You know the Ryan Lochte story, so let me start with Rob Greenfield. I first saw a video of his trip intended to show that the earth is full of good, generous people. To prove this, he flew to Panama with only the clothes on his back and a passport. No money, no cell phone, no credit cards. His goal was to live off the kindness of strangers, and to do odd jobs for what he needed.
I was mildly annoyed at first, but it wasn’t until I heard a story about it on public radio’s All Things Considered that I really began to be critical. I was waiting for him, or the journalist, or someone, or anyone, to mention how Greenfield’s white privilege paved his way throughout his journey, opened doors for him, and made his trip possible. But it was never mentioned.
His project is all about hospitality, which is great, but we forget that hospitality is not accessible by all. Just look at the reports from Harvard Business School about the racism of Airbnb – we have to acknowledge that are so many people for whom this kind of welcome and free ride are not available. And from what I can tell, Greenfield’s story doesn’t ever bring it up.
Now, I don’t know Rob personally, and from what I can tell from his website, he’s genuinely trying to Do Good. But his project, “The World Is Full Of Good People!,” really should be called “The World is Full of People Who Are Good to Me, and to People Who Look Like Me.”
Would Rob Greenfield have been able to do this if he were black? Overweight? Disabled? Gay? Transgendered? Female? Unattractive? Non-English speaking?
This “dude making a difference” was able to make it back to his home in California because of the kindness of strangers – he even made a movie about it. But he didn’t bring a camera, so is it ok if I use yours? His movie was filmed by other people on their cameras, and then they emailed him the footage. This blonde haired blue eyed all American man was able to fly seven countries away, and The International Brotherhood of White Privilege (and pretty much every other privilege) carried him safely home (to his laptop where he could produce a movie about it).
I can’t help but wonder how this would’ve gone for a woman, for a person of color, for someone transgendered. We know from statistics that these groups are more likely to suffer physical and sexual violence simply because of these traits. We know there are men who don’t make it home from the corner store safely, much less from Panama, because they were wearing a hoodie.
And here’s where Ryan Lochte comes in. I think the tide is turning, and he’s no longer seen as an adorable rascal “kid” who maybe took it too far this time… because making stuff up about foreign police, ditching your teammates, and fleeing the country isn’t as endearingly mischievous as he’d like us to believe. Hey, if Rob’s white male privilege protected him in Panama, why couldn’t it reach to Rio?
Again – imagine if Ryan Lochte were black, or overweight, or gay, or transgendered, or female, or unattractive? How would the media, and the IOC, have treated these “kids having fun” if they weren’t handsome fit famous white men?
The privilege that allows these actions to happen is one thing; we live in an age where Traveling While White is the ultimate Golden Ticket. But the ability of neither of these men to speak about their white privilege, and publicly acknowledge their special treatment because of it while abroad, is another.
The world is full of good people – as long as you’re the right kind of person, and your scheme is successful.