Post Racialism, Romance, and The Real World D.C.

Post Racialism, Romance, and The Real World D.C.

Volume 11, Issue 13 (2010-05-07)

Jon Kraszewski, Assistant Professor of Communication
Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersery

MTV recently finished airing The Real World, DC, the twenty-third season of this long-running reality series. This past season, Ty, an African American from Baltimore, and Emily, a white roommate from Columbia, Missouri, became the series first interracial heterosexual couple. The Real World previously captured a few interracial one-night stands between roommates and people outside the house, and season three occasionally portrayed the courtship and engagement of Pedro Zamora and Sean Sasser, an interracial gay couple, although Sean was not part of the cast. The relationship between Emily and Ty is unique because both were members of the cast and had an ongoing relationship.
The romance, which is part of a larger post-racial project on The Real World where race no longer matters in an integrated world, is representative of a third era of race relations on the series. During the Clinton presidency, The Real World focused on defining country conservative roommates as racists and then on the urban African Americans who teach these country hicks the errors of their ways, in the process transforming the rural roommates into hip, urban liberals free of any racism and in line with MTV’s then liberal brand. In the early 2000s, The Real World turned its attention to multiracial roommates with one black and one white parent. Here MTV transitioned out of its liberal brand and courted viewers across the political spectrum, a move the channel had to make to stay relevant after the election of George W. Bush and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The Real World tapped into the liberal beliefs (i.e., multiracialism could help dismantle America’s racist past) and conservative notions (i.e., multiracialism was a neoliberal project of racial self-management in opposition to African American civil rights initiatives) present in multiracial activism at the time to win over viewers of various political backgrounds. Since the election of President Barack Obama, The Real World has presented race as inconsequential, as an afterthought in an integrated world. In the 2009 season set in Cancun, the roommates were multiracial, black, white, and Latina. Aside from the roommates identifying their races in the premiere, they never mentioned race again…

…As it defines Ty and Emily as atheist hipsters and dedicated athletes, The Real World provides troubling assumptions about blackness by positioning Ty as a threat to whiteness. Here race matters, even though the post racialism in the series claims it does not…

…It is hard not to see the post-racial world on the DC season as a nostalgic fantasy of blackness’ threat to a white America, especially since the season is set in America’s capital. Although race doesn’t matter in the way the series initially portrays the romance of Ty and Emily, race becomes important as Ty becomes a threat to Emily, the other roommates (especially white women), and white moms…

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