Jose Antonio Vargas on Donald Trump, Rachel Dolezal and His MTV Documentary, ‘White People’

Jose Antonio Vargas on Donald Trump, Rachel Dolezal and His MTV Documentary, ‘White People’

The New York Times

Jonathan Wolfe

Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and immigration activist. His new documentary “White People,” which airs tonight on MTV, follows Mr. Vargas as he travels the country speaking to young people about issues of race, particularly what it means to be white and experience white privilege. Because, Mr. Vargas said, “You cannot have a conversation about race in this country and not include white people in it.”

The documentary is part of MTV’s Look Different campaign, which aims to erase hidden gender, racial and anti-LGBT bias and uses data from a 2014 MTV survey of 14- to 24-year-olds that found that people in this age group are more tolerant and diverse than previous generations but are uncomfortable talking about race and adhere to the ideal of color blindness.

Mr. Vargas spoke about the controversy surrounding the documentary, Donald Trump’s comments about immigration and Rachel Dolezal. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation:…

Q. What is your definition of white privilege?

A. I think people get tripped up by the word “privilege.” I’m talking about systematic institutionalized differences. I had a lot of people writing me emails saying, I’m not privileged. For example, this weekend I was with Martin O’Malley in front of progressive liberal activists. Responding to the “Black Lives Matter” protest at the conference, he said: “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.” And the audience, which was diverse, gasped. They actually booed him. Because institutionally, if you look at incarceration rates, if you look at the criminal justice system, black people are at a disadvantage. So the moment he said that, he took it back and apologized. And some people took offense to that. Why did Martin O’Malley have to apologize for saying white lives matter? And this woman on Twitter was genuinely hurt; her tweet to me was, “My white life matters.” And I tweeted back at her and I was like, “Of course it does.” Of course it does, but your life mattering has been a given…

Q. What have you learned about race while working on this documentary?

A. That the conversation has just started. And a lot of the time it’s framed as black and white. Well, where do Latinos and Asians fit in that conversation? Where do biracial people fit into that conversation? Where do multiracial people fit into that conversation? Where do the Rachel Dolezals of the world, of this country, fit into that conversation?

Q. What do you think about Rachel Dolezal?

A. For me, that’s an example of what white privilege is. She can pass. There are many black people who can say that they are white as much as they can but who will never look physically white…

Read the entire interview here.

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