Filmmaker Whitney Dow doesn’t think many white people reflect on what it actually means to be a white person in America today.
Through his web series, aptly titled, “The Whiteness Project,” Dow, a white man, encourages other white people to interrogate their own whiteness in order to come to terms with how their privilege affects the people around them.
The project first debuted in 2014 and featured middle-aged white people in Buffalo, New York. In the latest installment of his series, titled “Intersection of I,” Dow skewed younger and spoke with 24 white millennials in Dallas, Texas who opened up, on camera, about how they perceive their racial identity in a world where whiteness still dominates.
Dow observed that many of the subjects in his series don't understand their relationship to structural racism in America.
He's gathered that white people have a hard time admitting or acknowledging that this country was founded on both white and gender supremacy -- that still have very real implications to this day -- because of their own guilt.
“There is so much fear and so much confusion with white people about their role in how structural racism is perpetuated," Dow told The Huffington Post. "That is a very, very scary door to open. White people aren’t clear what they’re going to find on the other side.”
For the series, which was released online last week, Dow interviewed white millennials between the ages of 15 to 27 who might be oppressed in some way because of another part of their identity. “I wanted to see how whiteness played out in [young] people who may be multiracial or biracial or transgender or gay,” Dow said. “The idea is that all identity is an equation … [it’s the] intersection of all of the different ways you think you think about yourself and how the world processes it."
Dow held candid conversations with each participant in discussions he taped during the summer of 2015 -- a time when racial tensions in America were high because of the blistering number of police killings of black men and women making headlines.
“I think white people are desperate to participate in this conversation and they have never known how." Whitney Dow
In each interview, Dow asked people what they think about their own whiteness and how their identity impacts the world today. Their responses ran the gamut and included both unsettling and enlightening reflections.
“I have to a hide who I am,” admitted Nick, an 18-year-old student who said he always identifies as white despite having a Mexican mother.
Then there's Chaney, an 18-year-old who doesn't think she is personally responsible for racial issues that stem from slavery. "I didn't do anything to you guys so step off," she told Dow in one segment. "You can't get things for people who are dead. It's all in the past."
“I’m nonbinary, neither male or a female, and I’m pansexual and on the a-romantic spectrum,” said 15-year-old Hadley, whose own relationship and understanding of white privilege is one of the more nuanced reflections in the series.
Most often, discussions about race are dominated by minority voices, with good reason. But Dow thinks it's now more important than ever to engage white people in the conversation. Racial tensions are on the rise as we're watching legions of white supremacists openly embracing Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric and run for presidency.
“I think white people are desperate to participate in this conversation and they have never known how,” Dow said. “They don’t know how to participate in this conversation and participate in real change.”
Ultimately, Dow wanted to encourage both white participants in the video, and its viewers, to engage in exercises on self-reflection and examine the ways they interact with their whiteness.
“Hopefully having white people talking about race openly and honestly will give other white people an opportunity to really think honestly about their own views and feelings,” Dow said.
“Until you bring white people into the conversation about race, understanding that their race is an active, dynamic component of their life,” he added, “I don’t believe you will make any significant advances in changing the racial dynamics in this country.”