This interview relates to my article of 5/15/14 entitled “White Guys are Terrible“
Stephen Parkhurst, who made the controversial short video, “White Guys: We Suck and We’re Sorry,” kindly agreed to answer a few questions from me despite several days of fairly intense, hateful, even scary responses he’s endured.
My questions in bold below; Mr. Parkhurst’s answers following each question. (Asterisks in “swear words” placed by me, not Mr. Parkhurst)
How did the reaction to the video (other than the aggression and threats; more about the substance of the reaction) compare to what you expected?
-I expected a fair amount of pushback on the video. In my opinion, most of the negative reaction is due to misinterpretation, part of which is my fault. Naming a video “White Guys: We Suck and We’re Sorry,” is admittedly reductive, because I had assumed the point of the video would be obvious once it was watched. The fact that I’m answering these questions means that it isn’t, and I blame myself for not doing a better job. My goal wasn’t to apologize on behalf of all white men, but to offer a funny explanation for why white guys like Alec Baldwin, Tal Fortgang, Bill Maher and Cliven Bundy can say things that, to me at least, seem so far removed from modern-day reality.
In your own mind, how much of the video is intended to be parody, i.e. to make fun of people who strongly state that, for example, white guys are terrible people, and how much is intended as a serious message about the inability of straight white guys to empathize with/understand others?
-Most minorities and women in America have at some point faced a setback in their lives simply for being a woman or minority. I don’t think the vast majority of straight white guys have faced setbacks simply for being straight, white or male. I’m not saying it’s never happened, but I can’t cite any examples from my own life. So when someone says “check your privilege,” it’s easy to feel victimized. “I’m not discriminating against anyone! I wasn’t born rich! What privilege??” And yet, I did get a terrific apartment despite a bad credit score and no proof of income at the time. If I was black, would that have happened? There’s lots of research to suggest that it’s a lot less likely. Do I think I’m a “terrible person” for getting the apartment? No. I don’t think all white guys are terrible. That part of the video is just the button to end the sketch. It shouldn’t be taken seriously. Watch this Louis CK bit to see the tone I was after. (Yes, he said it better. I’m definitely not Louis CK.)
Can you tell me a little about the threats? I mean, even if someone disagrees with what they think your message is, it’s hard for me to understand a violent reaction. Much less an anti-Semitic one. (I’m Jewish, by the way.)
-Most of the threats are some variation of “go kill yourself, fag,” “you deserve to be raped,” and “someone should beat the s**t out of you for being such a pussy.” There were literally hundreds of these. I took the video down because that gets really old after a week or two. The most surprising response, though, is the anti-Semitism directed at me, because I have a beard and dark hair (I’m not Jewish, for the record). Many of the strangest anti-Semitic comments are by people pretending to be Jewish, thanking me for perpetuating white guilt so they can continue their plan of world domination. What’s disappointing, and probably frustrating to the normal, reasonable people who disagree with me, is how much the rational discussions were drowned out by the hatred, violent threats and trolling. People have actually tracked down other members of my family and threatened them (so far, only online, at least).
What’s your take on this? How, if at all, do you see it relating to your message?
-I totally agree that liberal PC culture can quickly devolve into self-parody. The #cancelcolbert nonsense is a perfect example of just how ridiculous it can be, and the phrase “check your privilege” has become a tired cliché. With that said, the article doesn’t say that only white men are being forced to take that Harvard class. From my interpretation, Harvard is saying “hey, if you’re at Harvard, there’s a good chance you are privileged or will be later so it might be good if you recognize your status. Maybe then you won’t turn into an amoral t**t who works on Wall Street and crashes the global economy.” Okay, that last part might be me projecting a liberal bias a bit. Sorry.
What do you say to people (like me) who see too much intentional division (e.g. identity-group politics) in the country and think it does more harm than good?
-I don’t agree that recognizing differences between people is inherently harmful. My upbringing is completely different from that of, say, a black woman in St Louis or a Hispanic man in Del Rio or a white man in Tallahassee. Admitting we’re different doesn’t mean we have to segregate ourselves. Personally, I think humorously pointing out what I consider to be a flaw in my own worldview and attempting to rectify it is a small step toward the cultural unity that I hope we all want.