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My Take: #BlackLivesMatter And White Privilege

A personal take on this crucial time in American history…

standingtogether

To All the AwardsCircuit Readers and Followers,

We are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history. There has long been this feeling of “alienating” a website’s readership when talking about something as sensitive as racial inequality. There have also been feelings by readers and users themselves that “this is not what I come here for” – and because we classify ourselves as a news outlet, we shouldn’t share biased opinions on current matters.

As one of the few minority owners of media sites on the web, that has 12 years under his belt in this industry, and 35 years as a Latino/Black man, I feel obligated to share my thoughts. If you are one of those that “didn’t come here for this,” I hope you take a moment to enlighten yourself with some perspective.

The death of George Floyd is something I wish I could “unsee” but he isn’t the first. Countless names have preceded him, and maybe in a pessimistic outlook, I don’t think he’ll be the last. There is so much anger befalling on this nation right now, admittedly, not all stemming from Mr. Floyd’s horrific incident. Leadership is absent in so many facets, and we can no longer stand idle and await a savior to pull us away from the madness. We feel we must save ourselves.

Let me tell you about a bit of my experience as a Latino and Black man, one I believe is unique, though all our experiences are, in fact, unique.

My racial identity has been one that has been tested throughout my entire life. For 35 years, I’ve struggled with an identity that too many people have put into a box of traits and qualifiers.

My skin color is light. For my 35 years, I’ve received a full-range of guesses on my ethnicity from Latino to Italian to Egyptian to Lebanese to Bi-Racial mix and so forth. For my whole life, I’ve used that ambiguity to my advantage, and consciously. Every time I walked into a job interview, there is visual perplexity from the employer about what exactly they are “dealing” with this applicant. There have also been times that I’ve sat in an interview, and I can feel like they figured it out 10 seconds into it. Is this the reason I didn’t get those jobs? Can’t say for certain, nor will I ever know sure. I know the way it made me feel at those times.

I’ve used my cultural ambiguity to my advantage. Some may say that it is a betrayal upon my own culture. Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps I was just trying to survive as much as anyone.

Then there are my shared personal experiences. When the term “white privilege” is used in a hashtag or social posting, I’ve seen a trend among those who feel a need to defend themselves, and I am referring to white people.

Everyone’s life experiences are unique, and many are often complicated. Only speaking for myself, when I say “white privilege,” this does not push all white people into a box of evil, narrow-minded individuals.

I felt a need to share the definition with connections I had on social media, so let me share it here as well:

“inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice.”

The keywords to focus on in the definition are “inherent” and “possessed” along with “characterized” and “inequality.”

When anyone uses the term, there is a group of white people who feel as though we are negating or voiding their life experiences and saying, “your life is easy ‘Person X’ because you are white.”

NO!

That’s not what we are saying, and it’s essential for you to understand that clear point. This conversation can’t continue without the fundamental understanding that we are not saying that white people’s lives are easy.

I have friends and acquaintances, who are white, that have had complicated lives. Single mothers or single fathers have raised many. Some have dealt with drug addiction or mental/physical abuse and emerged victoriously. That is not easy. And coming back from those trials is overtly tricky, and you are commended for your achievements.

When we talk about white privilege, we are talking about the “road to redemption.” What does that road look like for a person with light skin versus a person with dark skin, meaning in terms of the obstacles that are standing on that road, ready to give you a flat tire, deter you from succeeding, and doing everything in their power to make sure you do not succeed?

I love film, so I feel that it is fair for me to share some of my favorites as metaphors to what I’m referring to when I’m talking about these issues.

Spoiler alerts ahead for what it’s worth.

Image from the movie ""
© − All right reserved.

My favorite film of all-time is Peter Weir’s “Dead Poets Society.” Neil Perry (played by Robert Sean Leonard) wants to be an actor more than anything. In 1959, he was able to find a local theatre that is holding open tryouts for “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and audition, getting the lead part. His father does not approve of his choices, condemning him to a life he does not want to live, and as a result, Neil commits suicide. By the end, his teacher and inspiration John Keating (played by Robin Williams) is blamed and fired for his death, and as he leaves his classroom for the final time, his students stand on their desks in protest.

Now, there are many cultural interpretations of that rapid recap. Someone might say that it can be unique to anyone, regardless of color. Some might say, Neil was able to just go to a local theatre and audition, no worries about it. Others could look at the ending scene of students standing on their desks in protest and say, “look, a peaceful protest where nothing is damaged, except maybe the tops of their desks.”

I can look at it as all of those things combined, and yet, see how my favorite film of all-time, that takes place in 1959, has not one shot of a person of color, even when Knox Overstreet (played by Josh Charles) sneaks into a local high school, that isn’t a prep school, and segregation is still just five years away. Writer Tom Schulman doesn’t fit the idea into a conversation with boys that are looking “to be free.”

You may argue, “but that’s not what the story is about Clayton. Why would or should Schulman be forced to talk about race? It isn’t ALWAYS about race?”

You’re right. It isn’t all about race. It isn’t ALL about race but it’s ALWAYS a factor, whether you believe to see it or not. Black people don’t get allowed to have it not be about their skin color. When Jordan Peele directs “Us,” there is no real mention or indication that the Wilson family (led by Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) needed to be Black. They just so happen to be Black, but it was a talking point nonetheless because how often are Black people depicted in a “just because” sort of manner?

Image from the movie "Moonlight"
© 2016 Plan B Entertainment − All right reserved.

12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight” are two Best Picture winners, echoing and charging through their respective awards seasons under the umbrella of slavery and social and economic inequality. “Get Out,” Peele’s first directorial effort was embraced by the Academy, winning Best Original Screenplay, for a story about whites enslaving Black people.

Constant criticism is how the world views us. For every Paul Dano in “12 Years a Slave” that depicts him as an evil slave master is afforded the role of Brian Wilson in “Love & Mercy” to counter that image.

#OscarsSoWhite becomes a hashtag because in 91 years, we still only have Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”) for Lead Actress winners. In 91 years, we only have “12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight.” In 91 years, John Singleton was the youngest and first Black director for “Boyz n the Hood,” and we only managed to get just nine films out of him, where if he was someone of a different race, he might have had double that before his untimely death.

Tom Hanks is America’s Dad. He’s a back-to-back Oscar-winner for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump.” Why isn’t Rita Moreno America’s Abuela? Why isn’t Samuel L. Jackson America’s father? Is it what America deems as a socially acceptable “father” for us? We all were “checking in” on Tom and Rita when they were diagnosed with COVID but how many of us were checking in on Idris Elba? Why did the pandemic become as REAL when Tom and Rita tested positive? Why is America not concerned that people of color are disproportionally dying at a higher rate right now? Why is it always okay for Blacks and Latinos to suffer insufferable losses, and only when someone from the white community is afflicted, do people start paying attention?

Brooke Baldwin of CNN was crying on the air while speaking to Andrea Jenkins, local representative of Minneapolis, and acknowledged that she doesn’t know what to do as she sits there as a white woman with white privilege. I believe it is PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE for white people not to know what to do with this newfound feeling or realization of inequality. Should they have seen it sooner? Sure, but seeing is half the battle, but what will you do with this view?

standingtogetherIf you are a white person, angered by George Floyd, and every other person that has been taken away, I encourage you to reach out to a person of color and ask about their experiences. It’s not an easy conversation and it’s not supposed to be. You will not walk away “knowing” or “understanding” the “experience,” let’s be clear. But perhaps you can be a better ally moving forward.

For white people, you “not being racist” is not enough. Same reason why you “not being an arsonist” isn’t enough in preventing fires. You have to practice safety and support the “firefighters” who are fighting every day. This is not about looting. This is not about “the right way” to protest.

This is about who we are as a global community, and if we will truly support one another. This is not partisan. Leadership is desperately needed and we all must step up in some way. Do your part. Stand for something. Black people won’t change this. Latinos won’t change this. White people…you can.

I’m not a genius. I’m not a professor. I’m not an expert. I’m hurting. Acknowledge that hurt. We’re asking you all to acknowledge it.

#BlackLivesMatter. That’s it. End of sentence.

With All Sincerity,

Clayton Davis
Editor-in-Chief & Owner
AwardsCircuit.com

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Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of AwardsCircuit.com. Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.

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Karen M. Peterson

Much love to you, sir. Thank you for writing this.

Joey Magidson

Very well said!

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