Grand grew up in Lemott, Illinois, or, as he once referred to it, one of the “blandest suburbs outside of Chicago.” According to the most recent census data, Lemott is 95.9% white, with the majority of households earning between $60,000-$100,000 annually. So, yeah, it sounds about as bland as it gets.
That makes it sort of understandable why Grand’s world view would be so narrow. You can’t fault a person for not knowing something they don’t know. But you can fault them for not wanting to learn.
After people on social media criticized Grand for his comments, he brushed them off, saying he was just “shootin [sic] this shit” with the interviewer. And how nice for him, right? Because he’s young, good-looking and, most importantly, white, Grand can “shoot the shit” all he wants about things like race and racial discrimination one moment and then go back to posting tantalizing photos to his Instagram account the next. Meanwhile, communities of color are stuck living with the mess that sort of privileged, nonchalant attitude perpetuates.
A white gay celebrity making a racially insensitive comment and then brushing it off as simply “shooting the shit” isn’t just obnoxious, it’s damaging. It both distracts and detracts from the actual social marginalization people of color experience in our society every single day. It belittles their struggles. It deepens their plight and their pain. Even if that wasn’t Grand’s intention, that’s what he did.
Sadly, as with his previous gaffes and naive statements, few will actually hold Grand accountable for his latest remarks. Some will agree with him. Others will give him a pass because of his advocacy work, saying it demonstrates that he is a deeply caring and thoughtful person at heart. Many will forgive him simply because he’s a “young, good-looking, white, gay” man and, as he says himself, expectations for him are “really, really low.” He’ll continue to accumulate Instagram followers, rack up views on YouTube, play at Pride festivals, and partner with LGBT groups eager to accept any quasi-celebrity willing to appear at their fundraiser or shoot a 30-second PSA in exchange for a little free publicity and a gift basket.
But for those of us with slightly higher standards for ourselves, take Grand’s comments as a reminder of the steep hill we’ve yet to climb when it comes to confronting race not only in this country.
Checking our privilege as white gay men and reminding our peers to do the same may not be the final solution to the problem, but at least it’s a start. Perhaps Grand could start by looking inward rather than constantly taking selfies in pursuit of praise of what truly is only skin deep.