Whiteness—as a race? Ultimately, it seems that the only defining aspect of whiteness in the Americas is a long history of colonization and appropriation of other cultures. So what more could white people want? Apparently, a space to explore their “race,” according to the founder of the Whiteness Project, Whitney Dow.
The name itself is enough to make me cringe, but the project’s artist statement (yes, you read that right) is on an entirely new level of cringe-worthiness. I am not a person of color, but a white woman who cringes at the name, because I do not believe that whiteness is a “race” to be explored nor am I a person who will ever experience racism because of my privilege, fueled through centuries of power structures and oppression. So, I stumble across this project and wonder why anyone would think that we need another declaration to white America, giving white Americans yet another platform to insert their whiteness unjustifiably.
[bctt tweet=”I wonder why anyone would think that we need another declaration to white America.” username=”wearethetempest”]
In October 2014, the project released its first installment, Inside the White/Caucasian Box, a featured 21 interviews from residents of Buffalo, New York. The second installment, Intersection of I, released in April, spotlights specifically white millennials in Dallas, Texas. The project consists entirely of short, interview-form videos, each of which show a millennial behind an all-too-appropriate white background. The interviewees share their thoughts on race and how they experience their own whiteness.
[bctt tweet=”Time to raise awareness of the reality of systemic racism in order to work towards fixing it.” username=”wearethetempest”]
There’s Makenna, who starts off, “I don’t see color. Well, I mean I do when I have to describe somebody.” Then Bryan, who says, “It doesn’t seem that there are as many whites who are out doing crimes and murdering and causing trouble.” Eric says, “Everybody thinks I’m a Nazi,” rejecting the fact that “being white immediately makes me a racist.” Coming across the site the first time, I was baffled. It wasn’t even what people were saying, because Trump has said worse, and he’s running for president, but the fact that this strange, well developed website existed entirely to display these voices. Its “About” and “Artistic Statement” sections state that because white people feel outside of the racial paradigm, it makes it harder for them to empathize with people of color and their experiences. But its hope? That the project “opens conduits to understanding that ultimately help to advance a culture of true equality.”
The interviews from these millennials promote an awareness of the implicit and explicit racism that exists. It does show the racism that is very much alive but the media bushes over in claims of a post-racial U.S. with Obama’s presidency. And yes, it is crucially important to raise awareness of the reality of systemic racism in order to work towards fixing it, but in many ways the project is not doing that. Rather than educating or calling these people in to check their privilege and their perspectives, the videos just stop. Following their interview, a statistic pauses on the screen. While Sadie claims that her chances of getting into college or receiving scholarships are lowered due to affirmative action, the statistic after reads: “62% of the students at public colleges are white. They receive 72% of all merit based scholarships.” Others are more “positive,” such as the one after Nicholas‘s interview: “78% of millennials say that everyone has a responsibility to help tackle bias.”
[bctt tweet=”It is providing a space for white people to wallow in guilt or confusion.” username=”wearethetempest”]
An awareness of the multiple problematic and racist perspectives of white people is needed, and there is no question about that. However, the Whiteness Project is not sufficiently adding to that conversation. Rather, it is providing a space for white people to wallow in guilt or confusion, fuel anger or ignorance. And there are no consequences—for them. The project is a testimony to white American culture, something that the internet no longer has a place for. Whiteness Project, as it attempts to create a space for whites inside the racial paradigm, is uncalled for, unwanted, and unnecessary. White people have, for centuries, asserted their voice over others, dominated all facets of life, while actively excluding others. The very fact that people are willing to produce this project and be seen in these videos shows exactly how far from this “post-racial society” we truly are.
[bctt tweet=”Racism, in all forms, must always be exposed, but that is not when it stops.” username=”wearethetempest”]
While the founder claims that he is speaking the truth through his project, he is speaking his own personal truth which the internet no longer has space for. Racism, in all forms, must always be exposed, but that is not when it stops. It is a continuous process of learning and loving and growing and messing up — a lot. But what it isn’t is putting people on a pedestal to preach their ignorance followed by a statistic, that’s a continuation of white supremacy.