'Whiteness Project' Talks White People Problems

by Kat George

It's hard to know what to make of PBS' "Whiteness Project", an interview series that asks white Americans to essentially talk about their experience with race, i.e., their whiteness. With documentary filmmaker Whitney Dow at the helm, the one minute interviews (you can watch the first 24, from Buffalo, New York, on the PBS site) mostly confirm what we already know to be true in our little psychoanalytical, hyper-critical, liberally educated niche of the Internet: that white racism is oblique and ingrained. On the stark white background against which subjects are interviewed, the nature of their comments is exposed. After all, these people are specking honestly, and most of them aren't even aware of the racist import of their perspectives. This, ultimately, is the biggest problem with institutionalized, prejudiced groupthink; a lack of self-awareness.

Dow aims to interview 1,000 Americans from all around the country, and so far, I think the results are stunning (although many are perturbed by the project). Most pertinently, I was moved by a woman named Kathie, who opens her interview by saying, "I don't think I've ever come across anything that has made me aware of my race. I'm an American before I am anybody else." Of course Kathie has never been made aware of her race, because she's white. Whiteness is an invisible identity to those inhabiting it by virtue of its bestowal of power. It's an incredibly cloistered identity in some ways, and Kathie doesn't know it, but she clarified exactly what it is about white privilege that is so sinister; by and large, it doesn't even know that it exists.

The "Whiteness Project" isn't satire. It's also not perpetuating some white racial agenda. It's an honest look at white Americans and the gaps in their perception of race. It's the opening up of a dialogue, of understanding why certain prejudices are so difficult to pinpoint (because often they're not even hateful or malicious), and how we can help bring racial empathy to a population of people for who many, race has never even been a consideration.

Image: The Whiteness Project