The TV Room: White People, by David Bax
For all the crap the network has put out over the years, MTV has always been on the forefront of social issues. Growing up as I did in a repressed, abstinence-focused, Catholic, Midwestern world, it was shocking and, in retrospect, commendable that they showed PSAs encouraging the use of condoms.
The newest example of MTV’s plan to use its direct line to the American youth to educate it is “White People,” a documentary that asks the seemingly asinine but ultimately uncomfortable question, “What is it like to be white in America?”
Director and host Antonio Jose Vargas sticks to asking the question to young people, college age and under, for whom it’s a slightly less absurd query (the younger population of this country is less statistically dominated by whites). If he got any answers that denied nuance or were racist, he wisely edited them out, opting to stick with discussions that could move us forward as a people.
Often, Vargas’ questions are vague and seemingly superficial but, by hanging back and letting the answers go wherever they need to, he ends up getting revealing answers, like the family who feels that they would like the new Chinese people in their neighborhood if only they would say hello more often or the kid who worries about different cultures, whites included, losing their uniqueness to the melting pot.
Sometimes Vargas is a little too simplistic and trite (“It’s amazing the power these words have”) but the special thrives when the focus is on kids.
“White People” is ultimately optimistic about the inevitable dismantling of white hegemony in America. but it’s nice that we can take a moment to recognize that the process will be difficult for some people. Even the most well-meaning of us aren’t always that excited about change.