When I heard of The Whiteness Project, I cringed.
The Whiteness Project is an exploratory media project in which individuals who identify as white speak about their racial identity. The brainchild of filmmaker Whitney Dow, and funded in part by PBS, The Whiteness Project sent social media into a whirlwind when the first round of interviews were released in October.
Racial identity and cross-racial dialogue are contentious elements in our social space. The fractured and brutal history of racism in America, has made racial conversations disturbingly shallow. Instead of talking systematic and institutionalized racism, mainstream society views racism through an uneven historical lens. The mainstream racial narrative is one of slavery and Jim Crow; of distant historical misfortunes that absolve the mainstream from present day and future responsibility.
As a collective, American society is unwilling or unable to connect historical racial underpinnings to today's segregated society, due primarily to a flawed educational system in which Black history is whitewashed. Our history -- our Black history -- is told as an epic battle of good versus evil, of right versus wrong, of us versus them, without contextualizing racial nuances, political realities, and cultural range.
In recent years, comprehensive resources examine the intricacies of race relations. Social scholars in the fields of academia, law, politics, journalism, business, and other disciplines, now have more insight into racial contexts. In 1989, Kimberlé William Crenshaw revolutionized race and feminist theory with her exploration into intersectionality -- or the various methods used to oppress and marginalize people based on a variety of socioeconomic markers. The dissection of intersectionality has been particularly helpful in understanding the depth of racism, and has enabled modern civil rights activists more comprehensiveness in our approach to racial justice.
Analysis about institutional racism has also gave way to more thorough direct action. Institutionalized racism gained renewed fervor in recent years thanks to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. While she was not the first to explore how massive legal and political systems work to disenfranchise, detain, and discriminate against people of color, Alexander's work reinvigorated action against the conglomerate criminal justice system. Alexander's work, written plainly, was graspable to the public at large; allowing those previously unfamiliar with racism and racial justice a reliable platform to get necessary information.
These recent gains in racial justice have translated into cultural change. Our vocal passion is found on social media and the blogosphere, thus creating a network of believers unafraid to denounce racist and prejudicial attitudes. Recently, we discredited that atrocious Alessandra Stanley piece that likened luminary Shonda Rhimes to an angry Black woman.
All of this is a long-awaited step in the right direction, and I fear that The Whiteness Project will unravel the precarious racial fabric that we are trying to weave.
Cross-racial dialogue is important, and there is benefit in understanding perspectives outside of one's own. But such perspectives must be buttressed by some semblance of intelligence. I fear this is not the case here. In watching the video, all I heard were tired tropes against minorities, selfish misplaced victimization, and unapologetic defenses of whiteness.
There was no examination of racial history. There was no conversation or pointed questions about recent racial controversy such as the tragic deaths of Mike Brown and John Crawford. Instead, there was a vapid shell of a racial conversation, one in which a white girl with aluminum cans in her hair for rollers, likened gays and Blacks as the same, and bemoaned the fact that she didn't know when it was appropriate to say fried chicken and Kool-Aid.
I've written previously that whiteness is not a person, and it's barely a people. Whiteness is a discriminatory system which functions to marginalize and oppress people of color. In a cultural sense, whiteness need not only encompass white people. Whiteness touches those who remain ignorant of dire racial realities. Historically, whiteness embodied vicious systems like colonialism and slavery. But more recently, whiteness is hidden within the airwaves of Fox News, the dance moves of Bobby Shmurda, and the opinions of Charles Barkley. Whiteness has adapted to fit within a fictional post-racial framework, and exercises itself through a myriad of intangible instances.
So when I hear of The Whiteness Project, I cringe because I see it as a vehicle to proffer ridiculous stereotypes about Black people and minorities. The participants all seem to embrace harmful stereotypes about minorities, while subjecting themselves to false victimhood. There are no racial epiphanies. There is no humility or remorse.
What's particularly cringe-worthy is how white participants define themselves not by who they are, but what they are not. This dynamic of "othering" those who are not them speaks to whiteness as a whole; the "otherness" of Black and Brown bodies makes it easier to hold and act on prejudicial and racist beliefs against those with dark skin.
The Whiteness Project is a terrifying emblem of race relations in America. The Whiteness Project shamelessly showcases how ignorance is deeply entrenched in our collective societal outlook. It warns us that those many years spent developing and implementing critical race theory in our socio-political landscape still has not trickled into individual racial consciousness, nor penetrated the collective white identity.