- Letter from the Guest Editors
The study of popular culture can serve as an apparatus to challenge long held ideologies that reinforce white supremacy. John Weaver notes in his 1995 review essay that "[p]opular culture offers us the opportunity to understand the everyday construction of racial, sexist and social class stereotypes in our institutions such as schools, the media, the courts, and the television/film industries."1 Although popular culture provides a space to critique white supremacy and, most importantly, a platform that can offer alternate representations of people of color (POC) and other marginalized groups, the political, economic, and social structures in the United States as well as in the global community are deeply rooted in white and Eurocentric hegemony. Wesley Morris's August 2017 New York Times article, titled "In Movies and on TV, Racism Made Plain," provides an important conceptual framework for contextualising this special issue. His premise is simple: whiteness and white supremacy are so normalized and embedded in American popular culture (and elsewhere) that "[e]ven when you aren't looking, it manages to follow you."2 Whiteness therefore remains a focal point in our daily discourse as evidenced in the national and cultural spaces surveyed in this special issue, which range from Australia, China, Hawaii, the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
New configurations of racism and racialization have emerged in popular media and political discourse in the last decade, warranting critical attention to the mediation of whiteness. We note briefly here that as this special was being finalized in late August 2019, the New York Times Magazine released the highly anticipated The 1619 Project: a collection of seventeen essays from academics, journalists, and social activists commemorating the 400th anniversary of the landing of the first enslaved Africans to what would later be called Jamestown, Virginia (in the United State of America). [End Page 121] While July 4, 1776, is widely accepted as the founding of the United States, the aim of The 1619 Project is to challenge its readers with the premise that contemporary issues such as police brutality, poverty, and mass incarceration, which negatively impact African Americans, are deeply rooted in slavery since the arrival of the first Africans in North America in 1619. Although the intention of the Project is to address injustice and redemption for people of color in a society rooted in white privilege, it is currently receiving heavy backlash where whiteness remains the focal point of the rebuttal to representations of histories that do not align with colonial narratives.
At this popular-political juncture then, this special issue of JAPPC on "Whiteness and Race in Popular Culture" explores how whiteness and race are represented in a range of media and media spaces. From popular literature, film, television, blogging, and social media, essays in this collection examine what race signifies in order to explicate who is included and excluded in popular imaginations of the local, national, and global. The essays ask critical questions about how race, whiteness, and racism are normalized in popular cultures and the broader consequences of the media's circulation of racial hegemony and racialized subjectivities. The special issue makes an important contribution to existing popular culture studies by disclosing this culture's intersection with the social, economic, and political reifications of racialized power structures.
If the diversification of audiences has become a recognized media strategy for expanding popular culture's markets, the essays collected here suggest that whiteness is reaffirmed rather than destabilized, as with the responses to The 1619 Project. Lisa Vonk's article on "mummy" blogging in Australia and the performance of "wokeness" suggests that this industry is popularizing anti-racist literacy and rhetoric. However, she finds that being woke serves as a form of cultural capital that centers rather than displaces a focus on white women and their performance of motherhood. Likewise, Kecia Ali, Mat Hardy, and Richard Voeltz's essays focus on media texts that appear to include non-white characters and settings but that, on closer inspection, simply utilize (and in some cases dispose of) non-white peoples and cultures in order to reinforce the importance of...