Recently, The Miscellany News was approached by MTV producers to spread the word about a new casting opportunity. Attached to the email was a flyer which promoted a casting for “an MTV documentary.” The flyer asks “Are you white? Do you have a story to tell?” to the reader. The flyer then goes on to ask slanted questions revolving around one’s relationship with racism as a white person, including “Are you being discriminated against for being white?” and “Are you being made to feel guilty because you are white?” The questions are clearly directed toward a white audience. This MTV documentary ad is indicative of a larger problem of mainstream discussion on race being dominated by white voices. No offense to all of you white readers out there, but you should be the absolute last people to have a say in what direction conversations about race take in media. It’s extremely unfortunate, however, that the opposite happens to be true.
There is already a huge problem with underrepresentation in the television and film industry for people of color. There are scarce numbers of black, Latino, and Asian-American actors playing roles in shows that don’t revolve around some kind of stereotype that is founded on racist undertones and structures. People like to tout shows like “Black-ish” and “Cristela” on ABC as the end of racism on television. These seem to be the people that MTV is targeting, the people that believe that reverse racism is an actual thing.
I recently (and shamefully) got into a Facebook argument with someone from my hometown of Temecula, CA about the implications that come with being a person of color in today’s society. They threw things at me asking why any person of color should get a job or a role in a film over a white person who is more qualified. Their language was riddled with problematic word choices, but what struck me the most was that they believed everything relied on drive. People have to have the drive to get what they want, and there is nothing more to it. I was annoyed at how incorrect they were and how ignorant to any other opinions they heard from other people.
It is not only about drive. It has never been only about drive. Take any class that centers around race and racism at Vassar and you’ll learn how messed up the systems in this country actually are. I’m embarrassed to admit that it took taking one of those classes for me to see how twisted and wrong my views on racism were.
To believe that racism doesn’t exist and that everyone has a fair shot in the system is to actually reinforce the racist structures ingrained in society today. That’s why I’m so angry about this MTV ad. It predicates itself on that idea that the United States is a post-racial country. By asking your audience what it’s like to be a white person and have to listen to people talk about race and share their stories and struggles, it immediately victimizes the non-victim in the situation.
Usually, I wouldn’t even give a story like this my time. The reason I’m concerned about this particular incident is the implications it can actually have on society. MTV, as crocked as it has become over its evolution the past 30 years, still has a lot of viewership, especially among teenage viewers. There are already horrible documentary style shows on networks like MTV and VH1 that promote the ideal life as being a young, attractive, rich white teenager who is able to go to movie premiers, spend whole summers with their friends at some cabin by Beverly Hills, and other kinds of ridiculous dribble. These types of shows already further alienate people of color, making them feel tokenized and unwanted by society .
This phenomenon is not exclusive to television. As the world moves further into the digital age, online media is taking hold of the younger generations. If you look at a list of the most famous YouTubers and online personalities, there are a sparse number of people of color. Most of them are young white vloggers who have a rampant following. A lot of famous YouTubers that are people of color base their content on stereotypes that they face as whatever race they may be. While I don’t believe this is a bad thing in the slightest, I suspect many of their viewers are young white teenagers who find humor in the tokenization of these individuals.
A documentary put on by a mainstream music channel that basically advertises for reverse racism could have a severe effect on the outlooks of many young people who happen to watch MTV. It’s alarming that this kind of show has the possibility of getting a cult following while real issues like the constant killings of black bodied individuals in the country go unheard of. The social media support from so–called non racists whites for what happened to Michael Brown seems to have all but disappeared, and Michael Brown was only one of hundreds of people of color that get attacked by law enforcement in this nation.
I’m blessed to go to a school like Vassar. I admit that Vassar has its fair share of issues and more than its fair share of ignorant people. But without the things I’ve learned here, I would still be as uninformed and confused as I used to be about racial issues when I was in high school. I know what most young people in this country think, and it’s not that racism is a problem that needs to be addressed now.
It is hard to think outside of the Vassar bubble sometimes. This ad from MTV reminded me of what actually goes on outside of this school. The media continues to silence the voices that need to get heard and promote the voices that need to simmer down and take a step back.
White people, especially those new to the Vassar community, listen up: You need not feel marginalized or attacked at this school because you’re white and people criticize your race for being inherently racist and ignorant. You shouldn’t feel marginalized because it is actually impossible for you to be marginalized by people of color. I won’t make the outright claim that every white person is racist, but I will guarantee that more than once in your life, you have helped further the racist structures that fuel society today. As a half white, half Filipino man, I’ve done it too. It’s OK to admit that. But when you start to frame yourself as a victim, that’s when you’re doing it all wrong.
Take a second to learn about what racism actually is and how you play a part in it. It is shocking and scary at first, but you can use your knowledge to make legitimate change. Don’t give in to the belief that racism no longer exists.
I do not believe that MTV had any misintentions when creating the concept for this documentary. I believe that the producers truly believe that giving white people voice on issues of racism is a productive way to move the conversation forward. And that’s what scares me the most.