[Above: The CNN.com homepage 9/11/14]
Someone please cue Black Twitter to start #CNNreports. So… in light of Ferguson and the growing and increasingly heated racial conversations igniting throughout the country, CNN thought… hey let’s do a story about being the only White person in a Black world, because, well you know… that completely and entirely misses the point of everything.
In an article titled “When You’re The Only White Person In The Room,” which CNN called, “a different kind of minority report,” we’re told the stories of several White people who lived in all Black worlds for a few years or so. This, of course, most likely as some misguided attempt to make sure White readers didn’t have to bear the discomfort of being non-central to the dialogue about police brutality against Black men that’s been raging over the last three weeks.
The piece starts by sharing the story of a young woman named Amanda Shaffer that opted to go to a predominately black high school in Cleveland as opposed to following her friends to a private school with majority White student body. Amanda recalls feeling very different in every school-related social setting like basketball games where the only other white people in the gym were the “jittery” White teams that would come out to compete. Based on the color of her skin alone, Amanda was always aware that she didn’t quite fit in despite her best efforts.
It’s a feeling that one unidentified White NBA player supposedly described to CNN as “the loneliness of being white in an all-black world.” The indisputable advantage in this instance being a White male who is able to return effortlessly in to the mainstream, or the dominant power structure without penalty and most likely receiving props for wearing a bit more cool post the brush Blackness.
Meanwhile another a young White man named Chris Williams left his Vermont home to move down south to a Black town in Mississippi for two years as part of a civil rights campaign. He became so immersed in the culture that he would periodically need to remind himself that he is, in fact, not Black. “I lived in a completely black world; every couple of weeks, I looked in the mirror to remind myself that I was White,” he recalled.
And there’s the rub: As good as CNN’s intentions are, it failed to factor in White privilege. When you are a person of color in a predominately White setting, no one has to remind you that you’re not White. The Black girl in a White school will always be “the Black girl,” and the Asian kid will always be “the Asian kid” because cultural adoption does not work the same way across the spectrum. Privilege is the deciding factor here.
CNN writing this article about this topic at this time is an expression of privilege because the writers are looking for a way for White readers to identify with the Black experience. Given the racial tension that has been brought to national attention, it’s easy to see where the idea for a story like CNN’s came from, but it’s surprisingly tone deaf, “but wait, sometimes we’re minorities too” sentiment is lost on us.