Racism is a persistent problem in America that a lot of people want to have the answer to. Many sources of fiction have offered their own solutions to it that range from the power of human cooperation to just straight up coercion (beating the bad guys and saving the day), but The Good Wife‘s Alicia Florrick offers a far more cynical response to this issue. Alicia, having grown a particular understanding of human nature through her years as a lawyer, does not believe in a “solution” to racism. She does not believe it is possible to truly change people. As someone running for States Attorney in Illinois, the subject of race comes up often. Her opponent, Frank Prady, is far more optimistic in his views and believes he can create a permanent change, a position Alicia calls the “poetry” of the issue but not the point. She thinks it’s a sentiment that is only repeated to make people feel better about an issue without actually fighting it.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, Alicia and her opponent had to postpone their debate so they ended up discussing their policies in a kitchen with the cameras away from them. While arguing about the issue of race, a black kitchen worker arrives and points out that they’re really just two rich white people talking about issues they’ve never experience first hand, which ends up lending itself perfectly to Alicia’s perspective. On Alicia’s point specifically, I believe it is an important one that isn’t discussed often. She couldn’t really get to it before due to the politically charged nature of a televised debate, and as a result neither candidates were able to cut loose and discuss their points in an honest fashion. In the kitchen, and fittingly enough, surrounded by various kitchen workers that belong to different minorities, Frank and Alicia discuss race in America.The term “white saviourism” is thrown out a lot to characterize situations like this, rich white people worrying about how they’re going to save the poor minorities. What a lot of people miss is that Alicia’s argument plays to that perfectly. In her view you are never going to get rid of racism, no matter how you look at it, minorities are never going to have the same power as white people due to institutionalized racism, and that won’t change with flighty words. Change has to come from the top, and unfortunately the top is comprised of white people. Alicia’s argument to tweak the system, rather than make an impossible overhaul is a strong one. You can call it “white saviourism”, Alicia calls it the best they can do.
The ending of the scene in question shows the nauseating politics of it all as well. The Good Wife is a show that is unafraid of examining the “fakeness” of our lead, and in a season where Alicia made it clear that she never wanted to be a politician, she is revealing herself to be a damn good one. This isn’t made anymore clear than in the show’s most recent episode appropriately titled “The Debate”. If one were to question if Alicia and Prady were being self-indulgent in arguing in front of these minority workers, they would be perfectly valid in thinking so because it is made clear that these two care about getting their votes above all else. This particular episode example of a show that dealt with race politics in America is a strange one in general though. Yes, it falls into the trap of using individuals of minority backgrounds as tools to further the stories of white characters, but it’s also refreshingly self-aware about it and it speaks to the overall themes it’s trying to get across (because merely being self-aware about something negative doesn’t stop it from being negative). Alicia is insistent on posing with minority employees for pictures, her campaign manager brings his black secretary with him as a “shield” as they travel through a rioting city, and Alicia herself answers race problems by focusing on what the people in power (white people) can do to adjust the system, as apposed to Prady who wants some form of overhaul. This is a show that is saying, “Things are unequal, degrading, and dehumanizing – and it sucks, but this is the reality we have to deal with”. It’s a very bold point to be making on a show that mostly centres around the lives of white characters.
Alicia’s views are definitely not left wing, but at the same time she isn’t exactly on the right either. Alicia acknowledges that there is a huge issue of race in America, but she sees it more as an issue of human nature rather than human error. It’s wrong, it’s definitely a problem, but she wants to be honest about what can be done to fix it and focus on the right things. The last thing Alicia wants to do is waste time and money on superficial changes that don’t do anything in the long run. Personally, I don’t agree with Alicia on this particular issue. I do think she is unclear on what it means to merely “tweak” the system (although that obviously has more to do with this show’s limited running time than anything else), but mostly, I think her attitude is rather defeatist. It’s logical and it makes a lot of sense, but it also comes with a feeling of hopelessness that I would prefer not to associate with racial relations. This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate her perspective, but it’s not something I’m totally on board with. Nevertheless, The Good Wife continues to reveal itself as an impressive show by being able to make certain points on important subjects that many other shows would (understandably) shy away from.
Quote of the Day:
“We’re not cartoons. When you hurt us, we actually do bleed”
Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife