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Who’s White? Who’s Wrong? - 08/14

By Rich Trzupek
  The 1985 western “Silverado” is one of my favorite movies. Mostly a light-hearted action flick, there are a couple of poignant moments. One of them is when Hannah, a young attractive widow portrayed by a young, attractive Roseanna Arquette reflects on the fleeting nature of physical beauty.
  After Paden, the expert gunslinger played by Kevin Kline, calls her “a pretty lady”, Hannah says: “They’re drawn to me by that. But it never lasts.”
  “Why?” Paden asks.
  “Because they don’t like what I want,” she replies.
  “What’s that?” he asks.
   “I want to build something, make things grow,” she says, dreamily looking out over the beautiful frontier land she came to settle. “That takes hard work – a lifetime of it. That’s not why men come to a pretty woman. After a while, I won’t be so pretty. But this land will be.”
  In that little exchange, writers Lawrence and Mark Kasdan neatly captured an enteral truth: appearances don’t matter – accomplishments do.
  Ironic then that 35 years after that scene hit the screen, the actress featured in it could cause such a stir by tweeting the antithesis of Hannah’s view of what matters. For what else can one deduce when she tells followers: “I’m sorry I was born white and privileged. It disgusts me. And I feel so much shame.”
  Obviously Arquette gets to feel however she wants about herself and nobody should be vilified for what they sincerely feel. Those three sentences don’t make me angry, they make me sad, for Arquette and for the many people who apparently feel the same way.
  First of all, somebody define “white” for me. Am I white? My Slavic heritage left me with skin that’s darker than my first wife, who happens to be of Mexican heritage, It’s also darker than my daughter. Speaking of which, she’s half Polish, half Mexican. Is she white?
  I mean, in a world where a woman as pale-skinned as Elizabeth Warren could call herself a Native American, who is white?
  How about the other half of Arquette’s complaint: that she was born “privileged”? Who is privileged?
  To me, anyone born in the United States is privileged. This is, after all, the land of opportunity. This is the land where people are free to say whatever they will, to criticize whomever they want, even themselves.
  Sure some people are born into better circumstances than other, but one should not be ashamed or repentant for having been given a greater gift than another. The greater the gift, the greater one’s responsibility to use that gift – be it wealth, talent, whatever – to build a better world.
  To say that you are ashamed of the color of your skin is to accept the idea that the color of one’s skin matters. A person’s pride, to paraphrase Dr. King, should be based on the content of their character.
  Self-loathing is a right I suppose, although not a very healthy one. Extending that loathing to others, in any way, based on physical appearance is foolish. It doesn’t matter what aspect of physical appearance we talk about. It can be weight, hair color, height, size of the nose, amount of hair, blemishes, etc. None of that matters. But once you make one physical attribute matter, you’re either saying that all physical attributes confer intrinsic value, good or bad, to the holder, or you’re saying that there is something so unique about this one particular attribute that it alone so confers value.
  In the first case, you inevitably create a caste system because having decided these things have value, people will rank the values. If the second case, you justify discrimination of a group, which is the very slippery slope that leads to race-obsessed totalitarian regimes like the Khmer Rouge and, of course, National Socialism.
  I hope Ms. Arquette finds something in her life to be proud of. Not because of how she looks, but because of what she’s done. Listen to Hannah Roseanna – she was wise beyond her years.
  Email: richtrzupek@gmail.com





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