Recently I was talking to a friend about a skit I’m working to film and produce. The skit features two young adult women. I have two actors in mind for this and one happens to be white and the other happens to be black. When I was describing the concept to my friend, I mentioned that I didn’t want for there to be a racial component to the story. He provided a simple solution saying, “You should only use white actors.” I was caught off guard, it sounded racist but my friend is not racist at all. I thought about the interaction for a while and realized how easy it is to be complicit in a system of white supremacy.
I originally started sharing this as a Facebook comment to this short article about Woody Allen not hiring black actors unless the story “Requires it.” I started by writing the post like this:
Recently I was talking to a friend about a skit I’m working on to film and produce. the skit features two women. I had two actors in mind and one is black. I said that I wanted to use the black actor but didn’t want to have a racial component in the story. He provided a simple solution saying, “You should only use white actors.” I was floored but understood how easy it is to be complicit in a system of white supremacy.
There are a few things wrong with my original words and the thinking behind them.
“I had two actors in mind and one is black.” This in a way assumes that the normal thing to be is white. I didn’t mean it that way but my brain automatically went there instead of saying that one is black and one is white.
“I wanted to use the black actor but didn’t want to have a racial component in the story.” This is HUGELY PROBLEMATIC and I almost left it out there in a comment trying to show solidarity with a fellow black person who is an actor. It’s a problem because it places the onus of racial tension on the black person. It implies that black people are a racial problem. They are not. (We are not.)
As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me, “Race is a product of racism.” It’s a white problem. Not necessarily the problem of an individual person who is called white but of the whole system of attitudes and behaviors that have created the terms, white, and black. A system that has persisted and has continued to oppress black and brown people in sometimes very subtile and nuanced ways but also in violent and obvious ways. Obvious at least to those who are paying attention either by proximity or by intentional wakefulness.
As some of you may know, I am the son of a black mother. She denied being black for my whole childhood and came out to me as a black person when I was in my 20s. Here’s a post about some of that: THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF GROWING UP WITH A CONFUSED RACIAL IDENTITY
So, yeah. I’m half black and also a little bit racist. I’ve got white supremacy in my thinking. I am unintentionally compliant in this system. I promise, I’m really working on this.
I carpool and work with a very thoughtful and woke white friend and we talk about systemic white supremacy every time we ride together. It’s an inexhaustible topic of conversation. I feel that we will never run out of things to say on the topic.
ConFuSing pAragrapH>>>Being a person of mixed race, I find that I have trouble with language regarding race. I don’t self identify as a white person but when I look at things I’ve said or written I find that I only sometimes identify as a black person. I usually call black people they and sometimes call white people they, although if I look closely, I find that I imply that I share a white experience, which I do in some ways. I have been subject to various forms of white racism in my life and have been treated as other enough times to make me feel genuinely other. I don’t really look black though and I was raised by a poor single black mother who had a life riddled with violence, drug abuse, imprisonment, unfortunate police encounters, domestic abuse, and deep shame regarding her own identity as a black woman. In many of these ways I think I share an experience that many black people have had and yet I often feel like an outsider in that group as well.
I’m doing racism sometimes and I’m really sorry about it. I think it’s important for people to come to terms with the fact that racism exists and that they probably participate in it without even knowing.
Was I writing about film? Yes. I guess so. If you’re working in film, do better. Don’t assume you’re not racist.