Law and Order: The Invisible Black Victim

The Law and Order series have been on television for quite sometime.  Each week viewers can tune into either the original, or one of the two spin offs.  Get the “bad guy”, and make the world safe for the law abiding citizens is the theme week after week.

Despite the repetitive plot the Law and Order series remain extremely popular. I have a tendency to watch Special Victims Unit the most, because I simply adore Mariska Hargitay.  Recently I am finding that even my desire to watch Hargitay kick ass is being ruined by the continual portrayal of POC as criminals rather than victims.

The majority of the assaults that the show investigates are the rapes of white women, or white children.  It would seem just like the major news outlets the series is intent to perpetuate the idea that our bodies are never violated by creating  crimes against us as invisible. 

Is it a case of life imitating art, or art imitating life?  In either circumstance what is clear is that the body of  colour is either deemed to exist for violation, or our bodies are considered so worthless that any commentary on the violence that is committed against us is unnecessary.

In a recent episode a black female opera singer killed a white female opera singer.  The motive was predictable – jealousy.  Of course we are the violent ones because deep down we have internalized what whites have been teaching us about blackness.  How could this woman not feel inferior when placed next to the perfection of white womanhood?  These kind of racist stereotypes are reinforced week after week.

How many times do we have to see the black man as rapist, drug dealer, or all around criminal low life on Law and Order?  How many times is the black woman either not mentioned, or portrayed as a prostitute, uneducated, working poor, or single mother? 

I suppose the producers believe that having two black characters Sharon Epatha Merkerson and Ice T counteracts the racial stereotyping that happens week after week, but in truth two people cannot undue the  work that these shows have done of creating us as the great evil.  Presented this way it makes it seem as though that Merkerson and Ice T are not the norm; they are just the magical negroes that managed through daily interaction with the positive role model of the white justice system to resist the urge to turn to the baser temptations that are attached to blackness.

I want to keep watching the Law and Order series.  They are well written and challenge difficult subjects week after week, but how long can one deny not seeing an accurate depiction?  This is not the matter of a program that has been on the air for a few years, the original series has been on well over a decade.  That is 10 plus years where blacks have been constructed as the villain and not the victim. 

While I wholeheartedly admit that blacks do indeed commit crimes, week after week where we are seldom portrayed as being victims of crime as well supports social constructions about bodies of colour.  White victims may be sympathetic to a white audience; however for a show that is supposedly based in reality the authors should realize that violence and victimology have no skin colour.

So is this art imitating life, or life imitating art?

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