Facing Whiteness Workshop

On Wednesday, March 1st, the fellows attended an interactive workshop with award-winning filmmaker, Whitney Dow. The discussion centered around what it means to be “white” and what the implications of this are.

Fellows, please comment on how this workshop impacted your views of race in general, and/or what it means to be “white.”

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2 thoughts on “Facing Whiteness Workshop

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  1. The workshop was not very crowded, and I would say just less than half of the group was white – which was interesting, seeing as the purpose was to engage those who identify as white in a conversation about race. It was discussed several times that white people do not like to feel uncomfortable or responsible for the societal imbalances and inequities regarding race, and that a program like this would not appeal to the white population because it would make them feel guilty. I believe that these conversations can make people feel uncomfortable, but embracing that vulnerability is the only way to make progress, and as Whitney Dow said during the workshop, engaging in these conversations will only serve to lessen any sense of guilt white people may be feeling.

    Another topic that one of the videos from “The Whiteness Project” brought up was the idea of identifying with multiple races. A woman identified as white, black and Hispanic, and was never quite accepted as white (despite being raised in a white community by her white mother). I am half Indian, and I could relate to this woman, but in the opposite sense. Some people tell me that I do not look or act like a ‘real’ Indian. I acknowledge that there is more to my background than just being Indian, and I am proud of the heritage on both sides of my family. But it hurts to be placed into a silo and told that you are not a member of a certain group, purely based on looks. Looks should not be a defining factor by which we judge others.

    One other point I would like to mention was the concept of being lucky to be white. A member of the audience shared that rich white landowners created this concept to ensure that poor white common folk did not take up arms with slaves and other minorities to gain land or power – thus constructing the idea that being white is a blessing and that individuals are lucky to be born white. This concept is so ingrained in society that it is hard to deconstruct, even though it was so easy to create and is so easily perpetuated.

    I could talk about this workshop and some of the points it brought up for hours. I thought it was great that both faculty and students attended and shared their opinions on the videos used in the project. One takeaway I would like to leave you with is that while others may hold a point of view that is offensive or seems too traditional and old school – that point of view may be shared by many others (as evidenced by the mobilization of white blue collar workers (who felt ignored by government or society or the media) in the last election). This means that we cannot discount those people from our discussions as they make up a good chunk of our communities and nation as a whole. It may be a challenge to reach and engage those people in meaningful dialogues that make a positive difference, but to me, it is always worth it to try. At the very least, have open and honest conversations with those who you are comfortable with. This is why “The Whiteness Project” is a great concept – allow white people to discuss race and similar topics in an environment that they are comfortable opening up in. We are not going to make progress if half of those we are trying to make change with are not being honest about how they feel.

    I HIGHLY recommend checking out some of the videos at http://whitenessproject.org/.

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  2. I have mixed views on this event. While having discussions surrounding race in America and the impacts of one’s race is both necessary and worthwhile. I believe it is imperative to separate this discussion from politics to ensure that it is conducted objectively. Rather than doing that, this discussion felt more like political propaganda than the stated purpose of the workshop.

    There is a double standard between how we discuss whites and minorities in this country. For example, it is not uncommon for someone to make the assertion that “white people” should feel responsible and apologize for the egregious violations of the human rights of African Americans through American history. I find this to be a truly disgusting and evil point to make. The idea that all “white people” need to be held accountable for this is absurd. If one’s ancestors fled the Holocaust during WWII, how can someone going to tell them that slavery is their fault. If one’s ancestors fled communism or fought in the Civil War or protested during the Civil Rights movement, are they still responsible? Even if one’s ancestor was a slave owner, are his descendants responsible? Is the child responsible for sins of the father? The willingness to make generalizations about white people ignores the reality that they each have their own individual stories, in the same way that generalizations regarding any other race, ethnicity, or religions do. I am no more responsible for what David Duke says or does than a Muslim is responsible for 9/11 or ISIS.

    Additionally, I take issue with the “statistics” presented in each video. For example, after one video a statistic appears asserting that “Black people are six times more likely to go to prison than white people.” This is meant to provoke and cast doubt on the entire judicial system. While the system is not perfect and there is perhaps a racial element at play, this is a gross misrepresentation of reality. A criminal is 10000 times more likely to go to jail than someone who never commits a crime. Are we discriminating against criminals?

    Next, there was a 17 year old high school student who took issue with the behavior of the few black students that were in his class, and effectively said that he does not like black people. I would never attempt to defend or excuse that statement, but it is important to acknowledge the circumstances surrounding it. This is a person who has been exposed to very little over the course of his life. Throughout one’s childhood there is minimal opportunity to expand your horizons and learn about the world, as you are confined by your hometown and school. I believed all kinds of silly things in high school, as I’m sure many others have as well. So, while his comment was grotesque and wrong, to label him a racist is an overreaction.

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