Race in 2017: Are our attitudes towards race progressive or are we still too conservative?

The 69th Emmy Awards which was aired last month, finally gave race the recognition it deserves. Riz Ahmed became the first Asian man to be awarded with ‘Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie’ for his role in ‘The Night of’. It didn’t end there. Representing African-Americans, Donald Glover won awards in directing and acting. However, after an impressive night where awards were given to Asians and African-American men and women, there is still a feeling that more progress needs to be made to represent different cultures in society.

Just by looking at the diversity of this years’ nominees, we can certainly see an improvement in recognition for British-Pakistanis and African-Americans since the ‘Oscarssowhite’ 2014 Twitter campaign launched, the year where not even the civil rights drama ‘Selma’ was nominated for its acting. Since then, we’ve seen culture being represented more, from TV shows like the African-American ‘Black-ish’ to the ‘Levi’s’ advert of 2017 which sees a diverse group of Indian Hindus, Pakistani Hindus, white and Hispanic men and women all dancing together. Indeed, within seconds, this particular advert hones in on a black woman and a young white man and only moments after that it cuts to these two cultures dancing together. Granted, this may be just an advert selling jeans, but what is particularly striking is its message of celebrating equality and diversity, whilst its jeans were used to symbolise unity.

The final message the advert leaves us with is ‘Let’s live how we dance’. At first, this seems to suggest living a life filled with joy, but to me it runs a little deeper than that: we should learn to live together like how we dance together.The problem with all of this, however, is not how it is so unrealistic to suggest that all of these people could afford these jeans(?!) but how we are still having to address the issue of racial awareness when it is the 21st century.

Meanwhile, the song ‘Makeba’ accompanies the advert. Jain’s song refers to the black South African singer Miriam Makeba, an honour to the 1960s civil rights activist’s life. Along with Makeba’s renowned ‘Pata Pata’ song, which is just as lively, they both reinforce the importance of celebrating African traditions such as Johannesburg dances and drums. It is really great that Jain’s song is used in an advertising campaign as it increases awareness of getting society to appreciate the African culture and its roots.

Similarly, Claudia Rankine’s 2014 lyrical poem, ‘Citizen’, makes readers remember that low level discrimination against racial minorities still exists. Her progressive thought is inspiring: we need to remember that race should be valued. We are supposed to be a ‘post-race’ society, but prejudice and discrimination are still very real issues today. Indeed, it partly explores Serena Williams’ disfranchisement with the tennis world. It explores how she feels that, as a black African-American woman, she is not allowed to feel like the tennis champion that she actually is. After viewing the media’s recent representation of black African-American men and women, it may seem that racial recognition of people of this ethnicity has now been addressed, but we still have a long way to go…

At the end of one of Rankine’s anecdotes a car crash happens, as if to represent how we need a dramatic or violent action in order to make us stop and think about racism. Rankine leaves us with this thought: ‘The time shortens between where we are and where we are going’. The comparison between the present and the future suggests that the current thinking in society is at a standstill and there is no real movement, so a crash is needed in order to enact that change.

It is art which we have to thank for producing such important racial messages.

The last issue I want to cast a look at is the casting of James Bond. From July 2017 it was confirmed that Daniel Craig would be continuing his role as the secret service agent. Whilst there is a lot of speculation every year over who will play the next iconic figure, it has always been a white man. However, isn’t it time that we cast a Chinese man, a Bengali, a man of white and Hispanic origin to give these people more recognition in society? However, the recent announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the first female doctor in ‘Doctor Who’ is an amazing breakthrough for females getting more recognition beyond just being Doctor Who’s sidekick.

Unfortunately, the James Bond construct, which has been upheld since the 1960s when the film franchise first began, has not quite accepted this transition for their series. The problem with this is that it keeps us in the past, in a time when we are trying to evolve. A time where black writers are getting more recognition such as in the Emmy’s, but are not fully appreciated because we are still attached to past ideals.

So where does that leave us now? I feel progress has been made for more racial recognition for African-Americans and British-Pakistanis, as seen through the Emmy awards to these people, as well as the Levi’s advert for celebrating such diversity as well, but this isn’t enough progress. While we keep putting one step forward, we need racial diversity to be recognised more. Instead, it seems to be a much more gradual process. However, Doctor Who’s big breakthrough with its casting of a female doctor gives us hope that one day, the different races in society will finally get the full recognition that they deserve too.

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