For a black person like me, born and raised in what television would call “the ghetto,” it isn’t about good or bad. It’s about comfort zones. In early childhood, television taught me to see “white” as simply the default for “human.” Mister Rogers wasn’t a “white man,” but just a friendly neighbor with some weird friends. Ralph Kramden’s delusional dreams and schemes had no color.
It was like Kevin Lee, an Asian-American film critic and “Mad Men” expert who attended Keith’s party, put it: “The genius of ‘whiteness’ is that its ethnic blankness allows viewers of most any background to project themselves onto it, provided there’s some attractive quality they find in it.”
“Little House on the Prairie,” “The Waltons,” and “The Brady Bunch” were not white shows. They were epic stories about families trying to make it in America, and they invited in anybody who happened to be watching, no matter how exclusive the cast coloring. Until real-world racism from beat cops and teachers and merchants told me different, I had thought I was a Walton.
Another kind of “for white people” work is much easier to grasp. It conveys up front the notion that white people are a breed apart, morally, spiritually, intellectually. Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind,and The Searchers, yeah, sure, but also the first scene of the first episode of HBO’s “The Wire,” a moment that seemed so condescending to me that I could go no further with the series that virtually every white writer I know loves to pieces.