Why I Made #WhitePeople
And answers to 4 complaints I keep getting
Hello, hola, kamusta (that’s Tagalog for you), my name is Jose Antonio Vargas, and I’m the host and director of White People, a documentary, on, well, white people. Specifically, young white people. (Full disclosure: I am not a White People. I am a Gay, Undocumented, Filipino People.)
If you haven’t watched White People yet, here it is for free:
Last night, #WhitePeople trended at the #1 spot in America, and #4 globally. I was on Twitter watching and tweeting along with everyone, and there have been a lot of interesting responses. I noticed a few common types:
1. You’re being divisive.
I find it strange that anyone would think that the documentary was divisive. White People, believe me: I care about you. You’ve been “trending” for a few hundred years now, and by 2060, you’ll be joining the rest of us in the U.S. as a minority. If you don’t believe me, check out these stats:
So really, White People is about including white people in the reality of tomorrow. But if I dedicate a full 41 minutes to letting White people speak their minds, and explore these topics with the rest of America, I’m being divisive? I’m still scratching my head.
Which brings me to another point:
2. Who cares about what White people have to say?
Doing a documentary on white people is something I’ve been thinking about for over a decade, when I wrote about a student that started a Caucasian Student Union at her majority-White high school in Bay Area, Calif. I realized when I was talking to these students that they felt nervous talking about race. When the topic of race comes up, many White students feel left out, censored, or ignored — because they usually don’t get to talk about it. Many White people, including those interviewed in the MTV special, do not think of themselves as a race, and they feel defensive and uncomfortable when they are racialized. “White is the default — it is the default race,” one young white person told me. But America was never “White”. The world was never “White.” As I said in the documentary, “White is not a country.”
And if we are to have a real, honest, comprehensive conversation about race, we cannot do it without including White People and unpacking “whiteness” — what it means and what it signifies. Cue James Baldwin, my biggest artistic influence: “I’m only ‘Black’ if you think you’re ‘White.’”
3. The timing is suspicious.
I had nothing to do with this, I assure you.
I’m #TeamTaylor and #TeamNicki all the way, but again: I’m not that tricky. (And, Tay, I hope you’ve seen White People.)
4. The film doesn’t go far enough.
Totally agree with this one. I was grateful to Upworthy for saying that White People is mostly helpful for teens that are still struggling to talk about race with their white, and nonwhite, friends. And seeing The Atlantic refer to the segment we taped on a Native American reservation as a “very quick primer” of a “vast history of violence” didn’t bother me at all.
To the people that expected more from this documentary, I have some bad news: I never thought that we’d be able to finish the conversation about white people with this 41-minute TV special.
But we gotta start somewhere, and this is a start.
We want to have a conversation about everything — from #BlackLivesMatter to Asian Playboys to Hapas (look it up) to Homo Cholos (again, look it up) to White People. It’s going to get weird, and it’s going to get uncomfortable. But it has to, if things are going to get better, if we are to understand each other better.
It’s all happening in September, at EmergingUS.com.
I hope you’ll join us in exploring the emerging American identity.