Fiction

Why Blue Bloods Needs to Check its Privilege STAT

[This post was originally published on Medium.com.]

BushwickMuralThis story has been marinating for the past few days, ever since I watched last Friday’s Blue Bloods. Let me begin by saying I have always loved this show, especially for its verisimilitude: The story is about the Reagan family’s three generations of NYC cops, but it’s not just that the series shoots in the city that I call home. It’s the little details that tend to ring true for me, such as lead Tom Selleck’s big house being in Bay Ridge (deep Brooklyn, so it would make sense that a police commissioner would be able to afford it) and the elder son — a detective played by Donnie Wahlberg—actually (gasp!) lives on Staten Island.

The show also seems to reflect the diversity of NYC to the extent it can (i.e. the family is white, therefore the lead actors are mainly white): Key recurring roles are played by Hispanic/Latino or black actors. And it’s not just the bad guys (e.g. the actor who plays the mayor of NYC on the show is African American). Plus, no one seems unbelievably wealthy in the way that too many shows (and films) just depict this city incorrectly. Yes, middle class people here live in 500 square feet… or else have one heck of a commute to get to “the City,” which is what we all call Manhattan.

Thus it was that I began to suspect that this past Friday’s show had “jumped the shark” into privileged waters. The episode included a challenging rite of passage, as one of the fourth generation family members has been applying for college and the issue of how to pay for it became a key plot point of this episode. Forget for a moment that it’s fall (both in reality and on the show; Blue Bloods typically shoots only a few weeks out from airdate) and that Nikki (the daughter of a NYC District Attorney) would be getting her acceptance letters in late spring. I can forgive this oversight. What I find unforgivable is that in the same episode where Nikki’s mom (Erin, played by Bridget Moynahan) argues that a rich killer shouldn’t be allowed house arrest at his own expense (“Why should the defendant be able to purchase preferential treatment?”), Erin also is emphatic that “Nikki deserves the best chance” when it comes to paying for an expensive Ivy League school.

Apparently neither Erin nor her rich ex-husband (Nikki’s dad) ever heard of a 529 college savings account or expected their daughter to be accepted to a school like Columbia, which only offers need-based financial aid. Assuming Erin got her tony Tribeca condo in the divorce, why doesn’t she sell it for $2 million (or more) and buy an equivalent place in Brooklyn for half that (and use the balance to pay for her kid’s education)? Or why isn’t Nikki looking at CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College, which offers free tuition to high achieving students (certainly someone bragging of getting into Yale would be accepted there)?

I was so angry by this sense of privilege, that I watched the episode a second time just to see if I had misjudged it. No, I really hadn’t. However, in that same episode, two featured actors were black professional women (including a high-priced lawyer keen on recruiting Erin to come over to private practice). Lots of background extras were also people of color. I was trying to reconcile my sense that this show had gone “too white” with the reality that many actors (even “day players”) on the show aren’t.

And then I saw this: a new show airing next month on TNT called The Librarians. I really wanted to like this show. Love John Larroquette. Love Christian Kane. Loved loved loved Leverage (the same group that made that show is behind this one). But upon viewing the trailer, all I thought was could they — oh, I don’t know — maybe put ONE BLACK PERSON in the show? Watch that trailer: They have a token Asian lead AND NO OTHER PEOPLE OF COLOR, EVEN AS EXTRAS!!! Because, you know, black people never go to the library, I guess (factually not true, as poor minorities are much more likely to use the resources of a library where everything from books to Internet access is available for free).

Which brings me back to my beloved Blue Bloods: It’s time for the show runners to check in to reality. We (and by “we” I mean white America most of all) need more diversity in our media. We need more women and minorities both behind and in front of the camera. Because the last thing white people need is this notion that they “deserve the best chance” when—assuming they were born middle class or higher—they’ve had it since birth. “Deserve” has nothing to do with it.

Oh, and this isn’t the first lily-white preview of The Librarians. Check out their trailer from earlier this year: http://youtu.be/1Cypg7Leg0I

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