Why does the Empire surprise you?

UNTJ4250- Race, gender and media

During spring break, I took some time to binge-watch Fox’s new drama Empire. The show tells the story of the Lyons family. Cookie and Lucious Lyons hail from the rough streets of Philadelphia where they hustled and sold drugs to support their family while trying to make Lucious a famous musician. When the show opens up we find that Cookie has just finished a 17-year prison sentence and Lusious is about to take his music and entertainment “empire” public.

There are lots of twists and turns in the show. We see issues of infidelity, sexuality (specifically homosexuality in African American culture), drugs, murder, mental disease (again, and its stigma amongst African Americans), paternity, masculinity and of course music (the soundtrack is awesome).

Empire has been a success according to its ratings. It broke Fox’s 23-year record of having its viewership grow every week, something it continued to so until the season finale.

Social media played a role in the show’s success.

There was lots of conversation about why the show was a success and how the show’s success can be replicated by others (NPR, Vulture, The Daily Beast, to bring up a few). I think that these conversations are great. But I’m confused about why people are surprised at the show’s success. It’s not easy to get a television show on the air (see busted pilot), so when any show does well that should be a miracle alone. 

Empire definitely isn’t your traditional network show. It has a crazy plot, it’s a musical, this first season was star-studded (and hopefully it continues to be that way). The show is also colorful. All of the main characters are people of color and your don’t see that everyday in primetime. This does not mean that networks should scramble to find a show with an “ethnic” cast. But if networks can work with award winning producers and creators that aren’t the status quo, then hopefully more shows with a diverse cast will happen naturally and an ethnic cast can be the norm, instead of being an outlier.


Thank God for Shonda

UNTJ4250- Race, gender and media

Variety Magazine announced the news of a new Shonda Rhimes produced ABC show with this tweet.

And the queen of ShondaLand replied by saying…

That’s a great question. Shonda Rhimes is known for creating strong female characters- Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. Scandal is about a D.C. fixer. Grey’s Anatomy centers around the life of a doctor. And How to Get Away With Murder is about with a lawyer. These are all complex characters with storylines that are sometimes out of this world, but none of these professions speak to a specific gender or even a specific race.

Rhimes has written storylines about many things, including race and sexuality, but to me it does not feel like any of the characters in her shows are centered around their gender or their race. This says to me that when thinking of diversity in any situation, diversity should not be forced. Talent is something that is natural, and if it just so happens that you have created an environment with a diverse group of people organically, then every one wins.

Also important to note- only three women of color have won the Screen Actor’s Guild Award (peer-voted) for best actress in a drama series, and they all come from ShondaLand!


What’s in a name?

UNTJ4250- Race, gender and media

In class we talked about the story of Jose Zamora who found that he was not getting called back for job interviews, so he changes the name on his resume to Joe. He removed one letter in his name- already, I’m assuming, short for Joseph.

This reminded me of a conversation that I had with one of my peers that she brought up in a discussion group that we set up amongst friends.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 5.08.38 PM

This post broke my heart. This friend was the president of her PRSSA chapter, was an account director in her school’s student-run P.R. firm and had six internships/ jobs before she graduated last year. Professionals say that before graduating, students need to show leadership skills and experience. But she was still having difficulty finding a job she would enjoy and that she felt was qualified for. I am biased, because I am a little jealous of all she accomplished before she graduated. Obviously, there could be many other reasons that she wasn’t getting calls back for jobs.

But if you think you would be the perfect candidate for a job, and you have received good reviews from your bosses, and knowing that people do judge a book by it’s cover (in this case your resume) then what are you supposed to do in order to make your resume seem appealing or comfortable to employers?

This friend has a “different” last name (she is Nigerian). It’s not Johnson, it’s not Smith- it’s not English. So when looking at Jose’s story and thinking about my friend, it’s disheartening to know that no matter how much I might impress my current employers, or what my grades look like or what my references say about me (all good things I hope), there is a possibility that my resume might be pushed to the side because my name is “different.”

I love my name and I would never change it for anything to make someone else’s life easier. And if that’s the only difference between Sally Smith and name that’s not English is an issue of not being recognizable… then I don’t know what to do.

And my friend is in a job that she enjoys and that she believes she is deserving of (finally)!

#RaceTogether.. or not

UNTJ4250- Race, gender and media

In December, inspired by the state of race relations in the U.S. Starbucks CEO Howard Schutz announced the company would start conversations on race in America amongst Starbucks partners. His rational was that some of the problems that we are witnessing might be prevented through conversations.

In March, Starbucks announced that they would expand the scope of these discussions and encourage baristas to engage in conversations about and talk about #RaceTogether at Starbucks stores.

USA Today ad

USA Today ad


New York Times ad

There were lots of mixed emotions on this initiative. Personally, I think that this initiative was born with all the best intentions. With that being said, when I get to get my venti iced mocha frappaccino, I don’t want to engage in a conversation- I’ve already waited 15 minutes and I would just like my drink. Conversations about race can get pretty heated- I’m not saying that Starbucks barristas can’t engage in insightful conversation, but if I were to talk about race with a stranger, it wouldn’t be my barrista. I think that there is a time and a place for everything. It makes sense to talk about race issues in our class, but I wouldn’t want to engage in conversations about our class topics with a server at a restaurant, with a cashier at a grocery store or when I am getting my hair done at the salon.

Less that a week after the announcement, Starbucks said that they would end the program. This comes after the company’s senior vice president of global communications deleted his Twitter account (then reactivated it), lots of social media trolling, and

I think Starbucks’ intentions were good. I think that the execution was good. But can the implementation of a program like this ever happen successfully- we might never know.

UNT Distinguished Lecture Series: Ta-Nehesi Coates

UNTJ4250- Race, gender and media

*extra credit post 

As a part of the UNT Distinguished Lecture Series, Ta-Nehesi Coates came to talk about the role that millennial have in issues on social justice.


Ta-Nehesi Coates- The Atlantic

Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic Magazine. I became interested in Coates after his piece A Case for ReparationsI stated following him on Twitter after this piece came out and have enjoyed some of the insightful conversations that he engages in with other journalists.

Before the lecture, I was honored to be a part of a roundtable discussion. This was an opportunity for a select group of students and faculty members to ask Coates questions one-on-one.

Coates considers Ida B. Wells a genius. She was an African-American journalist who advocated for anti-lynching legislation, but no such bill was ever passed. Since Wells did not live to see the change she advocated for, does that mean her cause was lost. Coates notes that most activists don’t live to see the change they advocate for. But that shouldn’t discourage activists. With that being said, not everyone is born to be an activists, and if you don’t love what you are doing (being an activist, writer, etc.) then you shouldn’t do it.

Coates also talked about the “nonviolent fairytale” that was the 60s in the United States. If Hitler didn’t show the world the most extreme form of racism or if the Freedom Rides weren’t televised (embarrassing America) then change might not have happened at that time. The take away from the Civil Rights Movement is that you (individually) can not change the world- “the impossibility of change is the norm.”

One of the final questions Coates was answered was this thoughts on the use of the word “nigga.” His answer is in my opinion the best explanation I have heard (followed closely by this response from Marc Lamont Hill). People engage in conversations with people based on relationships. Coates’ wife refers to her friends as “bitches,” but he does not have the relationship with his wife or her friends that he would call any of them a “bitch.” Coates understand why black people refer to each other as “niggas” but he doesn’t understand the rhetoric that says the word should be banned. When black people use the word amongst each other, it is done in an ironic fashion, so for anyone to not respect that is to not respect the relationship that black people have with each other when they use the term.

Mayborn students at the VIP reception with Coates and Mayborn Dean Dorothy Bland (and our TA Matt)!

Mayborn students at the VIP reception with Coates and Mayborn Dean Dorothy Bland (and our TA Matt)!- picture from the UNT Division of Student Activities Facebook page. 

Now on to the lecture. Coates says that we make the decisions about what we individually identify as. For example- black people in Brazil and black people in Texas might not consider themselves the same.

Ending slavery was the ending of the right to someone else’s body. Voting is “cute” but it is just the right to have a say in how your tax money should be spent.

Race doesn’t exist, but racism does, but in order to get past race, we need to get past racism. This begs the question- whose job is it to get rid of racism? Do we need to end racism in our lifetime? Can we get rid of racism?

Coates ended the lecture a bit awkwardly, saying the biggest challenge our generation faces is…. climate change. I found this to be a bit random. I don’t see the connection between issues of race and climate change (he said that if we can’t get past racism, then we will continue to lie to ourselves).

One of the more surprising things that I took away from the night was that Coates does not consider himself an activist. I found that surprising because I think a lot of the things that he writes about bring make people feel like they should do something to change the world (that’s how I feel after reading his pieces anyway).