'White People': Race Privilege Exists, MTV Discovers


The very idea behind the MTV documentary White People — exploring the notion of “white privilege” courtesy of producer-interviewer Jose Antonio Vargas — was sufficient to get various, usually politically conservative, wings of the Internet in an angry snit. This, without any of the offended having seen White People. Now that it’s here, White People turns out to be a well-meaning but toothless exploration of its topic.

Vargas jumps around, from Rapid City, South Dakota, to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, most of the time asking white folks to talk about race matters. The one time he engages two young black women to join in the discussion, one of them bursts into tears when a white kid too-casually uses the term “ghetto” as an all-purpose term of negativity. It would have been great to explore the real pain behind those tears, but this is MTV, and its rapid-editing style does not allow for prolonged discussion or analysis.

It’s also a given that the white people in White People will mostly consist of white millennials — anyone older (parents, usually) who is interviewed here is slotted neatly into the Racist Mostly Without Realizing It category. But this isn’t a documentary about ageist stereotypes…

The production gets bogged down in a tedious discussion of whether scholarships and financial aid are given more frequently to students of color. I’m sure scholarships are much on the mind of the MTV audience, but the talks Vargas has with a variety of students, paired with statistics demonstrating that whites get more of the educational money than other ethnic groups, ends up with a lot of hey-what-can-you-do? shrugged shoulders from non-white students. Katy, a white student in Arizona who’d simply said she felt discriminated against, has a more stark response to the statistics: “I feel like you guys are attacking me now,” she tells the filmmakers.

This would have been a good jumping-off point for a grittier discussion, but alas, Vargas heads off to somewhere else.

White People airs Wednesday, July 22 at 8 p.m. on MTV.