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, Fresh Off the Boat, or black-ish episodes 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 Fresh Off the Boat and black-ish episodes 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. Should the Fresh Off the Boat and black-ish episodes we watched be put in this category? Why or why not?
    3. Group 3: Explain what he means by the multiculturalist. Should the Fresh Off the Boat and black-ish episodes 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 the 21st-century sitcoms we viewed—Girlfriends (2000-2008), Fresh Off the Boat (2015-), and black-ish (2014-)—illustrate that aspect (or don'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). Do Girlfriends and black-ish rely on African-American stereotypes? E.g., "mammy," "sapphire," "tragic mulatto," etc. Does Fresh Off the Boat rely on Asian (specifically, Chinese) stereotypes?



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, 12/11, 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. 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.

External links