August 10, 2004

A message for my fellow white office mates

Okay people, listen up, because I'm only going to say this once: PLEASE stop telling me how much you love/respect/admire Denzel Washington, Samuel L Jackson, Morgan Freeman and Halle Berry. No, seriously. I'm not debating their acting ability--they all have it. I'm telling you to stop and ask yourself why you're compelled to mention, every single time a movie with one of these actors in it comes out, how much you lurve them. Really. You don't fawn all over every Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson or Meryl Streep flick. You don't feel compelled to loudly proclaim the fabulousness of their acting chops to everyone in your racially diverse office. Why do you suppose that is?

Could it be that you're so desperate to prove that you're not an evil racist that you're using admiration for actors of a certain hue as a, dare I say it, CODE to prove your faboo openmindedness? Never mind that it comes across as annoying, self-serving, and as a kind of backhanded racism because it's as though you're astonished that ANY "person of color" can manage to be a good actor. Seriously, it's annoying me, and it seems to be endemic to certain intellectual circles, which makes it even MORE annoying. Because the fact of the matter is that if you're truly interested in getting to a color-blind society, or at least a society in which you're dealing with people as people and not as a demographic, continually singling out a particular demographic--even if it's for unmitigated praise--kinda defeats your purpose.

And while the whole "I just love Denzel--he's so talented and handsome" thing seems trivial, when you're in an office peopled with the brainiac hoi polloi who have wholeheartedly embraced the "campus diversity" concept to the point that they've basically resegregated the campus, it's just another reminder that race-obsession is apparently here to stay. And that depresses the hell out of me. Yes, I know that Will Smith has a new movie out. If you want to see his movie, go. If you liked it, say so. If you want to discuss the merits of a character or the film's message, have at it. But try to tamp down the white liberal guilt for a couple of hours, okay? I find that popcorn is so much tastier when you do.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at August 10, 2004 10:22 AM

I can't believe people do this. I mean, I *can* ... but at the same time I can't, if you know what I mean.


(shakes head at crazy-office-people and stumbles away)

Posted by: ~profgrrrrl~ at August 10, 2004 12:41 PM

BAW, I'll trust you on the context, but if I were one of your office mates, I don't think it would be the race thing so much. Since I haven't yet seen Monsters' Ball, I'm unlikely to rave about Halle Berry, except to say, 'Damn that woman is hot!' As for the others, well ... I've loved Morgan Freeman since The Electric Company was new -- There's something totally cool about him. I feel the same way about Martin Sheen, and am pretty used to my hall-mates coming in on Thursday mornings for a group kibbutz on 'our president'.
As for Samuel J and Denzel -- and also Wesley and Jet Li and Chow Yun Fat-- well DAMN! I'm always happy to see these men in a film, and it has not a lot to do with their acting abilities. For people in my age group, I can't think of many actors where we can mask plain old lust with, "he's such a good actor!" gushes.

I guess the racism test might be better proved with examples like Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley (for some of us), Geoffrey Rush (amazingly, the 22-year-old finds him really attractive), Sam Neill (hard, because he makes a lot of crap), ooh -- Brendan Fraser? and Johnny Depp. oh -- Gary Sinese and John Malkovich?

See, I'm looking at these guys and thinking 'can act and carry the same aspects of hot-ness that the first group do' -- but still, guilty pleasures. Nicholson and Pacino -- too old. Pitt, Clooney, diCaprio, Affleck, Damon, Ledger, Jude Law, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, etc? No way to say you like them for their acting and get away with it!

you may be right -- it could be a subtle form of racism -- but it could also be one of those "I read Playboy for the articles -- really!" things.

Posted by: Another Damned Medievalist at August 10, 2004 01:16 PM


I'd buy your interpretation except for the fact that it tends to happen around my African-American colleagues, which, okay, you could interpret as "finding common interest," except that the comments aren't necessarily addressed TO them so much as made loudly in their presence.

It's very much a "look at me, a hip white person who is Not At All A Racist Or Paranoid About Being Seen As One" deal. Bleh.

Posted by: BAW at August 10, 2004 01:34 PM

It's not liberal guilt. It's active oppression : whites are smart and blacks are stupid. That's why we talk baby talk to them. ``My, what a GOOOOOOD actor!'' Most people grab their hats when addressed in such a fashion, as Vicki Hearne put it.

It's okay to be revulsed on behalf of blacks, but you're misidentifying the cause. It's not guilt.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at August 10, 2004 06:42 PM

Jeez, ma'am, if you ever see me at a party (unlikely, as you'll soon understand), please don't try to make small talk, expecially about movies.

I'm one of those terminally shy types who tend to say inane things to strangers. It's not a race-conscious thing-my blundering speech is an equal opportunity embarrassment. And my wife has to drag me to movies.

I suspect some of your co-workers may be shy like me. The others are definitely oppressors.

As for Grandma and the present, give her a break. She's just getting even for some of the crap you put her through. :)

Grandpa in Colorado.

Posted by: Jim at August 10, 2004 07:02 PM

Aw Jim, don't panic--I can tell the difference between poseur and terminally shy, mainly because the former wouldn't understand awkward shyness if it bit them on the ass.

And yes, vengeance must be sweet. But I'm in charge of the old folks home mom will end up in, is all I'm sayin'... ;)

Posted by: BAW at August 10, 2004 09:52 PM

See, BAW? I knew there was some other contextual thing going on. Liberal guilt has a lot to answer for. Hell -- I worry about it and I come from a multi-racial family!

Posted by: Another Damned Medievalist at August 11, 2004 02:07 PM

Amusingly, I am watching The Office on BBC America, and David Brent has just told a black employee how much he likes Denzel Washington, but how Sidney Poitier is actually his favorite actor.

Don't know if you've ever seen this show, but it's pretty damned funny, and a spot-on portrayal of a disfunctional office.

Posted by: Winston Smith at August 12, 2004 10:04 PM

This particular letter hit me funny. What's a well-meaning white person supposed to do? First a black person has to assume that all white people are prejudiced and after that everything they say sounds phony and self-serving. Everything they do supports the first assumption. I admit that as a white person raised in a white community, I'm still uncomfortable sometimes around different races. Mostly because I think they're uncomfortable around me. In my effort to make everyone feel comfortable I might say something weird. My own prejudice might make me think of something with a "black" reference. You're right, maybe it's time to get over it! I will try to avoid comments with "black" content. Race obsession is NOT here to stay. Some of us don't give a damn what color you are.

Posted by: Cheryl Potts at August 14, 2004 02:20 PM