White Privilege, Racism, and My White Friends

I fell in love with the acting of Kevin Spacey after watching him in American Beauty. As an aspiring actor myself, his immense talent and ability to leave himself and be in total submission of a character was incredible to me.

His final who-rah in House Of Cards was a spectacular curtain call to his career. When the show began to sorely lose it’s path, and the plot points became thicker than racial tension in America today, his portrayal of Frank Underwood was my sticking point.

Then the news came that Kevin, much like Frank Underwood, was a monster. From unwanted advances on men in several productions, to his use of the N word on set.

While the true nature and depth of his racism may remain undetermined, I was still floored and disappointed that he would utter that word…

While working on set with people of color, including Mahershala Ali.

I am already massively discouraged by racism in this country, but this moment tainted my perspective even more deeply.

I felt deceived, and ashamed that I ever even admired Kevin. My appreciation for his talent ran so deep, to find out about his actions made me feel like an accomplice in the havoc he has ensued on people throughout his career.

I now wonder how many more white actors that I admire use the N word? How many of them are racist?

Robin Wright was the other reason I stayed with House Of Cards until the bitter end. Was she aware of Kevin’s language? Did she have a problem with it?

What about two of my other favorites, Cate Blanchett and Robert Downey Jr.? Are they harboring a disdain for people of color that I don’t know about?

These questions may sound trivial as it relates to the whole of racism, but at a time in history where unarmed black men are being killed by police in growing numbers, and where the word “privilege” has lost it’s core meaning because even when used alone it sounds like the word “white” is in front of it, race relations in this country are drawing more questions than answers.

For me it has unfortunately inbreed a deep doubt in black and white relations and relationships.

Should I even like white actors anymore? I’m beginning to even find shame in talking about white actors I like to my black friends.

I know there are probably some black people that will read this and be ready to run me out of the room, questioning my concern for how white actors feel about me/black people, instead of displaying rage against white people for how they have left black and brown people so beleaguered in this country.

I get that.

Let me be clear. I am enraged that this country continues to allow the racist language and actions that comes from the White House. It is beyond disconcerting to me that unarmed black men and women continue to be physically assaulted and killed by white police officers under the guise of “They [the officers] feared for their life.” The number of black men in jail in this country, particularly for non-violent offenses, is horrifying to me.

Yet I am also of the notion that to have these conversations about racism and white privilege, anger isn’t always the best way to bring black and white people to the table together, even if the rage on the part of black and brown people in this country is justified.

In addition, I am an artist that also strongly admires the talent of others, and even though art these days seems to be more for the purpose of personal ego stroking than to genuinely display beauty and talent, I’d at least like the ability to glean from white actors without having to wonder if they are racist. I otherwise feel like a hypocrite if it comes to be that they indeed have no respect for me and other black and brown people.

Make no mistakes here. Black actors are my heroes. Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel, Viola Davis, Regina King, Halle Berry, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson; these are just some of the black actors that have made an impact in entertainment that I pray to one day have.

Art and talent are not limited to one race though, and I have never been a person that can dismiss the talent of another based on skin color alone.

That is until Kevin Spacey made me extremely unsettled about my admiration for white actors.

Pulling back from celebrities, now even when I see black and white people together that appear to be friends, I question the level of friendship. When I see interracial couples, I wonder if the white person truly has an understanding of the plight of their black spouse in America.

Can a person of color be married to a white person that doesn’t believe white privilege is real? Have they even had this discussion which I think is necessary to their knowledge of each other in the relationship?

All of this may sound dramatic and over intense, but as a person of color, it is imperative to me that white people understand what we go through, even if it’s only on a base level. I don’t expect a total understanding of our experience, but dismissal is unacceptable.

I have had white people deny their privilege to my face. Those conversations usually come up with white people that I knowingly won’t have to see again, but that I still share the truth of the matter with based on my experience.

Just because some white people don’t believe in their privilege in no way means it doesn’t exist.

What about my white friends that I haven’t had these discussions with? How do they really feel about black people, racism, and white privilege?

From where I stand now, if a white person is willing to deny white privilege, something that plays a role in my daily life, they are in turn denying a huge part of my existence, and what friendship can be based on the denial of a factor that critically impacts the other person?

There are a couple of things that complicate this for me.

I was taught that all people can be bad, but as I’ve grown older and learned more about how America operates, and look back at some things that have happened to me, I realize that a lot of white people specifically are horrible, because they use the color of their skin to their advantage in a way that hurts black and brown people.

I also realize that the system in this country is not broken. It was designed to keep black and brown people oppressed.

Remember, the original constitution didn’t even deem us a whole person.

Conversely, I know some amazing white people. I’ve worked with, and am friends with some white people who at least in my face seem to understand how the privilege they share with those that are abusing it impacts me as a person of color.

Are they just placating me though? Have they even thought about their privilege, whether or not they use it, and how it impacts me, someone they call a friend?

In addition, sometimes racism rears its ugly head and I want to scream about it, but I don’t want to offend my white friends. I find myself editing and sometimes not even posting certain status updates because I don’t want them to think that I hate all white people or that I’m mad at all white people, because I’m not.

I then realize though, that if any white person gets upset with me for, as one white woman on Facebook put it “talking about race all the time” (she is not my friend, rather an old co worker who followed me to be nosy), then that probably speaks to guilt on their part about the truth of racism and white privilege and their role in it’s advance.

The truth of it is, racism as a whole is not an indictment on every white person alive. There are some white people that are willing to acknowledge the unfair treatment of black and brown people in this country, or are at least aware enough of the level of unawareness they have about how black and brown people are impacted everyday by racism and white privilege.

I know the way things are now isn’t what every white person wants for America, and I believe people of color need to find ways to have productive conversations with white people, not to excuse or in any way absolve white people, but just enough to make room for white people that are willing to help and who have no ulterior motives, or at least admit they don’t understand or don’t know how to help.

This I believe can be done with rage and anger on the part of black and brown people totally intact.

In turn white people need to stop denying that white privilege exists. Dismissing this truth only exacerbates the anger from people of color.

For white people that don’t understand, I can deal with that. What I believe to be problematic and unacceptable is white people who don’t understand, and don’t care to understand.

I had a conversation with a white male at work, and he said that one, he truly has no idea what black people have to go through because he’s never had to think about it. It has no impact on his daily life. He wasn’t saying it to be dismissive, it was just the truth of the matter for him.

He also said that there had been instances where he wanted to ask for a better understanding, not to undercut black people and then come back and say there’s not a problem, but for more clarity, yet the anger he has seen displayed by some black people has deterred him from even asking questions.

Him saying that led to an extremely productive conversation between he and I on race, white privilege, and his future responsibility to educate himself after having had a conversation with me.

I also made it very clear to him that anger on the part of black and brown people in this country may be disturbing, but it’s justified, and he has to find a way to move past his discomfort to get the knowledge he needs on this issue.

So, for me and my white friends, I think there is work to do on both sides, and I think that work starts with attitudes that invite conversation, not incite anger, This is important for both sides, but particularly for white people as they are in control and are continuing to allow the hell black and brown people go through in this country.

My inspiration for writing this actually came from a talking to a white friend who reminded me the word “privilege” is not a bad word. People have privilege in different ways. It’s when they begin to abuse that privilege in a way that harms others that the problem begins.

I am extremely grateful that she and I were able to have that conversation, and I am open to many more, as I believe the only way to find solutions is if we talk to each other.

I’m in hopes that more of my white friends believe the same.

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