Do We Really Need a Documentary About White Privilege?


On July 22, MTV is premiering a documentary titled White People about “what it means to be young and white” in America, a question to which we already know the answers.

And yet here is a film that explores white privilege and exposes willful ignorance through the lens of five white people. In the above trailer, prominent undocumented journalist Jose Antonio Vargas asks his documentary subjects questions like, “How might your life be different if you weren’t white?” And, “When you say ‘white,’ what does that mean to you?”

A few quotes from white people in the trailer:

“If you say the wrong thing, then suddenly you are a racist.”
“I don’t want to offend people.”
“We’ve never had to internalize what white people have done in America.”
“It feels like I’m being discriminated against.”
“You kind of get this feeling that things belong to you.”

The non-cynical approach is to assume this film comes with good intentions of forcing white people to confront race—and to acknowledge that, potentially, the idea of watching white people squeamishly articulate their privilege is sufficient entertainment in itself. The documentary also consciously plays off the belief that since black people are inherently, publicly forced into race discussions, it’s white people who should be having these conversations for a change.

But it also mainly just looks like a bunch of white folks boohooing about the “burden” of talking about race and why they hate potentially being labeled racists, while also explaining how great they have it at a time when black Americans are perpetually silenced by default. This is a tough pill to swallow. A lot of us know exactly what it means to be white in America. Do you white people really need a documentary about you in order to understand other people’s pain?

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