One Day at A Time and Race

According to Katharine Capshaw Smith’s Keyword essay on Race, we know that “race” is no more a concept that could be simply used as a category due to the increasing amount of individuals of mixed backgrounds.

Netflix’s hit comedy series “One Day at A Time,” features episodes about racism, sexism in the workplace, immigration and LGBT issues. The Cuban-American Alvarez family also finds itself at the center of the heated immigration debate. In the episode The Turn of Season 2, the 13-year-old Alex hit a kid in his school as he does not want to be “different” while he was told to “go back to Mexico” and had a schoolmate chant, “Build the wall!” comments that he has been getting repeatedly. It doesn’t matter that he’s Cuban or that he was born in America; all the bullies hear and see is a brown boy speaking Spanish. The mother Penelope opens up the discussion on racism and tells him that he could not control the racists or stop the effects of racism. While he should know that “this is your country too, and you deserve to be happy in it.”

On the other hand, Alex’s sister Elena says that she has been lucky and never been called anything. Their mother Penelope says that might be because Elena and Alex are different shades of color. This reminds me of the notion of colorism where white supremacist ideas of beauty are part of US culture. In Tony Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, through Freida and Claudia’s discussion about beauty, we get to know that whiteness always signifies beauty and cuteness while blackness is saying badness and ugliness. Moreover, Pecola was bullied because of her blackness and ugliness by people of a powerful position.

At the end of that episode The Turn, the whole family goes to an ice cream store. They start to sing again in Spanish and a white man comes up and tells them to keep their voices down with an offensive word fiesta. As Katharine discusses in the Keyword essay on Race, “Characters of color have been associated with libidinal energies and immoderate physical urges”, quite apparently, wildness is here the implicit racial stereotype added on Latinos. Back to the scenario, Penelope and Lydia go after to tell the white man off because he is stereotyping them. Penelope says that Americans might come in all shapes, sizes and colors, but they all have the same right to enjoy the rich diversity of the great nation.

Race should be a social construct and should be an idea that is displaced from biology. Also, it should be a way to articulate shared history, culture, and political goals.

4 thoughts on “One Day at A Time and Race”

  1. Hi Tiffany,
    Your comments on race and the show One Day at a Time are really great. It’s great to have a show that isn’t afraid to address some of the most contested issues today. I find it especially interesting that the show includes children and shows their point of view on these issues because as we saw from The Bluest Eye, children struggle to make sense of the world they live.

  2. Although I have not seen the series “One Day At a Time,” it is sad to see how a book published in the 70’s, which repeatedly suggests whiteness as a factor of feeling beautiful or admired, is still being considered by a boy in modern day America due to the bullying he has received from his own schoolmates. Although children of this age may have no power in terms of immigration policies, or government action, I think it can be argued that they have the greatest potential to transform some of the negative perceptions surrounding various races just in the way they decide to treat people from such a young age.

  3. This presents an interesting discussion of racism and colorism in America, but I also think your mention of the white man telling the Cuban family not to sing in Spanish is very relevant. I’ve noticed that there is a certain discrimination against and bias against people living in America who either don’t speak English, or are seen speaking a language other than English. I’ve heard people, even my own grandparents, say “This is America, speak English.” But I’ve noticed it’s nearly never about people speaking French or German, but generally against those speaking Spanish and Chinese. I think this bias against people who speak another language has a lot to do with racism, and just a general dislike for immigrants in this country.

  4. Thank you for sharing, Tiffany! I found your take on colorism to be limited. While it is true we discussed colorism in the context of beauty ideals it extends beyond that. I think within in this scenario, colorism is being depicted in Elena’s racially ambiguous appearance granting her the privileges of whiteness. Whereas her brother’s explicit brownness does not grant him the same privileges.

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