Tim Burton’s Home for Peculiar Colorblind Racism


Tim Burton could have been slick and got out of this clean.

When an interviewer asked why his movie about a fantasy story that largely takes place in 1940 Wales was predominantly white, Burton could have responded with, “Did you read the book? The story takes place in 1940 Wales. Ever been to Wales? Wales only has about 3 million people in it. It’s basically Connecticut. You know how many black people live in Wales? Less than 2%, and that’s today. If you add every minority group together that still only brings you up to less than 5%. Wales is WHITE, friend, and that’s before I take it back to 1940. You’d be better off asking me how Samuel L. Jackson ended up in this film.”

Buuuuuuut he didn’t. Instead, Burton pulled a Lionel Shriver and …

1) …let out that exasperated anti-“politically correct” line that white people use when they’re tired of hearing about race, or worse, are sick of being asked to consider it in their white worlds. (Which is so 1990s.) Then he…

2) …depersonalized “black”, like Asians are at least people, but blacks, you know, not so much. Then he slapped five down on a trifecta by…

3) …pointing out how liberally good he was because he watched Blaxploitation films and never considered that they should have more white people in them (because, you know, white people were sorely underrepresented in the film industry in the 1970s).

He didn’t say those things in the first part above because, even in his perfectly well-meaning mind, he never even thinks about race, and this is true not because he’s so well-meaning, but because like most white Americans, he doesn’t ever have to deal with non-white people in any meaningful way if he doesn’t want to. And that’s before we compound his reality with the fact that he’s also impenetrably rich and famous, which means he really isn’t seeing any people of color. It wasn’t in his head and heart to say, not because he’s an evil person, but because he’s white in America. When you’re white in America you get to turn off racism. And because white people can (and regularly) do that, they sound ridiculous when someone finally asks them to turn it on.

Playing colorblind is how you get busted in situations like this because it’s a trap. Lots of information out there already about why that’s true. You should read it before someone asks why whatever you’re doing isn’t diverse and you realize you never considered doing the five minutes of googling I did to uncover – or at least hide – your peculiar institutional problem.

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