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Photo Credit: HBO

White privileged men love to lecture people of color about merit. By lecture, I mean lie. A nicer term would be “mythmake.” But, since when has white supremacist patriarchal capitalism ever responded to nice people?

Further: Lying, or lecturing, on merit is not the sole preserve of conservatives. Colorful personalities like Donald Trump, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin, who directly abuse and pathologize people of color, may invite the most scorn and outrage. But, liberals, too, are equally capable of slipping a racist trope or two — in the guise of colorblind language — into the most seemingly innocent conversation on the connection between work and reward in America.

Case in point, Matt Damon, a Hollywood liberal do-gooder who didn’t do much good during the premiere episode of season four of “Project Greenlight.”

Centered on up-and-coming filmmakers competing to produce a film, PG, co-created with buddy and collaborator Ben Affleck, is a game show designed to help struggling filmmakers break into the industry.

In the first episode, Damon and Affleck sit with a group of producers — mostly white men — to narrow down contestants to direct the comedy film script, No Another Pretty Woman. What unfolds over the course of the conversation is the best kind of group meet-up ice-breaker imaginable — correcting an accomplished Black Hollywood producer, on the question of diversity and staffing film projects.

As the sole person of color in a roomful of white men, Effie Brown, who has produced 17 feature films, including Dear White People, felt it incumbent upon herself to caution her white colleagues to choose a directing team who will be self-consciously mindful of delicate subject matter of the film script, which features a black prostitute and her white pimp. She suggested they consider diversity behind the camera.

In other words, she was pushing for pro-color affirmative action.

Damon wasn’t having none of that. He grew defensive and anxious; and because ‘white privileged men love lecturing people of color on merit,’ and discounting the necessity and benefits of affirmative action, the actor took Brown’s contributions as his cue to educate her on what diversity actually means.

“When you’re talking about diversity,” Damon whitesplains “you do it in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show.”

Caught off guard by his brazenness, Brown, head cocked to the side, could only manage a “Whew. Wow, o.k.” before Damon continued and pursued this line of thought further, awkwardly backpedaling with the obligatory expression of appreciation to the only black female professional in the room for “flagging diversity.”

However, he wrapped up, the premise of the show, is choosing candidates based “entirely on merit, leaving all other factors out of it.”

Uh huh. Sure, Matt Damon. Because that’s what nearly four centuries of enslavement, white terrorism, black codes, separate-but-unequal, Jim Crowism and segregation,racist/ethnocentric academic theorizing, plunder, housing covenants, contract leasing, redlining, employment discrimination, income inequality, debt peonage, and mass incarceration, which hampered wealth-building possibilities and retarded life prospects of generations of Blacks, is all about. That’s what it evidenced. Qualified whites rising through the ranks on merit — that universal, race-neutral referendum on the intellectual, moral, and physiological handicaps of Blacks.

Uh huh.

But, we were talking about merit in Hollywood, right? Not the whole of American social and industrial life (as if the two are independent of one another).

The same Hollywood that, to this day, gushes over “cinematic technical masterpieces” such as Birth of A Nation and Gone With The Wind, movies held in high esteem by film students the country over.

The same Hollywood whose studios, despite popular longing for “diverse content” in American films, continues to be dominated by white men, who shell out narratives prioritizing white male protagonist, and defend this trend as good business.

This Hollywood? An umbrella term for a network of white studio execs?

You know, yesterday, Libby Hill said, or wrote, “the system is racist”, not Matt Damon. Expanding on her point, she writes,

“Racism and sexism in Hollywood remain so pervasive not because of men like Damon, who benefit from the system whether they like it or not, but from the gatekeepers responsible for clinging to a faulty system of judging talent.”

That’s a good point, worth mulling over. Yet, the more I ponder, more that point starts to collapse under its own weight. Problem is, where does Matt Damon the man end and Matt Damon the cultural gatekeeper begin?

The system is not an abstraction. It’s a living, shared mindset. It grows and breathes and flourishes in the flesh and blood of human agents. It grows, lives, and breathes in Matt Damon — the man housing the gatekeeper, and vice versa.

And, if that’s the case, if the man and the gatekeeper occupy the same body, where does that leave us?

Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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