By itself, the tiff between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj over alleged bias in MTV's Video Music Awards is sound and fury signifying nothing; two young, immature individuals for whom youth should be no excuse. However, the article by Ann Friedman of New York Magazine diving into the issue of whether this segment of the entertainment industry disproportionately favors one group of wealthy artists over another group of wealthy artists is emblematic of a larger dispute in society.
Friedman applauds the documentary "White People," which "did make some of its subjects uncomfortable," which she finds very gratifying. Plumbing the depths of her self-satisfaction, she argued they "struggled to understand that white privilege is something that is both bigger than they are and also something they are actively involved in." Born white, they are not only responsible for oppression and racial injustice; they also are simultaneously small people, insignificant to the point that their privilege is "bigger than they are." Keep quiet, racist children.
After Minaj tweeted her dissatisfaction with the VMA awards, Swift responded in kind, which led Minaj to place on her Instagram account “We are huge trendsetters, not second class citizens that get thrown crumbs. This isn't anger. This is #information.” A pleased Friedman wrote
This, as the reaction to both her tweet and the White People documentary shows, is a tough lesson for white people to learn. It’s not about how hard you’ve worked for what you have, how you personally feel about people of other races, or how good your intentions are. It is about the fact that you benefit from white privilege...
If you want the children "to learn a lesson," you might begin with not telling a couple it is "privileged" when underwater with their mortgage, with the husband laid off and unable to find a new job because he has reached the ripe old age of 40 and the wife working three jobs almost to make ends meet. That might not go over so well, whether racial justice, racial comity, or mere persuasion is your objective. You also might want to avoid telling those folks that how hard they've worked doesn't matter, and shouldn't.
Minaj entered on her Instagram later “We are huge trendsetters, not second class citizens that get thrown crumbs. This isn't anger. This is #information.” Aroused, Friedman writes
This, as the reaction to both her tweet and the White People documentary shows, is a tough lesson for white people to learn. It’s not about how hard you’ve worked for what you have, how you personally feel about people of other races, or how good your intentions are. It is about the fact that you benefit from white privilege (and, in this case, from a culture that privileges skinny white women’s bodies). So it is about you — just not in the way you thought it was....
Much can be made of a culture which prefers "skinny white women's bodies," which is that it prefers skinny women's bodies generally, and tall, skinny women's bodies more specifically. But never mind. If Friedman had stuck to this cultural analysis, she might have a point. Instead, she wants to make sure people realize (as she would have it) that hard work and good intentions are far less important than the race of a person's parents, which the person has no control over: a triumph of nature over nurture, to be welcomed.
The primary myth undergirding Friedman's twisted view is the idea of "them," that all members of an ethnic group are, at base, one. In the white community of the 1960s, dismissal of blacks as "them" was disturbingly common. They were not individuals, only indistinguishable members of a group. And so it is that Salon's leading trafficker in racial hatred (also a professor at Rutgers University), Brittney Cooper, can charge
There is a way that white people in particular treat Black people, as though we should be grateful to them — grateful for jobs in their institutions, grateful to live in their neighborhoods, grateful that they aren’t as racist as their parents and grandparents, grateful that they pay us any attention, grateful that they acknowledge our humanity (on the rare occasions when they do), grateful that they don’t use their formidable power to take our lives.
This would not be some white people, or white politicians, or white chief economic officers, or specific white people she might mention. It is "white people in particular." It would be useless to inform Cooper that whites usually acknowledge the humanity of black people- or at least as much as they do white people. Nor do they act as though blacks should be "grateful" to them
Cooper appears to be hanging around the wrong white people, and should get out more. If she did, she would recognize that most do not deceive themselves into thinking they have "formidable power." Whether seeing their adversary as government, corporations, some other faceless institution, or the inevitable passage of time, they realize they are largely powerless to effect change, and often to hold onto what they have. Some of them are even poor (chart below from The American Prospect). The (realistic) sense of powerlessness over their lives or the country is one reason so few people bother to vote, which should not be necessary to point out.
In a manner similar to that of Friedman, Cooper flogs the theme of "white supremacy, in a culture of White Supremacy." But if she believes the rules of the nation unfairly target blacks, she ought to name institutions, and even names, instead of taking pot shots at average people who may be similar to one another only in racial makeup. Otherwise, she is merely serving the interests of a ruling class she ignorantly believes is bound together by race, and only by race.