Big Surprise: Tyra Banks “relates with other people of color.”

John Sand

On the racist-o-meter, Tyra Banks falls somewhere between white-supremacist groups and my grandmother who has verbally denounced just about every demographic of people including her own (from people that tan a little too often to Ellen Degeneres, even though “Ellen” is just about the only thing my grandma TiVos).

On yesterday’s episode of “Tyra,” Ms. Banks tried to break social barriers by allowing the audience to guess what race different women are based on their hobbies, style of dress, and silhouette. As women stand behind a screen, the TV cuts to a shot of a mannequin wearing a typical outfit and Tyra lists things like, The first woman enjoys playing basketball and tennis, wears Rocawear, 5’11”, etc. Then, the audience is encouraged to shout what race they believe the women to be. We are all supposed to be shocked when the woman behind the screen is white.



A blonde girl in the crowd stands up and talks into the microphone directly to the female in question, something like “Um, if I saw you on the street, I would definitely think you were black, by the way you stand and dress.” The girl responds, “I am white. 100% Caucasian.” Etc. This was preceded by a Chinese woman upset that people mistake her as Korean, and a Korean woman up in arms because people think she is good at math.


Though it’s obvious that Tyra’s trying to encourage dialogue between people of different social and dare I say “ethnic” backgrounds, her tires are spinning as usual. The only thing she’s exposing is that racism is persistent in America, and upsetting a lot of people by confirming their insecurities. Since it’s conception, Tyra’s been bent on encouraging positive self-perception in all young, American women, but she misses the mark every time.  If Banks wants to encourage positive dialogue, it might be interesting to form a panel of different women, but focusing on their differences isn’t the way to go.

My middle-class white-maleness aside, the show is uncomfortable to say the least, and I can’t imagine what it must be like for women to stand on a stage on national television and have everything they fear be confirmed, to say, “People mistake me for Indian, but I’m actually from the Middle East,” and have an audience member fire back with, “To me, you look Indian.” What exactly is this solving? Try again, Tyra, just like we know you will.