Dear White People: Why the Netflix Boycott Is Racist (Signed, A White Person)
It's been a little more than a week since Netflix released its trailer for Dear White People, the show based on the popular movie of the same name that's scheduled to premiere April 28. In the days since the trailer's launch, a lot of people – specifically, white people – have responded with a lot of hate, arguing that the trailer is racist and calling for a Netflix boycott.
The angry white people backlash centers on the 30-second spot's portrayal of white people; namely, images of white, cardigan-clad college kids in blackface set against a young black woman's voiceover suggesting this is an inappropriate Halloween costume. But blackface is racist – its practice is rooted in anti-blackness – which is why calling it a racist act cannot be oppressive.
So here's a letter to angry white people from a fellow white person, because, really, what the hell is your problem?
First, I wonder if any of you actually saw the movie on which the show and its trailer are based. If you haven't, please do. "Dear White People" is a thoughtful film that looks at race through myriad lenses, including white ones. It's smart, it's honest and it's a way into the very necessary conversations all of us need to have about race.
Second, one of its key messages is something we could all do better: Listen. Just listen. I know that when it comes to talking about race, listening can be hard, and I also tend to get defensive when I feel misunderstood. But in every situation where I've been defensive, I've lost an opportunity to learn.
I don't mean to preach here or suggest I know better. As far as I can tell, we're all in this $#!+ together, just trying to get along in life: working our asses off to get ahead (or, in most cases, break even); cleaning the house; buying the groceries; cooking the meals; taking care of the kids; showing up for our friends; being a good daughter, wife, brother, sister, aunt; and, generally, aiming to be decent human beings while acknowledging through it all that, on occasion, we will fail in that pursuit because it's our humanity that makes us imperfect.
But we should not use our human shortcomings as excuses for being misinformed and, often as a consequence, racist.
By now, you probably think that I'm some kind of apologist, that maybe I'm ashamed to be white or that I'm writing this as an attempt to deny, both to myself and to you, the implicit bias against non-whites that I'm sure I have. (If you think you're not biased, take this test and prepare to have your understanding of self completely rocked.) You're entitled to believe that, but I don't think it's accurate.
The truth: I don't have white guilt. I understand the atrocities of my ancestors – from wiping out native communities and enslaving Africans to confining Asians and expelling Latinos – and I know that I can best serve the people still impacted by these atrocities by making change, not wallowing in my remorse.
The trouble is that fixing what's wrong requires talking and listening and being really, frighteningly, painfully honest about race, which is a hard thing to do for most white people.
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Working at Latina and being white, I've had more than a few uncomfortable moments. Recently, I asked one of my Afro-Latina colleagues where she got her sparkly lipstick and said something about seeing a similar product on a “black Facebook page I follow.” After saying it I thought to myself, Black Facebook page? What the hell is a Black Facebook page?, and then proceeded to spiral down a deep rabbit hole of awkward attempts at making sense of what I said.
Thankfully, we laughed about it together, but the fact that I was aware of how this sounded coming from a white woman – would I have thought twice about it if I were speaking with a white colleague? – illustrates how nuanced dialogues about race are. If it had been someone other than a colleague who knows me and, hallelujah, likes me, it could have (validly) gotten really contentious really fast.
Conversely, there are times when I hear my Latina colleagues – light-skinned, dark-skinned and in-between – talk about race and I believe what they are really talking about are economic and education challenges, things that I, the daughter of a white, non-college educated, single mom who worked three jobs to keep us fed and housed, experienced. These moments make me want to say, “poverty and lack of opportunity aren't exclusively Latino or black issues.”
Now, if you're reading this and you're white and your response to the last sentence is, “Hell, yeah,” it's time to address the very large elephant in the room: Economic issues often have a much stronger negative impact on my black and brown colleagues because of their race, ethnic background, immigration status and native languages. While poverty is something anyone, regardless of race, can experience, its impact on whole communities of color is systemic and is compounded by race, ethnicity and immigration status, rendering that favorite quote employed by so many of my privileged friends, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," entirely mute.
Here's the thing: White privilege is real. Whether or not you agree with what I've written thus far, there's no question that people of color – all colors – face daily challenges that you and I will never have to.
Ever been tracked with a side-eye while shopping? Neither have I. Ever had a cab pass you by to pick up a white woman down the block? Neither have I. Ever been pulled over by a cop and asked to step out of your vehicle for no reason at all? Neither have I.
If you think these things are irrelevant and that they have nothing to do with education, job opportunities, housing, health insurance, food security – the list goes on and on – ask yourself how much your identity is based on your entire life's worth of human interactions and the representations of white faces that you see in everything, from commercials to movies to newscasts. Because identity matters. It makes you think you can even if you haven't before, and provides a foundation for every kind of success – education, career, home, health, love – that exists.
So when you get mad because black people are pissed that white college kids throw “negro” parties and dress up in blackface – as was the crux of the Dear White People trailer – I'm #sorrynotsorry to tell you that you are wrong. Blackface is wrong. Racism is wrong. And being offended when people point out those wrongs is ... well, wrong. I won't boycott Netflix, and I hope you'll consider watching, listening and learning from what this important show can teach us.
Amanda Cargill (a white person)