Home > reflections on race > all inner city kids need is a nice white lady

all inner city kids need is a nice white lady

I know I said I wasn’t going to post anymore stand alone videos as a blog entry, but I just had to throw this one up last night when previews of The Blind Side were getting on my nerves. The Nice White Lady Movies are getting a little old for me. I knew better than to start an actual rant at 1AM, and I thought I’d saved this as a draft but I guess not!

H/T to {RAGE against the MINIVAN} for the video.. I remembered seeing it a few days ago and of course I think of it every time the preview comes on. So I went to hunt it down and saw Kristen had since written about the movie from a transracial adoption perspective in the feel-good adoption movie I don’t want to see

The first thing I noticed when I watched the preview was that, with the exception of the main character, every black person in the movie is bad, and every white person in the movie is good. We see a female black relative who appears to be an addict, several thugs who threaten the mom, and even a sassy black social worker who further plays into stereotypes. Then, on the Great White Hope side, we see sacrificial parents, concerned friends, loving coaches, and encouraging tutors. The subtle message: if we can just get some of these kids away from BLACK PEOPLE, then they might have a chance.


Aside from the way these movies reinforce black stereotypes and white savior complexes, I think they minimize the complexities of what it takes for these women who not only have white privilege, but also have economic/class privilege, to deconstruct that privilege and white “centrism.” In these movies the white women have some deep a-ha moment where they start to “get it” then there’s usually a situation where they run up against a gatekeeper at the wall of institutional racism, which they deftly overcome because… they are nice white ladies and no one will give them more than a token fight (perhaps they are afraid of invoking the nice white lady tears?), there is occasionally some tragedy where a student is lost either literally or figuratively, which of course SO HARD for the nice white lady to deal with, and she contemplates going back to that nice job she gave up to save these people from themselves make a difference but changes her mind because her students beg her to stay because she is the only person who can deliver them… and then she and the students do some form of hip hop dance which the students usually have to teach her a dance and that’s about the time the credits roll. The larger problem of systemic, institutionalized racism that creates the cycles of poverty that their communities are stuck in is never rarely addressed.  A lifetime of stereotype images and racist conditioning is not a lifelong process that requires self reflection or sometimes painful personal growth… it’s a minor obstacle that can be hurdled before the first report card goes home, or at least by high school graduation.

In “Great White Hope” or What the media teaches my daughter, Jae Ran Kim writes,

On an individual basis, these are inspirational stories of relationships and what can happen when a person has someone to believe in them. I have been told that these movies are meant to show what can happen when a white person has to transform themselves – but the key still seems to be that they’re transforming themselves in order to be able to help “these people” – in other words, they have to help “these people” because either way, no one else is doing the job. The critique gets lost because we’re so caught up in empathizing with just how difficult it is for the White person to overcome their innocence/bias/prejudice/naivite/whatever so they can get on with the business of transforming “people.” We also get a dose of “White person gets saved/transformed by the people s/he helps” and that often becomes a bargaining chip for those who would critique. We need more movies like Stand and Deliver which feature a leader from within that community rather than another well-meaning but naive White person.

At the end of one of the trailers, someone comments to Mrs. Tuohy, “You’re changing that boy’s life” to which she responds, “No, he’s changing mine.”

I’m hoping that’s a sign that there’s something a little more real about this true story, but based on some of the research I did today, I”m afraid the previews may be a pretty solid synopsis of the movie, and it fits squarely into the nice white lady genre. In the movie, Leigh Ann  Tuohy is portrayed as the colorblind heroine… a 5’2″ southern woman who is alone in her car with her youngest child, but pulls over on a dark stretch of road to strong-arm a 6″6′ black teenager she knows barely if at all,  into her car, puts him up on her couch and within a few days has prepared a bedroom for him, even though she has yet to find out anything about his background (which is glaringly obvious when Michael’s character tells her he’s never had a bed before). According to an interview with the author of the book that inspired the movie, it was Sean Tuohy who first took an interest in and befriended Michael Oher.

Here are a few interviews about Michael Oher’s story, as well as a few other thought-provoking blogs.

In Defense of the ‘Nice White Lady’ – Eugene Cho – God’s Politics Blog

And while the video is funny, there are some important points to elevate:

  • In the big picture, it’s not about the nice white lady … it’s about those with power, privilege, and opportunities, and how we share them with others to empower. Many of us who are reading this likely fall under “the have’s” rather than the “have not’s”
  • Go ahead and make fun but there’s something very beautiful, compelling, and biblical about leaving comfort and familiarity to enter into the stories of others. And in our world of hyper info, data, and social networking, more and more people are falling in love with the idea of loving and serving our neighbors … rather than actually loving and serving our neighbors.

The Nice White Lady (Everyday Citizen)

It’s not at all that “the White lady” doesn’t have anything to offer. There are some great teachers and mentors who have helped provide opportunities and experiences and direction that haven’t been available. The problem with raising up and lauding “the White lady” is that too often we leave out or don’t take time to get to know the other people who have also made such a difference in the kids’ lives.

Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Nice White Lady To The Rescue!

MadTV parodies Music of the Heart, the story of a teacher (Meryl Streep) who bucks the system to bring love of music to the underprivileged colored kids she teachers. Or maybe they’re parodying Dangerous Minds, the story of an ex-marine teacher (Michelle Pfeiffer) who inspires her inner-city students with a great opening credits song. Oh, wait, I think that was Freedom Writers, the story of a history teacher (Hilary Swank) who inspires underprivileged inner-city students by making them read the diary of Anne Frank. (”See, underprivileged inner city students? Things could be worse!”)

see also nice white lady: Saving the World One Ghetto School At A Time

In most of these movies, the white rescuer in the movie is frequently credited with being the sole driving force that changes the life and circumstances of the marginalized minority, and either ignores or glosses over what the rescuee is doing or has already done to become such an incredible person that they inspired a story.

And isn’t that what these movies are supposed to be about?

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  1. Becky
    October 31, 2009 at 8:57 AM

    OMG! I think I spit coffee about 20 feet across the living room!

    • October 31, 2009 at 10:25 AM

      LOL check back later… I’m working on comments 🙂

  2. November 23, 2009 at 7:01 PM
  3. MC
    January 6, 2010 at 6:41 PM

    O.K., I understand your point. Although, I cannot help but be offended. I am a “nice white lady” who teaches inner city kids. In defense to the “nice white ladies” the majority of people who are in teacher programs are white girls from the middle class (possibly ones who cannot dance). There are more african-American and Latino’s attending universities than ever before but they are not enrolling in teaching programs. Why?…I don’t know.

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