Liberals Pan MTV 'White People' Documentary: Not Long or Guilt-Inducing Enough

White People – the long awaited and hyped up MTV documentary about white privilege in America, debuted Wednesday night, and the results are in; not only did it fail to captivate the audience, but liberals complained it barely touched the surface of race in America.

The Twitterverse lit up during the documentary with #WhitePeople.  Many tweeted their opinions that Jose Antonio Vargas – the illegal alien and Pulitzer-winning reporter who made the documentary – wasn’t “hard enough” on “white people” or shamed them enough. Tough crowd!

Many in the media, including Slate TV Critic Willa Paskin and Slate staff writer Aisha Harris, voiced their thoughts on the documentary. Paskin said:

This documentary is just one of the latest—but also one of the more high-profile—efforts to leave “colorblindness” behind and point out to white people that race is not just an issue for people of color, but an issue for everyone, one that bestows not just hardship, discrimination, and racism, but also privilege. To tip my hand a little, I think this is a pretty great idea for a documentary that was a little too remedial with and gentle on, well, white people...

Here are a few highlights from Slate’s negative review (in case you chose something better to do than waste your time on this documentary):

Paskin on lackluster conversations about race:

“Vargas approached the material as though he imagined he were speaking to white people who had thought about race almost not at all. The visits to various towns were, as you say, very basic and perfunctory—which was actually at odds with the conversations he seemed to be having in classrooms, conversations that framed those visits. Those classroom conversations were highly edited, but it did seem like some of the white people involved in them had a more complex understanding of race and the conversation around race. It made me wonder if the documentary might not have been better as just a taped town hall meeting.”

Paskin on Vargas’s attempt to explain “whiteness”:

“Vargas… is basically trying to teach white people that whiteness is not, in fact, like the air or the water but a race too, and to do so he … inadvertently drags two black women into breaking bread with someone who casually confesses to being racist and then forces them to contend with their much more well-developed feelings about racism. This conversation did feel remedial, but at the same time, when one of the black women left the table, having burst into tears about how casually the white women were using the term ghetto, it just became so obvious how much more substance and heat and pain there was there for her than the white people she was basically there to help educate.”

Harris on the topic of college scholarships:

“…When Vargas speaks with Nolan L. Cabrera, of the Education Policy Studies and Practice University of Arizona, who points out that white people receive the most merit-based scholarships out of any other ethnicity, and relays that information to her, she seems reluctant to fully acknowledge she was wrong to think her whiteness was working against her. Her non-white friend was sitting right there, and said he also hadn’t received a lot of scholarships, and she still hemmed and hawed. If there’s anything these sorts of scenes reiterate, it’s that, as you say, race just doesn’t carry the same emotional gravitas for white people as it does non-white people.”

Paskin on the language divide:

“He first introduces an Italian-American guy and his family, who he basically encourages, very nicely, to be as racist as they possibly could be on camera, a tack he takes in almost all of the other interviews as well. The family, like everyone else, takes the bait, but barely, complaining a little about how all the Asians immigrants who have moved into the neighborhood don’t speak English.”

Okay, come on.  It’s not just white people who have issues with the language barrier – it’s anyone who has encountered the difficulty in communicating with someone who doesn’t speak English. Don’t just  blame white people!

With final thoughts, Harris suggests lecturing the white people should go way longer than this:

“I think the stories and people he did choose to interview would have been served better in a mini-series format; one episode per person, over the course of a few days or weeks. This subject matter is way bigger than a 40-minute special…if we’re going to truly try to change how we address race in America, we have to, well, change how we address race in America: by devoting a significant amount of time to it at all, for starters.”

Melissa Mullins
Melissa Mullins
Melissa Mullins is a freelance writer and PR professional living in the Washington, D.C. area.