Why I consume white media

Apoorva Verghese, Intersections Editor

racial trauma and media
Gabe Darley

I was about eight years old when I first watched the 2005 film, “Pride and Prejudice.” At the time, I hadn’t read or even heard of the original book, but there was something inexplicably beautiful about the film. I loved everything about the film, from the characters to the lighting to the lilting accents. From the first viewing, I was drawn into Jane Austen’s world in a way that no film had affected me before. In hindsight, it wasn’t just that I found the film beautiful, I found it comforting — an escape from my casually traumatic life as an immigrant and a person of color. 

If there’s one word to articulate what white privilege looks like, it’s invisibility. That’s not to say that the lives of white people are ignored or neglected, it’s quite the contrary. Rather the experience that comes with whiteness is default, normalized in society. To put it simply, white people are just people, while people of color are defined by their race. Books like “Pride and Prejudice” feature white people who live blissfully invisible lives. They’re free to love and hate, live and die, completely free of any racial trauma. 

Growing up as an immigrant means my life has been politicized from the day I stepped foot into this country. On top of that, I spent most of my life in Texas, which, as a woman of color, was rarely an easy experience. I was lucky enough to grow up in one of the most diverse areas in the country, but that didn’t mean I could escape the deep roots of white supremacy that infected my home town. Books and films about white people were a stark contrast to the deeply violent nature of race in America. They were simple. 

“Pride and Prejudice” is by no means a simplistic book. It’s a classic romance book that tackles several social issues of class and gender. Nevertheless, for a few hundred pages, it lets me experience love and life without race. Over the years, I’ve built up this comfort genre through the years with books like “The Hating Game,” the entirety of Jane Austen’s works and the popular book series, “Bridgerton.” The television series based on the “Bridgerton” books has made active efforts to diversify its casting and has integrated racial dynamics into its storyline, but the books remain a race-free escape for me. 

As I got older, I made active efforts to diversify my media intake, largely in an attempt to reverse the lessons I learned from my schools’ curriculums that consisted almost entirely of white writers. I started to read books that reflected my experience as well as the experiences of other marginalized people. Authors such as Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Toni Morrison and so many others filled my bookshelves and slowly began to shape my worldview. These books were stunning representations of violence that forced me to face, almost intrusively, reflections of my life and experiences. These types of books, their stories, their characters have stayed with me since the day I read them. 

Every once in a while, in between books that tackled racial themes, whether they were as violent as “The Bluest Eye” or as light hearted as “Red, White & Royal Blue,” I’d feel the urge to seek comfort in those books about whiteness that brought me such solace. 

In my daily life, I’m not able to escape my skin, nor do I want to forget how my race affects me. Through books and movies, though, I get to leave that body. I think, occasionally, I’m entitled to the comfort they bring me. 

I’m, of course, not implying that books or movies shouldn’t feature people of color and incorporate racial themes. I wholeheartedly believe that the media we consume greatly influences our worldviews, and consequently, representations of race and social themes are crucial. Books and films, whether they be fictional or non-fictional, are important, accessible forms of education for people who wish to learn more about the state of our society today. 

I make every effort to read books and watch films representing untold stories of oppression and I encourage anyone who stands in solidarity with marginalized communities to do the same. At the same time, I think indulging in narratives of whiteness every once in a while is, for me, a much needed reprieve in the midst of the perpetual politicization of race and identity. 

It’s just nice to let my anxiety and thoughts on racial trauma lie dormant for just a little while. After all, what are books and films if not the most comforting form of escapism?