Privilege Isn’t Something To Be Proud Of
Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Mar 22, 2017
It can be tough being an older guy who’s not into pop culture all that much. It can also be tough being an older guy who’s dealt with stupid comments about race from people who are privileged to not have to deal with any issues of face against themselves that they feel they have the right to speak out against others who feel otherwise… thus reflecting that they have no idea what they’re talking about.
In this case I was reading an article about a new show called Iron Fist (I don’t even know if it’s called a TV show since it’s only on Netflix), which is getting critical reviews and even worse ratings. I don’t know anything about the story except that there seems to be a lot of people criticizing the show and wondering why the lead character isn’t Asian.
One of the co-creators of the original comic the story is based off, a man named Roy Thomas (someone else I don’t know) decided he had to defend the casting of the character of the show. He used some fairly choice words that didn’t help his cause, while showing that privilege believes it’s always right… even when it’s not.
His first statement is that the original character was white when he helped create it in 1974 and “that people who complained about whitewashing had too much time on their hands.”
Let’s talk about that one for a moment. Cultural appropriation isn’t a new concept in America. Who remembers the TV show Kung Fu starring David Carradine, a man of Irish descent who played a Shaolin monk from China? What about the movie Scarface, a movie about a Cuba immigrant who becomes a major drug lord, where almost every lead role was played by Italians in dark skinned makeup? For that matter, who remembers Pat Boone’s musical career was based on appropriating Little Richard’s music and making it palatable for a larger audience?
It seems that even Thomas forgot that he admitted that he and his partner created and based their lead character on a kung fu movie he’d seen. Just because he decided his main character was going to be white doesn’t mean he didn’t steal the idea from people with a different culture.
Next he said this: “Don’t these people have something better to do than to worry about the fact that Iron Fist isn’t Oriental, or whatever word? I know Oriental isn’t the right word now, either.”
Wow! I’m surprised he didn’t follow this up with “I’m not prejudiced; I have a Chinese friend.” For those who don’t know, Oriental is a rug; the people are called Asian these days.
Look, I get it. Times have changed, and the political landscape makes a lot more people feel emboldened to say whatever they want, no matter how crass and bigoted it might seem. I understand it’s hard to pick one’s words carefully so as not to offend; I also understand that in today’s world it’s more of a standard to say and do what you want up front and then apologize on the back end “if anyone was offended by” your words.
Strangely enough, the world is indeed changing, but in the direction of more people realizing that cultural appropriation is a big deal. Just ask Matt Damon (someone I really like by the way), who starred in a movie set in China that probably should have had a lead Chinese or Asian actor, who had to deal with his own diversity comment and apologize for it, along with trying to clarify what he actually meant. Or talk to Scarlett Johansson, who’s about to star in a movie that was based on a Japanese series that was originally set there as well (I don’t know where the new movie well be set), who’s probably wishing she hadn’t walked into this type of controversy just as she’s started earning major dollars for some of her film roles.
White people hate when minorities talk about this concept of privilege and immediately want to defend themselves against it. The best tactic is to try to turn it around and call us “sensitive” (which Thomas also used in his interview) and say we should be concentrating more on trying to do better for ourselves rather than blame them for keeping the rest of us down. Yet, it’s the 800-pound warthog in the room, and as I like to say (which I appropriated from Dr. Phil), we can’t address what we won’t acknowledge. In a period where the Apple board of directors decided that diversity proposals weren’t needed to increase diversity at senior levels (where, out of 18 positions, only 3 are women and one of those women happens to be a minority), I definitely feel it’s a topic that needs to be talked about.
Last March around this same time I was part of a local news story that talked about how the lineup for the concerts at the new amphitheater were mostly white and male. A couple of statements I was quoted as saying were:
“I’m betting there are no people of color on the committee who chooses these acts,” said Mitchell of Liverpool. “It doesn’t mean those acts aren’t impressive, but there’s a definite lack of diversity.”
“The truth is people are scared to talk about diversity,” he said. “Most people don’t think about it until someone brings it up. But good leadership is inclusive. Good leadership always thinks about diversity.”
Oh yeah; I also said this:
“If you mention it to them, they’re going to make excuse after excuse,” he said. “That’s what the Oscar people did. People get defensive, even if you’re just telling the truth. People are scared to be called racists or bigots.”
This followed the Oscars last year, which were so controversial that the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite became a crusade of its own. It certainly reflected well in this year’s Oscars, didn’t it? Locally though? So far this year every single act is white and male once again, although one of the groups does have a female lead singer; I guess that counts for something.
I guess is someone’s got to say it, it’ll have to be me. Folks… privilege isn’t something to be proud of. The word all of us should be striving for is inclusion.
I shouldn’t have to be the one telling businesses that it’s been proven that having a diverse employee culture that includes management helps companies succeed and become more prosperous with their consumer base than companies that seem to think inclusion is just another “I” word (ask the founder of Uber about this one). In 2017, I shouldn’t have to be the one who came up with a generic succession plan for leadership diversity as a sole proprietor when other companies have way more employees and should be doing this themselves.
What people like Roy Thomas seem to be missing isn’t that the rest of us don’t believe he has the right to create whatever he wants and however he wants. Really, we don’t care as much as you think we do. What we care about are your reasons for doing it your way when, because we’re not stupid, we know where you got the idea from. You’re nothing new; we’ve seen the same thing for centuries (y’all don’t really believe the original cowboys were white do you?).
No one’s looking for a handout. We’re not looking for affirmative action.
We’re looking for fair opportunities, especially in representing ourselves. If you say there are no qualified minorities, then help make some. Stop explaining or apologizing; let’s get moving on solutions to a better way.