Popular Culture Review 29.1 (Spring 2018) - Page 71

The problem with racial essentialism, as with gender essentialism, is that it “naturalizes and dehistoricizes difference, mistaking what is historical and cultural for what is natural, biological, and genetic.” The diremption of the signifier “black” from its cultural and historical context ultimately enhances the foundations of racism. While racial essentialism in its pure early modern expression and the tragic policy consequences of the eugenics movement are widely considered patently racist and immoral today, the phenomenon of racial essentialism looms in subtler ways, and popular culture artifacts, including UnREAL, provide one way to disclose its legacy. In a way similar to gender essentialism, the opponents of racial essentialism think race is a socially constructed concept. The category of race, for instance, did not operate as it does in contemporary American culture, in ancient Mediterranean cultures. Further, historians can identify times when race is legislated into being, including after Bacon’s Rebellion, such that race displaces status as a fundamental category. That said, the social constructionist finds herself in a new bind. If race is a mere construction and merely nominal, not a real universal category, to what concept are anti-racists referring when they advocate for racial justice? One way out of this bind is to demonstrate the functional reality of race by recourse to C.S. Peirce’s pragmatic maxim, such that the meaning of any concept is found in its practical consequences, and there are functional consequences to being categorized as black, for better or worse. These can be empirically disclosed and popular culture artifacts can help highlight this consequential reality. Or as Tommy Curry wrote, “To say that gender or race functions historically in some particular way—that our category is historical—is to suggest that the idea has empirical substance, and in the case of categories like race, class, or gender, a peculiar realness needing our immediate philosophical attention.” Darrius Beck, the first black suitor on Everlasting, knows the effects of race too well. Episode 1 reveals that his mother raised him “to always know the rules would always be different for me. Couldn’t walk down the street with my hoodie on. Didn’t want people to get the wrong idea.” These functional consequences of the historically mediated concept of blackness demonstrate the reality of the socially constructed concept. Gender Essentialism in Season 2 of UnREAL  Gender essentialism shows itself early in Season 2 of UnREAL. The most obvious instance, interestingly, is Chet’s rehabilitative program, which relies on the notion of an unchanging and natural male essence. Having returned from a wilderness retreat to reclaim his television empire from Quinn, he iterates 71