Discourse & Identity III (Discussion)

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Television on the study of race and ethnicity

  • Group 4: Sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant reject the idea of racial essentialism and propose an approach based instead on a racial formation. Explain these concepts and compare them to the "gender identity" approach we discussed last week. Is there anything in the Girlfriends episode we watched that helps explain these concepts?
  • Herman Gray identifies three African-American discourses in TV.
    1. Groups 5 & 1: Explain what he means by the assimilationist category and why he puts Designing Women into it. Should the Girlfriends episode we watched be put in this category? Why or why not?
    2. Groups 6 & 2: Explain what he means by the pluralist category and why he puts Girlfriends into it. Why or why not?
    3. Group 3: Explain what he means by the multiculturalist. Should the Girlfriends episode we watched be put in this category? Why or why not?

Beretta Smith-Shomade

Beretta Smith-Shomade (pronounced "show-ma-day") examines "four intertwined elements in [1990s] television comedy that define and give meaning to Black women's representation there: work roles, characterization, class, and identity" (48). Each group should consider one key aspect of these elements and discuss how Girlfriends illustrate that aspect (or doesn't).

  • Group 4: work and class
  • Groups 5 & 1: identity: language
  • Groups 6 & 2: identity: skin shade
  • Group 3: identity: hair
  • All groups: characterization (i.e., conventional roles and stereotypes). Does Girlfriends rely on African-American stereotypes? E.g., "mammy," "sapphire," "tragic mulatto," etc.



Fresh Off the Boat

  • Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang)
  • Louis Huang (Randall Park)
  • Jessica Huang (Constance Wu)
  • Emery Huang (Forrest Wheeler)
  • Evan Huang (Ian Chen)
  • Grandma Jenny Huang (Lucille Soong)


  • Andre "Dre" Johnson Sr. (Anthony Anderson)
  • Dr. Rainbow "Bow" Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross)
  • Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi)
  • Andre ("Junior") Johnson Jr. (Marcus Scribner)
  • Jack Johnson (Miles Brown)
  • Diane Johnson (Marsai Martin)
  • Ruby Johnson (Jenifer Lewis)
  • Earl "Pops" Johnson (Laurence Fishburne)
  • Josh Oppenhol (Jeff Meacham)
  • Leslie Stevens (Peter Mackenzie)

All groups

  • We've looked at identity (gender and race/ethnicity) through the lenses of:
    1. Stereotyping of women, races, and ethnicities ("Images of women" and "Images of race/ethnicity")
    2. Gendered viewing and raced viewing
    3. Gender identity and the closely related concept of racial formation
    4. Third-wave feminism
  • Which of these approaches did you find the most useful way to analyze identity? Why? Which was the least useful? Why?
    • Email your answers to jbutler@ua.edu.
    • All responses received by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, 12/10, will earn one extra credit point on the exam.
    • The two most thoughtful responses will earn two extra credit points on the exam and will be posted here.
      1. Anna Rahkonen:
        • Of the lenses we used to analyze identity, I find that stereotyping is the most useful. This is because stereotyping has constituted a large amount, if not the majority, of representations of gender and race on screen. Because of this, we can use the analysis of gender and race through the history of stereotypes as a means of examining and contextualizing the entire history of television. In the practice of understanding why stereotypes exist and how they make up what we see on screen, we can deconstruct both the visual and historical elements of television as a medium which is crucial for understanding representations of indentities on screen.
        • I found the approach of third-wave feminism to be the least useful in analyzing gender and race representation. This is because feminism, by its nature of holding multiple 'waves', is ever-changing and evolving. Third wave feminism can be useful in a contemporary sense of analyzing race and gender, but will ultimately meet the same fate as the other waves of feminism. It will eventually become outdated and old-fashioned, hindering its potential longevity for usefulness in the analysis of race and gender in television.
      2. Kylie Long:
        • Most Useful: I believed that approaching identity in television texts through the context of gender identity and racial formation is the most useful. I believe it is the most complex and fluid lens, as the others are stuck in one particular era (like the third wave lens), or are perhaps less useful than others (like stereotyping - once you say that stereotypes are there, then what?). By analyzing how gender and race are performed, we can look at the broader cultural values of that society, and ground that discussion in both the era of the show's production and the era that the show is representing.
        • Least Useful: I found gendered and raced viewing to be the least useful in the context of a singular tv show. Attempting to find a common opinion among all people of a gender or race sounds like a futile exercise, especially because tv analysis is subjective. I believe that it does become useful when analyzing audiences across multiple shows, because that uses data to say "x group watched y, but not z." That data can then be used to make hypothesis, and used for interesting analysis.


  1. Jeremy G. Butler, Television: Visual Storytelling and Screen Culture (NY: Routledge, 2018).
  2. Beretta E. Smith-Shomade, “Laughing Out Loud: Negras Negotiating Situation Comedy,” Shaded Lives: African-American Women and Television (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 24-68.

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