Sit back, this one is a little long. Had a lot to say and still didnt get it all out
To quote Kendrick Lamar from his song ‘i’ from To Pimp A Butterfly, “I love myself!” and i think the love I have for myself is what caused my outrage while waiting for Catfish to return from commercial break. My partner and I were minding our own business when we hear this commercial that begins with “Is your skin color holding you back? Are you tired of systematic prejudice ruining your day?…” and suddenly snarky Twitter rants weren’t as interesting. Full video link here: https://youtu.be/U6JrJFJs0GA
The reaction I had after Catfish finally returned was something along the lines of
That is to say before the anger kicked in. (and yeah, I know I used this same meme in another post. Countess’ expression is just so relevant to how I react in real life)
I was hearing the right things [more or less] but what I was viewing was all wrong. And I mean ALL wrong. What you’ll see, if you haven’t already witnessed, is a satire about white privilege featuring a pseudo firm of privileged White people
[a bit redundant isnt?] who assist People of Color (primarily Black/African American) with getting scholarships or hailing a cab or purchasing a home, etc. If you aren’t watching the commercial but are simply listening, you will not see the stats about gentrification and disproportionate incarceration, etc. But I was watching and listening, he and I both were. Those statistics, although accurate, could not dissuade the thunder in my ears at the audacity of the satire in the first place. There were testimonials of a Black woman who did well in school but could not earn a scholarship on her merit alone so she apparently contacts White Squad to get a Caucasian fill-in just to be able to receive funding for college. You see a Black man struggling to get a taxi driver to stop. You see a woman of Asian descent suddenly being able to get the home she wanted for her family. All the while, a White male narrator is walking around a fake firm encouraging people of color to reach out to White Squad in order to function in America.
I kept waiting. Waiting for some sort of reprieve from the racism I was seeing on a commercial who is honestly, and I use the term loosely, trying to combat racism.
I was hurt and beyond taken a back. Why, some might ask. Why, indeed.
It’s great that White Privilege is being highlighted in pop culture. It’s great that racial disparity in simply living and conducting an American life was called out. However, the message was undermined by the condescension of it all.
Let me lay it out for the people, especially people of color (and notably Black people), who may have endorsed the commercial which ended with a real link to a fake business website for White Squad.
Here, you have a firm of White people in a business setting taking advantage of White Privilege in order to give POC a fighting chance. You have the majority acknowledging their privilege and using it as a way to exploit those without that undue privilege. Now don’t get me wrong; the fake firm never mentioned a fee. But the model is one of capitalism. You have minorities dependent upon the majority to enable them to do things they are perfectly capable of doing themselves if the system of racism didn’t exist in the first place. And instead of dismantling the oppressive system, those who benefit from it are depicted as well-meaning oppressors who share their privilege for a greater good. But that’s not what Civil Rights Activists have been fighting for since before the abolition of slavery. That is not equality. The symbolism of sharing White Privilege is not actually helping people of color. It’s helping oppressors feel good about the system that oppresses because they can do a good deed for Tyrone and Quinisha for an hour or so. Charity at its
vilest Ahem, finest.
I can hear a gaggle of individuals encouraging me to “stop being so sensitive”. I hear voices (the same voices that called Trayvon Martin a thug as if that warranted his murder) trivializing the issue with placating comments like “it was just a satire. Don’t take it seriously.” some of these voices, some of the encouragement, may even come from POC.
I heard those voices within myself as I fought back angry tears. I had the ever present internal argument telling me It’s alright. They mean well. But then there is that Negro Spiritual, that Easter Sunday suit, that soulful riff, that “let my people go”, that gun cocking in my chest, that intrepid heartbeat due to a run of the mill traffic stop, that slam of a jail cell–that screams louder.
What the satire insinuates is that POC cannot do it for themselves. We need the help of White benefactors. It’s eerily comparable to enslaved African Americans who may have had a “kind” slave master who did not beat them or rape them or maybe even took the time to educate them while still participating in the vile institution of slavery itself. Those kind slave masters still bought and traded slaves. They still went to auctions. They still believed, on some level, that they were indeed masters. Now I am not talking about abolitionists like John Brown who put his life where his mouth was. He died in a rebellion to abolish slavery like many African American slaves died doing the same thing. But those White people who frowned upon slavery but did not want to forsake their comfort were not kind. They were just as guilty as the slave runners and the abusive slave owners. Why, again, you might ask. The answer is simple: They saw what was wrong but did nothing to make it right. Who cares if they were nice to the people they had power over. They were just as horrible, if not worse, than the more obvious racists. To see something as unjust and simply shake your head and drink your coffee while someone’s mother scrubbed your nasty bathroom (one that she still probably could not use despite how kind) and raised your kids (while her own were forced into labor) and cooked the meals for your slave owning family is worse because knowledge is power. You see that its wrong and still operate within the wrong while patting yourself on the back for being a better slave owner than your neighbor who probably doesn’t see a thing wrong with dividing a family for financial gain. When you know better, you do better. If you don’t do better you are, by default, doing worse. But y’all aint hearing me though.
That commercial was an abomination to the advancement of colored people. That commercial was pompous and unapologetic. That commercial, from its conception, was racist. Period. The end.
Solving race issues in America is not going to come from sharing privilege. It comes from dismantling the systems that privilege empowers in the first place. Capitalizing, even in an implied sense, off of the struggles of marginalized people is the ultimate demonstration of White Privilege. It’s being a good slave master and patting yourself on the back for being nice. But it is NOT abolishing slavery and the mechanisms that enabled chattel slavery to exist in the first place. You don’t get a cookie for that. No more than I get a cookie for showing up on payday in order to get equal pay for a lady friend. That’s a bandaid (like taking down the Confederate flag instead of reforming legislation and practices which target minorities). When the wound is deep, a bandaid only impedes the healing process and damn it, sometimes you need stitches and other surgical procedures just to make it out alive. Where are the stitches? Where are the surgeons? Anybody can apply a bandaid but that ain’t doing a thing for the injuries in this country.
After I calmed down, I visited the site they advertised to get a better understanding.
And then the real culprit is revealed. MTV’s LOOK DIFFERENT initiative provides information related to prejudice and racism.
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Perhaps the road to equality is too?
Satire is a useful tool. It can highlight the profound stupidity fueling the ignorance around us. There are a couple of TV hosts and shows who do it prolifically regarding racial issues or sexism or all the other -isms flooding American streets.
This White Squad nonsense missed the boat though. Utterly. Sharing White Privilege isn’t the solution. Acknowledging it is a small step in a generally positive direction. It could have been done in a way that targets and mocks White Privilege at the expense of those who benefit from it: not those of us who are oppressed by it.
You tell me, though. Should I be listening to those voices that tell me “it aint that serious”, “it’s just a joke”, etc? Or should anyone who is truly a proponent of equality (and combatting the institutions and the lopsided powers that be) call a spade a spade? Tell me, if your attempts to help progress jump forward are really that progressive if they offends the very people who are already fighting every day just to hail a cab or better themselves in one way or another? If it trivializes the real problem, which is white privilege and the perpetuation of it by those too complacent to do a thing about it other than frown and shake their heads?
Some might say us little pickanninies and the like should be ever grateful for the attempt but those particular individuals are just the incarnation of “kind” slave masters. Perhaps revolt should be at hand. The oppressors cannot speak for the oppressed. Nor can they be the ones to censor or approve the tactics of the oppressed. Power corrupts. And white power corrupts systematically. Ergo, exhibit A: