Hello &

Hello &

Wentworth Earl Miller III

Wentworth Earl Miller III



Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wentworth Miller - Racism, Singing & Graduating.

Went says that it was always expected of him to go to college and follow along a certain career path.  So he was enrolled in Princeton University.

Went was very concerned about whether his classmates and roommates would accept him.  He didn’t know how he was going to explain his mixed race.  Would it mean that every time he met someone he would have to tell them?  His insightful parents suggested that he should put pictures of his family all over his dorm room so if his friends came to visit they would see and will know immediately.  So no explanations were necessary for Went.

(I commend Went's parents with the way they dealt with this very sensitive issue. )

As a result of Went’s hurtful experiences of racism and his identity crisis he said he adopted a bad attitude which resulted in him earning a bad reputation, so his friends called him “Stinky”.

(“Stinky” what a name … and just another thing that Went has had to explain …. )

Unfortunately for Went his bad attitude got him into trouble at Princeton while in his junior year in 1994.  The incident was later dragged up during the promotion of “The Human Stain”.  A New York reporter reported the incident as follows:

“he (Wentworth) published,, in the Daily Princetonian, a cartoon featuring Cornel West, who was then a professor of African-American studies there but who had just been hired away by Harward.  The cartoon depicted Muffy, a white Harvard student, imagining her first class with West, who is saying, “Today’s lecture is entitled, ‘Rhythm – Why None of You Have It, and How You Can Get It.’”  It also described West as “newly purchased,” which is academe-speak for a new hire. 

You can imagine this didn’t go over too well as “newly purchased” was taken to be a reference to slavery – and within days the paper had run angry letters signed by dozens of students and faculty members, including the novelist Toni Morrison, symposia had been convened, and the school had been plunged into one of those predictable convulsions of recrimination and argument.  Unfortunately, the story made the Times and Went, who everyone assumed was white, was transformed into a controversial figure, you know the campus bigot.  Went never brought up his background, but instead chose to mutter some sentences about an attempt to lampoon racial stereotypes.  His own race card went unplayed.

Went has said “Instead of stepping forward and explaining what I’d meant by the cartoon and posting my own racial background as evidence that I’d really meant no harm, I chose to remain silent.  My attitude was, ‘If they don’t get it, I don’t have to explain it,’ which was my way of saying if they don’t get me, I don’t have to explain me.  The people who knew me on campus knew where I was coming from, but I think for most people I was just a name in the paper, and they probably assumed I was white.”

Went has also said this about growing up mixed-race ......

"It had its challenges, for sure, but I mean, everyone has their challenges. I'm not going to pretend it was any more difficult than being anything else, than having any other kind of attribute that might distinguish a person for ill in the eyes of some. My experience is that I find myself having to constantly define myself to others, day-in, day-out. The quote that's helped me the most through that is from Toni Morrison's Beloved where she says, "Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined"--so I find myself defining myself for other people lest I be defined by others and stuck into some box where I don't particularly belong. There is the sense of being between communities and you sometimes wonder if you don't have to answer to any group or interest, that you're some sort of racial Lone Ranger, but the flip side of that is that a racial community, functioning at its best, provides not only a sense of identity--that luxury of looking into another's face and seeing yourself reflected back at you--but a sense of security and support. When I run into trouble, what group will rally to my defense, come to my aid. The answer, and it's scary, might be "no one."

"I've been spared to a large extent the business end of the race stick. Nobody's ever asked me to pay for a meal before I've eaten it, I've never been pulled over just because I was driving the wrong kind of car in the wrong kind of area at the wrong time of night. My encounters with racism are sort of second-hand situations where I might be standing around with a group of white friends and someone makes a comment that they wouldn't make, say, at my family reunion. It leaves a cut. Someone calls you "nigger" and it's like a knife to the gut. To be in that sort of situation it's just a little nick, but you suffer enough nicks and you bleed to death just the same. So when that happens, you're confronted with the quandary: do I stop the party, do I grind things to a halt? And ideally you would each and every single time, but I have better things to do than to educate people--it just has to be a case-by-case basis and you develop a lot of scars."

(When I researched this information about this issue of racism in Went's life, it pierced my heart but it made me realise what a strong character Went has and how very wise he is .)

It was during this time that Went, took a tour with the Princeton Tigertones, an Acapella singing group. He toured around the country during the year and went to Europe in the summer.  He says “On a dime we would throw down a hat in every piazza and plaza we could find to get a little lunch money. It was just the best way to see the world."

(I'm sure you all would agree with me that Went has such a beautiful voice!)

Went decided to do his English Literature Major in his final year on “the idea of doubling and the gender identity construct in Jane Eyre and The Wide Sargasso Sea--which, I guess, is also about identifying yourself; perceiving yourself through the eyes of the dominant white male hierarchy”. This later influenced his work as an actor, going through the casting system in Hollywood.

Graduating in 1995 with a degree in English literature Went was faced with a difficult decision about what to do. "Princeton was such a conservative environment-a third of the class was going to med school, a third to law school or Wall Street or whatever-and acting seemed like a really risky proposition." Regardless of what was expected of him he decided to move from New York to L. A so he can enter the entertainment industry.  He planned to be an entertainment development executive. Working behind the scenes he would be able to secure a steady pay check. Concerns about the financially risky life of an actor had finally influenced his career choice.

So Went and me are off to L.A. to pursue his career.

We’ll continue with our new life and career in LA in my next blog. 

Speak to you then.
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