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'Everything’s Gonna Be All White' is an Embarrassment for Black People
Showtime's docuseries buries important points under foolish venting
EVERYTHING’S GONNA BE ALL WHITE IS AN EMBARRASSMENT FOR BLACK PEOPLE
Showtime's docuseries buries important points under foolish venting
So, I watched all three episodes of the Showtime docuseries Everything’s Gonna Be All White and I have mixed feelings about it. On the positive side, insights from people like sociology professor Nick Estes and emerita history professor Nell Irvin Painter, as well as the rundown of housing inequities, are quite valuable and in need of wide distribution. Unfortunately, the negative side overshadows the good this docuseries can do. In fact, that first episode and too many parts of the subsequent episodes do more harm than good if one’s real goal is racial understanding and progress. The docuseries is riddled with fallacies and flippancies that not only provide distorted takes on issues of race, but make people of color, especially black people, look petty and immature. What also induced eye-rolls were the banal facts presented as profound revelations (e.g. George Washington owned slaves; Jesus wasn’t white). If I had to narrow it all down, Everything’s Gonna Be All White has three major problems: Trifling rhetoric, an abundance of inaccuracies and logical fallacies, and, perhaps most egregiously, racial essentialism. All this amounts to a docuseries that is less a contribution to racial understanding and reckoning, and more an hours-long trolling session meant to annoy white people.
First, pettiness and fallaciousness jump off the screen like an IMAX 3D movie. Whites who stormed the Capitol building on January 6th, and those still upset about the outcome of the Civil War, are considered an accurate representation of ALL white people. All white women—not some—are “Karens,” whether they like it or not. The events of January 6th were solely about anti-black sentiment. These are just some of the missteps from episode one alone. The show comes off as nothing but a hit piece on white people at a time when race relations and partisanship are more volatile than they have been in a while. This show is a temper tantrum disguised as progressive enlightenment. The smugness and facetiousness of many of the commentators come off more as people shooting the shit at a cookout than as people serious about the realities of race relations in America, and that is a generous interpretation.
Secondly, the show is riddled with erroneous assumptions. For example, in episode three, the use of the term “white noize,” which, according to the docuseries, is “the constant noise or ‘voice’ (sometimes loud, sometimes soft) in the heads of people of color that dictates action in a white dominant society so that white people’s needs and comfort are placed first” is a tacit indictment of any person of color who doesn’t feel this way as an aberration. In other words, this docuseries extends the progressive Left’s tendency to deem any person of color who disagrees with the show’s theme as a victim of mental colonization.
The docuseries is chock full of hot takes in lieu of profound and thoughtful statements to illustrate the mental and emotional detriments of racism. Amanda Seales, for example, does provide interesting and droll insights into the insidiously casual racism of Hollywood that more people should know about. But, ultimately, she makes too many shallow and flippant statements that rob the docuseries of its gravitas. A case in point are irresponsible statements like, “I think what annoys me the most about white people is when they pretend they’re the victim. What’s also annoying is when, you know, when they kill us.” Regarding the first sentence, white people do not have a monopoly on “pretending they’re the victim.” One could say that victimhood is the primary ideology of contemporary social justice activism and pedagogy. What’s more, she conveniently forgets about the likes of Jessie Smollet or the various examples of false victimhood chronicled by Wilfred Reilly in his book Hate Crime Hoax. Regarding the second statement, Seales’s facetious quips work to obscure the fact that most black homicides victims are killed by other blacks, suggesting more concern for an ideology that perpetuates a victim narrative than for an empirical reality that can help us identify and remedy societal violence. I understand the rhetorical power of humor, but not at the expense of accuracy and common sense. The factual cherry picking and ad hominem attacks throughout the show diminish its credibility.
Lastly, racial essentialism—especially the idea that all people of the same race think alike—is a significant part of the foundation on which this docuseries sits. As we try to drive home at Free Black Thought, black people are not a mental or emotional monolith. Yet, the docuseries is presented as “The POC POV.” Perhaps it is a point of view of some people of color, but presenting it as the point of view of all people of color is worse than inaccurate; it’s a lie. Not all black people think that the January 6th insurrectionists are “white people every day and twice on Sunday” (Episode One). Not every black person thinks that reparations should be distributed as a cash payout (Episode Three). Not every black person thinks all white people are racist or abides by the definitions of racism presented in the show (all episodes). Perhaps most disappointing are the words of Professor Painter, whom I respect and who is, for the most part, a voice of reason in this docuseries. After perpetuating the erroneous view that individuality is a white thing, Painter elaborates by saying, “If there were anything I wish black people could succeed in teaching Americans in general it is the sense of solidarity—of solidarity of belonging to something larger than yourself.” I and many others know white people who embrace communality and solidarity as well as black people who embrace individuality. Neither is the exclusive province of any race. The powers that be at Showtime are happy to tell you that they have the skinny on black thought, but, clearly, this isn’t the case.
Trust me, I understand the frustration and anger that can result from experiencing racism and I know racism is still a problem in America. What’s more, as I said earlier, segments of this docuseries can prove valuable. However, these segments are overshadowed by trivialities, equivocations, and caricatures done more for agitation than education. What should have been conveyed in detailed, accurate, and didactic rhetoric was presented as vindictive vitriol that tainted a potentially informative and enlightened treatment of race relations. After the events of 2020, more white people all over the world are willing and eager to listen to the voices and experiences of people of color, yet this docuseries seems to imply, if not insist, that we are still living in the days of separate water fountains and that all white people are accurately represented by white women who would call the cops on a black family’s public park cookout.
Ultimately, Showtime’s Everything’s Gonna Be All White misses the mark. It is the kind of docuseries one would make when racial healing and progress are NOT the goals. This show comes off as a trolling session meant to anger people as much as educate them. It is true that attempts to educate people, especially when it comes to race, can anger people inadvertently, but there is nothing inadvertent about the show’s rancorous rhetoric about race relations. For too much of this docuseries, the point is to vent and piss people off, and I firmly believe such a point is a waste of valuable time, energy, and intellect.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Showtime subscription to cancel.
Erec Smith is Associate Professor of Rhetoric at York College of Pennsylvania. He is a co-founder of Free Black Thought and a co-editor of the Journal of Free Black Thought. His scholarly and extra-scholarly research focuses on the rhetorics of anti-racist activism, theory, and pedagogy. He is a Writing Fellow for Heterodox Academy, a Senior Fellow for the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, and an advisor for Counterweight, an organization that advocates for classical liberal concepts of social justice. His third book, A Critique of Anti-racism in Rhetoric and Composition: The Semblance of Empowerment, appeared in 2019. Follow him and Free Black Thought on Twitter.