[Opinion] Why I'll Never Be Mad At "White People Problems"
Two days ago The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray penned a well thought-out piece entitled “Our ‘white people’s problems’ problem: Why it’s time to stop using ‘white’ as a pejorative.” It begins as a reaction to hearing AMC’s Emmy Award-winning series Mad Men described as “Roots for white people.” Immediately I was psyched. I love Mad Men and I, ahem, just happen to recap and review the episodes every week. Perhaps there would be some new insight I could weave into my analysis this coming Sunday. But all shameless plugs aside, the essay took a turn for me soon after the second paragraph. That statement; valid although probably meant to be at least mildly humorous, sent him on a tear about humor where white people are the butt of the joke. For example the “white people problems” meme, Stuff White People Like, and other general jokes comedians make about white people. But it was this passage in particular that rubbed me the wrong way.
“But increasingly, people aren’t sniping about “whiteness” to be funny, or even defiant—at least not entirely. They’re using the term as a form of criticism, meant to be dismissive. “That movie looks very white,” or, “That sounds like music for white people,” is another way of saying, “That can’t be any good.” And I do have a problem with that.”
I grappled with that uneasiness overnight; I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Intellectually I wanted to agree. Murray makes a case for acknowledging true diversity in art, and not just for diversity’s sake. I can certainly dig that. It’s critical to note persons of color making an impact through their art, not just to have a token black, Latin or Middle Eastern artist to discuss. He also challenges that using “too white as a put down” is a cop out for what people really want to say. He calls for folks to champion their alternatives rather than perpetuate whiteness as a source of shame. And that’s fine. I agree with that also. But there was still that nagging voice in my head that wanted to shout, “toughen up and quit your whining!” After all, I’m pretty sure he’s never been harassed by the police or not gotten a job or been otherwise treated unfairly because of the pejorative use of ‘white.’
Emotionally I wanted to be the Cameron Giles to his Bill O’Reilly. I wanted to tell him to get over it. And that’s probably because, oh, I don’t know, the entire world uses “black” as a pejorative like every fucking day. But due to the gross disparity between jokes about white privilege and perceived blackness if we brought that up we’d surely be accused of race baiting, playing a card, or just being plain out of our minds. Here’s what I mean.