- THE POST-RACIAL MYSTIQUE: Media and Race in the Twenty-First Century by Catherine R. Squires
In an era when racism persists as a stealth ideology, institutionalized but rarely signaled by a white hood or epithet, anti-racist scholars are challenged to isolate racial motive in cultural texts and to raise its grain for persuasive critique. This is the aim of Catherine Squires’s latest book, a response to the subtlety and deniability of racism following the election of the first nonwhite U.S. president and conservative claims that we have moved beyond race—that equal opportunity has magically become the prevailing American ethic. On the contrary, Squires insists that claims of colorblindness derive from ignorance, sometimes naïve and sometimes willful, and [End Page 172] that race remains a salient and powerful determinant of social and political capital. No one attuned to the insidiousness of racial nuance in the twenty-first century would fault her premise.
Unfortunately, the book falls short as an anti-racist and scholarly intervention. Most notably, it overreaches in its argument, leaving it vulnerable to blanket rejection by the post-racial conservatives who are its purported target. Indeed, the evidence is insufficient even for preaching to the choir.
For starters, the title broadly identifies media as the location of post-racial ideology. In fact, the book’s five chapters offer narrow interrogations that cannot be generalized across media or for the media as a whole. The strongest chapter entails a nicely contextualized analysis of a LexisNexis search of the term “post-racial” in news accounts over a twenty-year period; however, the other chapters examine just one in a series of conservative Christian programs broadcast on both television and the Web, two seasons of the television series Parenthood, and a sampling of anti-racist blog posts.
Methodology is a recurring weakness. For example, in the book’s examination of the blogs and audience responses to Parenthood on a Facebook site, the criteria for selection and analysis of texts are unclear and seem arbitrary. In these chapters, sample size and the parameters of the study are questionable. How representative are a few Parenthood viewers who discuss the program on social media as if agency resides with the characters, not the writers, and who at times lose track of the boundary between fiction and reality? The textual analysis of the series’ plot, which focuses on the dramatic tension created by interracial characters, also minimizes alternative readings of a storyline in which gender and class are prominent.
As well, the chapter on the conservative Christian program Justice Sunday III gauges audience response from a focus group of just fifteen participants, all of them college students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, who were shown a thirty-minute excerpt from the longer program.
These methodological concerns suggest that using the book in a seminar or as foundational literature for further scholarship may be problematic. In addition, the manuscript shows clear signs of being hurriedly prepared and edited.
Even so, there is perhaps a more important concern, given the aims of the book. Because the evidence and the conclusions drawn from it invite criticism, the book provides an easy target for those who advocate that the United States has in fact made a post-racial turn.
Obviously, a scholar who seeks to establish a pattern in cultural practice must pick and choose from available texts and artifacts. At the same time, if a study cannot be comprehensive, the evidence must be credibly representative. In the case of scholarship that contests and attempts to disrupt undemocratic practice, the evidence must be so compelling that audience members can recognize ideology at play and be prompted to question their own assumptions. [End Page 173]