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Is the Show 'Friends' Really Racist?

Updated on February 19, 2020
Photo by Gregoire Alessandrini, taken in the 90's
Photo by Gregoire Alessandrini, taken in the 90's

Everybody born between the 1980s and 2005 has seen Friends at least once. Friends premiered in 1994 and made everybody laugh with the six friends living together in central NYC. Monica, the clean-freak. Rachel, the shopping Addict. Ross, the Paleontlogist. Joe, the want-to-be actor. Chandler, the sarcastic accountant and Phoebe, mentally younger but with a big heart. This tv-show has made people’s childhood, and some people were pleased it came on out Netflix in 2015. However, it started getting hate because of how the tv show seemed to be racist, misogynistic, transphobic and homophobic.

Talking about this issue in my College Writing Class, it has come to my attention that a lot of people had the same views and I’ve wanted to know more about NYC in the 1990S, to try to explain why people have suddenly looked down upon the show ‘Friends’. My Writing class consisted that day of thirteen people and I asked them to raise their hands if they thought the show ‘Friends’ was racist: Six of them put their hands in the air, one of them being an African American student.

The 1990s was thirty years ago and everything -most things- have evolved and changed: Medicine, the view of gay couples and transsexuality. The show was trying to portray six white friends who lived in NYC, and we saw how they progressed as people over ten years. In the 90’s it was made clear that NYC had very few areas where Black and White neighborhoods were mixed, suggesting that Black and Whites did not hang out together and did not have the same economic background. One of the issues in NYC was racial residential segregation (RRS), it causes racial disparities in health and in education. Another problem arose a view years later, Gentrification. It is defined in The Encyclopedia of Housing as, “The process by which central urban neighborhoods that have undergone disinvestment and economic decline experience a reversal, reinvestment, and the in-migration of a relatively well-off, middle and upper-middle-class population.”

The neighbourhoods In NYC in the 1990s.
The neighbourhoods In NYC in the 1990s.

The movie ‘Finding Forester’ made in 2000, talks a lot about R.R.S and racism. Principal scenes were shot entirely in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. In the movie, an African American kid named Jamal Wallace, who goes to a public school, breaks in into an old man’s apartment as a dare. He is caught and flees the apartment, leaving his schoolbag behind. He goes back to get it to only discover that his paper for school has been graded by this man. Throughout the movie, he slowly becomes friends with this man who is a renowned author, who teach him how to write and express himself. A private school sees his exam scores and offer him a scholarship. He, of course, was the only black kid in the school and was seen as a child who will cause trouble. This is relevant to my topic because throughout the movie we can see the difference between the black and white neighborhoods.

Aisha Taylor and Lauren Tom were the only non-white actors in this show, and it has helped them in their careers as actors. Aisha Taylor played as Dr. Charlie Wheeler and later acted in Ghosts Whisperer and Criminal Minds. Lauren Tom played, as Ross’s girlfriend, Julie. Later in her life, she played in Supernatural. I believe the show was only trying to portray what NYC was like in the 1990s, and was not trying to prevent actors from another ethnicity to play in that show.

In the 1990s, Transgenders were seen as a joke and the fact that Chandler calls his ‘mother’ father is very degraded for people who are so keen on respecting how a person identifies, especially now in 2020. People started to fight for transgender rights since 2010, and it took the government several years to understand it. Yes, the show makes fun of Gays, and Transgender people, but only because people didn’t understand it and it was seen as being ‘weird’ at the time. Boomers still don’t take any of Gen Z’s self-expression seriously, because they think they are attracting attention to themselves.

The show was only trying to portray the lives of young adults in NYC and was trying to make a joke about everything, but I understand that now, thirty years later, some of the jokes are inappropriate, but it does not mean we have to hate the tv show for it. It was famous for a reason and that reason was to make people laugh, people have become so much more cynical, these past decades.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Anastassia de Bailliencourt


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      Macy Pope 

      13 months ago

      I think the most interesting thing about the article is how you managed to link housing and the redlining of districts in NYC (which is an age-old issue) to pop culture and the setting of NYC in the 90s. It also strengthens your argument when you use different shows as an example of the time period setting and the physical setting. On another note, that movie sounds really interesting, I think I’ll check it out! Overall, great argument, I think this issue is farther reaching than Friends, extending to a lot of media produced in the late 20th century about urban life in America. Great work!


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