American Race

TV review by
Jenny Nixon, Common Sense Media
American Race TV Poster Image
Spotty but sincere docuseries examines race in America.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The overriding theme is that we are more alike than different.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The show features some prominent civil rights leaders, community activists, and people working for justice. 

Violence

Descriptions and some footage of police brutality, shootings, and other violence.

Sex
Language

Some coarse language and racial slurs, including the N-word.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know American Race is a documentary series about race relations in America. It has the potential to disturb sensitive viewers, with frank and graphic descriptions (and in some cases, video footage) of police brutality and other violence. During a discussion of the history of minority representation in the media, images are shown of actors in blackface and Klan hoods. The show features several heated and emotional exchanges -- including some that the host himself says were hard to sit and listen to -- but these exchanges are intended to serve a larger purpose. One running theme is that people fear the unknown, and that to stop the spread of fear and hate, we need to get out there and meet our neighbors instead of putting stock in stereotypes. Due to the complexity of some of the issues discussed, and some of the more disturbing and violent references, the show is probably best suited for older kids.

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What's the story?

In AMERICAN RACE, former NBA superstar and sports commentator Charles Barkley travels across the country, looking to start a dialogue about race where "everyone has a seat at the table". In the debut episode, Barkley travels to Baltimore to talk with community members and protesters directly affected by police brutality, then meets with the police themselves to discuss what they are doing to bridge the trust gap and hold themselves accountable. Subsequent episodes explore the rise of Islamophobia in America, the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry, and the rise of the Alt-Right movement.

Is it any good?

The show has good intentions, but Barkley isn't a particularly savvy host -- rarely does he ask the probing questions that would take this show's conversations about race beyond the surface level. He's long been a polarizing media figure, who has gone on record defending the George Zimmerman verdict and defending the NYC police officers who put Eric Garner in an illegal chokehold. As such, he's an odd choice to be mediating these sorts of supposedly neutral discussions -- a fact which more than one participant calls him out on. His desire to hear "both sides of the story" can seem overly indulgent, such as when he talks with a casting director who insists that when she casts actors in stereotypical roles (a Mexican playing a criminal, a Muslim as a terrorist) that "it's not racism, it's just what's required." This assertion goes totally unchecked as he assures her that she's "just doing her job" -- though in the same episode, he agrees with rapper/actor Ice Cube that it's important for minorities to see positive depictions of themselves in the media. Though Barkley himself may be out of his depth as a host, he does speak with some inspiring and knowledgeable activists, business owners, entertainers, and professors who bring American Race more substance.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the media shapes our view of various ethnic and religious groups. How are stereotypes spread and enforced? What does American Race have to say about stereotypes?

  • What kinds of messages do you see about minority groups in movies, on TV, and on the web? How might these messages affect how these groups see themselves?

  • How does this series show empathy? Why is this an important character strength

TV details

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