2012 Winter Term: Modern Racism in Popular Culture

Professors Dwaine Plaza and Earlene Wilson Huey


Course Overview

The primary objective of this ten week course was to provide twenty-four students with an understanding of the way in which contemporary popular media perpetuates the ideology of colorblindness in American life today.  The course examined how American popular culture has from its earliest beginnings in the 15th century embedded the notion of white capitalist patriarchal male supremacy. Using contemporary popular media (movies, music, magazines, and the Internet) the course provided students with an opportunity to think critically about the ways in which media sources naturalize the superiority of whiteness while at the same time denigrates all "other" non-white groups in the United States today.  The course also offered twenty-four students an opportunity to think critically about their own colorblindness and false conscious ideas about "race," gender and sexual hierarchies.

Below is a definition of modern racism. We follow the definition with examples of the students first major assignment (poster mock ups of their YouTube theme). The students were required to construct a YouTube video that demonstrated an aspect of modern racism in popular culture. The students worked individually or in small teams to create unique videos that captured the essence of what they learned about modern racism and popular culture in the course.

Course Syllabus Link

Definition of Modern Racism

Modern racism has evolved from an aggressive prejudicial behavior to a more subtle prejudicial behavior. This type of subtle prejudicial behavior is often felt as micro-aggressions by individuals while growing up or in their day to day activities. Modern racism is the mindset that certain races are better or worse with specific innate abilities or weaknesses. For example, black people are often regarded as naturally athletic, aggressive, uncivilized and animistic while white Euro-American people are often seen as morally superior, natural leaders, and civilized. Asians are often seen as intelligent but cunning, while Hispanics are regarded as unintelligent and dirty. Middle Eastern origin people are often thought of as being terrorists and a threat to Christianity. All of these myths are seen as innate manifestations that are embedded in our subconscious belief systems. Many of these beliefs are perpetuated by a media which show these stereotypes in different forms over and over again (movies, cartoons, music videos, sitcoms, newspapers etc...). Stereotypes are also further reinforced by our school system in the curriculum that is covered and not covered (e.g. the invisibility of Native Americans). The  socialization we receive while growing up in our families also contributes greatly to our beliefs in inferiority and superiority of  certain individual groups. Some of these beliefs become naturalized in the comments parent(s) or relatives make about other groups while children are growing up. Children come to accept these ideas without much thought.


The Angel-- Morgan Freeman (Bruce Almighty). Usually found in a servile position or functioning as a sidekick, this character serves as a source of spiritual strength, guidance and support to the central characters.

The Comic Relief--Chis Tucker (Rush Hour I & II). This character's culture serves as the fodder for most of the jokes; typical conduct includes boisterous and improper grammar, exaggerated motions and facial expressions, and intense emotion, often in stark contrast to standardized, White, middle class behavior.

The Menace to Society-- Denzel Washington (Safe House) . This character is portrayed as possessing a value system that poses a threat to civil "normalcy" either through violence or potential violence) and / or moral corruption.