SNL’s Sasheer Zamata Found the Perfect Way to Explain Privilege


Saturday Night Live‘s Sasheer Zamata is the ACLU’s latest celebrity ambassador, and this week she has made a splash with her first video. In the sort clip, she and a white dude friend, Sean, walk through the streets of New York and unwittingly demonstrate exactly how privilege works. As the dude, clearly well-intentioned, notes that women and minorities seem to have achieved equality and urges Zamata to rise above the haters, she faces more and more absurd obstacles based on her gender and race.

Along with the video, the the ACLU released a list of statistics that illustrate Zamata’s points:

Women make only 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man; African-American women only earn 64 cents; and Latinas, only 55 cents for each dollar earned by a white man; A woman’s right to choose is threatened by extreme lawmakers who have introduced more than 100 abortion restrictions in 2015 alone; Few legal protections exist for pregnant workers and new mothers, putting families in danger of economic instability, though women are the primary breadwinners in 4 out of 10 families with children.

The series of pratfalls and indiginities in the ad begins with Zamata seeing an ad for a show called “White Dudes” that her friend doesn’t notice, proceeds through escalating levels of street harassment and finally harassment for covering up — and even includes a racially-motivated stop and frisk. During the police encounter, white guy Sean initially keeps walking along, oblivious to his friend’s time in the cop’s custody. When he does go back to grab her her, his presence is enough to get the cop to back off.

Perhaps the most hilarious part is when Sean announces that he’s a feminist, and gets blinded by the flashing lights of cameras that surround him, awed by his incredible declaration. Meanwhile, Zamata says “I’m a feminist!” and no one cares.

Throughout this entire longer sequence of pratfalls, they continue to converse. And she spends the time gently pushing back against her mansplaining friend, telling him that —”you may struggle, but you should still realize that our playing fields are unequal” as he shakes his head, until he finally sees the light and decides to acknowledge his privilege and use it for good.

She tells him the thing that countless online advocates tell their friends: privilege doesn’t make you a bad person. “When someone asks you to “check your privilege,” what they’re really asking you to do is to reflect on the ways that your social status might have given you an advantage – even if you didn’t ask for it or earn it – while their social status might have given them a disadvantage,” explains Sam Dylan Finch at Everyday feminism.

The whole video reminded me of my favorite Amptoons cartoon about white privilege in American history, which focuses on a guy named “Bob” getting advantages while in the background past his line of sight, black people are struggling or being denied the same thing:

It can be exhausting to explain privilege to those who are resistant, because people are so invested in getting somewhere “on their own.” And as with so many other words that explain social concepts, it’s overused on the internet and often turned into an insult that’s tossed It’s a lighthearted but extremely effective spot, and the combination of Zamata’s weary good humor and the total obliviousness of her companion really illustrate how privilege works. The person who possesses can walk through life totally blind to disparities, while the person who doesn’t feels like they see everything far too clearly.