Nodar Chernishev / EyeEm


white people are the scammer mvps

January 17, 2019
93 Picks

If Trump’s presidency is any indication, the last few years have been a paradise for scammers. Last year, Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort reportedly spent $15,000 of ill-begotten money on an ostrich skin jacket — what’s scammier than that!? And while for some, the idea of a scammer might conjure up knock-off Fendi belts sold from garbage bags on Broadway, the real scammers are white and carry with them the trappings of wealth.

Two prominent white scammers were in the news this week.

In April 2017, Billy McFarland thought he could throw an epic model-filled music festival in Exuma, an island in the Bahamas, in just a few months. People spent thousands of dollars on tickets and travel only to realize the “music festival” didn’t have any music or private villas, just FEMA tents and sad cheese sandwiches.

McFarland was interviewed in a new Hulu documentary and honestly doesn’t sound that broken up about what happened. While the documentary outlines pretty familiar media tropes of rich, spoiled millennials getting stupidly cheated out of their money by a grift they should have seen coming, the real tragedy is the countless Bahamian workers who McFarland bilked out of thousands. Frank interviews with DelRoy, a bartender who worked on the island, act as the documentary’s Greek chorus, the lone Black voice who was skeptical of the festival since day one (and even tried warning Ja Rule that it wasn’t going to go well!)

McFarland snagged funding for Fyre Festival and his other scammy-sounding ventures from wealthy investors, who he was later ordered to pay back millions.

Another white scammer, Caroline Calloway, was also in the news this week after selling tickets to a much-maligned $165 “creativity workshop” that promised to teach participants how to be their authentic selves. Calloway first came to notoriety after scoring a half a million dollar book deal for her long, meandering Instagram captions about college like at Oxford. While an opportunity like that would be life-changing for many, Calloway never wrote her book and ended up almost getting sued by her book publisher and owing back the $150,000 advance she’d already spent. Oops.

Her “creativity workshop” promised attendees a homemade salad, a mini garden, a heartfelt letter and a photo wearing an ornate orchid crown. But what did they actually get? Their host asking them to bring their own lunch from home, a mason jar full of seeds and in lieu of the much-buzzed orchid crowns, a picture with a single flower clipped in their hair — that they didn’t even get to keep.

After a thread on Calloway’s workshop went viral, she apologized and canceled the rest of the tour. A day later, she changed her mind and said the tour was back on.

It’s difficult to not think about their scams in a larger context.  Let’s be real, this is a white phenomenon. a Black woman wouldn’t get the  chance to screw up so publicly and still have folks giving her money. The “oh whoops, I’m just so scatterbrained!” act would not serve as a justification for missing the mark on what she promised she’d deliver. Unfettered access to to the money of deep pocketed investors or eager fans doesn’t come so easy when you’re a Black creative or entrepreneur.

Some of us could never even dream of opportunities that fell into McFarland and Calloway’s laps. To get those opportunities only to turn around and use it to grift others out of money is unthinkable. To do so while still enjoying the benefit of the doubt, like it was all some good-faith mistake, is unimaginable to many of us who are Black.

And while the face of a scammer might be a Nigerian prince to some, rich-seeming white people are the scammer MVPs. It’s time to accept the new face of the scam.