The ‘Chewbacca Mom’ Is The Definition of White Privilege
A viral video on the Internet has turned into a story of White privilege. But, I’m not terribly surprised.
A stay-at-home mom named Candace Payne aka “Chewbacca Mom” became a household name when she stopped by a local Kohl’s department store and picked up a Star Wars themed character mask that makes the iconic Chewbacca gurgling growl every time the mouth moves. She posted a Facebook Live video which became the highest viewed video in the history of ever (at over 100 million views in the first week or so).
And, since then she has been valorized by the media, the academy, and a host of other usually inaccessible institutions…all for giggling in a car in a face mask she bought for her kids.
Now, this story would be perfectly okay with me if subsequent events had not transpired as they did. Since the video went viral, Payne has been awarded thousands of dollars and even a college education for her antics, according to Time. First, Kohl’s brought the whole family $3,000 worth of gifts and giftcards.
— Kohl's (@Kohls) May 21, 2016
Second, she and her family were given a free Walt Disney World vacation where she actually got to meet Chewbacca in the flesh, worth $7,500. She has been on countless talk shows, again, worth thousands of dollars. Finally, the undeserved award that put me over the edge was the “scholarship” to Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida for Payne and her entire family. It is estimated that the award is worth $400,000.
Now, I am not one to knock anybody’s hustle. I am a proud champion of the “you get your’s and I’m gonna get mine” way of life. However, what bothers me about this case is not that she is getting something (a lot of somethings) for nothing. Rather, I am more concerned about the ways that these awards are a part of a larger dynamic that privileges White people in the United States.
There is no doubt that Americans pride themselves on rewarding those who “deserve” rewards. Countless studies and literatures detail the mental calculus many (often conservative) Americans go through to justify their support of public policies which assist middle-class Whites while they decry the injustice of public policies which assist underprivileged and underserved communities of color who have been systematically disprivileged over generations. When I see the Chewbacca Mom, I see a funny lady who clearly has a great personality and a beautiful family whom she clearly loves. But, what I don’t see is someone whose family deserves a free ride to a private university. I just don’t.
Maybe I am especially sensitive to this issue because of how difficult it was for me to get to college. I had to work really hard. I sacrificed a lot of time throughout high school and gave up countless parties, events, etc. just so that I could devote the maximum effort to getting to school. I had no money for college. So, I relied on nonprofit organizations to both teach me how to apply and help pay for my applications and test fees. Literally, years of my life were dedicated to figuring out how to get to college. But, she made a video so that’s it.
Too often, individuals from underrepresented and disprivileged communities are forced to sacrifice a great deal just to get many of the opportunities guaranteed to their privileged peers. Usually, those differences fall along racial and class-based lines.
Now, it is not lost on me that Chewbacca Mom is the perfect spokesperson for a company like Disney, a company which is least concerned about poor people of color and most concerned about market share. But, it is frustrating nonetheless when one considers the scores of young people, primarily of color, who couldn’t convince a major organization like Disney to even give them a free t-shirt without some form of promotion for their own brands and products.
White privilege is wrapped up in modern capitalism (often referred to as “neoliberalism”). “Chewbacca Mom” is a part of that cultural commitment. While her video is cute and her personality is endearing, I can’t help but see through the charade.
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