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Race, Media, and Regina Spektor

Lately I've been loving Regina Spektor's songs and music videos (I recommend "Fidelity," "Samson," "Us," and "On the Radio" for starters), but I noticed some controversy on YouTube surrounding her work, and I thought it might be worth mentioning here.

Regina Spektor's music video for "On the Radio"

As you'll see if you click on the link, the video shows Regina as a teacher in an elementary school music classroom. Sounds innocent enough, right? But if you dig through the 90+ comments that have been left on the page, you'll see that lots of people aren't too happy with the fact that Regina is white and all the schoolchildren are black. Some people called it "colonialist," implying that Regina sees herself as the "white woman who takes it upon herself to educate the black children." One person left the comment, "Sooooooo racist." Other people say that there should have been children of ALL races in the video (even though that strikes me as a little too "It's a Small World After All"... if that phrase can be used as an adjective... oh well, you get what I mean). I have to admit that it did strike me as a little odd at first, but I figured that Regina seems a little too sensitive and poetic to be a crazy colonialist. I really doubt that she intended for the video to cause any kind of controversy. Nevertheless, people have read it as problematic, which says a lot about how race is perceived in popular media.

So what's the story behind the video? Here's a comment from a British YouTube user that sheds some light on the issue: "It was shot at the school her mum teaches in. The area has a lot of black children. No statement there, just truth. Christ, your country is in a mess if you can watch sweet kids like that and then just comment on their race." Something to think about...

it's the impact, not intention

I'm going preface this by saying that the video does not need to be changed, nor am I saying it shouldn't exist. When I say there are problematic in terms of representations of race, that's me simply stating what I observe about the piece.

People who simply like the video who don't see anything wrong with it, that's a perfectly fine way to read the music video. However, in spite of Spektor's lack of intentions, or the innocent roots of the video, that doesn't mean that the readings of it as colonial imagery or thinking that there's weird race dynamics in it, is not valid. though regina spektor may be a sensitive soul, she does have the privilege to not have to see how problematic these representations may be.

Very true.

I've been thinking more about this, and what you say is very true. I was talking about this with a friend last night, and he compared it to the Benneton ad that shows a black woman nursing a white baby. He said that this ad circulated in Britain without much controversy, but in the U.S. it caused a huge stir because of its historical implications in relation to slavery. These media images don't have bad intentions, since they're really just trying to emphasize our common humanity, but in using this particular imagery they become problematic. So you're definitely right... the impact is what really matters, regardless of intention.