How Much Whiteness Is Actually In “The Whiteness Project”?

October 21, 2014  |  

If you haven’t heard yet, PBS has partnered with filmmaker Whitney Dow for a comprehensive film study called the Whiteness Project: Inside the White Caucasian Box. The investigative documentary seeks to answer one of the most important questions of our time: What the hell is up with white folks?

Well, actually, NY Mag writes that the project, which is still in the production phase, is more of an exploration into how white people relate to their race. As the filmmaker tells the the magazine:

One thing I want people to really understand is this is a project 18 years in the making. Its genesis was really [in] 2003, in the course of making Two Towns of Jasper. [Ed. Note: Dow has been working on race-related documentaries for 18 years, but released Two Towns of Jasper with his partner Marco Williams in 2002.] We did a lot of university talks around the film. During one of these talks, I had what I would term a racial epiphany. I was being interviewed by some seventh-graders in front of this audience at a fund-raiser, and I was asked what I learned about my racial identity working with my partner Marco Williams. I said, “I have no racial identity,” but at the same time, I was having the feeling that I had the most powerful racial identity in America. I hadn’t really thought about it, or I had thought about it but I didn’t really understand it, and it was like getting X-ray glasses all of the sudden, realizing how my race impacted every moment of every day. And at that point, I said, “Well, if I can create something that could give other white people that same experience, I could be doing something valuable.”

Well, that sounds interesting enough. Dow also has some words for those who have taken issue with the project thus far:

I expected some reactions, but the level of the anger really caught me off guard because the reaction when I was trying to get it funded was more of, Meh, this doesn’t really have any value. The level of reaction I got [online] was, This is outrageous, what you’re doing. My response to it is: What is outrageous about speaking the truth? The one video about the woman talking about the woman being afraid of black men and the statistics saying 40 percent of whites think black men are inherently violent: It’s a real fact. It’s an uncomfortable fact; it’s a strange, terrible fact; but why is saying that out loud so outrageous? I think that my goal is to get white people to sort of confront the disconnect between how they experience the world and the reality of the place they hold in the world. So far, I think it’s done a good job of creating these conversations. I realize that when you come in as a white belt in Twitter jujitsu and you’re facing black belts, you’re going down hard. The people who have serious Twitter skills — I’m not able to compete.

I actually have no qualms with a project centered on exploring the ins and outs of whiteness. SO much has been explored, written and performed already on blackness, including the eyeroll-inducing “Black in America” series, it makes total sense that “whiteness” would be given an equal opportunity to be prodded and picked apart under a microscope.

Plus, what is whiteness anyway? Who created it and how was it created? And what makes it so special that its entry is policed and guarded as much as it is? White people not only need to talk about their whiteness, but black people (and all oppressed people of color) need to study it as well. If not for more insight into how we (as in black people) came to be, but also to learn how to dismantle it and white supremacy once and for all.

If done correctly, this project has the potential to be an actualized version of the 1992 Austrian mockumentary Kayonga Kagame Shows Us The World, which, by the way, is an entertaining spoof about an African television news crew who go to Austria to document the strange behavior of the “natives.” But thus far, much of the early interviews for the Whiteness Project, which are available for viewing on the site, don’t do much in the way of insight at all when it comes to whiteness. Instead, we are treated to clip after clip of white people talking about black people.

More specifically, white people from Buffalo, New York, who act as the case study for this project. One man in a faded red Budweiser hat tells us how he feels it’s the white race that is really being discriminated against by other minorities in this country because of affirmative action. A woman with Coke cans in her hair explains how she feels like she has to walk around on eggshells because she can’t make jokes about fried chicken. Another woman with a ring through her nose speaks very positively about white pride and about how more white people need to celebrate whiteness, and so on and so forth…

The interviews would be uncomfortable if not for the commonality of many thoughts being expressed. It’s not uncomfortable for the minorities viewing it just as much as it is not uncomfortable for the white people saying it. Without seeing a single clip, many minorities, particularly black folks, can recite these sentiments line and verse. We know how white people feel about us. We see it on television and in the news. We see it in our school books and in the pinkish faces of those in authority. It’s in every facet of life here in this country. We already know what white pride is – even if they don’t know how to express it. Therefore, I’m not really sure how white people telling us how they feel about us helps them to start thinking more about what makes them white.

But you know what will? A couple of questions about serial killers and mass murderers. More specifically, why are most mass shooters privileged white men? And why have these mass shootings, mostly committed by white people, tripled since 2011? Is it white privileged sociopaths? Or perhaps deep-seated insecurities? Maybe white people are genetically engineered and prone towards mass acts of violence against people?

But of course, I don’t believe that. However, most explorations into blackness often require individual people to account for individual acts of dysfunction, which have no cultural significance other than the fact that it was a crime committed by someone else of the same skin tone. Through these paradigms, we force minorities to develop bonds, create ideas, principals and rules, defend and explain “ourselves.” As such, if we are to ever get white folks to truly see themselves as a racialist group – or like any other racial group in this country for that matter – than we kind of have to make people feel uncomfortable in their own skin too.

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