the BLOG of stuart mcdonald


My Answer To “Why Isn’t There A ‘WET’ Channel?”: A Lesson in White Privilege

I received a FB message today entitled “Another Racist question…”. The message was from a white gentleman, in his 50s (or perhaps late 40s) who lives in the suburbs with his family, and holds down a well paying job. He said:

“I know you like to ask difficult questions to see the answers you get… Here’s one for you that I was asked during the Christmas break. How many Blacks would be upset if there was a “WET” [Since he references BET, I’m under the assumption that WET means “White Entertainment Television”] TV channel? No one is complaining that there’s a “BET” channel. Guaranteed that everyone would get upset if the shoe was on the other foot!”

Honestly, my first thought was, “Aww, bless his heart. He doesn’t understand that every channel EXCEPT BET is “WET” (as he put it).” Then I thought: The reason he doesn’t know is because he’s grossly unaware of White Privilege and the role that it plays in his life.

In Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking Invisible Knapsack,” she creates a list of the daily effects of White Privilege. Number six on the list reads: “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.” Perfect example.

After pondering how to approach the topic, I responded:

Sir (I omitted his name because it’s not particularly important),

I’ve heard this question before, and let me say this: I would never ask this question for three reasons: 1) it is ignorant to about, and oblivious to of the concept of White Privilege; 2) Since there is only one answer, I can tell you what people would say without it being necessary to share it with others; 3) Perhaps most importantly, it makes the (false) assumption that there is no “WET” (or its equivalent) already in existence.

But I don’t want to just say, “this is a horrible and offensive question that I won’t ask because I already know the answer,” and leave it at that because that ultimately does no good for you or anyone else. It’s important to explain why that question is offensive and inappropriate, and in doing so, it is necessary to mention White Privilege because no one with a proper understanding of White Privilege and its effects would ask such a thing.

In case you’re not familiar with the term or idea of White Privilege, or at least so we’re on the same page in discussing it, let’s first define it:

White Privilege is, “a right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others [based exclusively on their skin color being white]; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities.” (source) (brackets mine)

As white people, we often fail to understand that our “whiteness” is as much of a racial identifier as someone else’s blackness.

In Peggy McIntosh’s  popular piece “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” (considered to be a must-read for those who want to discuss race in America), she says white people are, “taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but [have] been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts [white people] at an advantage.

She also writes that we (as whites) are incorrectly, yet often, “taught to think of [our] lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal.” In other words — we are taught, perhaps not consciously, but more through the general ways of society, that we, as whites, are the rule, the standard, and as such, everyone who is not like us, is inferior to us.

Anti-Racism writer Tim Wise, in his essay, “Explaining White Privilege to the Deniers and the Haters,” uses this analogy to further explain the idea of White Privilege:

“Imagine persons who are able bodied, as opposed to those with disabilities. If I were to say that able-bodied persons have certain advantages, certain privileges if you will, which disabled persons do not, who would argue the point? I imagine that no one would. It’s too obvious, right? To be disabled is to face numerous obstacles. And although many persons with disabilities overcome those obstacles, this fact doesn’t take away from the fact that they exist. Likewise, that persons with disabilities can and do overcome obstacles every day, doesn’t deny that those of us who are able-bodied have an edge. We have one less thing to think and worry about as we enter a building, go to a workplace, or just try and navigate the contours of daily life. The fact that there are lots of able-bodied people who are poor, and some disabled folks who are rich, doesn’t alter the general rule: on balance, it pays to be able-bodied.

“That’s all I’m saying about white privilege: on balance, it pays to be a member of the dominant racial group. It doesn’t mean that a white person will get everything they want in life, or win every competition, but it does mean that there are general advantages that we receive.”

As white men in America, we don’t have to worry about not seeing, interacting with, or being surrounded by whatever race we choose — be it white, black, Hispanic, or someone else — if we choose. Think of it this way: If you wanted it, you could probably go an entire day without interacting with any person of color, couldn’t you? You could spend a whole day interacting with no one but white people — whether at your job, at the mall, a restaurant, etc. You may see a person of color, but you can choose not to interact with them. This is an effect of White Privilege.

People of color, in this case specifically, black people, don’t have that choice. They are forced to be around whites. They have no other choice but to interact with white people because we are the dominant race in America.

When it comes to television programming, and as you’ve mentioned, television channels, it’s important for blacks, as well as other people of color, to see themselves represented. If that takes the form of BET or TV One, why should we deny them that? Yes, as white people, we are the majority and technically, we could (and often do) censor the minority voice, but does that make it right or acceptable? I think not.

"The Cosby Show" was one few popular sitcoms starring a black family

Out of all the major networks stations — ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS — how many of their sitcoms are based around the lives of people of color? Take it one step further: How many actors and actresses of color do they have in their shows? How many of the newscasters on CNN or FOX or MSNBC are people of color? While I don’t have specific numbers, I can tell you just from watching that minorities are desperately underrepresented in the mainstream media.

This, perhaps, serves to perpetuate cycles of destruction within the minority communities. If the children never see any examples of solid role models (who look like them) outside of a few athletes, musicians, or actors and actresses, where are they left to look?

To be clear, I’m not saying that there are no role models for people of color because that’s simply not true; there are plenty of great role models for POC. However, those who are role models are often not spotlighted as they should be due to of the media’s tendency to lean more towards showing blacks in a negative light, thus serving to perpetuate the systemic racism in America. (An example would be the term “black-on-black crime.” Why is it necessary to specify that two black people were involved other than to accentuate the negative stereotype that black people are violent and thus should be feared?)

But I digress.

The truth of the matter is that every TV channel, with the exception of BET,TV One and a few others, are “White Entertainment Television.”

(You could also take the position that BET, whose parent company is white-owned Viacom, isn’t really an autonomous black station, but rather a station owned by whites, programmed for blacks, used to continue to reflect the negative stereotypes as well as to perpetuate cycles of self-hate in black Americans. But that’s an entirely different conversation.)

It’s important to understand that there is no “need” for  White Entertainment Television, because essentially, that’s the majority of what already exists. Think about the programming you watch on a daily basis, the media you consume, either by internet or advertising in a magazine, or billboard, or walking through the mall — most of the messages you’ll see are geared towards whites. Lately there has been a push to show more diversity in advertising, and rightly so, but that’s the exception more often than it is the rule.

So should someone bring this question up again, I hope that you’d think about this response and enlighten them on the facts of  racial inequality in America, and some of what White Privilege means, at least in this case.

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10 Comments so far
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Recently my black daughter created a white avatar on Xbox to represent her profile. She is 7 yrs old. Perhaps this is an example of WET.

Comment by Darius

What an idiot. You totally missed the original point, the problem is not having a station devoted to so called “black entertainment”, the problem is calling the station “Black Entertainment Television”. No one is denying the fact that most TV shows are dominated by whites, it’s the fact that if we were to actually call a station “White Entertainment Television”, there would be a HUGE uproar. So please understand what you are writing about before you go and spew a bunch of garbage like this which does nothing but further racism in this country!!

Comment by Melodic

Are you serious?

The problem is that it’s called “Black Entertainment Television”?

Why is that a problem? Do you feel like you can’t watch it because it’s got “black” in it? That’s simply ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous, in fact.

Comment by ASmith

I wish people would learn to read before they make stupid replies. The point is if there were something called “White Entertainment Television” it would cause an uproar, not because of the content but just because of the NAME. No one said they didn’t want to watch the station because it had “Black” in the title, the point is why do we need to make it racist in the first place by calling it “Black Entertainment Television” instead of just a normal name for a TV station.

Comment by Melodic

So you are serious.

Ok, then. Duly noted.

For the record, it’s non-sequiter to say that because something has a racial term in the title, it is therefore racist.

I assume you find HBCUs racist, as well, even though if you are white (or, for that matter, non-black) you could enjoy a minority scholarship to any HBCU in our contry.

I also assume Black Greek Letter Organizations (e.g. Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, etc…) are also racist because of that nasty word “black”

Alrighty. Good to know where you stand.

Comment by ASmith

Once again people cannot understand what they are reading. The point is if somewhere to to start a “White Entertainment Television” it would be considered “racist”, especially from the black community. So it would be considered racist, then why would “Black Entertainment Television” be the exact same thing??

Comment by melodicflow

This is a really interesting and fairly nuanced addition to the conversation.

I’m a halfsie (dad’s black, mom’s white). I lived in a black neighborhood in Portland – if you could actually call it that, Portland is the whitest major city in the US – for a while. A few blocks from my house was a black community center. I understood the gesture but if it had been a “white community center” it would have scared the s#$@ out of me.

For that reason, I don’t see the necessity of things like black colleges and Miss Black America. I’m not saying this across the board, but some of these organization, events, etc. have outlived their usefulness and only perpetuate separatism.

Thanks for your thoughts, though. I really appreciate them.

Comment by Tori Jae

Great post, Stu. Great post. I think you hit all the points very eloquently; I’d love to hear what your friend says in response.

Comment by ASmith

It is refreshing to hear this perspective from a White Christian, many times people of color need white allies who will speak out on “white privilege”. I recently completed a research project on Critical Race Theory (the theory which informs the work of Peggy McIntosh) and the New Monastic Movement ( a Christian inner-city ministry/social justice movement) and one piece of research that informed my work was a study on Black and White evangelicals entitled: Divided by Faith. This study showed that most often Black and White Evangelicals do not agree on racial issues because of cultural toolkits: in the cultural toolkits of Black Evangelicals you can find typical Evangelical theological beliefs with one addition: the knowledge of structures, whereas among most White evangelicals a knowledge of structures is missing. I would encourage you to check out this study.

Continue to speak the truth and be blessed!

Comment by Onleilove Alston

GREAT POST! I was happy to see someone really take the question to task instead of jumping on that obviously racist man’s bandwagon.

Regardless of what some of those fools up there had to say, this was a very informative, enligtening and well written post.

Comment by datGurl!




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