Racism in “Sex and the City”

06 Jun


As I was writing my essay on Sex and the City, another episode came to mind that I wanted to discuss. Sex and the City has been criticized for its lack of diversity; the four main characters are white women, and most of the recurring guest stars are also white. The episode in the third season, titled “No Ifs, Ands or Butts,” provides what many critics have seen as a racist view of African Americans. In this episode, Samantha dates an African American man named Chivon Williams. Chivon is an artist representative for Tommy Boy Records, and his sister, Adeena, is a chef whose restaurant specializes in soul food. Adeena is relatively light-skinned with curly hair, whereas her brother Chivon has very dark skin. This difference is never explained in the show, but it stands out.



After Samantha starts dating Chivon, Adeena approaches her and asks her to stop dating him, saying, “I have a problem with my only brother getting serious with a white woman.” Samantha ignores her, but becomes upset at the fact that she is being asked to stop dating Chivon on account of her race. She later shows up at a club with Chivon and runs into Adeena. Samantha and Adeena start to fight, each hurling insults at the other. Adeena tells her, “I don’t care how many Jennifer Lopez-looking dresses you have hanging up in your closet…you will never understand this. This is a black thing.” After hearing this comment, I looked more closely at Samantha’s dress, which is skintight, dark, and sparkly, with slits on both sides cut up to her belly button. Adeena is obviously referencing Jennifer Lopez’s propensity to wear revealing clothing to display her body, wearing “skin-tight, slinky dresses that decidedly made her back and rump a focal point.”[1] Adeena also seems to be grouping Jennifer Lopez into the African American culture, which seems curious and problematic. According to Mary Beltran, Jennifer Lopez’s nationality was not discussed in the media, with articles emphasizing “her upbringing in the Bronx, as opposed to her Puerto Rican heritage.”[2] Her lack of specific ethnicity led people to group her in with other people seen as minorities, and in this episode, Adeena is grouping her in with the “black thing.”

            As the fight between Samantha and Adeena escalates, Adeena says to Samantha, “Get your little white pussy away from my brother!” and Samantha replies, “Get your big black ass out of my face!” This is clearly referencing the stereotypical “big black ass” that authors such as Hobson have talked about. Perhaps the relationship that Adeena feels with Jennifer Lopez also has to do with J. Lo’s big butt, and the attention it received. Both African American and Latina women are historically seen as “exotic, sexual, and available, and as more in touch with their bodies and motivated by physical and sexual pleasure than white women.”[3]

            Finally, right before their fight is broken up, Adeena pulls Samantha’s hair, effectively bringing hair into the fight. This made me think of all the conversations we’ve had in class about hair, and how this scene implies that Adeena is envious of Samantha’s hair.

Here’s a clip of the entire fight below:


As I was researching this episode, I found other blog posts and responses to this episode in particular. One blog post called this episode “the ‘Black’ episode” and called attention to the racist representations of African American culture in the episode as a whole, the fight scene in particular. One of these racist representations of black women is their pronounced aggression, especially the “finger waving and neck rolling galore.”

 Here’s the link to that blog post if you’re interested:

            All in all, this episode perpetuates racial stereotypes and shows an interracial relationship that doesn’t work. In this way, the episode is conforming to Beltran’s view of mass media, that it “continues the process of inscription and reinforcement of social norms in its representations of the body, and particularly of women’s bodies.”[2] The social norms visible in this episode include the grouping of two very different ethnicities (African American and Puerto Rican) into one category, in antithesis to white women.


[2] Mary Beltran, “The Hollywood Latina Body as Site of Social Struggle: Media Constructions of Stardom and Jennifer Lopez’s ‘Cross-over Butt,'” Quarterly Review of Film & Video, 19:71-86, 2002, 81.

[1] Mary Beltran, “The Hollywood Latina Body as Site of Social Struggle: Media Constructions of Stardom and Jennifer Lopez’s ‘Cross-over Butt,'” Quarterly Review of Film & Video, 19:71-86, 2002, 76

[2] Ibid., 77

[3] Ibid., 82


Posted by on June 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “Racism in “Sex and the City”

  1. pencee

    June 6, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    I had never thought about how this episode forces two black characters to represent the entire race! This reminded me of our class discussion, when we read Frances Negron-Muntaner’s article “Barbie’s Hair”, of the “burden of representation”that people of color are face with. The Puerto Rican Barbie had to have a story to go along with her and seemed representative of all real Puerto Rican women. In a similar way, the black brother and sister’s appearance in a largely white dominated TV show is forced to be a microcosm of black culture and behavior.

    The mention of Jennifer Lopez and the way Adeena seems to encompass her identity within her conception of black identity is also interesting. This aspect of the episode reminded me of our discussion of mixed race and particularly racial ambiguity. Ruth La Ferla’s article

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