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What, can't you take a joke?

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

Originally published March 6, 2021

The workplace sitcom SUPERSTORE is now in its sixth and final season, never that big a ratings hit. Despite starring the wonderful America Ferrera and former KIDS IN THE HALL member Mark McKinney, it was never as beloved as THE OFFICE or PARKS AND RECREATION, probably because this comedy about the put-upon workers of a megastore that NBC lawyers insist is not Walmart was frankly too bleak and unsparing in its depiction of people scraping by on minimum wage in middle America.

At least that’s one theory. Another came from a blog post called, “Why I Stopped Watching Superstore,” in which the writer describes how, in season four, “there is a scene where [the characters] are trying to decide whether or not to watch season one of GAME OF THRONES or the last season of FRIENDS. From here, this is where the cancer begins:

"Mateo: ‘I feel like both of those shows have WAY too many White people.’

"Dina: ‘Yeah, I gotta agree. I watch TV as an escape, not to see MORE White people.’

"Right there, that is when I turned off the show, deleted it from My Stuff on Hulu, and am currently set to never watch the show again.” Ultimately, this writer insists, “Middle America does not want to hear about how evil White people are, which is what Hollywood is obsessed with now.”

One has to wonder if this blogger read the book WHITE FRAGILITY, as freaking out over one joke in a sitcom is a textbook example of it, and it really shows how difficult it is to make change when even pointing out the obvious whiteness of FRIENDS causes someone to shut down like this. “Cancer?” Really?What, can't you take a joke?

At least the writers of SUPERSTORE paid no mind. This month, the episode “Hair Care Products” hilariously unpacked the systemic racism in the store itself, as the suddenly sensitive White managers stumbled over themselves trying to resolve anti-Black discrimination in 22 minutes, putting it all on one Black employee, the otherwise apathetic Garrett:

Garrett: Don't you think it's messed up that we've never had a Black district manager? Or that the employee handbook limits our hair length to three inches in diameter? That basically means no afros.

Dina: I guess I just never thought about any of this stuff. I mean, you've never brought it up before.

Garrett: It's not my job to call out every racist thing I come up against! It's my job to announce sales and pretend not to notice when people return used swimsuits!

Representation Matters. It matters beyond the usual stereotypes: “the cool/sassy Black friend,” “the female love interest,” “the hip/witty Gay friend.” True representation is about moving towards sharing different voices AND their perspectives. It’s not about injecting a “diverse stereotype” into the current straight white male world view.

Learn more about anti-racism, anti-oppression and how to use your privilege to be a supportive ally with Breakfast Culture’s ALLY IS A VERB: RACISM EDITION training course.

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