Hello Fellow White People!
I read recently that some of you were upset or confused about the lack of white faces in Marvel’s Luke Cage, recently debuted on Netflix. At first, I was like, “REALLY, GUYS?” but then I remembered something—sometimes people are awful and I should not be surprised. Now, fellow white person reading this open letter, I am not saying that YOU, personally, are awful. You probably do great things in your community! I’m sure that you are a great mother/father/sister/aunt/cousin/friend/fairy godmother/etc. ad nauseum. But you seem to be uncomfortable about a television show and we should talk about that. I’m here to address your concerns.
1. Where are all the white people?
Great question! The answer is, they’re somewhere else. Doing other things. With other people of (maybe) various backgrounds. Luke Cage is an African American man. Most of his daily life’s cast of characters are also African American. They live and work in Harlem, a traditionally black neighborhood. The reason you don’t see a lot of white people is because that’s just not where the white people are. It will be okay. And remember that people of color often wonder where all the POCs are in every other movie!
2. I just can’t relate to this experience.
From what I’ve seen, and I’m only three episodes in so NO SPOILERS PLEASE, Luke Cage is a rollercoaster of a story. There is sadness, and loss, and revenge, and the need to protect the things you love. Those are all human emotions to which most people can relate. I am willing to bet that you, too, have felt extreme emotion before. You say you can’t “relate” to the experiences on your screen, but you can surely empathize with the emotions of the characters. Saying that you can’t relate at all to what’s going on is like saying that people have different kinds of emotions based solely on the color of their skin. That seems suspect. If you don’t like it, just say you don’t like it. Don’t make up excuses.
And on a broader note, people of color have been watching movies populated solely with white people for over 100 years. Look at Hollywood. It is a white, blonde, green-eyed bunch. Ever notice that the same POC actors play the same POC-designated roles over and over again? It’s because we will only allow so much color into the upper echelons of High Hollywood Society. Did you know that Alfre Woodard is playing her second role in the Marvel universe in Luke Cage? It’s true. She was just in Civil War as a completely different character. We can afford to dig a little deeper and bring in some new talent. But to bring in new talent, we have to have plenty of roles to fill—rather than just one or two token ones. There’s room for everyone here. (No disrespect to Ms. Woodard, who kills it every time. Please keep showing up on my screen.)
3. It makes me uncomfortable.
That’s okay. It’s okay to feel discomfort. It’s an opportunity to ask yourself why you feel that way. The thing about culture is that when you’re in it, everything seems normal. When you are watching the culture of another it is much harder to suspend your disbelief and watch passively. You have to actively confront your discomfort and your own knowledge gaps. You have to think critically. Thinking critically is not comfortable. And you need to make your peace with that.
But feeling uncomfortable and then sweeping those feelings under the rug so that you don’t have to face them is not healthy or helpful. The media we consume should be more than just Tim Allen making the same jokes for twenty years. It should stretch our boundaries and horizons. Discomfort is just part of the package. Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone, and other trite sayings.
4. But it’s racist, right?
No. That’s not what racism is. You can read up very basically on racism here, but this Netflix superhero show is not it. And it’s certainly not reverse racism which is not a thing, guys. Stop trying to make reverse racism happen. It is never going to happen.
Seeing people who don’t look like you in popular culture entertainment is not racism. There’s room for everyone on our television and movie screens. As white people, we are used to seeing our experiences play out on our screen. When everyone looks like you, you don’t have to try for deeper understanding. You’re in on the joke. You’re used to the scenery. You’re comfortable. But just because something is not made with your cultural background in mind does not make it racist.
However, calling something racist because it is strongly acculturated to the “other” and that makes you uncomfortable is probably racism in action.
Watch. Don’t watch. But accept that the television landscape is changing, and if you can’t do that, at least you still have television’s last bastion of whiteness–Network Sitcoms. Just stay there and don’t bother the rest of us. We’re binging some good stuff over here.
Regards, Best Wishes, &ct,