“What’s Missing?”

Berkeley Connect Ethnic Studies & African American Studies hosts its first-ever faculty game show

game show 3

African American Studies professors Leigh Raiford and Michael Cohen agreed to go head-to-head in “What’s Missing?,” a faculty conversation in game show format, hosted by Berkeley Connect in Ethnic Studies & African American Studies. Professors (and students) shared critical perspectives about current events while also having some fun.

The contest had three categories from which to choose: “Racial Codes,” “Scandal,” and “Who Gets to Say?!” Each category contained topics related to current events; the professors were each given two minutes to answer the titular question (“What’s missing?”).  Berkeley Connect Mentor Michael McGee facilitated, and the audience was encouraged to chime in.

Professor Cohen chose “Who Gets to Say?!” for the first question. The situation? Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani’s recent remarks that President Obama “doesn’t love America.” In February of this year, Giuliani claimed that he felt the current president criticized America more than any other president and questioned Obama’s patriotism. “What’s missing from the critique?,” Michael asked.

“What’s missing is any critical thought,” Professor Cohen said, half-jokingly. “It’s ironic that this was said at a fundraiser hosted by [Wisconsin governor] Scott Walker, who is dismantling public education in his state. What does it mean to ‘love’ America?”

Professor Raiford rolled next and chooses “Scandal” because she loves the TV show by the same name. Raiford, who happens to be married to Professor Cohen, jokes, “When I watch the show, he will watch from the doorway.” The topic chosen discussed the Daily Californian article featuring Boalt Law student Jeremy Long, who became a porn star to address the lack of Asian males in the industry. What’s missing? “Several things. First, the fact that the word porn makes people so uncomfortable. It’s a huge industry and it’s not going anywhere. Also this is obviously challenging the stereotype that Asian American men are effeminate, and it is interesting the way porn has been used by people of color to create a space for their own pleasure.”

One student further pointed out that the article mentioned that Long mentioned his videos often had him having sex with non-Asian women. “It’s really important that he’s reclaiming Asian masculinity without throwing Asian women under the bus,” she said, noting how oversexualized and fetishized Asian women often are in our society.

Next round had the professors discussing a particularly sensitive topic – the Chapel Hill shootings that led to the deaths of three young Muslim Americans at the hands of their neighbor, Craig Hicks. In particular, they focused on the framing of the incident as a parking dispute and Hicks as “just an angry man.”

Professor Cohen responded, “What I would call attention to is white masculinity and the privilege that comes with it and how white men are always seen as lone gunmen. There is clearly something else here. Despite how obviously tragic it is, people still see it as an isolated event, because white men are always seen as individuals. People of color, on the other hand, bear the burden of representation. If it were the other way, Rudy Giuliani would be decrying them as terrorists.”

The next question delved into the world of entertainment. After performer Zendaya wore dreadlocks to the Oscars this year, “Fashion Police” host Giuliana Rancic joked that Zendaya probably “smells like patchouli oil and weed,” inciting anger nationwide for her racist remarks. Zendaya herself issued a response, calling Rancic out for her “ignorant slurs and pure disrespect.” Rancic issued an apology, but Professor Raiford wasn’t impressed. “I want to focus on the racial apology,” she said. “It’s an on-going genre. We could make a class about it, although it would be a short class. The whole ideas is ‘I didn’t mean to be racist, but sorry if I offended you.'”

Mentor Wanda Alarcon added that the joke was actually pre-taped. “It was meant to seem off the cuff, but it was actually the third take,” she said. “So they had options and still went with it.”

“Not to mention the presumed association between black people and weed. The biggest consumers of marijuana looks like me, a white man,” Professor Cohen added. “For those who want to go into entertainment,” Professor Raiford said, addressing the students, “this is why representation matters.”

Representation came up again when discussing Sean Penn’s green card joke when announcing the winner of Best Director, Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu. “What’s missing is the actual demographics,” Professor Cohen said. “Someone tracked down the majority of the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who get to vote on the winners of the Academy Awards each year. It is over 90% white, 80% male, and the average age of members was about 62.” He added that no women had ever been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography and only a few women have been nominated for Best Director. “Racism in the Oscars is even more apparent,” he noted.

The last question focused on an issue right here at our school. Professor Panos Papadopoulos, chair of the Academic Senate, raised concerns that student athletes who don’t perform well in class lower the standards of the university. He supports changing policy to ensure that student athletes can meet rigorous academic standards. Although race was not explicitly brought up, Raiford pointed out the obvious racial dynamic at play. At Berkeley, 25% of African American male students are athletes, who often spend over 30 hours a week practicing their sport. “One place to start is the question of labor,” she said. “We have to consider the kinds of demands that are put on players. They wouldn’t be able to be at this event, for example, because they have to be at the gym. Their athletic obligations precludes their ability to be a student. For Black students especially, it’s also hard to be overly political. I knew students who were hesitant to join in protests because they were afraid of jeopardizing their student athlete status and scholarships.”

Professor Raiford was declared the winner of the contest – but both professors and all the Berkeley Connect students successfully engaged critically with the issues that continue to be a part of our daily lives!

posted by Katherine Wang
Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant