I heard about this a while back but NPR just did a story so I thought I'd bring it up. [UPDATE] I realize someone already posted about this - didn't scroll back far enough - but here are my white opinions about it, haha.
The Whiteness Project, by filmmaker Whitney Dow, is a collection of interviews of white people (so far, just in Buffalo, NY), who are asked to discuss, essentially, the meaning of "whiteness." I watched a couple and they annoyed me - mostly for predictable misunderstanding of privilege in general.
[A student asking him about his white identity] made Dow wonder whether white people might examine their racial identity more if they had a jumping off point and a safe place to speak. He put out a call for interested white folks in Buffalo to talk about whiteness on tape. He worked with an all-white crew, and recorded without listing names in the hope this would encourage his subjects to be frank.
Dow felt that these testimonies show "a real anxiety about the rapidly shifting demographics in this country."
I think the artist has his heart in the right place, and I think he is doing this on purpose - trying to highlight those statements. The reason I feel this way is:
Whitney Dow says The Whiteness Project is a first step for white people to begin to think about how race is linked to privilege — and to consider what they may have in common with the people in the videos. "I think it would be interesting for people to look at it and examine why perhaps some of those things that they may even agree with or wrestle with, why it makes them so uncomfortable," he says.
However, I have a few stray thoughts and criticisms:
- FIRST AND FOREMOST: We have no shortage of white opinions. White people haven't been silenced about race, or don't feel safe speaking about their thoughts. Perhaps in a conversation with a lot of POCs, a white person might be a little gun-shy (as we should be), but by-and-by the outlets for our opinions (and the respect for them) is plentiful. The choice to have an all-white crew so that interviewees are candid was a smart one, though (especially because these are filmed and distributed - not hidden away for only white eyes).
- I believe the reason there is little thought given to white identity is that white people, viewed as "default" by ourselves, don't necessarily feel solidarity with other whites. I feel diverse; I don't have much in common with a lot of white people, and I benefit from this. Is this exercise meaning to categorize whites like whites have categorized others? I don't know. That way of turning it might be valuable.
- I am worried this will fall on deaf ears; whites who are well-versed on privilege will disagree with these people, whereas white people who agree with the misconceptions about privilege and race will just agree. These might be the I-didn't-realize-I-am-being-a-racist crowd, and we all know that's a tough shell to crack. Is validating their misconceptions the right way to go? Where are voices of color in this conversation? Because white people saying things you already feel doesn't exactly force you to do any tough self-reflection.
- I don't understand how to achieve the end goal. A catalog of people saying things that you and I and the filmmaker know are linked to race and privilege can't stand alone. Like Dow says, it would be nice if these videos would force us to look at our own relationships with race and privilege; but to someone who is blind to these things, they are not going to read between the lines in the videos. They can't just be presented in a vacuum without comment, if there is a point to get across. The echo chamber - white concerns, white opinions - already exists. These people's families agree; their friends agree. What is the value in filming this? Those who understand privilege might cringe and make fun of these; those who don't STILL won't.
For the record, I do think conversations about white identity could be useful. This project would be more helpful if it was a collection of people with different racial backgrounds, including white, speaking on their racial identities.