Friday, April 10, 2015

"New Girl" Talks About Race

Not sure if anyone is watching "New Girl," but this weeks episode features a scene in which a black cop (Winston) and his white best friend (Nick) discuss the current racial climate in America and how that impacts his job. It could have gone a lot deeper, but I find it surprising that they brought it up at all on a Fox sitcom.

In the scene, Nick asks Winston if he wants to know what he thinks about the situation. Winston responds, "No, I don’t. This is something you can’t understand.” Nick responds, “Why, because I’m not black? Because I don’t work for NASA, I can’t fix a rocket ship?”

I thought this was a pretty funny way to put it. Nick is trying to give an opinion on something he's never experienced, but does that mean he shouldn't be included in the discussion and should just listen? I'm not totally sure how I feel about it - race is also a white person's issue in the same way that feminism is also a man's issue, but it probably would be better if those without experience would listen more instead of act like they can fix the rocket ship without any training. Nick can understand it intellectually, but can he really understand it emotionally? We don't dig in to Winston's motivations for becoming a cop or their other roommate Coach's opinion as “the only other black man in this loft,” but at least they addressed the issue somewhat, and sadly, that's amazing for a network sitcom these days.

The episode was co-writer by Lamorne Morris, who plays Winston. You can read an interview with him about it here. You can also watch the scene and read one reviewer's take on the how well the race discussion was handled.

What do you all think? Did they handle it well or totally drop the ball? Does a sitcom have any business taking on such an important issue if they're not going to treat it completely seriously?


  1. Thanks for bringing this to our attention! I think it's a very interesting question, to look at how seemingly frivolous comedies deal with the very serious issues of race, especially in such racially charged times. I'm not bothered by its inclusion here or even the manner in which it's brought up. Nick's character throughout the series (I am only basing this on memory as I stopped watching somewhere in Season 2) lacks total self awareness, but the NASA/rocket ship analogy to me, is his way of unwittingly agreeing with Winston's assertion that "you don't understand." No Nick, you can't fix a rocket ship. On the other hand, I can imagine it's a very frustrating thing to be told "you don't understand" concerning issues of race and gender for those who occupy the majority group. As I am myself a black female I'm always curious and open to hearing out "the other side" for lack of a better phrase. I do think that privilege can sometimes cloud judgment (i.e. Patricia Arquette's Oscar misstep concerning who fights for civil rights) but the only way to have meaningful dialogue about these issues is for all groups to be active in the conversation. So for that matter, I'm happy that New Girl is choosing to address race in this way, even if momentarily and not soon again. The only other option for the show would be to ignore the current social climate (detrimental) or break character to become preachy (problematic).

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  3. I'm honestly so surprised they even discussed race! Race always seems like the red-headed step-child that they lock in the closet on network TV. I stopped watching New Girl a while ago, but I think this is an interesting conversation. I agree with Myah. I think it's frustrating for the majority to constantly be told they don't understand. On the other hand, I think it's situations like these that can forge understanding. As a black woman, I've had to explain a lot of things to my friends among the majority. I think it's easier to get frustrated and shut down when you feel that someone of the majority doesn't understand the issues you encounter as a minority on a daily basis, but I find that having an honest discussion about race with someone of the majority not only makes me feel better, but helps some of my friends see where I'm coming from. I think having an open dialogue about race is really the only way to promote any kind of change.

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  5. That episode was definitely interesting, thanks for bringing it up, Jess. The show has been trafficking pretty heavily in ethnic White identity with Schmidt, but now that Winston and Coach are (arguably) the show's new MVPs (and also maybe in response to Wayans, Jr. and Johnson recently doing a buddy cop comedy in this climate), the showrunner/writers know that 1. the show must address race and 2. the show must address the fact that one of their Black characters is a cop. Of course it was addressed in a comical and surface-level way, but having Winston matter-of-factly tell Nick, as a White person, to take a step back and listen because there is now way he will ever know his experiences, is important for a broadcast channel sitcom.

    I do think, however, that he got off easy with his love interest in the end (she was only mad that he lied, not that they may have fundamentally different ways of looking at the world....and those different perspectives concern an injustice system built off of and thriving on Black death in all of it's forms). So of course it undermined the earlier conversation between Winston and Nick, but hey, I can acknowledge it was in some way (maybe) helpful.