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raceAhead: I Want My Immigrant TV

October 18, 2018, 8:08 PM UTC
ABC's "Fresh Off the Boat" - Season Three
FRESH OFF THE BOAT - Citizen Jessica - As Louis and the Cattlemans Ranch staff prepare to serve as a polling place for the 1996 election, Jessica suspects that one of the restaurant employees may be an undocumented immigrant. So when Jessica reports her findings to the I.N.S., she learns that her immigration status is also questionable. Meanwhile, Eddie and his friends have a heated debate over who killed rapper Tupac Shakur, on ABCs Fresh Off the Boat, airing on TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 1 (9:009:30 p.m. EDT). (Kelsey McNeal/ABC via Getty Images) HUDSON YANG, LUCILLE SOONG, IAN CHEN, JILLIAN ARMENANTE, FORREST WHEELER, RANDALL PARK
Kelsey McNeal—ABC via Getty Images

I grew up in a pretty diverse part of New York City, filled with immigrants from a host of nations. It never occurred to me until later in life that nothing in my copious television viewing as a young person resembled in any way the experiences of the many people I knew and went to school with.

Could it really be that the most memorable immigrant character I grew up with was Kung Fu’s utterly non-Chinese David Carradine?

For all the improvements since the olden days—Fresh Off the Boat, Jane the Virgin, Master of None as recent examples—we still have a long way to go.

A new study from Define American, the media organization founded by Pulitzer-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, USC Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center and The Hollywood Reporter charted the depiction of immigrants on scripted television and compared it with data about their real life behavior.

Immigration Nation: Exploring Immigrant Portrayals on Television analyzed 143 sample episodes from 47 series airing in 2017 and 2018, and found that immigrant characters are portrayed as less educated and more prone to criminality than is actually true. Blame it in part on the never-ending search for a news peg, but these depictions matter.

“Historically, the way that media has portrayed marginalized communities has had a direct impact on how those communities were treated in wider society, from voting rights to criminalization of their mere presence in spaces,” Noelle S. Lindsay Stewart, entertainment media manager for Define American tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Here’s just one example. In the analysis, more than 34% of immigrant characters on TV are associated with crime, and 11% are depicted as formerly, currently or about to be incarcerated. Yet, according to studies by the Cato Institute and others, real-life immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born citizens. If you exclude the now-murky world of immigration-related detention, only about 1% of immigrants are incarcerated at the state or federal level.

These impressions shape the thinking of all sorts of viewers for whom television is the primary way they get to know people different from themselves.

A 2011 study conducted by The Opportunity Agenda, a social justice media organization, found black males are similarly depicted negatively in the media. (If, of course, they’re given a chance to speak at all.) These negative portrayals—as criminals, bullies, fools, or simply “underprivileged”—lead to real-world consequences. According to the authors of the study, there is a connection between these inaccurate media portrayals and “less attention from doctors to harsher sentencing by judges, lower likelihood of being hired for a job or admitted to school, lower odds of getting loans, and a higher likelihood of being shot by police.”

Not to mention the creation of an ill-informed electorate unprepared to understand the outcomes of their policy ideas.

But a commitment to more nuanced story-telling—showing immigrants and people of color as fully realized human beings living in a complex world, can help.

It’s about proximity and understanding. “Our research experience also suggests that hopeful stories and novel ideas can go a long way towards engaging new audiences and new support,” the authors of the report say. Think of it as entertainment as bias-mitigation training.

“The idea of a color-blind society is appealing to many Americans for a variety of emotional and ethical reasons,” they say. “However, those who advocate for a color-blind society are often responsible for suppressing discussions of race that are ultimately essential for addressing disparate obstacles.”

On Point

A new tax code loophole is incentivizing billionaires to invest in low-income communitiesThis fascinating read from Recodeleft me pondering one of life’s big questions. Just how many billionaires are there? The mega-wealthy are all abuzz about a hot new tax write-off crafted in part by early Facebook exec Sean Parker, which lets wealthy investors put money that comes from appreciating stocks, sale of a start-up, or other asset that’s increased in value, into new “Opportunity Zones” to avoid capital gains taxes until 2026. There are 8,700 Opportunity Zones across the U.S., the money will be applied to a variety of projects, some of which will make a return, some of which won’t. Hard to say if the investments will actually be good for communities, either way, expect chest-thumping from wealthy tax avoiders.“It’s designed to have them do something with their capital that’s productive, rather than just sitting on a huge amount of Facebook stock or something,” says Parker.Recode

Facebook has been mislabeling ads targeting black, Latinx and LGBTQ audiences as political and removing them
A new analysis from USA Today shows that many of the ads being removed from the Facebook platform for being “political,” were simply targeting black, Latinx and LGBTQ audiences. They included decidedly non-political advertisements like prostate screening for African American men, a black women’s group promoting dolls with natural hair, even free delivery from Chipotle was mislabeled as political. These stricter guidelines were created after the company came under fire for failing to disclose the origins of ads during the 2016 election season, and have vowed to do a better job eliminating fake, manipulative or misleading ads using AI and moderators. The new barrage of complaints highlight how difficult it is to police content on the site.
USA Today

A political candidate masters the complexity of life in modernTexas
Sri Preston Kulkarni, a Democrat, is running in Texas’s 22nd District. His opponent Rep. Pete Olson, is a once-popular incumbent now running in a district with shifting demographics and disengaged potential voters. Olson has called Kulkarni an “Indo-American carpetbagger,” an odd charge, since the challenger can trace his family line all the way back to the 1600s. But instead of biting back, Kulkarni has put together what promises to be a model for campaigns looking to engage under-represented voters, particularly the largely overlooked Asian American communities. In addition to micro-targeting communities with neighbor-to-neighbor canvassing, the campaign has held phone banks in 13 languages, including six dialects spoken in India and Nigeria’s Igbo language.
The Intercept

A Milwaukee-area woman arrested while waiting for a job interview files a federal lawsuit
Here’s the thing: She wasn’t just arrested. Robin Anderson, 20, had arrived early for a job interview and was sitting in her car, when a squad car slammed into her driver’s side door. Then another officer broke her passenger side window and pointed his firearm at her. Then, they made her crawl over the broken glass and arrested her. The officers had been on the lookout for black male suspects in a series of store robberies; Anderson’s car was not a match, her license plate number was not on their list, and no women were involved in the alleged robberies. She has filed a racial profiling lawsuit. “This is something that I see all the time, everywhere, that African-Americans are being stopped for no reason and police officers aren’t being held accountable for the situations when they are wrong,” she told the Milwaukee Sentinel. “I just want it to stop.”
Journal Sentinel


The Woke Leader

While we are on the billionaires-saving-the-world thing…
On the heels of the terrifying new U.N. report that says we have about ten or so years left to mitigate the worst parts of climate change, GQ is making the case that it is the modern version of wealthy industrialists who are to blame. Individual choices aren’t going to do much, says Luke Darby. “The real impact comes on the industrial level, as more than 70 percent of global emissions come from just 100 companies,” he says. “The people who are actively cranking up the global thermostat and threatening to drown 20 percent of the global population are the billionaires in the boardrooms of these companies.” Guess who the biggest offenders are?

“By my 24th birthday, I had called five prisons home”
This riveting long-read by Reginald Dwayne Betts is more than a post-prison memoir, although it certainly reveals the strange and tragic ways that young black men end up in prison, and how they are prevented from making their way from there. But Betts is an adult now, and since leaving prison has earned a bachelor’s degree, an M.F.A. in poetry, and a law degree from Yale. He got married and is raising a family, and like so many formerly incarcerated people, has struggled to find work despite his particular success. “I made my criminal record, even in the middle of an accomplishment, visible—brutally permanent. A tattoo,” he writes. It’s also a constant trade-off, as he navigates how to tell the world, his son, their teachers, etc, about his eight years in prison. But now, poised to intervene in the lives of boys very much like his younger self, he's been waiting for a different verdict. Would the Connecticut Bar accept him?

Meet the Tuskegee Airman from the Dominican Republic
There are plenty of Afro-Latinx figures who have been lost to history, so many, in fact, that The Root has created a very cool series about them called “Mi Gente Afrodescendiente,” or “My People of African Descent.” Esteban Hotesse was the only Dominican member of the Tuskegee Airmen, and became one of the organizers of the Freeman Field Mutiny, a group of pilots of color who entered a whites-only officers club on a military base in Indiana to protest racial segregation in the armed forces. The Orange is the New Black actor and Dominican native Dascha Polanco narrates this short video.
The Root


…[T]he musical, through its music, dances, romantic melodrama and its exoticism of cultural otherness distracts from the racism within it…"West Side Story" depicts a fight for urban space, a space that’s already been impregnated with Anglo-American cultural symbols and political significations for power relations, interactions and social actions…[T]he musical projects how the Puerto Rican migration to New York City in the 1940s and 1950s not only usurps the order….of Anglo Americans…it constitutes a threat to the assumed coherent and monolithic identity of the Anglo-American subject.
Alberto Sandoval Sanchez