Black Americans and the Failure of the American Dream in “Weeds”

Black Americans and the Failure of the American Dream in “Weeds” In Herman Gray’s article, Television, Black Americans, and the American Dream, he states, “Media representations of black success and failure and the processes that produce them are ideological to the extent that the assumptions that organize the media discourses shift our understanding of racial inequality away from structured social processes to matters of individual choices”. By this, he highlights the idea that people view the success and failures of black Americans based on a person’s life decisions rather than economic and social conditions. Furthermore, he discusses that “idealized middle-class black Americans confirm a middle-class utopian imagination of racial pluralism” whereas “the black underclass appears as menace and a source of social disorganization in news accounts of black urban crime, gang violence, drug use, teenage pregnancy, riots,’ homelessness, and general aimlessness”. By contrasting these two different social classes, Gray argues that both sides of the spectrum reinforce one another as it sets boundaries for “appropriate middle-class behavior as well as the acceptable routes to success”. The video linked above is a scene from a television show called Weeds. This show follows the life of a middle-class widowed woman, Nancy Botwin, who gets into the drug business to provide for her family, after her husband’s passing. The producer shows three different ethnic groups — white, black, and Hispanic — all involved in the drug business and how each of their experiences differ. This is interesting because it opposes the typical stereotype of a good middle-class white family that is usually depicted in most TV shows. In this scene, Conrad, Nancy’s friend, decides to go to the leader of a drug gang, U-Turn, to ask for financial backing for his pot growing business. U-Turn is depicted as violent, sexist, and avaricious which sets the stereotype of poor black men. In addition, this scene exemplifies Gray’s description of the “black underclass” as it portrays black Americans to be involved in “black urban crime, gang violence, and drug use”. This setup follows Gray’s argument that media representations alter our perceptions of black Americans due to the fact that they are usually depicted in this type of light. Because this show involves drugs, the producer uses black and Hispanic actors to represent the gangs, instead of having other white people. This clearly helps support the pre-existing stereotype of black and Hispanic drug culture as being poor and criminalistic. Furthermore, I find it ironic how in this scene, the lady on the game show is a white woman. This creates a perfect contrast in the lifestyles of both races, as the blacks in this scene are making drug deal offers to one another while the white woman is getting monetary/prize offers through a game show. Although this contrast is subtle and appears to be a normal game show that the characters are watching, it serves as a message to the viewers of the actual show of the social class difference between the two races. Discussion Questions: 1) How do different forms of media affect our views of “black culture”? (i.e. television, movies, music, social media, etc.) Please provide examples of each type of media and explain whether or not it creates a positive or negative image. 2) Provide a show in which black Americans are portrayed as successful middle-class individuals. Compare this to a show with poor, underclass black Americans and explain how each show differs. 3) Do you agree with Gray’s argument in which the poor provide a boundary for how the middle-class should act? If so, do you think it only applies to black Americans or is it universal for all cultures?

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