In the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy, intrusive photographers followed Alex Karev and Jackson Avery around for an extended photo shoot searching for the new face of Seattle Grace Hospital. Entitled, “The Face of Change,” the main characters, including the hospital, each had significant character arcs. As a series, Grey’s Anatomy has broken barriers than now seem invisible to the accustomed eye. Almost every character has been involved in an interracial relationship and character complexities are to be expected from anyone who walks into the sliding hospital doors. On the surface, it only made sense that race wasn’t a factor in the poster boy competition.
In a hospital like Seattle Grace, where everyone is ridiculously talented, the campaign is less concerned with resume bullets as much as it is about perception. For this reason, the ongoing tension between Jackson and Alex seemed a bit contrived and unrealistic. Both men have accomplished amazing things for the hospital and have been praised by viewers for their looks. It was entertaining to see their friends advocating so hard for their causes, but it seemed unrealistic that race played no part in the committee’s ultimate decision. In a real branding campaign, there is no doubt that color would have been a factor in the name of “diversity.”
This raises an interesting question about racial consciousness and neglect. As many shows are beginning to address race in varying ways, some showrunners choose to set their shows in post-racial societies, focusing on surface-level diversity and not addressing the complications that come with it. As beautiful as a post-racial environment would be, this type of treatment often fails to capture the real-life experiences of the people it represents.
Grey’s Anatomy has in no way neglected race. The show is home to one of the most seamlessly diverse casts on television. Every week, they manage to explore a new social dilemma without seeming contrived or cliché. In this specific episode, however, the decision to not address the rising trends of forged diversity in company marketing campaigns could have been intentional or unconscious. Regardless, Grey’s Anatomy has done enough over the last nine seasons to tackle ignorance and prejudice among viewers.
By the end of the episode, neither Jackson nor Alex won. Derek Shepherd’s smiling face graced the elevator doors as we faded to black.
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