This post was recently inspired by a discussion by my beautiful and brilliant internet wife RVC Bard.
When marginalized viewers critique arts & entertainment, we often look at how themes of race, gender, orientation, etc. are handled with the marginalized characters and the narrative. Obviously that’s understandable given how little representation we receive, and we understand the power of perception and how it affects minorities in real life.
However rarely do we ever consider how whiteness, white culture and white privilege play out in stories and how characters are afforded advantages and how certain dynamics play out simply by being white. More than that, but the audience perception and reaction to said dynamics differ greatly because of white privilege. Not surprisingly the astute will note many double standards at play. Because whiteness is considered the default, the norm, universal, it’s rarely examined or critiqued.
That is until today.
The following are white characters who could only operate as white characters because to do otherwise would result in a different story with a different interpretation from the audience.
Don’t believe me? You soon will. Fair warning now. Clutch those pearls because punches will not pulled. But that’s the standard.
You know how Ars Marginal gets down.
Jack Bauer- I watched all nine seasons of 24 and I’m not going to lie, it was a mixed bag for me. It had its problems, a lot of racefail, but ultimately it was a good show and had some great moments.
When Jack Bauer kicked ass, took names and fucked shit up, I cheered like everyone else. But let’s keep it 100. How many times did this guy disobey a direct order from his superiors? How many times did he go rogue and get accused/framed for treason? Hell this guy nearly assassinated the President (and rightfully so). Yet time and time again, he was given the benefit of the doubt and chance after chance.
I can’t help but wonder how that shit would’ve played out if CTU’s top agent had been anything other than a good looking white male. What if he was a Muslim or Arabic working for CTU and pulled the same shit, such as pulling a gun on President Logan. Justified or not, he would’ve become public enemy number one and the hatred that Sherry Palmer received wouldn’t have even ranked.
And while we’re talking about 24, there was something that always bugged me about the President Logan storyline. Bauer covered up Logan’s corruption because the worst thing ever would be for the American people to lose faith in the president and the U.S. government.
Being failed by a government and a system that’s supposed to protect and serve you? On behalf of POCs everywhere, WELCOME TO OUR WORLD!!!!!
Scott Pilgrim- I’m currently re-reading the remastered released and colorized Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. And while I’m a huge fan of the series, I’ve also taken it to task on many of its elements.
Scott Pilgrim is another character who could ONLY exist in this story as a cis straight white guy.
Scott Pilgrim is a douchebag. He’s a trifling, shiftless, broke sad excuse of a male. He’s a grown ass manchild who preys on and exploits high school girls like a true predator. Just because he’s the titular character does not make him a good person.
Make no mistake, Scott Pilgrim is the male answer to Bella Swan. The only difference between Pilgrim and Swan is at least Pilgrim gets called out on his BS and isn’t treated as a Mary Sue and he actually evolves by the end of the story and said redemption is improved immensely in the film.
As I alluded to in the discussion of my movie review, the real question I’d like to have answered, is how many Scott Pilgrim apologists would be defending his douchebaggery if he wasn’t a straight white male.
What if Scott was a man of color and treated Knives the way he did, especially if she had been a white girl? I can’t even begin to count how many people would be screaming misogynist at the EVIL POC. What’s also interesting that many of the white fangirls who are self-identified “feminists” had no issue with the way Knives Chau, a WOC, was exploited.
What if Scott was a POC that was broke, jobless and leeching off the people in his life? Would he be a slacker that’s just hit a dark place and not living up to his full potential or would he be a statistic, another example of how ALL OF US POCs are just looking for a handout?
What if Scott was a gay man, scamming on high school boys, and emotionally manipulating and using them in the same manner he used Knives? Would people be defending his bullshit then or would he propped up as another example of how us evil homos have an agenda to bag some mythical straight boy ass and to recruit and convert them into our evil collective.
If Scott Pilgrim was anything other than a straight white male, we would be having a completely different conversation.
Privilege, it’s a hell of a drug.
Catwoman (The Dark Knight Rises)- The MVP for Dark Knight Rises hands down goes to Anne Hathaway who stole (like a cat burglar) every scene she was in. And given the caliber of actors in this film: Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Liam Neeson, etc. and so on, that’s saying A LOT!!!!!!!
However, my internet wife made a very valid point. The ONLY reason she got away with half the shit she did was simply because she’s white.
The bar scene where she shrieked and used the white woman tears, was classic. A WOC would’ve never been able to get away with that. And the scene where she stole Bruce’s car. RVCBard summed it up best:
“Let me go to some place with valet parking and hop my Black ass in a car and say, “My husband said he’ll take a cab.” If I’m lucky, I might actually get to stay in the car and drive half a block before the po-po pulled me over. And maybe, just maybe, I won’t wind up plugged full of holes because I somehow looked like I had a gun stashed somewhere on my evening gown. I won’t even try to be funny and waste my time trying it. It’d go like this.
RVCBard: It’s OK. My husband’s taking the cab.
THEM: What the fuck do you think you’re doing?
RVCBard: I’m taking the car home.
THEM: The fuck you is. Get your Black ass outta there before we call the cops.
RVCBard: Wait until my husband hears about this!
BRUCE WAYNE: Everything OK, baby?
RVCBard: No. This racist ass won’t let me take the car.
THEM: Er, um, sorry about that, Mr. Wayne. I didn’t know she’s really your — I mean, she’s not your usual . . . type.
RVCBard: I’ll see you at home, honey.
BRUCE WAYNE: You’re fired.
John Cena- Now urban/rap/hip hop gimmicks in pro-wrestling isn’t exactly anything new. Men on a Mission immediately comes to mind. What’s interesting is that the first time a rapper character gets the world heavyweight title in the WWE, it’s a white guy.
I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if John Cena (the WWE character, not the performer playing him) had been black. Even with the same amount of talent and ability, I can’t help but wonder how the WWE would’ve branded their answer to the Eminem/Captain America hybrid.
Oh wait I know.
He’d be a criminal. Like these guys here.
Or the crazy black guy with imaginary friends that freestyles.
Though to be fair, despite the epic racefail of his character, R-Truth still manages to find a way to make that shit funny and entertaining.
Interestingly enough, the WWE frequently paired Cena with both Cryme Tyme and R-Truth to make certain he maintained his urban street cred from the mean streets of Westbury Mass. as the Doctor of Thuganomics.
Now don’t get it twisted. I like Cena, the man behind the character. I got mad respect for him. As a person, this man has done over 300 Make A Wish Foundation appearances, works constantly with various charities, has been the consummate professional behind the scenes and has proven himself time and time again to be a class act. I even like Vintage Cena the character. When he came out and freestyled and put his opponents on blast, that shit was priceless. He’s a talented wrestler and the guy can go. I’m not taking anything away from the man. As a superstar, I have no doubt Cena the man would’ve inevitably become a world champion, in any other gimmick.
However as far as being the face of the WWE brand as a rapping gimmick goes, that only would’ve happened if said rapper was white.
(cass cain is not here for your foolishness)
Stephanie Brown- Stephanie Brown has consistently proven that she’s far more incompetent than her father and a far bigger sociopath.
So when Tim Drake has a falling out with Batman, Bruce (in all of his infamous batdickery) decides to skullfuck him by recruiting Stephanie Brown as the New Robin. While admittedly this could’ve led to some interesting storytelling and character development, Steph proved to be too inept to follow Bruce’s orders and he rightfully fired her grossly incompetent ass.
So angry that she’s not the center of attention and in a fit of narcissism, she breaks into the Batcave, steals Batman’s files (you know the same shit Vandal Savage did in the movie Justice League: Doom or for that matter, Talia al Ghul did in Tower of Babel; the actual villains) and kicks off Gotham Gang War, Bruce’s endgame to rid Gotham of all major crime. Bruce’s incomplete endgame to rid Gotham of all major crime.
Of course it never donned on Brown that there may have been a reason why Batman never utilized the plan. Chaos falls upon Gotham, and a lot of people wind up dead, including my man Orpheus.
So what ultimately happens to Steph? For her epic fuckery, not only is she given a pass but she’s handed the Batgirl mantle. Bruce decided to throw his adopted daughter Cassandra Cain (the actual Batgirl), a WOC and his top soldier, under the bus and order her to give the mantle she actually EARNED to Stephanie “I’m DC’s answer to Bella Swan” Brown and Cassandra is banished to Hong Kong. Needs Bruce’s reasoning: Steph needs to feel good about destroying a city because her white girl fee fees are all that matter.
But somehow throwing the woman of color under the bus doesn’t count as misogyny, according to countless white comic book fangirls. That was more than justified.
I would pose the question of how you think that shit would’ve played out if Cass or another woman of color recklessly destroyed Gotham City because of a grudgewank and how many white fans would be rushing to their defense under the guise of (white) feminism but I think my point has been more than proven.
Cal Warner- Why yes, I am putting my own character on blast because I’m just that gangsta.
Cal ultimately turned out to be all right in the end. He was a good guy with a good heart. While flawed and complicated, he was that ride-or-die who tall for those he cared about.
During an interview on the Outer Alliance podcast, the lovely and ever-awesome Julia Rios pointed out that Noah Scott, the narrator and Cal’s best friend, is not what most people expect out of an African American teen. Religious, mature, a mild-mannered straight-A student, Noah was inspired by three high school buddies, as I explained to Rios. It was after the interview that I realized an important point. Most people would expect Noah to act like….well…..Cal.
Now let’s imagine for a moment that in an alternate universe, Noah and Cal switched roles or for that matter ethnicities. What if Cal was the mild-mannered straight-A violinist and it was Noah who organized raves, sold test papers, blackmailed rivals, dabbled in drug dealing, was legendary with his sexual prowess, broke every rule (and a few laws) possible and played by his own.
If Cal was anything other than white, he would’ve been killed far sooner in Hollowstone and my full length novel would’ve been a flash fiction story. THE END.
Henry Mills- *Looks around nervously to make sure the coast is clear and RVCBard is not present.*
Okay, now WE ALL KNOW that the REAL star of Once Upon A Time is none other than Henry Mills and that the show would be more accurately retitled The Adventures of Henry and His Two Mommies.
The leader of Operation Cobra, our hero selflessly battles evil curses, trolls, goblins, witches, evil queens and that douchebag he has for a grandfather; or he should battle that douchebag at the very least.
But more than that, we all watch as Henry beats the odds and overcomes the hardships placed on him by his evil mommies. Yes evil mommies as in plural. Let’s see, one mother is of evil royalty who is a neglectful narcissistic self-absorbed irresponsible sociopath and the other is Regina.
You can’t help but love our little Henry.
With that in mind, as awesome as Henry is, he can only function in this narrative as a white character.
Let’s imagine for a moment if Henry was any other than a white kid and stole Regina’s credit card to head to New York to find Emma. He would’ve been arrested on site for walking while black or brown. That’s if the cops didn’t shoot him on site. Henry being white is the only reason Regina hasn’t taken him out for all the crazy stunts he’s pulled. Being a woman of color with a white child, she knows all eyes are on her at all times. That’s why she makes it a point to constantly show PDAs when people are present.
Regina: *proclaims loudly* Have a wonderful day at school Henry. *whispers lowly* I got my credit card bill today, you little bastard.
Henry: *looks innocent* You know I went to find my real Mom.
Regina: Emma was in New York. What the hell were you doing in California? At Disneyland?
Henry: I had to be thorough, I wasn’t sure if it was her. I had to go screen some other applicants at the Magic Kingdom.
Regina: Uh huh and explain the 64-inch Plasma screen television Graham found in your bedroom the other night.
Henry: What was Graham doing in my room? What was he doing at the house late at night?
Regina: *blinks three times and looks away* Don’t worry about all of that. Quit trying to change the subject. I got my eye on you, buster. One of these days you’re going to find yourself trapped down another mine shaft.
Like Katherine, Henry attained honorary black person status on the show. He saw the truth in things, tried to tell the ignorant white folks who wouldn’t listen to them and they had to learn the hard way, again and again.
But make no mistake Henry still had white privilege. He runs away, skips school and gets his counselor trapped down a mine-shaft. The result? He gets counseling, to work out his issues and his problems.
Know what happens to black and brown kids when they run away, skip school, endanger a grown ass white man, or any other slight infraction. They get jail time. And not kiddy jail either. Often time, the black and brown kids get locked up in adult jail with real killers and come out worse than they were than when they went in.
If Henry was anything other than white, he’d be sharing a cell with Sidney. Trust!!!
Of course having a mother like Regina, can you blame Henry? I mean let’s talk about Regina. OMG!!! That woman is a—
*Sees RVCBard standing behind me, holding an apple.*
Just kidding. Love you boo!!!!!!!
Bella Swan & Edward Cullen- Now I KNOW you didn’t think I was going to miss a chance to put two of YA’s greatest villains on blast.
And make no mistake, they are the villains.
Bella Swan (in the spirit of the Bold & the Beautiful’s Brooke Logan) manipulates men CONSTANTLY and often pits them against each other simply so she can be the center of attention and be fawned over, whether it’s Sparkles, Jacob, or even Michael. When she doesn’t get what she wants she threatens with suicide and manipulates and schemes for her ultimate goal of attaining power to become a vampire. You could make a drinking game out of the number of times she begs Sparkles to turn her into a vampire.
Even though the narrative puts a gun against the viewer’s skull and dictates she’s a speshul snowflake, Bella has no qualities that make her exceptional. She’s not smart, she’s not kind, she’s not athletic (in fact she’s a klutz), she’s not brave, she’s not wise, she’s not beautiful (note Kristen Stewart is obviously but Bella is supposed to be average and non-assuming), she’s not even a sympathetic person. Yet we’re supposed to believe all these events that happen in Forks revolves around her.
Then there’s Sparkles. As I explained to a co-worker who was unfamiliar with Twilight, Edward ‘Colon’ could best be described as Liberace meets Ike Turner. This is the guy who is not only unstable, emotionally abusive, but constantly broke into Bella’s bedroom to watch her sleep. You know the same sadistic shit Angelus did back in season 2 of Buffy, when he was ACTUALLY EVIL!!!!!!
Let’s also not forget this is the same guy who threw a bitchfit because Bella wanted to go see her friends and decided to put her in her place by trashing her truck. That’s when he wasn’t obsessing and stalking her every other second and the narrative puts a gun against the viewer’s skull and dictates that this is normal behavior.
How these two characters are praised and promoted in fandom, even in many white social justice circles is a textbook example of privilege at its finest.
The defense of Bella in said circles, I actually get. Because let’s face it, she and by extension Twilight is essentially a white power fantasy for white girls. She’s a blank slate that allows (white) readers to imprint themselves on her (like Dollhouse only without the redeeming merits) and enjoy being fawned over by the rest of the cast in the story.
I’m always perplexed how the most staunch self-identified social justice blowhards (many of whom are white feminists) will blindly defend Sparkles, an abusive two inch prick, as well as Damon Salvatore, another abusive two-inch prick, or potential rapist Spike from Buffy, or hell psychotic rapist and sociopath Franklin (we won’t mention the fanfics of squee that are written about him).
Bella and Edward could ONLY function as white characters. If Bella was a WOC and pulled a fraction of the shit she pulled now, she would be treated with the same hatred and disdain as this lovely virtuous heroine here:
Could you imagine how much unholy hell would be unleashed if Sparkles was anything other than white, ESPECIALLY if he was dating a white girl. Hell let’s do an Alternate Universe tale where Jacob Black is the vampire and Cullen is the “noble savage.” Let a man of color stalk Bella the way Sparkles did. Let his ass break into her bedroom to watch her sleep. Let him scream at Bella and trash her truck. The hero of this piece would be looked at with the same disdain as Chris Brown and rightfully so. Papa Swan would’ve ended Sparkles with no hesitation. The 4-book Twilight saga would’ve been a flash fiction story because Sparkles would’ve shared the same fate as Laurent.
Vic Mackey- FX’s The Shield was must see-television for me. You couldn’t miss an episode and you were always on the edge of your seat because you were wondering what was going to happen next. Over the course of seven seasons, we saw a mountain of secrets, deception, and corruption build and build as Vic Mackey and his team tried to cover their tracks and do some underhanded dealing.
Played brilliantly by the very talented Michael Chiklis, Mackey is one of the most complex characters to ever cross the television screen. This character is a fascinating case study. He was the villain who got results and took down other villains. In one scene you’re cheering for him and the other members of the Strike Team as they kick ass and take names and in the next scene, not two minutes later, you’re hoping and praying that Mackey finally gets busted and gets his comeuppance. The seven seasons was one hell of a ride and the stalemate conclusion in the series finale was both bittersweet and totally logical.
Race definitely plays a factor in the Shield and it certainly affects how the characters are able to operate. Whether it’s Aceveda positioning to become LA’s next mayor or Wyms trying to bring some justice back to the Farmington precinct. Mackey was connected and his race was an advantage in many situations.
While one of the smartest and most calculating characters on the show, Mackey was able to get away with most of the shit he did because he was in fact a white male. If Mackey was a black or Latino male, many on the force wouldn’t have been clamoring to defend him in his corruption.
Imagine if a black or Latino detective headed up a Strike Team for the LAPD, murdered a white cop in cold blood, robbed an Armenian mob, dealt drugs and dabbled in other illegal dealings. The show wouldn’t have lasted seven seasons as Mackey’s fate would’ve been the same as Alonzo Harris’s in the pilot episode.
As Paul Mooney would state, Mackey had the complexion for the protection.
Steve Rogers- I’m typically not a fan of white patriotic superheroes. Being a double minority, I cannot and will not in good conscience pledge allegiance to a country that treats me as a second class citizen. I believe in what America is SUPPOSED to stand for but I don’t believe in America. Not at this point anyway.
That being said, I’ve got mad respect and mad love for Steve Rogers. He actually fights for what America is supposed to stand for and regularly calls America out on her bullshit. Case in point:
One of the things that makes Captain America, well, Captain America is that he inspires the American public. The white American public. But let’s imagine if Steve wasn’t a good looking blond haired blue eyed white man. What would’ve happened if Steve Rogers had been black and used as a government experiment to become a super soldier. We get that answer with Isaiah Bradley, the Black Captain America:
We’ve also seen how the Patriot has been royally fucked over in the Young Avengers.
Still not convinced. Humor me for a moment. Let’s do a real life hypothetical scenario. Let’s say there was a black American patriot who wasn’t a superhero but worked in government. Loved his country, a firm Christian who believes in making America be all that she could be. I wonder how the white public would receive him. In all likelihood, despite being a Christian, he would still be accused of being a Muslim socialist terrorist simply because he’s a black guy with a “funny sounding” name.
Like this guy here:
Still not convinced, let’s compare the treatment of the President to another patritotic superhero.