MINORITIES: Racism Still Implicit In Patriotic Come-Ons


This article originally appeared in Issue# 39

Since the demise of the draft, minorities have become an increasing part of the nation's armed forces. Recruitment campaigns feature minority role models, with ads inviting them to "be all that you can be." However, high minority casualty figures in Vietnam (compared to white Americans) warn that responding to that jingly come-on could well lead to less than happy results.

Particularly during wartime, the entertainment media have contributed to encouraging young men and women to join the military. To foster all-American fighting togetherness, Hollywood has taken great pains to make movies with a multiethnic military — but not always a multiracial one.

During World War II, Hollywood's affirmative action' policy called for all screen military units to feature at least one Ginsberg, one Koslowski, one Eliopoulos, one Quartararo and one Hernandez, as well as an American Indian. But there were no Japanese-Americans and no blacks. (Segregation within the military was alive and well until after World War II.)

But since the end of that war, racial integration has been nearly de rigueur for the media military — however, almost always with white men as the leaders and minority group members as the followers.

While beckoning to minorities to become cogs in our military machine, however, the media have also contributed to racial antipathy through their depictions of the enemy that minorities are called upon to fight who may be from non-white groups as well. This is made worse by the inability of many to view minorities separately from the foreign nations that shared their ethnic heritage.

The United States opposed Germany and Italy during World War II, but movies only targeted the Japanese for such racially-venomous comments as John Wayne's reference to "Tojo and his bug-eyed monkeys" in the 1944 movie The Fighting Seabees. Today it is open season on Arabs, with media Arabs personifying both sadism and incompetence. It took only two American pilots (one an experienced black, the other a white novice) to whip an entire Arab nation in the recent Iron Eagle.

In other words, minorities receive a media double whammy. Encouraged to fight — and, if necessary, die — for their country. they must simultaneously suffer the ethnic antagonisms stirred by such "enemy" flicks and TV shows.

Author Bio: 

Carlos Cortes is Professor Emeritus of history at the University of California, Riverside. His most recent books, The Children are Watching: How the Media Teach about Diversity (2000) and The Making - And Remaking - Of a Multiculturalist (2002), were published by Teachers College Press. He is co-author of the Houghton Mifflin Social Studies series (2005) and Cultural Consultant for Nickelodeon's Peabody-award-winning children's series, "Dora the Explorer", while he also performs his one-person, one-hour autobiographical play, A Conversation with Alana: One Boy's Multicultural Rite of Passage".