Iconic New Yorker Fran Lebowitz is known for her sharp prose, biting wit and cunning social commentary on American life. Commonly referred to as the ‘modern day Dorothy Parker’, she made a career putting thoughts into words no one else had the capacity to think (ie the opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting). Her mind is so sharp, so brilliant, so daring that it may be the reason she’s built a writing career without actually really writing anything.
Besides a book of essays that appeared in the 1970s and 80s along with her time as a columnist for Andy Warhol’s Interview, Fran’s reputation for her writers block almost supersedes her career as a writer. A book of hers that was excerpted in Vanity Fair in 2004 has yet to come out in 2020. When discussing her writer’s block, she said: “My editor—who, whenever I introduce him as my editor, always says, ‘easiest job in town’—he says that the paralysis I have about writing is caused by an excessive reverence for the written word, and I think that’s probably true.”
To sustain herself in one of the most expensive cities in the world, Fran has built her writing career around speaking. “It’s what I wanted my entire life. People asking me my opinion, and people not allowed to interrupt.” In one of her interviews for Vanity Fair, she eloquently spoke on race and its prevalence in America. Though the interview is from 1997, the words ring truer than ever, and once read, should lead to some serious shifts in perspective about how we think about and understand race.
The way to approach it, I think, is not to ask, “What would it be like to be black?” but to seriously consider what it is like to be white. That’s something white people almost never think about. And what it is like to be white is not to say, “We have to level the playing field,” but to acknowledge that not only do white people own the playing field but they have so designated this plot of land as a playing field to begin with. White people are the playing field. The advantage of being white is so extreme, so overwhelming, so immense, that to use the word “advantage” at all is misleading since it implies a kind of parity that simply does not exist.
It is now common—and I use the word “common” in its every sense—to see interviews with up-and-coming young movie stars whose parents or even grandparents were themselves movie stars. And when the interviewer asks, “Did you find it an advantage to be the child of a major motion-picture star?” the answer is invariably “Well, it gets you in the door, but after that you’ve got to perform, you’re on your own.” This is ludicrous. Getting in the door is pretty much the entire game, especially in movie acting, which is, after all, hardly a profession notable for its rigor. That’s how advantageous it is to be white. It’s as though all white people were the children of movie stars. Everyone gets in the door and then all you have to do is perform at this relatively minimal level.
Additionally, children of movie stars, like white people, have at—or actually in—their fingertips an advantage that is genetic. Because they are literally the progeny of movie stars they look specifically like the movie stars who have preceded them, their parents; they don’t have to convince us that they can be movie stars. We take them instantly at face value. Full face value. They look like their parents, whom we already know to be movie stars. White people look like their parents, whom we already know to be in charge. This is what white people look like—other white people. The owners. The people in charge. That’s the advantage of being white. And that’s the game. So by the time the white person sees the black person standing next to him at what he thinks is the starting line, the black person should be exhausted from his long and arduous trek to the beginning.