The XX Factor

Finally, “Mad Men” Takes on Race

A guest post from Latoya Peterson :

When Roger Sterling belted out a tune to his new bride while in blackface as his peers looked on in amusement, I felt a small measure of relief. Finally, we are starting to get somewhere on race in Mad Men .

In my previous piece , I argued that M ad Men held race at arm’s length, obscuring the ugly parts of history while simultaneously denying the black characters on the series their own voice to speak their experiences. Last night’s episode brought some baby steps forward. Showing Roger Sterling’s performance as common and unremarkable, combined with his off-handed comment of how he “did it with shoe polish and she just laughed and laughed,” helps to establish how blacks were perceived then, far more than the various scenes in which the characters politely ignore or converse with Hollis in the elevator.

In addition, Carla, the Drapers’ nanny/housekeeper, finally gets a few lines to speak, but I am left wondering about the intention. While the Drapers are attending the garden party, Carla is left to deal with a rapidly escalating situation at the homestead. Sally has taken her grandfather’s money, and Carla is attempting to deal with the situation as best she can. While it was good to hear Carla articulate some of the more common issues with Working While Black (“No, we don’t all know each other”), and launch a pre-emptive strike against accusations of theft, I kept wondering when the show would take a moment to illuminate her life, instead of having her respond to the machinations of the other characters.

Helen Klein Ross, better known as Adbroad, initiated a conversation with the person behind the unofficial twitter feed for Carla . Klein Ross (who is behind the @bettydraper feed on Twitter) reached out to the currently unknown Twitterer behind @carla_madmen to discuss why Carla took to Twitter to express herself:

I do not know who writes @Carla_Madmen. But we have developed an email relationship in which we exchange views on racism and other issues that Carla and Betty can’t discuss. I sent her the Racialicious piece and asked for her views on how blacks are depicted in Mad Men . She wrote:

African-Americans are the only grown-ups on Mad Men. To the limited extent you see them, they lack any discernible faults. Whether that’s due to their minor roles, I’m not sure. I think it will be interesting to watch Mad Men develop larger roles for minority characters as the 60’s progress-single-dimensional with quiet dignity or a more full range of human emotions and foibles. It’s obviously a potential land mine for the writers.