Intersectionality in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

I thought this video from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air would be a good example to use because it is an example of the way that the issues we have discussed in class are represented in popular media.

The short television clip is surprisingly insightful in the way it presents an issue of discrimination as a result of intersectionality – discrimination that takes place where multiple merging social identities result in discrimination – while explicitly pointing out why this type of behavior is problematic.  In the clip, two of the show’s main characters Will and Carleton are seeking admission into an African American fraternity.  Will is accepted into the fraternity, but Carleton, who seems to unquestionably have earned an acceptance having done all that could be expected of him and more, it rejected for reasons relating to his social identity.

The leader of the fraternity stereotypes Carleton, branding him as a “sellout”, and unfairly refuses him admission into the fraternity simply because of his upper socioeconomic class upbringing.  Carlton responds by pointing out the absurdity of what the fraternity leader is saying, explaining that they are all members of the same marginalized community who face lots of similar obstacles, and that by discriminating against him for an arbitrary social construct like social status the fraternity leader becomes “the real sellout” because he practices the type of behavior he claims to despise.  Later, in conversation with Carlton father, Carlton explains that “apparently he’s not enough of a brother to be a brother”, furthering the theme of alienation within one’s own oppressed community because of another social identifier.  His father responds by articulating his frustration about the way that there are even factors within one’s own oppressed community that often unfairly and illogically end up targeting members of that same community.

This clip aligns well with the writing of Kimberle Crenshaw because of the elements of intersectionality and discrimination.  intersectionality is evoked with the way that Carlton is treated unfairly due to his identification as a person of color and also as upper class.  The clip also relates to the Cathy Cohen piece which talks about the importance of being careful to not further alienate/oppress members of a marginalized community because of other inconsequential social identifiers.



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