Editor’s Letter: Clueless, Not Malicious

Alicia Silverstone, left, stars as Cher in "Clueless," a film that says a lot more than 1990s teen terms like "as if" and "whatever." (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

In 1995’s “Clueless,” a rich girl named Cher thinks she knows everything that everyone else needs. But when her insular, privileged life becomes complicated, she realizes she is, in fact, actually clueless.  

Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas created a documentary for MTV called “White People” that reveals some people can be a bit like Cher. Vargas poses questions to young white Americans about white privilege and asks them how their lives would be different if they weren’t white. As they struggle to answer, these young people reveal themselves to be sheltered from the everyday reality of many minorities.

They live in predominantly white towns, socialize with mostly white friends and rarely engage in discussions of race at home. The documentary goes a long way to explain the discomfort many have with conversations about race and why some end up feeling they are being attacked. 

We cannot point at them as though they are the problem we are trying to solve, however. Instead, we should do what Vargas did: Ask questions, and show the reality and complexity of diversity.

We also have to share the data to disprove certain beliefs. In the film, Katy, a white student from Arizona, believes she was discriminated against for a college scholarship. The reality is white kids are still 40 percent more likely to get scholarships than minorities. It’s simply harder for everyone to get financial aid these days.

In “Clueless,” Cher comes to her senses in less than two hours. It will take a lot longer to dismantle the barriers of institutional racism. This documentary helps; it should be required viewing for all diversity programs. It’s an eye-opening point of view on the battle for change.