‘Mad Men’ Is Not About Us

The award-winning TV show is regrettably devoid of significant black characters. It accurately reflects what life was like for most white people in the 1960s.

From left: Pete, Don and Roger in Mad Men (AMC/Michael Yarish)
From left: Pete, Don and Roger in Mad Men (AMC/Michael Yarish)

One thinks of people like Kerry Washington, Anika Noni Rose, Jeffrey Wright, Mos Def, Don Cheadle and Loretta Devine tearing it up. I even imagine John Witherspoon getting to do his thing on the sidelines as somebody’s grandfather; Isiah “Shee-it” Whitlock Jr. expanding on his talents; or even, if we take it back to the ’20s, Queen Latifah getting to do Bessie Smith.

Could Tyler Perry continue in the more profound direction he has taken with For Colored Girls and spearhead a black cable series about, perhaps, black people in New York right after World War II? Maybe, after the inevitable segment where a younger Madea pops up visiting a relative, there could even be a cute crossover cameo where somebody has an encounter with a young Roger Sterling or Betty Draper as a girl.

But here’s the thing: Few of us would have a problem with white people not taking center stage on a show like this, even though white people were the majority of the American population at the time. Is there anything different about how many black people there are on a show depicting the advertising industry in the early ’60s? 

John McWhorter is a regular contributor to The Root.

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