Why Is Sheldon So Clueless When It Comes to Race on The Big Bang Theory?

Photo: Darren Michaels/CBS
The Big Bang Theory
Episode Title
The Champagne Reflection
Editor’s Rating

Please do not consider this a call to the political-correctness police. I do not wanna be that person. But.

Sheldon Cooper has a problem, and it’s time it was addressed.

Since we were first introduced to the socially inept one, Sheldon has evolved. He not only understands sarcasm now — a skill with which he was not equipped in the early seasons — but he can use it as cuttingly as any of his friends. He’s also now more attuned to various social cues, savvier about matters of dating, friendship, and other interpersonal relationships, and less awkward, relatively speaking, in his communications with others.

Except for one area: Sheldon remains shockingly clueless — offensively clueless — on matters of race. And why?

“The Champagne Reflection,” in which Sheldon films the series finale of his "Sheldon Cooper Presents: Fun With Flags" podcast, includes the latest examples of his missteps: one when he shows "Fun With Flags" guest-star LeVar Burton his tribute to George Washington Carver, with Sheldon portraying Carver. We don’t see the video onscreen, but considering that Leonard had earlier told him it was “wildly racist” and that it caused Burton to react with an “Oh, hell no” upon viewing it, the assumption is that blackface may have been involved.

Later, when a single, tepid, comment on the podcast leads Sheldon to conclude "Fun With Flags" is too beloved to cancel, he visits Burton at his home and asks him to make another guest appearance. The theme is flags of Germany, and he wonders how the Reading Rainbow host would feel about dressing up like a swastika.

These are not the first instances in which Sheldon has behaved so ignorantly in matters of race. Remember his season-six meeting with Caltech human-resources administrator Janine Davis (guest-star Regina King), which was so fraught with gaffes that he felt the need to smooth things over with a gift later in the season? Unfortunately, that gift turned out to be a Roots DVD box set, which he selected for her because, “You’re black, right?”

 The Sheldon character is clueless; it’s certainly not some malicious effort on his part to be offensive. If anything, like many of Sheldon’s strange behaviors, he’s actually making an effort to click with the other humans.


Not understanding sarcasm is one thing. An important thing — who’d want to live in a world without that? But given that Sheldon sought out Leonard’s help in shoring up his sarcasm-detection skills, Leonard and his other friends should make it a point to help Sheldon understand why his comments vis-à-vis race-related topics are so not okay. Otherwise, this could just appear to be lazy writing designed to get laughs with the least possible thought and effort, and both viewers and the Sheldon character deserve better.

And now we jump down from the soapbox.

Otherwise, what was supposed to be the "Fun With Flags" denouement is a greatest-hits collection — again, relatively speaking — of Sheldon’s series, with a show-within-the-show highlight reel that includes Amy Farrah Fowler dressed up like a kangaroo (Australian flag), Sheldon dressed up like Betsy Ross to express his skepticism that she really sewed the first American flag, and a game of “Fwag or Not a Fwag” with Barry Kripke. It also serves as a chance for Sheldon to harp repeatedly on Amy for having once forgotten to hit record when they were creating a two-hour Fourth of July installment of the podcast. Given the repeated rebukes of his girlfriend and those LeVar Burton faux pas, "Fun With Flags" kinda turns out not to be. Fun, that is, or at least, not as fun as it should have been.

No one else is having much fun in the episode, either. Penny and Bernadette attend a work soiree where boss Dan (the always-delightful Stephen Root) and Penny fess up to Bernadette that she’s seen as a big (well, petite, but powerful) bully who has intimidated her co-workers into buying her coffee every day and allowing her to have a private bathroom at the office. The revelation drives Bernie to tears, albeit fake ones, which she uses to manipulate Penny and Dan into agreeing to continue funding her java jones.

Leonard, Raj, and Howard, meanwhile, are tasked with cleaning out the office of the recently deceased Professor Roger Abbott (whose name, Howard points out, sounds like “Roger Rabbit”). The most interesting data they find among his notebooks is a log of everything he ever ate — he was trying to prove caloric restriction extends lifespan — which is why he never got to enjoy the bottle of Champagne his mother gave him, 50 years ago, with a note urging him to open it upon his first great discovery. The trio tries to put an upbeat footnote on Professor Abbott’s disappointing career by agreeing they’ll toast him with the Champagne when one of them gets their first big breakthrough (followed by copious amounts of rubbing the accomplishment in Sheldon’s face).

Sheldon, instead, opens the bottle when he gets that less-than-rave feedback on "Fun With Flags," not because he wants to celebrate with libations, but because he likes the sound of the cork pop.

Cue sad trombone sound-effect here.


  • Sheldon’s not the only one who doubts Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag, and believes that the fact she’s credited with the creation is really the result of, as he put it, “descendants out to make a quick buck.” 
  • Sheldon: “I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘The final episode … who will stand between us and flag ignorance?’” 
  • Howard, on the nude-woman floaty pen Raj finds in Professor Abbott’s office: “My dad used to have a pen like that. I dated it all through sixth grade.” 
  • Howard: “Don’t feel bad. Someday, someone will be throwing out your work, too.” Leonard: “That someone was Sheldon, and the day was yesterday.” 
  • Amy: “How many times do I have to say ‘I’m sorry’?” Sheldon: “How ‘bout 4,000? One for every domino I set up to make that American flag.”
  • Bernadette: “I’m like the sweetest person I know. Look at me, I should be in a tree baking cookies.” Penny: “Yes, but once in a while, people think you’re a little mean.” Bernadette: “Oh, yeah? You one of those people?” Penny: “No, no, no, I think the cookie thing.” 
  • Sheldon introducing Fun With Flags guest star LeVar Burton: “He puts the Reading in your Rainbow, the Geordi in your La Forge, the Kunta in your Kinte.”
  • LeVar Burton: “Thank you, Sheldon, remember our deal.” Sheldon: “You do this, I delete your contact information.” LeVar Burton: “While …” Sheldon: “While you watch me do it.” 
  • Sheldon: “I’d like to take a moment to personally thank Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler, who you may or may not know is the first woman to co-host a flag or banner-related internet infotainment show.” Amy: “Take that, glass ceiling.” 
  • The "Fun With Flags" viewer comment that led Sheldon to conclude “the people are heartbroken” about its demise: “Too bad your show is done. I kinda liked it.” 
  • LeVar Burton on Sheldon’s visit to his house: “Wil Wheaton said, get a gate. I don’t know why I didn’t get a gate.” 
  • Chuck Lorre vanity-card update: He had one, something about rebirth, a cosmic uterus, and a not-so-veiled reference to Charlie Sheen.