Complexion for the Protection: White Privilege– Real World Edition

Four, pale wooden figures gathered together with a large hand holding a large umbrella over them, which is the color of pale skin.

When I go looking for stock photos to represent the article I’m publishing, sometimes I stumble onto some social commentary illustrated by what photos do, or don’t, exist. In this case, while it’s easy to find pictures showing the pain and isolation caused by racism, I found it was extraordinarily difficult to find photos representing white privilege: the phenomena of white people receiving umerited protections from external consequences; a form of protection that people of color frequently don’t receive.

The lack of photos with this message aligns perfectly with Denny’s second installment of Complexion for the Protection, where his remarkable proficiency at recognizing the toxic and harmful behavior of even the most popular media figures might bring some of your favs into his crosshairs. I invite you to notice your own defensiveness in response to these accusations, and to question why and if these actions deserve to be defended in the first place.

CN: In depth discussion of racist, abusive, violent, homophobic, and/or financially corrupt behavior on the part of well known public figures. 

The humanity of all Americans is diminished when any group is denied rights granted to others.

—Julian Bond

It’s the fall of 2023 at the time of this writing. The Supreme Court has rescinded the rights of people of color and LGBTQs. In doing so I’ve come to realize that between the DADT repeal, the gutting of the Voter’s Registration Act, the reversal of affirmative action, and the removal of LGBTQ protections, my freedoms and liberties as an LGBTQ of color have been negatively impacted by the Supreme Court’s rulings for the past thirteen years.

This is what it means to be a minority in America. Your humanity is compromised by at least three fifths and you’re only one ruling away from being back in shackles.

Not so much if you’re cisgender heterosexual and caucasian. To quote the late Paul Mooney, they possess the complexion for the protection, as discussed in a previous piece. Previously six prominent white fictional figures were examined along with the heinous crimes they were allowed to get away with simply because of white privilege. This time around, we’re doing things a bit differently. This time around we will be analyzing five real-world high profile figures and the terror they reaped simply because they had the complexion for the protection. Hat tip to our illustrious publisher for the brilliant suggestion.

Shall we commence?

Johnny Depp

Courtesy of Harald Krichel and the CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Listen, I adored this man and supported his work since he was on 21 Jump Street. I loved his quirky individual off the beaten path acting choices. But I will not make excuses for his abusive ass ways. He’s canceled. Folks love their Heroes and want to look the other way once their bad behavior manifests. Humans have been doing this shit since Zeus was worshiped. So called Heroes can be fuckboys. Zeus was nothing more than a rapist with a pretty face. And Johnny is an abusive, lying manipulative asshole wrapped in a nice package. Don’t get that shit twisted.”

–Sheila White on Johnny Depp

It’s hard to believe that at one point Depp could have been deemed Teflon John, given that he was the proverbial belle of the ball for both movie studios and audiences alike.  Hardly anyone blinked twice when Fauxcahontas (not to be confused with Elizabeth Warren) bribed the Commanche Nation to adopt him for the sole purpose of justifying the racist portrayal of Tonto in the 2013 box office bomb, The Lone Ranger. A few years later, it was announced that Depp and actress Amber Heard were filing for divorce. Some time later Heard disclosed that she was the survivor of domestic violence at the hands of Depp. Fauxcahontas in turn attempted to get Heard fired from Aquaman 2 and blackballed from Hollywood. 

When that ploy didn’t take, Depp filed suit against Heard in 2019 after she wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post sharing that she was abused by Depp throughout their marriage. Despite Depp’s exes such as Ellen Barkin, Kate Moss, and Jennifer Grey citing their own experiences of toxic behavior and abuse from Depp (not to mention the infamous text messages), it was Heard who was vilified in the media while she and her supporters were attacked by trolls on social media. Perhaps the biggest insult was when singer, fashion mogul, and domestic violence survivor, Rihanna, cast Depp to walk as a model in her Savage X Fenty show. Depp was awarded the civil suit and Heard was forced to settle with her abuser.

Brass tacks of it all: Amber Heard was guilty of committing the one unforgivable sin– She stood up for herself. As a woman, as an LGBTQ, she defended herself, left a white male toxic racist homophobic predator, and continued to thrive personally and professionally. She proved a marginalized person can walk away from toxic abusers and move forward, and society resented her for it. She unapologetically shared her truth and fought back. Minorities aren’t supposed to do that. We’re supposed to be victims. We’re not supposed to save ourselves. Especially if you’re a BIPOC and/or an LGBTQ. Depp has been a monster.  But because colonizers want to watch Pirates of the Caribbean sans the guilt of enabling a predator, it’s easier for them to victim blame and gaslight a queer woman than hold a cis straight white man accountable. 

And Pirates of the Caribbean was always trash, to begin with.

Brian Williams

Courtesy of David Shankbone and the CC BY-SA 3.0 license

From 2004-2015 Williams served as an anchor for NBC Nightly News until it was revealed that Williams pulled a Stephen Glass and lied about events that transpired (or didn’t transpire rather)  during the 2003 Iraq Invasion. As is often the case with most liars, this wasn’t an isolated incident. Bearing false witness is not only a no-no in the Ten Commandments but also in the field of journalism. While Williams should have been terminated, the Peacock thought it best to allow Williams to anchor the eponymous The 11th Hour with Brian Williams on MSNBC until he resigned in 2021. 

Juxtapose this to the abuse and unjust terminations that highly esteemed journalists Melissa Harris-Perry and Tiffany Cross suffered in 2016 and 2022 respectively from MSNBC, it speaks volumes about NBC, and none of it is flattering. Especially when one considers that it took an entire #MeToo movement to oust former NBC News pundit Matt—I have a secret desk office door button because I’m a James Bond Villain —Lauer. That certainly didn’t stop NBC from hiring former Faux News personality Megyn Blackface KKKelly for $69 million. Oh, and Megyn, Charlize Theron got your message and said air and opportunity.

The Peacockacity!!!!!

Teresa Giudice

Courtesy of Behind The Velvet Rope TV and the CC BY-SA 3.0 license

As the fourth installment of the Real Housewives franchise, The Real Housewives of  New Jersey has been a staple on Bravo TV since its premiere in 2009. In that time audiences have witnessed sole original cast member Teresa Giudice spread infidelity rumors about her co-stars and her own family members alike. She also flipped a fully loaded dinner table in an act of rage. Violent outbursts would become synonymous with Giudice. In fact during one reunion, Giudice shoulder-blocked and leveled host Andy Cohen so hard that the entire WWE roster took copious notes. 

Of course, one would be remiss if the 41 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, and bankruptcy fraud that she and ex-husband Joe Giudice were charged with by federal prosecutors in 2013 weren’t mentioned. Giudice would serve a year in jail only to return to the RHNJ franchise, and receive a reported salary bump of $1 million per season, all the while continuing to spread infidelity rumors, flip tables, have violent outbursts, and physically threaten her co-stars. What’s really unsettling is that no matter how vile Teresa’s behavior, the narrative of the series regularly tries to frame her as the sympathetic protagonist who needs to be coddled; a luxury I doubt would be offered to most of the Black cast members of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and The Real Housewives of Potomac.

Bernie Sanders 

I don’t like [Sanders] and I don’t like his cult. No one who can get that many white people to follow them so blindly is someone who should be trusted.

–David Carlton

Courtesy of Gage Skidmore and the CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Sanders revealed his agenda as a GOP plant (for all intents and purposes) time and time again. In 2012, even though he was an independent, Sanders demanded a Democratic presidential primary challenge against current sitting Democrat President Obama. When that didn’t take, Sanders nearly primaried against Obama himself. A Democratic primary with a sit-in Democratic president would have undermined the credibility of President Obama, the Democratic Party, and would have sowed seeds of dissent and a civil war within the DNC. After all, many would have taken exception (and rightfully so) to the nation’s first Black president having to suffer the disrespect of his own party hosting a primary while he’s sitting president. All of this from a political rival who isn’t even a Democrat.

Sanders’ racism didn’t stop there. He has gone on record stressing that class is more important than race. It is not. He threw a hissy fit and stormed offstage when Black Lives Matter activists confronted him about remaining mum on the increasing violence against Blacks at the hands of law enforcement. Well, not completely mum. Showing the world who he truly is, Sanders told a Black student to respect police officers “so that you don’t get shot in the back of the head.” 

It was revealed during the election that Sanders’ claims that he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Era was a lie. The Sanders campaign also exposed its hatred of LGBTQs. Sanders made it a point to miss both LGBTQ forums during the 2019 election primaries. In fact he was the only major presidential candidate to sit out both LGBTQ events.  When trans actress and activist, Angelica Ross called out the Vermont senator, Sanders supporters viciously attacked Ross on social media to the point that she had to quit Twitter. Ross was one example among countless other minorities who were met with vitriol anytime they critiqued or spoke out against Sanders. Of course, when confronted by the ugly online behavior of his supporters, Sanders continued to evade accountability.  “Some of the ugly stuff on the internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters,” Sanders said in a statement.

Picket lines. School boycotts. They try to say it’s a communist plot.  –Nina Simone

Let us not forget the sexual harassment that transpired during both of Sanders’ campaigns. Let us also not forget the brawl that erupted at the Democratic National Convention in Nevada. One Sanders supporter hurled a chair, while others applied graffiti to a party building. The state’s party chairwoman received multiple death threats. All of the violent disruption from Sanders’ supporters was in response to Sanders failing to secure enough delegates to win the Democratic primary.

Sanders and his ilk are proof that the old adage is true: The fish rots at the head.

For someone who harps on about classism and shutting down the one percent, Sanders was most reticent when it came to revealing his tax returns. He was even more reticent in the general public learning that he’s a millionaire. There is also the fact that Sanders’s wife was investigated for loan fraud. She also resigned from her position as president of Burlington College in 2011 after sinking the school with insurmountable debt. The liberal arts college went bankrupt in 2016 as a result of Sanders’ reckless spending.

Courtesy of Σ and the CC BY-SA 4.0 license

Sanders is an example of what I would call the Nader Effect. Nearly every election some alternative candidate, a walking Bizarro bastardization of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington shows up out of nowhere promising to be the Great White Savior that will make Washington an honest and cost-efficient spouse.  Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders, the list goes on and on. Usually, it’s some old rich white man who is a malcontent and has income to dispose of in an election campaign that will fail abysmally. Of course, they never win much less follow through on their big empty promises. Their purpose is to siphon off enough white liberal votes to make certain the Republican candidate they’re secretly in bed with makes it into office. But they will return next election ready to swindle every caucasian too gullible to learn from history.

As Sanders and Paul’s records have illustrated, these old white men often have a low opinion of Black people and LGBTQs

Trump and Sanders were two sides of the same coin of white supremacy. Both candidates circumvented the traditional political routes of presidential primary candidates. The bigotry of both candidates is well documented and they are supported by a rabid fanbase.   It’s little wonder that one in ten Sanders supporters voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. 

It’s also little wonder that PoCs and LGBTQs made certain to prevent Sanders from procuring the Democratic nomination … TWICE!!!!

Wes Scantlin

In the early 2000s few alternative acts were hotter than Puddle of Mudd. Led by frontman Wes Scantlin, to date the band sold over a million albums and has had a string of number-one rock singles. If one thing has surpassed Puddle of Mudd’s success, it’s Scantlin’s rap sheet. Scantlin’s priors range from domestic violence, drug possession, vandalism with a chainsaw, disorderly conduct, DUI,  a standoff with the LAPD, and fake car bomb threats. Scantlin also has the distinction of receiving a lifetime ban from Graceland and his bandmates walking out on him on stage during a concert set.  Rockstars being bad boys and having brushes with the law are so cliche that it is almost to be expected. However, this is beyond the pale. 

But Denny, some of you are probably thinking. That’s pretty harsh. It sounds like you have a personal vendetta. Does Scantlin owe you money? Did he steal your boyfriend? Did Scantlin and his crew jump you at the club last weekend?

No. Nothing of the sort. I like Scantlin and enjoy Puddle of Mudd. Spin You Around and Psycho stay on my playlist and I am rocking out to Out of My Head at this very moment. The point is Lenny Kravitz and Janelle Monae wouldn’t have been able to get away with fake car bomb threats and standoffs with the LAPD.

And since we’re on the subject of music…….

The Verve/The Rolling Stones/Bittersweet Symphony

 I could tell you that The Verve’s 1997 hit Bittersweet Symphony is one of my all-time favorite songs. I could tell you the music video where the lead singer bum rushes through nearly everyone he passes on the street was a textbook angry entitled white male power fantasy. I could tell you The Verve was sued for millions by the Rolling Stone for publishing royalties over Bittersweet Symphony sampling an orchestra cover of the 1965 Stones track, The Last Time. Instead, I would like to bring attention to the fact that the Last Time was a classic Black gospel song. The Stones columbussd the version performed by the Black Gospel and rock & roll quartet the Staple Singers who never received royalties or any compensation from the Stones or the Verve. Of course, they didn’t. 

The Staple Singers had a storied career in their own right. With chart-topping classics like Respect Yourself and I’ll Take You There, the Staples were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Nevertheless, they should’ve been compensated and this theft is indicative of Black culture being exploited for white gain. 

It wasn’t “cancel culture” when women and people of color got used up, silenced, and dismissed before their careers even began. It only became “cancel culture” when powerful abusers start having established careers momentarily inconvenienced by revelations of what they’d done.

–A.R. Moxon

In an interview with the leading ladies of Shondaland, Ellen Pompeo (Grey’s Anatomy), Kerry Washington (Scandal), and Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder) discussed their experiences portraying groundbreaking heroines and working with legendary Shonda Rhimes. During the discussion, Ms. Davis expressed that while strides in diversity and progress have been made in the media, it’s ultimately hindered by the fact that white artists, directors, and writers aren’t held to the same standards as their marginalized peers. A most tragic and all-too-accurate reality.  Talk about art imitating life or life imitating art. The same is true for the real world as illustrated by the six previous examples. 

Equality doesn’t just mean an end to the persecution of minorities. It also means holding whites accountable and to end the proverbial protection collection racket that is white privilege.

About the guest blogger: 

A picture of Dennis R. Upkins, a lean black man with long limbs wearing a well fitted navy and white pinstripe button up shirt, smiling at the camera.Dennis R. Upkins is a speculative fiction author, a journalist, and an equal rights activist. His first two young adult novels, Hollowstone and West of Sunset, were released through Parker Publishing. Both Upkins and his previous work have been featured in Harvard Political Law, Bitch Media, MTV News, Mental Health Matters, The Nerds of Color, Black Girl Nerds, Geeks OUT, Black Power: The Superhero Anthology, Sniplits, The Connect Magazine, and 30Up. You can learn more about him at his website

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