“You can’t state difference and also state equality,” writer Zadie Smith once said in a conversation with PBS. “We have to state sameness to understand equality.”
She was speaking in relationship to sex and feminism, how we can claim that we are all one yet all so different. There’s a catch there because you are dividing as you unify, pulling someone in close as you push them away. It’s an interesting subject and one that seems very of-the-moment.
It reminds of a recent conversation I had with a friend over drinks. “Too many white people in the same room can be scary,” he said. “Something bad will happen.” We laughed about it and sipped glasses of wine but, as if in a movie, flashes of historically all white spaces flashed behind the eyes—KKK meetings, Nazi Germany, Trump rallies, etc.—adding a bitterness to the drink.
Politically, inside and outside of the election, this seems like a very important moment to talk about white people all in the same space: they make bad decisions and they make people in general look bad. A group of only white people is an uncomfortable and unrealistic group, an inaccurate representation of America and the world. To be in a room full of only one type of person is scary because it becomes a situation where you are all looking out from the inside, whatever that inside might be—and that’s where things go wrong.
We’ve all been in this space before, regardless of our genetic makeup. If you look white or are “adopted” as white, being in that all white, all straight, all male room is one of the most uncomfortable spaces to be in because something bad will happen and you are defenseless. Even though you are considered adopted, shit gets weird because someone always drops an uncomfortable racial epithet or uses the word “gay” inappropriately or talks about how Caitlyn Jenner looked better as a man or, you know, mentions how proud you are to be a gun owner. This space, a space not too far from the all male room, make youwant to hide inside of yourself or speak up because, clearly, shit is ugly.
Of course, this happens in other rooms—rooms of all gay people, rooms of all women, rooms of all black people, rooms of all hispanic people, etc.—and in all situations it is not right. However, the white male room is the most entitled, the most powerful space, the one that is both failing and succeeding at securing their narrative in history. These rooms are where The Other is made to feel terrible, where decisions are made about The Other’s body and The Other’s life.
Example: Hollywood. Historically, this industry is The Great White Room, where entire countries of people are rewritten as white. Things came to a fever pitch with this year’s #OscarsSoWhite but, again, this was not a new thing: Hollywood has a history of outing The Other only for The Other to fight back. While you would have thought we would have learned our lesson, there have been two major moments very recently where that Great White Room seems to have wielded its power against us: in the upcoming Nina and the recent swath of white actors portraying Asian characters. Like. How is this still a thing? That Great White Room.
In politics, it’s the same—and it’s a bit more frightening as it relates to governance. Clearly, Trump and whiteness are intertwined in the most foul ways possible, as a parody of The Great White Room, that space in its ugliest. As obvious as it sounds, The Great White Room is an unrealistic depiction of America—and the future. Another example: the states Bernie Sanders has been winning. As FiveThirtyEight points out, the states Bernie has won are overwhelmingly white. The average percent of whiteness in all the states he’s won is 77.8% (i.e., 77.8% is the percentage of white people in his winnings) as opposed to Clinton whose average is 56.1%. But, of course, that math was my simple computing of whiteness averages. Nate Silver, the author of the piece and general genius, observes that the most representative of America in terms of race are New Jersey, Illinois, Florida, then New York. That’s why today feels particularly important regarding the New York caucus: it’s another chance to break open that Great White Room by all candidates, which Hillary seems to be doing as she is the lone rep of The Others.
Most normal, intelligent, forward thinking people are fighting to breakdown this Great White Room and thinking in a way that seeks to be more inclusive of a true community, of an accurate representation of “the melting pot.” I was recently asked by a reporter while speaking about BOY CLUB if the magazine is another example of gay media’s race problem. On the surface, it seems as such and we made a very concerted effort to diversify. Yet, we kind of failed. The end result is not perfect and, yes, is very white looking. Yet, like the magazine, I on the surface seem very white: I’m actually Puerto Rican. It’s painful that something I produced has an association with that Great White Room.
This entire discussion is very complicated and something to recognize: are you inside of that Great White Room or are you outside of it? If you are in The Great White Room, are you conscious that are you in it? Are you fighting to get others inside of it? Are you looking for ways to breakdown the walls? Are you trying to exit? The Great White Room is a very uncomfortable place and it’s important to recognize that the space exists and should not any longer. The Great White Room is America at it’s ugliest and most problematic no matter what “good” is trying to be done in that space. No good can come from The Great White Room until it is open, for anyone to walk inside of, for anyone to come. The Great White Room is still The Great White Room until it isn’t a room.
Like Smith said, “you can’t state difference and also state equality.” Everything has to be equal or nothing is.