White People and Getting Away with Shit

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Timothy Goodman, designer

By: BlackDahria

Last month I went to a speaking engagement hosted by the Dallas Society of Visual Communications (DSVC). Once a month they have a meeting where a well-known guest in the visual design field gives a presentation and discussion of their work. This month the guest speaker was Timothy Goodman, and since just last year I was obsessed with his 40 Days of Dating project, I decided that I had to go.

As a freelance editor, aspiring (copy?)writer and a person generally curious about design, I thought listening to a design expert would inspire me. I wanted to dream. I wanted to believe that someday, in some regard, I might be on his level.

Tim made a lot of really good points about what art should mean and what it should do. But then, somewhere in his talk he was discussing being involved in diversity projects and he said that “sixty-five to seventy percent of African American kids don’t grow up with their dad.”

Well, that’s odd,” I thought. First of all, why did he only mention African American kids? What about other social groups? Second and more importantly, that statistic sounds weirdly high and, in my opinion, quite possibly 100% fake. I’m a Black Woman who grew up with her father in her life … as did basically all of the black kids that grew up in my community … and as did the majority of my extended relatives and fellow black alumni. I mean, at the very least, there was a father figure (if not the biological father) for most PoC in my circle.

But, I let it go.

Tim kept talking. He said some other things that stuck with me. “Do one [project] for you, do one for them.” Practical.  An approach to work that keeps creatives both excited about what they do and gainfully employed. I like it. And that observation led him to later conclude that “The work that you ought to be doing is the work that you should be doing.” And that was also a sentiment that I agree with and by which I am deeply moved. In fact this piece of advice is, in a way, one of the reasons I am writing this essay.

But again, he mentioned another project where he worked with “urban” organizations. He stated that Pharrell Williams and Lil Wayne also took part in the event, each carrying their own “urban” youth organizations in tow. And that’s when I realized, much like Andre did in the pilot of Blackish, that “urban” did not mean “inner-city” or “metropolitan.” Urban meant black. I was out of the trance after that.

One of Timothy Goodman’s guiding principles in life and art is to “get away with shit.” And that simple, light-hearted philosophy is great … for him. But, at the end of the day, even though he may have grown up without his dad and he feels affinity toward “urban” youth who grew up without their dads, even though he may think of himself as just “That Kid from Cleveland,” he’s still a white male. That affords him privilege. And, now that he’s successful in his career – he stated that he was flying to Paris for a premiere of his commercial work for a major corporation the day after his Dallas event – he’s (presumably) a rich white male. Of course he can get away with shit! The entire world, as in literally everything in our White/Western dominated, patriarchal, global society, bends in his favor. Tim, please. Have all of the seats.

Unless I am fortunate enough to hit Oprah Winfrey level of status, recognition, and power in the next ten years of my life, I will never be able to get away with the stuff Timothy Goodman gets away with. Now, I will admit that I was dealt a pretty good hand as a kid. But, will I get the same results Tim got? Possibly. But it’s less likely because white privilege and systemic oppression are, like, actually real. (Thanks, John Stewart.) I expect that just like many other PoC have heard for years, I will have to work “twice as hard to get half as much.” And that hurts my heart. It hurts me not because of the work I will have to do, but because of the many, many naïve white people I will run into along the way who will deny my experience as a Black Woman in America because they either can’t or won’t see that their privilege gave them a leg up in life. I’ve barely even gotten started and I’m already tired.

As coincidence would have it, the week after I went to that discussion, a cartoonist for the Boston Herald received a ton of flak for his depiction of President Obama following multiple security breaches at the White House. The artist claimed that his reference to watermelon flavored toothpaste was in no way racist. Really, sir? Watermelon? It is extremely difficult to believe that a political cartoonist could have chosen watermelon as a flavor and not have known the effect it would have on the Black community. It’s honestly more likely that he chose that flavor knowing exactly the connotation it would have. And even if he genuinely did not know, (which I doubt), he was warned and he changed the name of the flavor for a syndicate publication. Sounds like white people gettin’ away with shit to me. On a much uglier level. To a much broader audience. Rather than being “edgy” or “artistic” and “good-natured,” this time it feels as if me and my life are both the tool and the butt of a white man’s jokes. If only my success came with such liberties.


BlackDahria is a college graduate and a former English major finally putting that expensive degree to use. She aspires to one day be a freelance blogger … just like the rest of the internet. You can email her at blackdahria@yahoo.com or follow her exceptionally regular Twitter account, @BlackDahria.

The “Life…on the Margins” essay series collects personal accounts from our readers. The series seeks to highlight the unique conditions faced by racial, gender, sexual, and religious minorities who continue to face marginally negative treatment from mainstream society.

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Here at Water Cooler Convos, we like to feature diverse voices who align with our nerdy, artsy, bourgie stances on blackness. Interested in writing with us? Email contact@watercoolerconvos.com.

4 Responses

  1. Timothy Goodman says:

    To the author:

    Hello, Timothy Goodman here 🙂

    I find it alarming that you would compare some of the things I said to the cartoonist who snuck in watermelon flavored toothpaste in an Obama cartoon. That is not “getting away with shit” as I had defined it. That is racism in my eyes. Seems irresponsible on your part.

    As for my statistics, there’s this:

    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2013/jul/29/don-lemon/cnns-don-lemon-says-more-72-percent-african-americ/

    and this:

    http://www.nbcnews.com/id/39993685/ns/health-womens_health/t/blacks-struggle-percent-unwed-mothers-rate/#.VGZq7L4wsUU

    As for my use of “urban,” I meant that as in “street” or “city” or “metropolitan” yes. Pharrell’s clothing represents that, no? That is not just a black thing, I would consider a group of white Venice Beach skateboarders “urban” too. Would it had been better to say “streetware” or “hip hop”? I mean really, what is the correct word to say for something like the Magic Tradeshow in Las Vegas where I did the mural? I’d love to know for the future.

    And I believe you’re selling yourself way short if you think you need to reach Oprah level to “get away with stuff.” As I said in my talk, getting away with stuff is doing that project on the side, or writing, or being diligent towards getting something you want, or starting that blog, or anything that makes you creatively stimulated and frees you from what you think you “should be doing.” Obviously if I’m being asked to speak, it’s because I’ve gotten to a certain point in my career, and I’m not denying that it’s not easier for me than it is for a Black American, but that certainly isn’t the ONLY reason I’ve gotten to where I’m at. I find it quite funny that you would think that, as if all the white people you know or have come in contact with are all making their dreams come true. Because I don’t know many myself.

    And I do feel that I’m sensitive to the struggle of Black American’s since I grew up in an all black neighborhood until I was 13, and I still have many black friends (many of whom, btw, do not know their fathers.) However, I do NOT think that just because I have experience with a lot of black folks makes me share their hardships. I understand the privileges of being a white male, I cannot deny that. So I apologize if you consider me a “naïve white people,” but I do feel you have been a bit irresponsible with the way you’ve portrayed me here.

    I certainly with you all the best.

    Tim

  2. Mary Burrell says:

    Hmmm…..

  3. polly pence says:

    Tim, its honourable that you are defending yourself here, but its so expected. This is like the typical “i didnt mean it like that” argument shot fourth by the white “victim”. Thats probably the way your comment is viewed. Your making the same arguments as all privileged people do. 1. the im not so different from you argument 2. I understand black people because: (insert reason here) 3. its all down to semantics argument. I think the most commonly used one is similar to what you said above: “since I grew up in an all black neighborhood until I was 13, and I still have many black friends”.
    And perhaps the reason the author is thinking along the lines she is is because of your reference to the percentage of “black folk” as you stated it who grew up with out daddy….and then follow with references to outreach and “urban” projects. It all streamlines in to : HEY IM TALKING ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE HERE.
    And the whole “un wed” black mothers thing…WHY even mention that AT ALL in any speech? Its irrelevant and not a point of pity really in the age of gender equality. Its only a point because Americas “values” are focused around dated religious precepts, where “un-wed” is a point of shame and weakness. Mostly white Iceland has the worlds highest rate of “unwed” mothers…and also ranks as the most gender equal country in the world. So what does that say? Whats the argument there? Should we pity the all white unwed mothers of Iceland or bring that up as a point in a speech? No, its irrelevant and I strongly suggest you never again include that statistic as a point for “lets make a change, the black community is struggling” in one of your talks again. We have to break out of this pattern of thinking and globalize our minds a bit more id say.
    Anyways Tim, When your white, you must be completely and utterly on point when it comes to discussing “black issues” or describing “black” things or projects or whatever it may be. Until America grows up, equality is achieved, and everyone sis as true equals, you cant explaine your way out of it.

  4. Mary Burrell says:

    Typical white people response when black people call them out on their bald headed games.