Is racism being shaken by pop culture?
The reputations of two American pop culture icons were impacted by racism in recent weeks: Papa John's and "Little House on the Prairie." How can rooted discrimination be detected and exposed without exerting censorship? What is the frontier of public (symbolic) lynching?
Perhaps things are indeed beginning to change. Maybe political correctness is the starting point.
Institutional racism displays its force almost daily and it is evoked all over the United States by its followers, who exert their racial hatred at ease. But adverse reactions to such prejudices are also roundly increasing. Racism is on the target. It seems vigilance is shaking the foundation of its entrenchment within American culture.
The power of collective response is countering racial hatred expressions, as we witnessed in the Aaron Schlossberg case. Little by little, the darkest areas of discriminatory social behavior are being illuminated. We now look at spots we did not look at before with a magnifying glass that allows us to examine what has been thus far considered natural.
In recent weeks, two icons of American and Anglo-Saxon pop culture have been affected at their core.
The most recent event is the resignation of John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s pizza chain. His image was present in all of the commercial campaigns of the franchise, which has operated in the U.S. and abroad since 1984. His face was even printed on the delivery pizza cases, but they are not visible anymore, El País newspaper reported, following a company’s decision.
On Sunday, the chain made the announcement that Schnatter was forbidden to talk to the press. In May, Schnatter used the “N-word” during a training course for executives. After the scandal, he sent a letter to the board of Papa John’s, according to CNCB, in which he stated he was provoked to say it when someone asked him if he was racist or not.
“I then said something on the order of, Colonel Sanders [KFC] used the word “N,” (I actually used the word,) that I would never use that word and Papa John’s doesn’t use that word.”
Schnatter apologized. A special committee of independent directors revoked his office in the headquarters of Louisville, Kentucky. El País correspondant’s Sandro Pozi also noted that the University of Louisville removed the name of the founder of Papa John’s from the commemorative plaque at the stadium. (The company is one of the major sponsors of the Super Bowl.)
The other event occurred in the literary scene, at the end of June. The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) removed the name of Laura Ingalls from the Children’s Literature Legacy Award because they consider the writer to be a racist.
Ingalls is the author and main character of "Little House of the Prairie" (1935), which was adapted to the homonymous TV show that reached high ratings in the 1970s and 80s. The association had created the award 60 years ago in honor of Ingalls. Its members now see that the work of Ingalls contains “stereotypes” against Native Americans and African Americans, which “are inconsistent with ALSC's core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness,” The Telegraph reported. In an early edition of the book, the report says, one of the characters referred to a setting as a place “where there were no people. Only Indians lived there." Various characters also proclaim that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian."
The decision of the ALSC aroused criticism, as did similar actions, like the elimination of "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1960) from high schools reading lists, as Pulitzer winner Harper Lee wrote the word "nigger" around 50 times. Naysayers argue that it is impossible to keep total purity in works that were made within their own historical context. They say that vetoing them is an act of censorship.
A position was recently created in the United States — "sensitivity readers." It is a proper job, charging by the hour or per manuscript. Their task is to spot racial, gender, class, social stereotypes that may be offensive. Writers and publishers can hire them prior to publication to hero their opinions, although they don’t hold veto power.
How can rooted discrimination can be detected and exposed without exerting censorship? What is the frontier of public (symbolic) lynching?
Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author of the award-winning book "Between the World and Me," writes that racism is a bodily experience. Racial hatred, he says, is the destruction of the body of its victim. Coates remarks that he, as a minority, never saw himself in any book he read or any cultural product he consumed, not the same way whites have always depicted. Dhonielle Clayton asserts something similar: she says she looked for and never found herself in anything she read as she was growing. Clayton founded the We Need Diverse Books organization in 2014.
Perhaps that is the point. These measures, as the seedlings of change, may seem outrageous to a society accustomed to a hegemonic way of mirroring themselves, so it could be useful for the debate to shift the focus towards Coates and Clayton's endeavors: that everyone — the wide, diverse America — can have the possibility to find themselves equally in any form of expression.