This is the blog post that has been months in coming. Not because it’s good, but because I kept finding other things to write, and because I kept rephrasing it.
What got it to finally be written was watching people freak out over a black actress playing Herminonie Granger in a play of Harry Potter. If you haven’t heard of this, yes, really. When even J.K. Rowling chimed in that Herminoie didn’t have to be white it didn’t seem to help.
Really, people are offended at a character form whom her racial background does not have to be white are angry she’s white? I mean, really, why?
I also see this with gender in culture – the latest being people calling Rey, the heroine of Star Wars: The Force Awakens a Mary Sue (which has come to mean “female character as outrageously competent as male heroes, but she’s female so it bugs us.”). Or annoyance when a male character is gay. Or . . . the usual.
Most of this seems to come from Straight White Guys. Being a Straight White Guy I have to wonder what the hell is going on.
A character being white or nonwhite probably doesn’t impact me – as long as it makes sense (remind me to post sometime of why Clark Kent should or could be Hispanic). Gender doesn’t really matter as long as people avoid annoing tropes. And gay or straight? Are we still worrying about that? I mean I’m pretty straight, but hey, Chris Evans . .
Anyway, Chris Evans’ pecs aside, I try to understand just how Straight White Male becomes something people are so invested in – and thus it’s so easily challenged by anytthing. Between Lady Thor and a Black Stormtrooper in Star Wars it seems there’s always some people ready to freak out about something not being right, or white, or having the requisite number of penises.
The thing is . . . I just don’t get it. I mean I can guess, but there’s not a lot of “there” there.
I’ve wondered why, and I think it comes down to that my identities were never totally along racial, gender, and sexual preference lines. They were constrained by those. My experiences were affected – I mean I’m a straight white guy who looks like Hugh Beaumont, I’m privlieged as hell.
Hugh, my brother in conventionality. See, I’m 1950’s sitcom character.
But freaking out over John Boyega or whatever? Not doing it.
The truth is I may be a Straight White Dude but my identity is not constructed about this nor dependent on it. I am a geek, a coder, a writer, a thinker, a cook, and I see no reason to assume that looking like me and having the same sexual preference I do means we’re that alike. In fact it seems the people who are big on being Straight White Guys live in a kind of prison of the mind.
In the end, I think a few things helped me:
- I had a lot of strong role models that weren’t straight white males – mostly straight white women, but still.
- I took an interest in religion and ethics early on. Though I went through many “phases” it got me thinking and expanded my horizons.
- I was a geek, and I identified strongly with that. Common interests were more important than common skin.
- As a geek, and as a person that liked to stay aware, I was aware of the impact bias had.
- I grew up in the 70’s with shows like “Star Trek” and even “The Jeffersons” that confronted social and racial issues. Come to think of it a lot of shows I enjoyed had multiethnic casts.
- As a geek in the 70’s I believed in A Better Future.
I know I’m not free of bias, bigotry, or the affects of Extremely White Dude Privilege (see my above Beaumontness). I’m glad for the friends and family who point out when tse affect me (and they do). But I’m also damned glad my experiences and the people I know mean that I don’t go ballistic because Idris Elba may play James Bond.
I wish I better understood how to get other Straight White Guys to lighten up about things like that. The world’s much more fun when it’s diverse and you’re not some false default you can never live up to.
- Steven Savage