Photo Credit: Netflix
ontrary to popular belief, white supremacy manifests in many ways. It not only expresses itself in angry white men marching around a town with torches. White supremacy is pervasive, omnipresent, and oftentimes undercover – which is when it is at its most dangerous.
White supremacy is not always physically or openly violent, sometimes it is casual: the racist joke Uncle Ted made over dinner, grandma changing to the other side of the road when a group of young black teenagers come towards her, aunty Julie whispering the ‘black’ as if it’s a bad thing to be, and more. I’m sure you know what I mean.
Considering that we live in a consumerist society, which is dominated by the media, online entertainment and the world wide web, I wanted to point out a few instances of Casual White Supremacy (and racism) that are likely to have been or be present in the majority of our lives. I have picked two examples of popular entertainment to illustrate my points.
Grace and Frankie
Season 5 of the successful Netflix Original series ‘Grace and Frankie’ has recently been released and tons of people are excited about it – including me. I love how the protagonists are both female and older. Grace and Frankie both have their lives turned upside down when their husbands confess to being gay and in love with each other.
So the series ticks all the most supported issues of ‘diversity’: representation of gay people , inclusion of women and older ones at that, to name but the most prominent ones.
Then there is Frankie, the cooky, quirky, alternative grandma of (supposedly) everyone’s dreams. Don’t get me wrong, I love Frankie, she makes me laugh and she regularly raises important issues such as self-care, self-acceptance, or love for others.
She is the one who wears shoes made from hemp because she wants to save the planet, she paints, she is sensual and sensitive (at least most of the time), and she is also the one who openly smokes weed. The majority of the people watching the series probably love how ‘alternative’ Frankie is, laughing at how she defies the rules and lives her best life – including me.
It’s all fun and games until you realise that only a white person could ever afford such behaviour on screen without being portrayed as a criminal, a drug dealer, or worse (even Coyote, who is a serious addict and has caused much harm with his behaviour is still portrayed as the adorable wayward son). I’m not insinuating that we should condemn people with addictions, on the contrary, I think addictions should be seen by the state as diseases, rather than be criminalised – but I also think that we have to apply the same standards to everyone in society, not just to people who belong to the dominant group.
While smoking weed, Frankie plays Jamaican music, imitates a Jamaican accent, and laughs about it – and so does the audience. She does not engage with Jamaican culture or people and uses stereotypical assets of that culture for her own jest. That is what we would call cultural appropriation and Casual White Supremacy in action.
Frankie does not just make use of Jamaican culture (or what the restrictive stereotypes of that culture look like), but she regularly appropriates other cultures and customs as well, mixes them up and unequivocally appropriates them. Nobody bats an eye.
Sex and The City – 2
An older example of white bias and Casual White Supremacy is clearly visible in the second ‘Sex and the City’ film in which Carrie and the girls go to Abu Dhabi.
All’s well in the luxury hotel – at least at the very beginning.
When the girls sit at the pool bar after their arrival, they discuss a woman wearing a niqab sitting at the next table. During this scene, the film’s bias and prejudice clearly shine through:
Firstly, it is immediately assumed that the woman in the niqab is a ‘housewife’ – but how do they know? Isn’t it obviously possible that the lady is a lawyer, like Miranda; a publicist, like Samantha; or a writer, like Carrie? But no, it is immediately assumed that she is a housewife – like Charlotte. The difference is that the muslim woman being a housewife seems inextricably linked to her being oppressed and unfree, while Charlotte staying at home is not criticised in any way. She is taking care of her children and is obviously not oppressed. Why shouldn’t that be the case for the muslim woman, too?
Later on in the film, Samantha is arrested for indecent behaviour, and the remaining time of the film is spent with the girls being outraged about the fact that the Sheikh, who invited them to stay in the ‘Jewel Suite’ (which cost 22.000 dollars a night and which they stayed in for FREE), ungraciously kicked them out.
Only white people can go to a foreign land, disrespect the indigenous cultures and customs, and then still have the audacity to complain about not being treated like the kings and queen we think we are. It’s not that hard to try to adapt at least minimally to the local cultures during the two weeks of holidays.
In spite of all these problems, I am probably still going to watch the above mentioned films and series, because, as a white person, I can turn of my brain and just ‘enjoy’ the entertainment. After all, these subtle discriminations, the upholding of subliminal stereotypes don’t affect me directly. Many white people like me may not even have thought of the things I have mentioned and have been able to just thoughtlessly consume these films and series – and that is what casual white privilege and white supremacy look like in action.
Also, I have only mentioned two examples of Casual White Supremacy in entertainment that are or have been consumed by hundreds of thousands of people, not because there are no other examples, but because I want to challenge you to take a critical look at all your favourite series, films, books, etc.
If you want, share your examples, names of series, films etc. with us in the comment section, send me an email or message me on Instagram if you’d rather not share it publicly. It does not matter. The first (an most important step) is to spot these things.
Spot the subtle manipulations, spot the stereotyping, spot the racism, spot the Casual White Supremacy, and then take it from there.