The presumption of attractiveness will always perpetuate violence
And unquestionably lusting after Efron is just as much an act of complicity.
I hate the word privilege. Or maybe I just hate how it’s used. Niggas like to talk about privilege as if it gives a person the abilities of Domino from Deadpool 2. Y’all seen it? Zazie Beetz runs around kicking ass, and her power is that everything that can possibly turn out in her favor does. She falls out from a car crash and improbably lands on her feet. Someone takes a shot at her and the gun jams. Her fro always looks impeccable, regardless of the humidity, because the enzymes are metabolizing just right. Shit like that.
Folks like to talk about privilege like this. White privilege means you’re more likely to get the job. Male privilege means you crash the entire stock market and improbably still get to stay rich. Privilege means you always get the benefit of the doubt. It’s always about benefits.
I hate it because I know this is such a one-sided view of the story. I hate it because it means no one ever has to focus on the detriments. I hate it because I know that being white or being male or being rich or being able-bodied or having whatever other “privilege” is so much more like Hazard’s abilities from The Flash, which brings misfortune to everyone around her. “Privilege” is so much more often like carrying an arsenal of nuclear bombs than carrying miscellaneous “benefits.” Whiteness means people get hurt. Hoarding wealth means people die. And there is no way to “use” these things in a way that nullifies the damage.
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When Netflix dropped its trailer for the Ted Bundy film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, folks rightly called out the popular narrative of the serial killer as “charming and handsome” for being rooted in white supremacy. Bundy didn’t get to commit so many murders for so long because he was attractive or brilliant or anything like that. He got to commit so many murders because he was white. But then many of these same people called out the producers for casting the “charming and handsome” Zac Efron in the role, as if he doesn’t get to commit violence because of the same white supremacy that dictates our attraction to him. As if the “privilege” of being automatically presumed handsome as long as you fit white people’s’ standards of beauty can ever be removed from the sadistic destruction that accompanies it.
Zac Efron is not fine to me. Zazie Beetz is fine to me. Fetty Wap is fine to me. Zac Efron is a basic looking white boy, who gets to cause basic white supremacist damage just as much as he gets away with making millions off of a basic white boy career because we hand basic white boys arsenals of nuclear bombs just for existing. Because we call them attractive just for fitting standards that have always been designed to exclude Black people. Because their beauty is taken as gospel, just like Bundy’s. And unquestionably lusting after Efron is just as much an act of complicity.
You could say I have light skinned and thin privilege, and folks have. Although I am Black, and these are standards that I could never fit as well as Efron, I can fit them well enough. The other day, I noticed the bartender at the lounge staring at me and, with his permission, I left my smirk on the counter as down payment for my drink, assurance that his furtive glance was well-received. I didn’t have to pay anything in cash. Benefits.
Or you could say that these “privileges” have always been a tool of manipulation. A while back, my friend introduced me to a colleague, and I thought they were cute. I didn’t wonder too long on whether they thought I was too. I made a joke about a tattoo on his leg, and he laughed it off. I told him he knew he wanted to show me the whole thing, because I knew I wanted to see his whole body, but his discomfort said otherwise. He laughed it off again. I pushed further. Of course he wanted to show me. Of course I am charming and handsome. Of course I was harassing him.
I want to say I caught myself before I took it too far (and later that night he did accept my apology) but too far is pushing past any signs of discomfort just because I knew I could get away with it in the first place. Too far is all of the many other times I caught myself convinced someone else was attracted to me based on whichever of the world’s standards I felt I met—that someone else was charmed by my job or my vocabulary or my body or whatever else should automatically be charming—because in each of those cases I reinforced the idea that there is inherent value in what the world says is desirable. And that idea necessarily means those who don’t fit what the world calls desirable have no value at all. And that idea is necessarily harmful.
Folks nowadays love telling “allies” to “use your privilege,” as if there is any good way to use a stockpile of the most powerful explosives. As if there is any good way to destroy a whole people, a whole ecosystem, for generations. As if there is ever a reason to give a pedestal to something that is only useful in killing, that is only useful in manipulating other people.
There is no way to “use one’s privilege” in a way that helps those who don’t have it. There is only destroying privilege. There is only nuclear disarmament. Or there will always be death.
I stopped considering white people sexually attractive a long time ago. I am working on balancing my own self esteem with getting rid of the expectation or need for anyone else to be attracted to me. I am working on understanding that my beauty does not come from my light skin or thin body or whatever else this fucked up society says is beautiful, and that beauty does not have to equate attraction in the first place.
Our attractions to handsome, basic white and light skinned and thin and able-bodied people are not innate. We don’t like the Ted Bundys and Zac Efrons and light skinned niggas of the world just because they are cute. We are influenced by white supremacist social conditioning about who deserves value-laden designations like “fine” and “ugly” from the moment of our birth, and we participate in that white supremacist social conditioning whenever we dictate someone is “fine” or “ugly” just because we think so and enough other people in a white supremacist society agree.
What would it mean to refuse to call any Black person ugly, to know every Black person has some worth, even if we are not personally attracted to them? What would it mean to separate worth from attraction entirely? What would it mean if we knew refusing to do so was not a “privilege,” but the continuation of an ever-ticking time bomb that colonization reaped upon us?
Blanketly claiming that Zac Efron is handsome and charming without question cannot be removed from how the world used “white privilege” to enable Ted Bundy’s serial murders. Maybe Efron is attractive to you individually—cool. Maybe you aren’t attracted to Fetty Wap—more opportunity for me. But forcing a standard in order to assign this world’s ideals of worth and value will always bring more destruction to those who weren’t ever meant to be part of it.