Texas mom Candace Payne became an internet sensation last month after she posted a hilarious Facebook live-stream video of herself trying on a Chewbacca mask in a Kohl’s parking lot.
Since Payne's May 19 post, the video has received 155 million views and more than 3 million shares, making it the most-watched Facebook live-stream ever. And it’s paying off big time.
But the most extravagant gift awarded to Payne so far comes from Southeastern University in Florida. The private Christian liberal arts college presented Payne and her whole family with full tuition scholarships.
...for being a geek in a mask? is there anything whiteness can't do? pic.twitter.com/MZ94KYbS4f— crissle (@crissles) June 2, 2016
The chewbacca lady and her family are all getting college tuitions paid for, of course. White mediocrity on the internet rulez.— CASSANDRA (@gringatears) June 3, 2016
Candace Payne, the Chewbacca lady, & her entire family were granted full scholarships to a FL University. White mediocrity is so tiresome— Aesthetic Dad (@OrmondDerrick)June 1, 2016
Clearly not everyone is celebrating Chewbacca Mom’s viral success. One of the harshest critiques Payne received came from Daily Dot contributor, Gillian Branstetter.
Branstetter’s piece, “What Chewbacca Mom’s Rise to Fame Tells Us About Race in This Country,” which was cross-posted on MSN, is an argument for why Payne’s sudden rise to internet fame can only be explained by one thing: white privilege.
From the article:
It’s true, free tuition is an oversized prize for such easily begotten fame. It’s also true that the real rewards typically reaped for online success tend to heavily favor insta-celebrities who are white. Content derived from black users of Twitter, Vine, or Snapchat is often sidelined as part of a monolithic Black Twitter.
Branstetter goes on to explain that "black social media" is no different from content produced by "white or Hispanic or Asian or other ethnicities." All of these, she argues, create "content that benefits marketers and the platforms themselves."
The difference between "Black Twitter" and other social media subcategories, Branstetter claims, "is the degree to which these users get credit for their creations."
Black people use Twitter at a higher rate than white people and are far more active, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. Yet it’s far more often Black Twitter is treated as a separate entity from the rest of Twitter, even when trends, jokes, and hashtags that start mainly among black users expand to include a variety of demographics. The genesis of these viral moments are not, as there were with the Chewbacca Mom, typically examined down to the individual who generated them. They are signed off as Black Twitter and the everyone else moves on.
The conservative news site, Media Research Center, was quick to point out the gaps in Branstetter's argument against Payne's "white privilege" with regard to the scholarships.
"As explained by various media outlets including USA Today, Payne is an outspoken Christian," the outlet contended. "It is a common practice for private Christian universities to give out scholarships to those who are open about their faith, as Payne has been in her online presence and in various interviews."
"Second, one of the school’s top administration faculty members founded and formerly led the same church Payne attends," MRC added. "So race has nothing to do with it, but her faith and the school’s connection to her church surely does."