White Is No Default Status
Working At White Privilege is Hard, Not Accidental
A lot of people don’t understand that it is not because white is not the default race in America that it deserves privilege. So-called white privilege must be continuously earned, upgraded, and promoted. You can’t just be born white. You have to prove it and show it off.
But just once you show it off, you definitely have a right to jump in line without having to rely on as much talent. That’s the belief the data shows us.
It’s not just in DC, where Brett Kavanaugh showed off his white cred in order to get the job (how you can you degrade me! Your accusation hurts my family! I went to an expensive prep school and like beer). Or Representative Boebert, who has no high school education, failed at business, but gets to carry a gun into Congress because she’s white. Even failure is privileged. It’s on the other coast, too. Look into the heart of “liberal” Hollywood, and the whites usually begin their resume with their white racial background.
I discovered this fact when I reviewed the background of some Hollywood movie stars maybe 7 years ago. But it didn’t make sense to me what was being said by these statements of fact. Then it suddenly stood out during the June of George Floyd BLM protests, what I had been looking at for years in the IMBD bios but couldn’t quite understand the real import of. Being white is an announced privilege. Having the skin color simply isn’t enough.
Let’s take just one example: Amber Heard, seen here in her bio from IMBD.
Now, I’m not picking on Amber, and she wasn’t the first one I noticed (it was Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Biel, who I’ll get to below). I just found her profile interesting from her conflict with Johnny Depp and the suggestion that she bit off his finger and subjected him to violence via domestic abuse. I found the accusation credible when reading through the details, and thought she might be abuser, perhaps even socio-pathetic, and have the greater privilege. He is then the wimp and beaten down weirdo husband. Benefit of the doubt: men can victims I told myself.
I still don’t know the truth about what happened, but her bio does include two nice pieces of information that include what could be interpreted as genuine superior-type white privilege: She was 1) sued for $10 million dollars for breach-of-contract for her film London Fields because she didn’t want to promote it or do the nude scene she promised to do (I can understand changing her mind on that scene); 2) Charged with two counts for dog smuggling to Australia (she produced false documentation in order to bring her and Johnny Depp’s dogs into Australia just before she allegedly bit the tip of his finger off and beat him up.
What’s of note though is how she lists herself: Her ancestry is English, Irish, Scottish, German, and Welsh. In other words, she is pure white. She has every kind of Anglo-Saxon white in her, including the Aryan German white. This listing is intentional, and many other white stars list their ancestry.
They are making a deliberate proclamation of their whiteness.
Not every white female American star does this. Some just list their parents without giving their blood linage back to Europe. But the message is clear: I am of white heritage. I am of heritage going back to Europe, to the original settlers, the inheritors, those with deserved rights. I am not Latino or Indian or whatever — inheritance most black descendants of slaves can’t trace as it was wiped out, and so can’t fairly compete.
I thought of George Floyd in contrast when I saw this. Then I looked up Denzel Washington, one of my favorite actors. He had a mom and dad. Nothing about heritage, which may be mixed. But how can you tell if you are an “all-American descendent of slaves? Does an ancestry test yet say part western Nigeran, part Angolan? Why is it then important that Amber announce her specific ancestry to countries she probably didn’t visit and languages she probably doesn’t speak, nor her family speaks or knows (Gallic Irish, Welsh or Scottish, or German).
You can’t just be born white privileged, you have to tell others about it, that you have an inherited right to it.
Jessica Biel does have Danish, English, and German “descent”, as well as Hungarian Jewish, so not your pure white person, which may give her “flavor.” Jessica Alba lets us know though does have split roots and plenty of “flavor”: a father of Mexican descent that involves both Spanish and Indigenous Mexican mix, and a mother that is genuine white — Danish, Welsh, English, French.
Not all Jessica’s have to point on their white roots and display a need to connect to their white privilege roots. Jessica Chastain, who looks much paler white than the Jessica’s, only states that her mom was a vegan cook. Her co-star in Interstellar, Anne Hathaway was definitely privileged I sensed, so I just looked it up and found indeed she is English, French, and German, straight dominant European white. Men aren’t immune of course, and Matthew David McConaughey also of Interstellar fame, lets us know his middle white name along with his fathers, James Donald, and is of Irish, Scottish, German, English and Swedish, a fine white mix with a classic Aryan twist.
However, Mackenzie Foy, also in Interstellar with Matthew, Anne and Jessica, born in 2000 after “Generation Z”, doesn’t even say what country she was born in, although she does have a third-degree black belt in the martial art Tae Kwon Do, a sign of competency that isn’t racial, and is a stand in for telling us she is talent and merely proves it with her blackbelt.
In Interstellar, in contrast, John Lithgow, of a generation before Matthew, tells us not to be confused. Not only was he “born into theater,” which is better than saying “talented,” but although his father was born in the Dominican Republic, he was actually Anglo-American. His Anglo family had lived in that country in a most privileged way for generations, he tells us, apparently owning slave it seems. In the same film, and also of John’s older generation, Ellen Burstyn, lets us know her European ancestry that she was born into in Detroit. So does co-star the younger Timothy Chalamet, with the French accent and Austrian and Russian Jewish descent from his mother and father’s French and English ancestry.
Their other white co-stars take a different tact: William Devane, who often plays JFK like politicians, does not let us know his white background, nor does Wes Bentley in Interstellar does not let us know he is white.
There is a division among whites, in which side they fall on.
Looking at the rest of the Interstellar white cast, it appears split, though Casey Affleck, Ben’s brother, is of English, Irish, German and Scottish ancestry, that classic mix that talent scouts and Hollywood director’s love (since about 86% of major films last decade were shot by white men.)
It’s a mixed bag for white Americans. Should they reveal their white heritage or not?
Brad Pitt does not, but Jennifer Aniston does, as does Jennifer Lawrence, who both share the classic blood line of English-German-Irish white blood. Jennifer Garner does not tell us, nor really does Jennifer Lopez, who can only let us know her parents were brought to the continental United States but met in New York, and then goes on let us know her talents, as she’s not white. She hints at her parents right to belong though, as presumably they are American with US citizenship (from Puerto Rico from my understanding). And no, Johnny Depp does not list his white heritage. Sorry Amber, one more point in your column for being more privileged. Instead, like Denzel, Depp has to tell us explicitly he’s talented.
It’s not important to rely for a maybe half or more of white people on talent or telling us they have it. They must rely on pedigree and let their ancestors announce they are part of the “dominant” white culture instead.
Lastly, one more note from an Interstellar co-star: we find “David O” as he wants to be known. He is really David Oyelowo, who is “classically trained” in London and is one of the most “sought-after talents.” He has a very long bio, but you have to get ahead in the world somehow and become privileged, with a genuine African name he knows that white American directors and studios cannot pronounce that he shortens for them. He can’t take that white short cut on letting the world know he deserves extra points in landing a role because of his white American background.
One last note on what it takes to win: Michael B. Jordan is black, not related to basketball legend, and his middle name comes from Swahili, meaning “noble promise.” He may not be white, or related to Michael Jordan the basketball player he adds, but he can show some name privilege. He certainly has the talent to back it up. Maybe he got the tip from a mentor, producer of Fruitvale Station that Michael starred in and he mentions, Forest Whitaker.
Although Forest won his Oscar by playing Idi Amin, the Ugandan leader, they still had to give the film some white pedigree to get it recognized, naming it The Last King of Scotland. The film was excellent, Whitetaker deserving, though only the fourth black actor in history to receive it at the time. [I recommend watching his acceptance speech at the 2008 Oscars in a YouTube clip as he is struck me as very genuinely moved]. But with even with 59 awards and 67 nominations to his credit total, the film still has to list some genuine British-aisle white privilege heritage for a black man to win.