Who gets caught? And who gets to joke about it? When Gwyneth Paltrow flippantly spoke on late night television last month about not getting caught for doing cocaine in the pre-social media days, her words begged the question. And as the nation processes the killing of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols at the hands of police officers following a traffic stop, we are once again facing the reality of who can, or can't, afford freedom under the law in our country.
👋 Hi, Nicole Fallert here and welcome to Your Week, our newsletter exclusively for USA TODAY subscribers (that's you!). Apologies this column didn't send last week due to technical difficulties. But we're back and this week, we talk with USA TODAY's David Oliver about his commentary on Paltrow's words and their meaning in context. You can read Oliver's reporting here.
But first, don't miss these stories made possible by your USA TODAY subscription:
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'The celebs are never ok'
"Talk about doing cocaine and not getting caught!"
When Oliver heard Gwyneth Paltrow jokingly talk about doing cocaine without consequences on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" he took pause: Could someone else have gotten away with that, even prior to the age of social media? And if not, why?
The story felt like it deserved more than a celebrity gossip recap, Oliver recently told me. Instead, he chose to write about the "complicated conversation" of privilege. He looked into the various factors that impact how and why Americans face consequences for drug usage. At the center of that conversation: the privilege, or lack thereof, granted by someone's race and class. For example: Black people are 3.73 times more likely than white people to face an arrest for marijuana, even though they use it about equally, according to the ACLU.
"I benefit from so much being a white cisgender man, and in my work and life do my best to always think how someone might feel outside of that privilege," he said. "I can’t fully understand but through my work can make inroads to help myself and others learn about systemic inequities."
"Intersectionality" is a buzzword we hear a lot these days; but Oliver's reporting hits right at the heart of what civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw meant when she coined the term.
Racism exists; classism exists: but how do we advocate for those who experience both of those kinds of oppression at once?
"Race and class inform how we all function in society," Oliver said. "Not every comment needs to be picked apart, of course, but when you have a platform like Gwyneth’s, you should use it wisely. Even off-the-cuff comments or jokes matter – especially when you’re on late-night talk show."
And at the heart of the story is the easy immunity celebrities can have from the consequences for illegal drug use, especially if they are white and rich, said Oliver (who has covered his fair share of celeb scandals): "The celebs are never OK, but of course they are, really, because they have money," he said.
As someone following the celeb world, what worries Oliver? That pathways toward social justice made in the wake of COVID and the Black Lives Matter reckoning following George Floyd's murder have been replaced by other societal priorities.
"I think selfishness has returned to the forefront in many ways," he said. "Happy to proven wrong."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: It's Your Week: Who gets caught with cocaine?