New season of Survivor plays into prejudices

When I turned on my television to watch football on Sunday, something amazing happened – I was transported to the year 1950. That is the only explanation for what I saw in an advertisement for the new season of CBS’s Survivor. This year, the group of hopefuls will be organized by race.

Segregation is now a gimmick for attracting viewers.

According to Survivor promotional material, this is a great “social experiment” never taken on in such a manner before. I’m not a history major, but I’m pretty sure segregation has been tried before. It went poorly.

As though racial segregation was not enough, promoters say tensions will mount when the groups are then “integrated” and the new racially mixed groups must get along. Apparently, it’s a challenge to work and compete harmoniously with people of another skin tone.

One must assume all the contestants are participating voluntarily. Therefore, the main problem is not the formation of the racially determined groups. The harm comes from the implicit message that people of different skin colors behave in fundamentally different ways and have differing physical and mental abilities.

Undoubtedly, there are many people looking forward to the upcoming contest. I am sure many have preconceived notions about which group will perform best and which one will produce the ultimate winner.

They may be saying to themselves, “Well, I’m sure the Asians will win because they are so industrious,” or “the blacks will win because they are physically superior.”

By the same token, some people will assume one group won’t win because of some racial shortcoming.

Frankly, the word for these preconceived notions is prejudice. It makes no difference whether the prejudicial thoughts are positive or negative – either way, they boil down to deciding a person’s character based on skin color instead of their accomplishments or personality.

Using racial stereotypes to promote a popular television show could not have come at a worse time. In the past 40 years or so, great gains have been made in equality from the depths of the early to mid-20th century. Today’s political climate threatens to erase these gains. Too many letters to the editor and calls to talk shows support some form of racial profiling.

Racial profiling is based on the assumption that people of certain skin colors behave in certain ways. It assumes people of certain skin colors are more likely to commit crimes or perform acts of terror – unless that color is white.

For instance, not many people called for special restrictions on white people renting trucks after Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. Compare that to how many special searches are conducted on anyone who looks even remotely Middle Eastern and has the audacity to travel by airplane. In the promotional material, the contestants expressed the desire to prove their particular race could compete well. Does this mean contestants voted off early have let down “their people?”

CBS can do better than this. No television program needs to sink to this level, especially not one of the most popular on television.

At the very least, I hope the host doesn’t say to the winner, “You’re a credit to your race.”

Josh Corban is a senior majoring in anthropology.