white priviledge

White Privilege and Thoroughly Modern Millie at NNHS

White Privilege is having the prevalence and importance of the English language and finding amusement in ridiculing people of colour/immigrants for their accents and their difficulty in speaking a language that is not their native tongue.

I had a long conversation with Pulizer nominated journalist and New York Times best selling author Mitch Zuckoff. Our dogs are very good friends so I see him at the dog park a lot and we chat as our dogs go crazy wrestling and chasing each other. I value his opinion as journalist, particularly on his take of why Thoroughly Modern Millie at Newton North High School turned into a media frenzy (see links below — it was published in the UK’s largest newspaper and on local TV!).

His take was simple. He had never heard of Thoroughly Modern Millie (like me) and was surprised to hear that it might have racist stereotypes but had a journalist’s skepticism. He read the articles and posts and concluded that White Privilege was the root cause of how it came to be performed at Newton North High School. His words were simply that “White Privilege is not having to think about consequences for portraying racist stereotypes.”

And in fact, the committee who selected and approved the musical did seem to be completely devoid of anyone of color. I have to say that this play introduced me to the very term “White Privilege.” And it’s a tricky subject;  those who benefit from it are the least likely to admit that it exists. And even defining it … what is White Privilege is challenging to put into words. So when I found this on this on Thought Catalog, I thought it was helpful.

 

18 Things White People Don’t Seem to Understand (Because, White Privilege)

1. White Privilege is being able to move into a new neighborhood and being fairly sure that your neighbors will be pleasant to you and treat you with respect.

2. White Privilege is being able to watch a movie, read a book and open the front page of a newspaper and see yourself and your race widely represented and spoken for.

3. White Privilege is being able to seek legal, financial and medical help without having your race work against you.

4. White Privilege is living in a world where you are taught that people with your skin tone holds the standard for beauty.

5. White Privilege is never being told to, “get over slavery”.

white priviledge

image from Shutterstock

6. White Privilege is having the prevalence and importance of the English language and finding amusement in ridiculing people of colour/immigrants for their accents and their difficulty in speaking a language that is not their native tongue.

7. White Privilege is arrogantly believing that reverse racism actually exists.

8. White Privilege is being able to stay ignorant to the fact that racial slurs are part of a systematic dehumanization of entire groups of people who are and have historically been subjugated and hated just for being alive.

9. White Privilege is not having your name turned into an easier-to-say Anglo-Saxon name.

10. White Privilege is being able to fight racism one day, then ignore it the next.

11. White privilege is having your words and actions attributed to you as an individual, rather than have them reflect members of your race.

12. White Privilege is being able to talk about racism without appearing self-serving.

13. White Privilege is being able to be articulate and well-spoken without people being surprised.

14. White Privilege is being pulled over or taken aside and knowing that you are not being singled out because of your race/colour.

15. White Privilege is not having to teach your children to be aware of systematic racism for their own protection.

16. White Privilege is not having to acknowledge the fact that we live in a system that treat people of colour unfairly politically, socially and economically and choosing, instead, to believe that people of colour are inherently less capable.

17. White Privilege is not having your people and their culture appropriated, romanticized or eroticized for the gain and pleasure of other white people.

18. White Privilege is being able to ignore the consequences of race.

 

My Posts:

Thoroughly Modern Millie is Thoroughly Racist

My Take on Thoroughly Modern Millie

Talk Back: Racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie at NNHS

NNHS Responds to Concerns About Thoroughly Modern Millie

MTI Advises How to Squelch Dissent on Thoroughly Modern Millie

Throwndown NNHS: Talk the Talk or Walk the Walk? Regarding Racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie

Rebuttal to ’Millie in Newton: Turn Stereotypes into Lessons

More Than 50% of Asian American Teens are Bullied in School

White Privilege and Thoroughly Modern Millie

Thoroughly Modern Millie End of School Year Takeaway

 

Other Links:

The Boston Globe: School Play’s Stereotypes Bring Outcry and Apology. “Millie” touches nerve in Newton by Ellen Ishkanian

The Boston Globe: ‘Millie’ Flag Highlights How Old Plays are Rife with Stereotypes by Don Aucoin

The Telegraph: US high school show triggers race row by David Millward

NECN TV SegmentNECN Broadside with Jim Braude, Historical Musical Sparks Controvery at Massachusetts High School

The Boston Globe: ‘Millie’ Fight Creates a Chilling Effect by Joan Vennochi

The Boston Globe: ‘Millie’ in Newton: Turn Stereotypes into Lessons

The Boston Globe: Musical is Little More Than Staged Racism by Jeffrey Melnick (Letter to Editor in response to Joan Vennochi’s article above).

Monitoring, Exposing & Fighting Against Anti-Semitism and Racism: Thoroughly Modern Millie’ play draws controversy in Mass. over racial stereotyping

Company One: In the Intersection, Thoroughly Modern Millie Controvery at Local High School

Inside: Boston high school in trouble over racism in ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ 

A case study published by UMass Peter Kiang almost 20 years ago (see pages 9-13), parallels almost exactly what happened at Newton North High School. ScholarWorks at UMass Boston, We Could Shape It: Organizing for Asian American Student Empowerment by Peter Nien-Chu Kiang.

Resist Racism: Thoroughly Racist ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’

Genki Speak: Racism in Our Backyard

Angry Asian Man

Village 14: Decision to Stage ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ at North Challenged

AsAm News: Play Filled With Offensive Images Sparks Town Hall Meeting

AsAm News: I Love Newton: High School Production Fails To Address Heavy Dose Of Asian American Stereotypes

Greer Tan Swiston: Kudos to Newton North for a thoroughly modern update of ‘Millie’

The Boston Globe: Oh, by the way, how about a round of applause for the kids? (Letter to the Editor from a grandparent)

The Boston Globe: Choice, execution of musical informed by thoughful education process (Letter to the Editor from the writers who comprise the Theatre Arts Opportunity Committee at Newton North High School.)

The Boston Globe: We miss a vital chance for understanding when we swap out ethnic characters (Letter to the Editor from a great-grandmother, teacher and volunteer)

Arissa Oh ‏@arissaoh  1h

3 white ppl on @GreaterBoston unhelpfully discuss HS prodns of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” http://bit.ly/1ijHR9k  cc: @pragmaticmom

Pawprint: Millard West Student NewspaperThrough with Thoroughly Modern Millie

The Washington PostTwenty-Three Skiddo: ‘Modern Millie’ Doesn’t Dance

It’s an attempt, sort of, at a parody of the old-style musicals of the ’20s and ’30s, the sort jerry-built out of cheerful songs, convoluted plots, elaborate tap demonstrations and derogatory stereotypes.

IMDbThoroughly Embalmed Musical

Project MuseThoroughly Modern Millie (review)

Not Like Crazy: An Easily Overlooked Racism?

In the Spring semester at school, the Musical Theater Department put on Thoroughly Modern Millie, which was overflowing with racism in its portrayal of Asians. I must say, I was thoroughly upset about the whole thing. First, the guys playing the Asians, I believe they were supposed to be Chinese immigrants, had white face makeup and slanty eyes. I couldn’t help but think that if they’d dressed in blackface, surely there’d be an uproar (Of course, they are putting on Ragtime this year, so we’ll see how they handle that– they’re already sending out emails about how they want the black students to try out for roles because there aren’t many black people in the musical theater department *eyeroll*). That wasn’t the only bad thing about the musical, however, the villian was a white woman pretending to be Asian who pronounced her L’s as R’s, and said she used soy sauce to clean a stain. Of course, she also treated the two Asian immigrants who worked for her as if they were stupid, and the silently and humbly submit in front of her, though behind closed doors they argue in Chinese (I guess it was real Chinese), with subtitles projected above the stage. And then one of the Asian men falls in love with one of the white women in the musical, blonde hair, blue eyes, you know the deal. At the end of the musical, they get together, as if his reward for working hard and being submissive, for being mistreated, is the gift of white womanhood, the pinnacle of creation. So yeah, I was pretty pissed about that whole thing.

MyvanwyReview of Thoroughly Modern Millie

Someone sent me video of a local comedian’s youtube video of a character I’ve seen him portray once before. To call it infantile and racially insensitive would be a gross understatement. For the targets of his ridicule, it’s every bit as offensive as a mean-spirited performance in blackface. But because it’s against one of the few groups for whom bigotry, hostility, and ridicule is still acceptable (Chinese Americans and others of Asian and/or Pacific Island descent), it’s seen as okay by most and even encouraged by other local comedians. Kevin Marshall’s America

Zak KeithHollywood Asian Stereotypes

Racism against Asians is often “unawares”—a form of racism that flies under the radar due to its widespread acceptance as the norm. Its interactive dynamic resembles that of an unwritten social contract. Asians in the West are expected to accept patronizing remarks and racist taunts so demeaning that perpetrators would think twice before dishing them out with such unwavering consistency to any other minority group, such as Latinos or African Americans. Asians who object to such treatment are typically met with befuddlement and offense at their audacity to make an issue out of it.

Comments
One Response to “White Privilege and Thoroughly Modern Millie at NNHS”
  1. Cayuqui says:

    I entirely agree with everything covered in this article, but I have one, only one, negative observation. After living in Mexico for the past sixty years, I feel that I have done as much as I could to better the conditions of underpriveliged peoples here (namely the indígenous groups.)I also feel that I have contributed to the betterment of this great, diversified nation. I mention that I am white, a racial “accident”. I was born in the USA, a geografical “accident”. During all this time I have been excluded from definite participation, even in the projects that I initiated, such as the Huey Atlixcayotl festival in Puebla, because of my national origen and skin color. If I mention it, I am always told that it’s “ustedes” (you people) who are racists. I am an individual. that’s in singular. I am not plural, nor do I represent the philosphy of any nation, political, social or cultural group, except that of the indigenous peoples with whom I work. I say that, yes, there is a reverse racism, and it, as all racism, must stop if we are to unite to survive as a race; there is only ONE race: the HUMAN RACE.

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