As the countdown to the Oscar’s begins (#oscarssowhite) I would like to address the topic of privilege. I have seen so many articles addressing how few people of color are nominated this year and, of course, an endless stream of memes. I believe this lack of diversity is directly connected to white privilege.
Before I tackle that, let’s briefly review humans and our thinking. Our brains evolved to quickly assess the world around us to make quick decisions. It kept us safe and allowed us to be successful out there in the harsh environments from whence we came. This type of quick judgments and assessments is the origin of stereotypes and gross generalizations, it comes to us naturally. Not to mention that right now there is so much information in front of us from TV, the internet, our social lives (in real life) that we may rely on this instinct more than we recognize.
How does the lack of diversity connected to white privilege? First and foremost let us discuss this word. PRIVILEGE, the word, should be spelled with a “d” – priviledge. (Come on ancestors! Why isn’t there a D?) Turns out the word comes from the Latin root words privus, meaning private, and lex/leg, meaning a law for or against an individual. This definition no longer applies, but I digress.
Privilege can be hard to define. It is a challenging concept to grasp or see. This is in part due to the nature of this advantage. People who are privileged in some way are often born into the social environment that both enables this and allows it. They never had to think about it. They were born with this thing and never noticed it. Did you have a friend whose skin was darker than yours? Ever see them put on a Band-aid? Band-aids were designed to blend into a Caucasian complexion. Case in point.
The shortest clearest definition I can offer is this: Social privilege gives a person access to a resource that someone else does not simply because of something they were born with, eg: skin color, wealth, “good” genes, gender, etc. I have seen super liberal hippies who I consider friends get into arguments over this topic. It’s a touchy one. You can be dirt poor but white and still have an advantage over a person of color in the same situation.
The site Upworthy.com has some amazing articles and a poster series that really help to clarify what privilege is. However, they only ask questions and do not offer definitions. That is how challenging this concept can be.
But back to the Oscars, the lack of diversity is directly connected to privilege. Since there are fewer roles for women and people of color fewer get nominated. That’s the easy and obvious answer. But wait, there is more! The lack of nominations has nothing to do with a lack of amazing actors to fill movie roles. It’s because a system larger than you or I has decided the public at large doesn’t want to view women and people of color in these roles fearing the films they are in won’t bring in a lot of money. All this is made super-confusing when the host of the Oscars this year was revealed to be Chris Rock. Can you say tokenism?
I used to think films about people of color overcoming terrible tragedies (12 Years a Slave) or Jim Crow (The Help) or abuse (Precious) automatically had a leg up on winning, but that’s not always true (Selma.) I connect that to more of a white guilt thing than privilege, but again I digress.
You may be wondering why I am writing about this topic on my blog. Many of my readers are therapists, which means they may keep an eye on social justice issues. This lack of diversity is an injustice. White privilege in entertainment is a social justice issue. The world we pay to see for our entertainment should better reflect the world we live in, even if it’s supposed to be an escape. The outcry about the lack of diversity in Hollywood and on Broadway are nothing new, but the lack of any meaningful response from the entertainment industry makes it feel bigger than ever before.
I invite you to take a moment to consider the privileges you have. Please share them on my Facebook page under this post.
Also, check out this great exercise for unpacking your invisible privilege knapsack:
Unpacking Your White Privilege
And consider skipping the Oscars.