Remembering Betty White (1922-2021)

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Kimi Matibag, Journalist

After a rough year, 2021 decided to hit the nail on the coffin (quite literally) with Betty White’s death. The beloved Golden Girls star, aged an incredible 99 years, passed away on December 31, 2021 in her Brentwood home in Los Angeles, California. The actress had suffered a stroke 6 days before her death and was 17 days away from her 100th birthday.


As news broke out, the world instantly mourned and many other actors and actresses paid tribute and respect to the late star via their social media pages. Popstar Miley Cyrus and comedian Pete Davidson even dedicated a toast to White in the last few minutes of 2021 on Cyrus’ TV segment, Miley’s New Year’s Eve Party.  


The actress made a memorable impact not only on the entertainment industry but also the world. Besides starring in multiple television classics and becoming a worldwide favorite to many, White also made a name for herself by taking a stand in several human rights issues as early as the controversial and discriminatory 1950s.


One of White’s most memorable controversies was that of the black tap dancer on her variety show The Betty White Show in 1954. Arthur Duncan, aged in his early 30s at the time and now 88, fell victim to harsh racist remarks and was demanded by many of White’s viewers to be removed from her show. It was during this same year that the Supreme Court finally deemed segregated schools unconstitutional and banned them nationwide: a decision that sparked tension and discontent among the anti-black public. The 50’s was a very divided time, and the simple presence of Duncan on White’s show was enough to throw people off the edge.


“People in the South resented me being on the show, and they wanted me thrown out, but there was never a question at all,” Duncan said in the 2018 documentary, Betty White: First Lady of Television.


“They were going to take our show off the air if we didn’t get rid of Arthur, because he was Black,” said White in the same doc. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, but, you know, he stays. Live with it.’” 


White’s bold decision was not accepted well by the public, which in turn took a toll on the sector of entertainment business that managed her segment. The Betty White Show suffered the consequences of its host’s beyond-her-time beliefs and got repeatedly rescheduled for later time slots before eventually being taken off the air completely. 


Despite the demise of her variety show, White showed no signs of regret throughout the rest of her years for the decision she made back in 1954. In fact, she reunited with Duncan during the premiere of NBC’s Little Big Shots in 2017, where they conversed and bantered like they used to back on The Betty White Show


“I credit Betty White for really getting me started in show business, in television,” Duncan expressed in the 2018 documentary


Regardless of the sour public sentiment based on race and skin color back then, Betty White stood her ground and fought for Arthur Duncan and his future, which ended up paying off, as he went on to become a nationally recognized tap dancer.


Besides fighting against racism, the late actress also put her foot down in support of the LGBTQ community. She acted alongside several LGBTQ characters on her hit show Golden Girls, showing support, love, and appreciation for the community. 


“Betty White understood the power of television to shape American culture and used it to bring light to issues and people that were misunderstood or vilified,” said Ruben Gonzales, executive director of LGBTQ Victory Institute.


Back in 2010, White told Parade Magazine, “If a couple has been together all that time – and there are gay relationships that are more solid than some heterosexual ones – I think it’s fine if they want to get married. I don’t know how people can get so anti-something. Mind your own business, take care of your affairs, and don’t worry about other people so much.”


3 years later in 2013, the progressive icon made an appearance at an awards ceremony held by the nonprofit LGBTQ-rights organization, GLAAD. There, she once again exhibited her strong support for marriage equality, more specifically same-sex marriage, expressing, “I just want to say to all the judgmental people out there: if two people in love want to get married, let ’em get married!”


She continued to be vocal about her stance on the subject, saying in her 2014 Larry King Live interview, “I don’t understand. It’s such personal, private business, and none of mine”.


Throughout her long 99 years of life on this earth, Betty White consistently proved herself to be a good, genuine, and loving person, fighting against the injustices against several marginal groups and solidifying herself as an inspirational role model for as many as 5 generations. She may have passed on, but her legacy, her impact, and her memory will continue to live on in glory for many more generations to come.