ABC Family Showing Race Work

I’ve recently started watching yet another show on Netflix, one my girlfriend insisted I watch, and I couldn’t resist the allure of an interracial lesbian couple fostering and adopting children and getting married on mainstream media. In the show, they have adopted twin hispanic teenagers, Mariana and Jesus and when they turn 15, they throw Mariana a quinceañera, despite the fact that Stef is white and Lena is half black/half white. During this episode, Lena is shown having an altercation with her mother, Dana. Her being biracial is shown as a source of conflict between them throughout the episode. Before i continue, Below is a clip of their altercation, 

To quote Dana, “being Latina isn’t just about the color of her skin.” Lena of course means well but is operating under the assumption that race and ethnicity and culture are all connected. King-O’Riain, writes about this in “Race Work and the Efforts of Racial Claims,” when she states,

“The queen who is racially Japanese but is adopted into a white family has no cultural authenticity, but has the required embodied race. The white person raised in a Japanese American family has the culture, but is less likely to be deemed authentic because she doesn’t have the racial body recognized as Japanese American. The first can be [a symbol of the community] and the second can’t, thus reinforcing the racial underpinning of ethnicity”

Dana, in this context, is rejecting the existence of an inherent biological connection between race and ethnicity/culture. But not even 30 seconds later, Lena is accusing her mother of denying her a cultural connection because of her biracial status. Earlier in the episode Dana makes quips about Lena’s skin being too light and her hair more “tame-able” than a black woman’s, excluding her from the category of being a “black woman” which leads to more conflict between them.

In her text, King-O’Riain talks about the hostility that biracial people can come under and the displacement they feel at not being able to fit in to either community fully. This, she says, leads to them having to “work to maintain their racial claims.” Much like in the Fosters, where Lena and Stef were doing Mariana’s ‘work’ by throwing her a quinceañera to help her seem more “authentically Latina,” King-O’Riain makes the claim that we all do this “race work” every day. Though we all do race work every day, differently in different social contexts, I think mixed-race people or those who are racially ambiguous are just more aware of the race work they have to do.


One thought on “ABC Family Showing Race Work

  1. It’s interesting that you talk about the awareness of race work in a familial situation. I recently found an article where Rachel Garlinghouse, a white woman, talks about adopting and raising three black children. This is differs slightly from the mixed race scenario of The Fosters, however, Rachel is very aware of the race at work in her family. In adopting her children, she immediately noted the race work that needed to be done, but in an interesting context. Instead of being “colorblind” she says, “My kids have seen color since they were 2 years old. They know they’re brown and I’m pink.” So here, it isn’t the case of erasing difference, but rather acknowledging difference. Race work comes into play as Rachel watches her children grow and be exposed to the world. She wants to prepare her children for the discrimination they may face in the future but she feels incapable of that because she has never experienced it, she is white, a color people only see when comparing her children’s skin to her skin. She says, “I am not enough for my children to prepare them for the racism they’re going to encounter because I haven’t experienced it myself.” So, like The Fosters, she uses a cultural tool different and unfamiliar to her own to enforce race work on a daily basis. She has a mentor that has been with her family for over two years that not only mentors her children, but also helps Rachel parent and mentors her as well. I thought this was an interesting case, almost a real-life “Fosters” where difference is not only recognized but also performed through race work within a family. The parents express their anxiety of difference by using cultural tools, a mentor or a quinceañera, to do race work.


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