White Men Are Unimpressive
take this the wrong way, please.
adjective: of only ordinary or moderate quality; neither good nor bad; barely adequate.
This week marked the last episode of Comedy Central staple, The Daily Show with host Jon Stewart. As any milestone of this magnitude, reflection and celebration are hot takes. It is easy to pick out some highlights and revel in the “critical work” Stewart and his team grew popular for cultivating. But like, why? Yes, Stewart has said some hard truths to his predominantly white audience. Sure, his correspondents were relatively diverse (I guess).
But I know the white boys who watch him. They aren’t getting any more woke. They still believe in “Black on Black crime”. They still think women “ask for it”. They are still trash. Stewart’s audience is mediocre white men who find comfort in just thinking they know “what’s going on”. For them information is capital, not impetus, and yet Stewart is held as a beacon of White consciousness.
For full disclosure, I didn’t watch The Daily Show regularly (I don’t need a white man telling me being Black is hard in America.)
But to know that his guests were mostly white dudes, and he dismissed a critique of racial insensitivity, is not remotely surprising. And while yes, it’s cool Trevor Noah is now filling that spot, replacing white icons with Black faces isn’t the work.
If you’re a white dude, it doesn’t take much. Just a 3-minute news segment, or a popular song, or a “meaningful tweet”. When white dudes even slightly deviate from their expected levels of anti-social superiority complex called patriarchy they become the patron saints of progress. But this is the norm. White men are taught they can do anything from birth. The world shows and confirms this for them daily. This universe of possibility with which white boys are instilled frames the devastating low bar we apply to their “work.” If we want to ignore their lack of criminalization (despite their openly terroristic tendencies), insatiable greed of space, (both physically and culturally), we have a weird faction of white men who maybe aren’t “the worst”. The Jon Stewarts, The Tim Wises, The Justin Timberlakes — white men who directly profit from Black folk.
White men build whole economies, both financially and culturally, on mediocrity.
Even the most simple of pandering to anyone outside of their privilege offers them (additional) acclaim and safety from most critique. It feels like whenever a white man is not inherently selfish and traditionally trash, folks want to give him a cookie, a ribbon, award, and tenure and a new car. What this truly speaks to is how White men can openly live so violently unaware that these few specks of semi-human decency get lauded. But hanging around/ talking about Black folks isn’t a talent, it’s a choice.
Consider Sam Smith, the “Stay With Me” vocalist and recent recipient of Best New Artist at the BET Awards (no, I’m not kidding). Like Justin Timberlake before him, Smith crafted this oddly unchecked access to Black culture. I have nothing critical to say about his talent objectively, but how is he a top artist in a historically and intentionally Black genre? Are there no up and coming Black folk crooning the sounds of pain, love and previously unapologetic Blackness? (There are tons btw). But ya know he DID do that song with Mary J. Blige at the Apollo, and John Legend likes him, so…
So what? Having Black friends is not a pass. Working “with” Black folks doesn’t benefit both parties in the same respect. The sacrifices and labor those Black artists had to endure to even get that level of acclaim is completely unrecognized. But a falsetto-voice doe-eyed white boy can just ascend?
If you think I’m saying white men don’t deserve what they “work” for, you are correct but also: they get credit for shit they don’t do.
Consider the trailer for Stonewall, the Hollywood re-telling (read: white/cis washing) of the Stonewall riots that is the accepted catalyst for the LGBT rights movement in America. While there is plentiful documentation of the Black and Brown Queer folk who were the leaders of the riot, the film centers around a fictional white boy from the Midwest cited as throwing the first brick. (For any white queers who are upset, look up Marsha P. Johnson, right now.) While the film is only “inspired” by true events, the erasure speaks to how progress only has relevance when White boys are at the helm of it. This cultural landmark can’t exist without a white dude at the center of it. Like, they had to make up a white boy to just tell this story. Why?
When will we stop lifting up white men’s mediocrity? When will we not rely on white dude opinions for cultural relevance? Yes, white men should be doing the the labor of convincing other white men that they are all complicit in systemic violence and still, the profit they acquire for doing that work poorly is infuriating. White men who are not inciting other white men to action around justice aren’t doing work. White men who are not sacrificing their power for justice aren’t doing work. They are, simply, unimpressive.