First, I saw this video posted on Facebook.
And I tried really hard to enjoy it. I DID enjoy it. What’s not to love? Teachers, principals, students, getting together to make a hilarious and corny video about going back to school! Everybody was making fun of themselves and completely losing themselves in the geeked-out way that makes it impossible not to love them. Teenagers reading books – actual BOOKS, high school football players shaking their butts for the camera, people of all sizes and personality types just loving, LOVING on their school. Great messages throughout – just great, I swear I am not being EVEN A LITTLE BIT SARCASTIC ABOUT THIS. I promise you on my life I am not. I can love all of those things about this video. I can and I do. And yet…
About 15 seconds in, I kept thinking, “Where are the black and brown people?” Call me a killjoy, but this is about as white as white can get. I felt more than a little bit conflicted, and I understand many white people are incredibly awesome, and likely many of the ones in this video are awesome. Really. Some of my best friends are white. Having grown up, though, in Brooklyn, NY with progressive and liberal parents, cultivating friendships with people of diverse backgrounds, colors, countries, religions has been second-nature for me. Color me saddened that diversity doesn’t come so easily to other people and other parts of the country. Color me angry that people actively resist it. Color me outraged that people lose their lives over it.
I chided myself, as is my default mode. “Just because they all LOOK white doesn’t mean there isn’t brown blood in their somewhere.” People can have minority status even if it’s not outwardly apparent. “Don’t judge people based on their looks,” I told myself. “Don’t take something so fun and genuinely lovely so seriously.” “Not everything is about race, you know.” “Lighten up. Jesus.”
I decided, of course, to write about it, and planned to simply end with the fact that I’m conflicted and it’s okay to appreciate something for its many good qualities and still be saddened by lack of diversity. Really, that was going to be the end of the post.
Then, an internet friend of mine, A’Driane Nieves, who happens to be black, and writes about the injustices perpetrated as a result of racism (despite the risks and abuse inherent in doing so,) told us a story. It was a story about her children – her elementary-school-aged children – committing the heinous act of sitting on a bench at an animal shelter while black, and the indignity and flat out bullshit that resulted. In telling that story, she linked to a New York Times piece from March 2013 about Forest Whitaker being frisked while in a Manhattan deli. It’s a fantastic piece that makes the point that this isn’t only noteworthy when it happens to Oscar winners. It’s noteworthy ALWAYS. It’s horrible ALWAYS. The NYT piece is easy to find by googling. A’Driene’s story? Not so much. That’s why above I linked to HER story, not the NYT.
What does this have to do with the adorable and fun video above and my reaction to it? Well, it was a tipping point of sorts for me. The the inner voices that urge me to stop being conflicted are being drowned out by the ones saying, “Okay, that video is fantastic, love the work and intellect and love behind it! But DAMNITWHEREARETHEBLACKPEOPLE??????” Not only is it okay to let the lack of diversity in the video keep me from enjoying it – it would be a betrayal of my upbringing and my friends for me NOT to have that reaction.
In related news, I’ve come up with a new name for this affliction of mine – this inability to enjoy something that lacks racial diversity. It’s called “Blinded By The White.”