By Carlie Ladinsky
A Jewish Atlantan’s 14-year-old son took social and traditional media by storm with his poem “White Boy Privilege,” only to face a wave of negative comments, including some laced with anti-Semitism.
The YouTube video (youtu.be/g4Q1jZ-LOT0) of teen actor Royce Mann reciting his poem, which won the Paideia School’s 2016 poetry contest, went viral and produced a viral backlash. One YouTube comment reads, “What you have isn’t ‘white privilege’ it’s ‘rich kid privilege’ (looks like ‘rich white Jewish kid privilege’), idiot!”
Royce, whose poem touched a nerve as the nation debated violence by and against police, said he is not Jewish but “the Jewish faith is very much a part of who I am. My dad is Jewish, along with much of my extended family. It makes me sad to see how much anti-Semitism still exists in our world. It is a huge problem that is often overshadowed by other awful types of prejudice. No one should be discriminated against for their beliefs, especially the Jewish people, who have been persecuted for hundreds of years. It is time for the world to grow up. It is time for people to realize that someone’s race, gender, sexuality and religion do not dictate who they are on the inside.”
Royce’s father, Barry Mann Stewart, said he was raised in Reform synagogues in New Jersey and Florida, celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah, and traveled to Israel several times, including a Jewish Federation study mission.
“I am not a practicing Jew but consider myself culturally Jewish and committed to many of the basic values of our faith,” he said, adding that he and his wife, Sheri Stewart Mann, “have conducted our family life and raised our sons in a humanistic tradition, honoring both our Jewish heritage and other faith traditions. I’m extremely proud of Royce for the wisdom and empathy he exhibits in his slam poetry and performances. I’m saddened but not surprised that people have taken advantage of the anonymity of social media to express ignorant, hateful, anti-Semitic views.”
Most of the negative comments about “White Boy Privilege” cite Royce’s Jewish heritage.
“While he slams all white people, he, because of his Jewishness, is more likely to get accepted to ivy league schools, get a high paying position at a financial firm or bank upon graduation, etc.,” one commenter wrote.
Another wrote: “Yes, and ironically, I’ll bet this little poem-writing bastard was taught to hate all Muslims — especially Palestinians; guaranteed he’d never write a poem about Jewish privilege in Israel; no, I’m sure he thinks it’s fine and dandy that Jewish people keep Palestinians out of their neighborhoods, put them in open air concentration camps, kill children playing soccer on the beach or just walking along the street, and keep them from certain jobs.”
Royce has appeared this summer on several talk shows and shared more of his thoughts about racial equality.
In the beginning of his poem, he specifically addresses “middle- and upper-class white boys,” so he does realize that not all white youths are privileged. But he recognizes that white privilege is present even when its beneficiaries don’t see it or acknowledge it.
He confirms there have been major changes since the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s but argues that there is a long way to go even though textbooks make it seem as if the problem is solved.
“To be honest I’m scared of what it would be like if I wasn’t on the top rung if the tables were turned and I didn’t have my white boy privilege safety blankie to protect me,” Royce says in his poem.
Yet the spread of the poem has undermined that safety as the hateful comments have piled up.
Royce’s mother, who grew up Christian and now considers herself agnostic, said she is distressed but not surprised by the anti-Semitic hate directed at the younger of her two sons.
“The current political climate seems to have exacerbated fellow humans’ feelings that it’s fine to direct threats of physical harm, death, and insults and obscenities at a 14-year-old and his family via the mail, on our home phone, and in hundreds of places on the Internet and via social media,” Stewart Mann said. “While he still insists on reading some of the comments regularly, he says that it motivates him. I can only assume that others who have stood for change have been able to use the same motivation throughout history.”