TV’s Whitewashed Problem

by Ama Debrah

This past fall, I’ve noticed a disturbing lack of People of Color in the current TV lineups. While there’s pretty much always a disparity of People of Color portrayed positively in television, it seemed to me that this fall was a particularly bad time to be a Person of Color on television. This led me to wonder, is it just me? Am I just being overly picky? Or is this really a problem that’s gotten worse?

So to answer my question, I decided to photograph every television advertisement on my walk to work to see how the ratio of People of Color (PoC) to Non-PoC on television sums up. The following photographs are from 23rd and 7th to 22nd and Park Avenue. Let the experiment begin!

First off, we have The Goldbergs (ABC), which is apparently a comedy about a family in the 80s. Not a great start, but it could be worse. Non-PoC: 6 PoC: 0

Next up we have Top Chef: New Orleans (Bravo), featuring the lovely Padma Lakshmi. Non-PoC: 1 PoC: 1

Ah, the advertisement that started it all. I’ve heard multiple people complain about NBC’s “New Family of Comedies,” and no matter how many times I see it, it’s still infuriating. Let’s not just talk about how there is one PoC featured on this advertisement for four shows, but how NBC is essentially excluding anyone who is not upper-middle class, heterosexual, and able-bodied from their definition of a “family.” Non-PoC: 7 PoC: 1

Okay fine, this ad for The Walking Dead (AMC) doesn’t have that much to work with, but I saw it on my walk, and therefore it still counts. Non-PoC: 1 PoC: 0

This is an ad for the CW’s Tomorrow People. I’ve come to expect very little in terms of diversity on the CW, so this isn’t very surprising. Non-PoC: 3 PoC: 0

Note: The next series of photos are from a television screen on the entrance of a subway station, and all the ads were shown while I was waiting for the light to change. Once again, I’m tallying the PoC in every ad I see, not necessarily how many PoC are actually in that television show.

How I Met Your Mother (CBS) Non-PoC: 1 PoC: 0

2 Broke Girls (CBS) Non-PoC: 2 PoC: 0

Mom (CBS) Non-PoC: 2 PoC: 0


NCIS (CBS) Non-PoC: 3 PoC: 0

Person of Interest (CBS) Non-Poc: 2 PoC: 0

The Big Bang Theory (CBS) Non-Poc: 6 PoC: 1

The Millers (CBS) Non-PoC: 3 PoC: 0
The Crazy Ones (CBS) Non-PoC: 2 PoC: 0
Elementary (CBS) Non-PoC: 1 PoC: 1 
Hawaii Five-O (CBS) Non-PoC: 2 PoC: 2 
Being born and raised in Hawaii, I take a personal victory for this one.

I hate using Shahs of Sunset (Bravo) as an example of diversity on television because although it’s my guilty pleasure, it’s extremely offensive on many levels. Non-PoC: 0 PoC: 6
 Masters of Sex (Showtime) Non-PoC: 6 PoC: 0
Sorry, Lizzy Caplan.
I thought Ironside (NBC) was a nice show to end the experiment with, since it has not only a PoC protagonist, but he’s also non-able-bodied. Unfortunately, Ironside has already been cancelled. Non-PoC: 4 PoC: 2
So, if you’re still following along, that brings our grand total to: 
Non-PoC: 52
PoC: 14
Of this ratio, only 27% of the people I viewed on television advertisements in a twenty minute walk were People of Color. While this may be an improvement from years past, this is still completely unacceptable as a representation of our current society. I am not asking for shows to only feature People of Color, but television execs need to wake up and realize that the time is past due to be more inclusive in the TV lineup.

Ama Debrah is a senior at Barnard and Contributing Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of Ama Debrah.


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