “too white”, as if being successful at work or in school was something reserved for the dominant group.

Robinson also pointed out that the most educated immigrants coming to the United States today are from Africa which may be surprising to many people.  One of the questions that Colbert had for Robinson regarding this group was whether or not these immigrants want to be referred to as African Americans.  I have heard both sides of this debate after living in Cleveland for some time as I have black friends from Nigeria and Zimbabwe as well as black friends whose families have been in the United States longer than some white families.  After some mean looks at a late night soul food restaurant I asked my friend what the deal was and she explained to me (in her opinion) that she was treated differently from African Americans because she had the opportunity, almost the luxury, of living in Africa and choosing to come to America.  She also pointed out the other side of the story that sometimes Africans moving to the United States do feel superior to African Americans because they are “the real deal”.

As with all of Colbert’s interviews, I only got a snippet of what Robinson is trying to tell us.  I looked over a couple of his other articles available here (think blog ideas, people!) at http://projects.washingtonpost.com/staff/articles/eugene+robinson/ and I liked what I read.  This is a book I would definitely like to read, especially during this class.  If you want your own copy, get it here!: http://www.amazon.com/Disintegration-Splintering-America-Eugene-Robinson/dp/0385526547/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1286253568&sr=8-4

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