Last week on Love and Hip Hop NY, after arguing with Raqi Thunda about the dissolution of their radio show that never quite happened, Jen “the Pen” Bayer let her white privilege show. From the street Raqi, an Algerian-Puerto Rican Muslim, jabs “Good luck getting on!”. To which Jen responds, from her chauffeured car, window half closed, “I’m white, honey. It will get done.” Everyone watching, and I’m sure everyone who worked on the show, had a gut level response to her statement. Raqi read the situation perfectly and responded by calling Jen an “entitled honky”. Live tweeting during the episode @JenthePen posted this in response to people calling her racist:
HERE is where the actual problem lies.
Yes, it was a racially charged statement said by a white woman who is systemically racist regardless of her family make up. It absolutely was a racist act, broadcasted to millions. So firstly, sorry Jen you are and that was racist. It was also brutally honest. The most dangerous thing about racism and white supremacy is that as white people we are allowed to act like it doesn’t exist unless it’s to our benefit. I also think it was wise, dare I say groundbreaking, for the production company to air that clear and blatant display of white privilege.
Let’s dig deeper.
Why did that slip out of Jen’s mouth? She could have said a million things. Why was her head there? In an industry created and populated by people of color, Jen a privileged white woman has been othered and it she lost it. If you watch closely enough you can almost see her awareness of the shift happen. People, self included, say wild shit during an argument. Often it is the truth buried just below the surface bubbling to get out that bursts through. This was not the first time race has been a topic in Jen and Raqi’s storyline. First Jen went to Raqi to seek guidance around the social and cultural challenges she may face being in a relationship and raising a child with Consequence, a black and Muslim man. I know this is a scripted show, but still it should not have been a woman of color’s job to teach a white person about their whiteness. Then Raqi said Jen was a part of the show to offer balance and “White her wrongs”.
Lastly Jen is expected to deliver a “White Girl Tip of The Day” in every radio segment.
The issue is not solely in what Jen said and whether or not it was racist (since it was), but rather how do white people react when we are finally othered or tokenized and what are the consequences? When people of color are brave and trusting enough to let us white people “in”, how do we insure we don’t fuck it up while still recognizing our privilege? How can white people be held accountable so we can build racial justice? It’s way more than different colored hands entwined on Instagram.
I am, like Jen, a white woman who is mother to a bi-racial child. White women in this position must have a keen understanding of racism in all it’s manifestations so we don’t harm our children unintentionally. We also need to be the best anti-racist warriors we can to create a more just world for them to grow up in. The more I write, the deeper this gets, so I will end by saying this:
Dear Jen, Be accountable. You see the system even if you don’t quite understand your role in it. You are a mother, and now a public figure for better or for worse. Use this opportunity to be realer than you have already been and keep learning and soul searching. You owe it to yourself and your son.