I wonder if anyone teaches courses on the problems white people have when trying to be non-racist and ‘good allies’ to black people and PoC. If they do, they should be using this 5th season episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun as teaching material. (If you are not familiar with the show, the basic idea is that a group of aliens has assumed human form to study us. It is a sitcom.)
Let’s do a short walk through the stages white people deal with when facing the fact of their whiteness. (But please watch the episode first. Everything will be simpler.)
- Stage 1 Becoming aware of the difference!
We start off with Dick, the leader of the aliens, not understanding why he should not be able to attend a Black students meeting. That perfectly represents the reaction by many white people to the concept of special groups only open to black people. He doesn’t understand what the group is for and compares it to Weight Watchers. This comparison goes down badly with Nina, his black secretary, and his girlfriend, Prof. Albright. He fails to see the political meaning of the group. This is one of the main aspects of white privilege: White people can live without seeing race as a topic worthy of discussion. For black people and PoC (people of color) in general, society makes it impossible to forget.
- Stage 2 ‘I want their privileges!’
Dick then goes to meet his fellow aliens, because he still wants to go to the Black students group. But his lieutenant suggests they should rather look for a support group for white people, since they are white. Naturally, there are directed to a White Power rally. The four are quite enthusiastic, hoping to find out where white people can get good pizza and wondering, if Barry White might be performing there.
After the rally, they are shocked. I think this is one of the most important realizations one has to make when belonging to ‘the norm’, ‘the mainstream’. There is a significant difference between a white power thing and a Black support group. An oppressed, disenfranchised ‘minority’ group bands together to empower and support each other. The goal is not destruction of other people, but empowering each other in order to not be subjugated, discriminated against or controlled by a society that sees them as abnormal and as people of less worth and humanity. But a support group for white people? Straight people? Able-bodied people? Their goal, even if they are not aware of this, can only ever be to uphold an oppressive status quo. Such groups will always be hate groups, because they ignore that they are the ones with the advantages. They are what people think when they hear: ‘a normal guy’. And don’t give me the reverse racism nonsense! Where I live, if I hate white people, that doesn’t matter to anyone and I am belittled. If white people hate me, I will die.
- Stage 3 ‘White Guilt’
When Dick tells other people that he had been to the white power rally, they are upset with him. Again, he doesn’t get what the problem is, but quickly learns about the exploitation of the world at the hand of the Europeans. He immediately becomes stricken with ‘white guilt’. This kind of behavior is at least more than ignorance, but it does no good at all. This is like one of those people, who are so upset when their hear that another person has lost a family member, that the mourning person has to console them! White guilt is self-pity. Get over it, but don’t forget the reasons!
- Stage 4 ‘Holy S**t! We DO rule the world!’
At this point we are treated to a very nice piece of media critique! The aliens wonder why they picked white bodies when they first came to planet Earth. While one of them did it because he thought it would be cooler in the summer, the others did this because all the transmissions they picked up from earth showed white people. This is the most self-aware statement I have ever seen in a TV show ever. An entirely white cast realizes that they are an entirely white cast because TV shows are dominated by white people. The aliens wanted to be normal human beings and so they became white humans, because that was what they thought was normal since TV told them that ‘white’ equals ‘normal’!
- Stage 5 ‘White Jesus’
There is only one stage left on the white man’s journey. Dick decides to help Nina by freeing her from her position of servitude (aka ‘being employed as his secretary’). He wants to fire her, but she tells him off. He follows her into her church (where she has a solo part in the choir which is the only part of the show that made me cringe, as it is so cliché). There he asks her if he can be a good man, which the choir confirms. But the congregation falls silent, when he wants to be proclaimed their savior. Yes, the show takes the ‘white savior complex’ very literal.
The show then ends with the four aliens talking about the weirdness of humans and singing together. This show is trying to tell us something. (That something might be that the writers consider themselves to be God. And if you don’t know what I mean, you didn’t watch the clip in the beginning! I am disappointed!). For me, this was one of the best episodes of any TV show I have ever seen, because it dealt with a serious topic, but wasn’t too preachy about it. I hope that a lot of people took and take the hint and try to learn more about the structures of our racist society and the meaning of white privilege.