When I read the story I could not believe it. I assumed it to be a joke or a public relations stunt. The thought that in 2006, a major media network would suggest that participants in a so-called reality show should compete along racial lines defies belief.
That, however, is precisely what CBS proposes to do with its ratings-declining TV show "Survivor." The so-called "tribes" will now be divided along racial lines.
What about U.S. history does CBS fail to understand? Do the executives at CBS believe that the United States has sufficiently overcome racism that it can now be used in the arena of entertainment? Has someone failed to understand the potential for exacerbating racial conflict?
That this action is outrageous is obvious to any reasonable person. Why CBS would choose to commit such an act of lunacy is another matter. More than anything else, this decision reflects a combination of cynicism — if you have never seen the classic 1970s film "Network," now is the time to see it — and a superficial understanding of race and racism in the United States.
Leaving cynicism aside for a moment, the belief that racial divisions can be treated neutrally grows out of the White backlash to the Black, Latino, Asian and Native American freedom movements of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.
Most particularly, with the advent of the Ronald Reagan presidency in 1981, White people were fed an almost irresistible storyline. It was simple: Racism allegedly ended with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. There were now no structural impediments to the advancement of people of color. Any further problems were now personal rather than institutional. This storyline was precisely what many Whites wished to hear.
The problem is that this storyline is a fallacy and institutional racism (not to mention ideological racism) exists at every level of U.S. society, ranging from health care to housing. Yet this racism is obscured by the absence of explicitly racial signs and discriminatory laws. The absence of legal racism, in other words, makes it possible for vast segments of White America to exist in near total denial as to what is and has been unfolding before their eyes.
For CBS to pretend, or to believe that racism no longer exists or matters, is only to say that the dominant forces in that institution remain trapped in the Reaganesque hallucination that has played a major role in helping to undermine the victories that we — people of color and our allies — won in the first place.
A suggestion for CBS: Take "Survivor" off the air and deliver an apology to those who have fought, and continue to fight, racist discrimination. Do we need to remind CBS that racism is no game, and never has been?
Bill Fletcher Jr. is an international labor writer and activist.