If you saw an ad in the newspaper or online seeking individuals who are willing to be interviewed about "what it means to be a 'person of color' in America?" for a documentary or research project, would you participate?
If you saw an ad in the newspaper or online seeking individuals who are willing to be interviewed about their experiences as a "white" person in America for a documentary or research project, would you participate?
I can only answer the first prompt.
I would not participate in such an exercise because the feelings held by black and brown folks about our lived experiences with white supremacy are not a mystery. America's centuries-long racial project(s) are evidenced in the country's literature, music, art, history, popular culture, schools, politics, streets, geography, and almost every part of the country's fabric.
Denial of these obvious facts is itself an act of white supremacy. America is well beyond a point when white ignorance about the realities of white racism and white privilege are reasonable claims of racial innocence.
The "national conversation" on race--what is now circular and tired; it is noise signalling nothing--is a distraction from doing the necessary work of enforcing (and protecting) standing laws such as the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, fighting back against a herrenvolk and overtly racist Republican Party and its "Redemption" 2.0 Jim and Jane Crow dedicated Supreme Court, and dealing with the gross material and economic inequalities along the color line. Group therapy sessions about the realities of the color line are a state of permanent diagnosis. This is counter-productive: the problem and its causes are known.
Nevertheless, the well-intentioned purveyors of the snake oil known as "the national conversation on race" continue to sell their tired wares to an increasingly exhausted public.
PBS's new online project "The Whiteness Project" is intended by its creator Whitney Dow to explore how:
'Most people take for granted that there is a “white” race in America, but rarely is the concept of whiteness itself investigated.
'What does it mean to be a “white”? Can it be genetically defined? Is it a cultural construct? A state of mind?
'How does one come to be deemed “white” in America and what privileges does being perceived as white bestow?'It's premise is faulty. The feelings of white folks' about their own racial identities (as well as race and racism more broadly) are not a secret. American mass media, and the country's broader culture, are organized around legitimating, furthering, and sustaining the White Gaze and the white racial frame.
To understand Whiteness, one only has to open their eyes, turn on the TV, listen to the radio, walk to a bookstore, go online, talk to people, take the bus or train around one of America's segregated cities, visit a prison, drive on America's highways to the suburbs, go to formerly black and brown communities that are being "gentrified", be observant of who has what jobs in your cafeteria, talk to the black or brown women who work in home healthcare or as nurses, or pay attention to the thunderous white rage and disrespect that Barack Obama has received from many millions of white Americans and the Right-wing media hate machine.
As detailed by the Daily Mail and the Gothamist, The Whiteness Project's interviews are a parade of white grievance mongering--the white folks in the documentary are straight out of central casting under the headers "white", "angry", "racist", and "victim".
I would like to believe that the participants in The Whiteness Project are self-selecting--they are entitled white folks who (incorrectly) see their relative racial group position slipping in the world and have chosen The Whiteness Project as a venue to publicly act out like spoiled children.
But, public opinion and other data suggests that the sentiments and feelings expressed in The Whiteness Project are not at all uncommon. The Whiteness Project could simply be a personal demonstration of the aggregate data regarding white racial attitudes in the Age of Obama.
The Whiteness Project's participants are a perfect demonstration of the concept known as symbolic racism. I immediately give pause when human lived examples of social science theory are conjured up before my eyes. The performances of symbolic racism are so perfect in The Whiteness Project, thus, I fear, that they are in fact parodies of the truth.
Could it be that The Whiteness Project has been infiltrated by overt white supremacists? The White Right has been using cyber-racism and other strategies to disrupt, misdirect, and derail online (and other) conversations about white privilege and racism. They have also created an alternative media apparatus dedicated to circulating disinformation and furthering the white supremacist agenda.
Who knows? But again, I worry that claims of cyber racism, and an infiltration campaign by overt white supremacists against The Whiteness Project, are too easy answers as well.
Andy Kaufman was a master performance artist whose goal was to elicit a negative response from the audience. To that end, Kaufman would manipulate the viewer/audience into feeling angry and upset towards him.
PBS's The Whiteness Project is agitprop failed online theater. This was not the intent of its creator.
Alas, the temptation to share the white racial resentment and bigotry which lurks in "the backstage" of American life with a broader audience was too much for many of the participants in The Whiteness Project to resist.
The faces of white rage in The Whiteness Project are cringe inducing. The blinding Whiteness and racial resentment is a provocation to anger and rage for reasonable and thinking people.
Most importantly, their statements of white racial resentment are reminders of how institutional white supremacy works through the actions of individuals.
The racism political theater of The Whiteness Project is a cautionary performance--its faces of white rage and resentment are the doctors, teachers, police, politicians, bankers, real estate agents, neighbors, and others that black and brown people have to negotiate on a daily basis. They are human landmines--who in many instances quite literally possess the power to kill and limit the life chances of non-whites with impunity.
Black and brown folks are not paranoid or duplicitous when they share and describe their experiences with white racism. America is a society that is sick with white racism. Whitney Dow and The Whiteness Project have provided a lens into that (undeniable) fact.