They say, supposedly, that one sign of white privilege is not thinking about being white. However, I think about being white sometimes, and I have two questions in my mind related to being white, which are otherwise unrelated.
A few weeks ago, I read something about the town where I went to high school. For those of you who have been following my memories, my family moved and the town that I’ve mentioned in the past, the all white, lower-middle class town, is not where we lived when I was in high school. We moved to a town that was about twice the size, mainly upper-middle class and “diverse.” I put “diverse” in quotes because, really, it just means that there were black people. It felt, to me, far less diverse. Where the previous town had been a white ethnic melting pot, the new town had just black people and white people, mostly professionals. The town had a reputation of having a “large upper-middle class black” community. The quotes are there because people used to use that exact phrase while talking about the town. I almost feel like I want to put on my best high-school girl face, roll my eyes and say, “Whatever.”
I liked the new town much better than the previous town in which we had lived. I don’t know if it was because of the college in the town and the large number of professors who lived there, but the atmosphere was overall much more intellectual. Suddenly, I had friends who read philosophy and serious literature.
It’s funny, I must have been shielded from people’s attitudes, but when the internet became commonplace I have been struck by the large number of times that people associate photographs of black teenagers, or a racially mixed group of teenagers, with “bad public schools.” It actively makes me mad. My interracial school was ten times better than my all white school. I genuinely liked the town and I thought it was a great place. If I had continued in the other school, I probably would have wound up being a geek or a nerd. Instead, I aspired to be an intellectual. Of course there were conflicts and problems. It was high school after all. Also, the town had an unfortunately deserved reputation in the area as snobbish. We were, I’m sorry to say, more than a bit stuck-up.
Recently, however, the town has been turning white. The black population, which used to be close to half, has slipped below thirty percent. Human communities are subject to alteration and I’d hardly be the first person to bemoan the passing of a particular time and place. Still, it makes me feel a little bit sad. Am I being ridiculously pc? I think the character of the place will change. I’m speculating, but I believe the changing demographics are being driven by changes in the economy and society, and those changing demographics along with the economic and societal changes in the country as a whole will cause changes in the character of the town. It will cease to be a haven of intellectualism in a consumerist suburban landscape and just be yet another upper-middle class enclave for the winners in our meritocracy. So my sadness at the news goes a little bit beyond pure nostalgia.
Second question, also related to race:
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m working on a comic book. I also have some ideas for an animated film, which no one should expect to be complete anytime in the near future. Now, had I written a play or was directing a live action film, I would probably have open casting for all characters whose race was not essential to the plot. If there was a need to make minor change to the script to accommodate this, then this could easily be done after casting. With the feedback and contribution of the actors, it would be very possible to do this. However, in a comic book or animation, I’m drawing the characters and have full control over this. So, where with actors I can essentially allow factors outside my control to dictate some elements of the character, now if a character is white, black, tall, short, etc., it’s all my decision. For characters inspired by people I’ve met, it’s not so hard. For instance, I know one character is going to be a very young, tall, skinny androgynous looking Asian woman. However, most of the characters can be anything and I don’t have a mental image of all of them. Does anyone have an opinion on how a person goes about making that decision? I suddenly find myself being very self-conscious about that. After The Hunger Games was made into a movie I read a forum where people were discussing the characters and someone was critical of the character of Rue, saying that of course the black character is nice and sacrifices herself for the white hero. I realize that these things tend to get picked apart.
Link: Here’s a link to a post that Northier than Thou wrote prompted by an interview given by the director of Django.