In the controversial MTV documentary White People that aired Wednesday, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas interviewed white people about what it meant to be white to them, and there were several small revelations if you listened closely to the interviews. Overall, the show, which promised to make people "uncomfortable" by talking about difficult subjects, barely scratched the surface of the racial turmoil in America at the moment. Despite its best intentions, it felt like the script had been written first, with people who were interviewed shoehorned into convenient roles that fit the narrative. But, Vargas gets an A for effort, in at least trying to start a conversation about white privilege and what it means to be white in America in 2015. Here are some of the more thought-provoking quotes from MTV's White People.
There were moments of insight during the hour-long broadcast that I wish spent more time exploring. Like Lucas, in Washington State, who teaches a white privilege class (a white guy teaching a white privilege class to a room full of white people, I mean how did that happen?!), talking to his Fox News-watching mom and stepdad. It felt like Lucas was close to tears when he told his stepdad he was afraid to talk about race with him, and it would have been really powerful to have spent more time with that family and learn a little bit more about their dynamic. But that was just one POVs of many to pop up in the show.
"I Avoid The Conversation With My Parents."
Lucas told Vargas his family is conservative and his parents watch Fox News at home. "I didn't want to feel like I couldn't live in this house with my beliefs," he tells his stepdad, who appears surprised.
"When You Approach Someone Who's Black On The Street, You're Not Supposed To Walk On The Same Side."
Dakota, who grew up in a small town in Virginia that he describes as close-minded, says this is what people in his neighborhood would say about black people. He chose to attend a historically black college, which again, would have been nice to spend more time talking about. One of Dakota's black friends begins to cry during a conversation and says she hates the word "ghetto." So much more I wanted to know about her and about the town and the college Dakota attended.
"When You Start Seeing Things Aren't Your Own Or You Don't Feel Comfortable With, It's Gonna Make You Want To Move Away."
This quote comes during a segment in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, where Vargas talked to John and his Italian-American family about how the neighborhood's Asian population has grown. The quote seemed a little out of context, because it concluded with John's father talking about how he spoke no English when he came to America, and that he thinks that language barrier may be why a lot of Asians in his neighborhood may not seem all that approachable.
"You're Not As Disadvantaged. You're Simply Not."
This came from Nolan Cabrera, a University of Arizona staffer, during a segment discussing white students and scholarships. Vargas asked Cabrera what he would tell Katy (pictured above), a female student in Scottsdale, Arizona, about her perception that she was unable to secure scholarship money because she was white. It's just not borne out by statistics, Cabrera said. Katy said at one point after Vargas presented her with the facts that she felt like she was being attacked, perhaps the only genuinely uncomfortable moment of the show.
"Straight White Men Feel Like Something Is Being Taken Away From Them If They Don't Get It."
This was following the scholarship segment, where one of the young women interviewed in the group setting offered an opinion about why there was such a strong feeling among white students that scholarships were more readily available to minority students. Unfortunately, viewers didn't even get to learn this girl's name, and she made one of the key points of the entire show.
"You're Trying To Avoid What The Real Issue Is."
A black woman makes this comment during a group discussion about whether it's valid for white people to say they "don't see race" or that they're colorblind.
"It's Going To Take A Really Long Time, But It's Worth The Effort."
These are Vargas' parting words, when he tells his audience that it's going to be up to them to change attitudes about race. If only he had given them a little more of a primer during this all-too-short documentary.