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Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible
February 23, 2013 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible is an interesting documentary that features the experiences of white women and men who have worked to gain insight into what it means to challenge notions of racism and white supremacy in the United States. [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5]

From the Youtube comments,
"It's funny, white people will go to such lengths to prove they are not racist, until they are asked to watch a video that forces them to see their race."
posted by Blasdelb (30 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

 
There is also a strange effect in the documentary that I think is worth unpacking, where much of it is indeed simply words from people of color filtered through white voices.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:28 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this. I haven't finished watching it yet, but it seems good/interesting so far and I probably wouldn't have found it on my own.

(and I'm a little bit weirded out by the crickets in here.)
posted by you must supply a verb at 2:59 PM on February 23, 2013


Yikes.

I have only watched the first segment, so I can't speak for the whole thing -- but still, yikes.

I don't know how to square this with my own experience yet or how to apologize for it, especially as a Canadian whose country is arguably behind the US in terms of facing its exploitative, racist past. What is the right response? Is there a right response? How do I work to minimize my ( white, male) privilege in a respectful and un patronizing way? How do I present the world to my young son so he finds it easier to do the same?
posted by Fraxas at 3:11 PM on February 23, 2013


"(and I'm a little bit weirded out by the crickets in here.)"

Seriously, I was just considering writing the whole thread myself with sockpuppets like this to help,
Blasdelb Who Wants To Make It All About Them
Blasdelb Who Tells The Same Irrelevant Story in Every Thread Tangentially Related To The Topic
Blasdelb Missing the Point Entirely
Inexplicably Racist Blasdelb
Derail Happy Blasdelb
[Blasdelb who thinks they're a mod]
and
Shouty Blasdelb

posted by Blasdelb at 3:14 PM on February 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


"Mirrors of Privilege: Making Self Hatred Visible" or, oikaphobia.
posted by TSOL at 3:18 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've watched the first part and am planning to watch more later.

I try to be aware of my own racism, but I worry that I'm obliviously being 'OH HI I'M NOT RACIST LET ME SHOW YOU MY RACISM WHILE EXPLAINING HOW NOT RACIST I AM' or something.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:26 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fraxas - I think that's a normal reaction, and I think talking about it is better than not talking about it, I suppose. Which is why I think these videos have value.

Also, re kids - the book Nurture Shock talks about how to handle perceptions of race in kids - I only caught a bit of it while flipping through the book at the store once, but here's a bit in the Daily Beast that talks about it. My interpretation/memory is something along the lines of a) better to discuss it than not, and b) hooboy, do white people *not* like talking about race.

I don't think people start off racist, but I don't think you can get too far in life without picking it up to some extent - no matter how small, no matter how much you want not to. And even if you're reallyreally anti-racist and make an effort not to be a dick, not to be ignorant, not to be a bigot in any way, it's astonishingly easy to accidentally hurt someone with words or actions, just totally unknowingly. Making it so that as a culture we become whole and racism becomes a rare exception is something that's going to require just a shit ton of work and talking and effort, I think. Like marriage counselling for all of us simultaneously. That's doable, right?
posted by you must supply a verb at 3:45 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting, Blasdelb.
posted by clockzero at 3:53 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


> What is the right response? Is there a right response? How do I work to minimize my ( white, male) privilege in a respectful and un patronizing way? How do I present the world to my young son so he finds it easier to do the same?

Fight for the powerless. Speak for the voiceless. Do your part every day to make the world a better place than it used to be. Make sure past mistakes don't continue to be repeated. And don't stop at skin color or nationality or the like.

In a more pragmatic sense, you must supply a verb has the right idea with everything at least beginning with discourse about the issues. We can't get over our alcoholism until we admit we have a problem.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 4:03 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


(and I'm a little bit weirded out by the crickets in here.)

I don't necessarily want to step on the crickets, but... lets examine the thread about Baltimore from yesterday. One of the links included this thow-away line:
DC is the hot blonde girl who waxes her­self nearly bald, went to Penn, and works in com­mu­ni­ca­tions for a pres­ti­gious non­profit. Bal­ti­more is the brunette who still plays D&D, argues about phi­los­o­phy on Red­dit, and has a taste for kink.
What's missing here? Both DC and Baltimore are majority black cities, they are both girls with nappy hair pulled tight and braided or straightened with a hot comb and sculpted into sharp waves. Metafilter's own Sonascope pops in to wax elegiacal about his childhood:
I am not, as it happens, a Baltimorean. My mother was, my grandmother was, and much of my family is, but I grew up in a log cabin under nineteen hundred year-old oaks across from a steer farm in the charmingly named Scaggsville, Maryland...
Now, why is he not a Baltimorean? Why are Baltimore and DC majority black cities? Because the white people left after the assassination of MLK and the resulting riots (and because the real gangsters at the banks and boardrooms were liquidating the industry that built Baltimore.) So, it's funny to be a tourist in Baltimore, after growing up there, and see rich young white people wander around the Whole Foods downtown past boutiques and hotels, like wolves reintroduced to Montana. Baltimore's apex predators return with their pups and then woof about it on the internet.

But having said that, these videos seem rife with the sort of toxic identity politics that was born in the collapse of SNCC. Because racism in the US has always been rooted in class warfare and no amount of soul-searching by anesthetized white people or awkward poses by stilted dance troupes is going to change the utter failure of the inner revolution to face the selling out of the working classes in the US over the last 50 years.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:07 PM on February 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


I skipped over bits here and there (long videos make me impatient), but I thought it did a good job capturing the nuances of racism as a systemic issue (as opposed to something that's not your problem because you don't personally hold racist beliefs). Having a lot of the talking heads be white people probably avoids some of the defensiveness these discussions can cause, too. I just wonder who's going to see it...it would be great if this could be condensed into a 20 minute video that kids in middle- or high-school could watch in a single class period with some time left over for discussion, without losing too much of the nuance. Of course, you'd also need a good teacher...and I'm not holding my breath for it to show up on the Texas school curriculum...

I'd agree with ennui.bz that class is also a huge problem in America -- but in Venn diagram terms, I think the two issues have a lot of overlap, but the racism circle is not contained inside the class circle.
posted by uosuaq at 4:27 PM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


but here's a bit in the Daily Beast that talks about it. My interpretation/memory is something along the lines of a) better to discuss it than not, and b) hooboy, do white people *not* like talking about race.

Thanks for the links, 'verb. I found a part where the authors seem to affirm the notion to discuss race, but it also seems to encourage silence on one side of the issue involving ethnic pride. As they imply, it seems that white children got the message a long time ago to never discuss race in terms of pride, and therefore not at all. On page five:

But if children heard these preparation-for-bias warnings often (rather than just occasionally), they were significantly less likely to connect their successes to effort, and much more likely to blame their failures on their teachers—whom they saw as biased against them.

Harris-Britt warns that frequent predictions of future discrimination ironically become as destructive as experiences of actual discrimination: "If you overfocus on those types of events, you give the children the message that the world is going to be hostile—you're just not valued and that's just the way the world is."

Preparation for bias is not, however, the only way minorities talk to their children about race. The other broad category of conversation, in Harris-Britt's analysis, is ethnic pride. From a very young age, minority children are coached to be proud of their ethnic history. She found that this was exceedingly good for children's self-confidence; in one study, black children who'd heard messages of ethnic pride were more engaged in school and more likely to attribute their success to their effort and ability.

That leads to the question that everyone wonders but rarely dares to ask. If "black pride" is good for African-American children, where does that leave white children? It's horrifying to imagine kids being "proud to be white." Yet many scholars argue that's exactly what children's brains are already computing. Just as minority children are aware that they belong to an ethnic group with less status and wealth, most white children naturally decipher that they belong to the race that has more power, wealth, and control in society; this provides security, if not confidence. So a pride message would not just be abhorrent—it'd be redundant.

posted by Brian B. at 4:37 PM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


What is the right response?

The right response to which kind of racism? Discrimination is everywhere, but it's not the same everywhere. In Canada, think about the very different problems faced by a first-generation immigrant from China growing up in Toronto, a black Nova Scotian descended from United Empire Loyalists and a Metis woman living in Winnipeg. Different problems call for different solutions.

The most dangerous aspect of privilege is blindness. Becoming aware of what is uniquely wrong with your local community is the first step toward anti-racism. Without that you're lumbering around in the dark, doing harm every time you try to make a helpful gesture.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:40 PM on February 23, 2013


in Venn diagram terms, I think the two issues have a lot of overlap, but the racism circle is not contained inside the class circle.

You are missing my point. They aren't separate domains, they are inextricably linked, knotted together.

Returning to Baltimore, if you look at where the prices of houses have gone up the most over the last 10 years, you find yourself in Hampden and Canton. Baltimore used to be a checkerboard of ethnic-white neighborhoods: Polish, Irish, Italian, Jewish, etc. If you grew up in Baltimore in the last 30 years you know both of these places as the some of the last hold-outs of the white working class in Baltimore after white-Baltimore abandoned ship following the riots.

So, you could say: well, obviously, racism is driving gentrification in Baltimore. If only all those white home buyers, eager to move back to the city to be a part of urban culture, could watch these videos and see, despite their best intentions, the racism at the heart of their home investments. Good luck with that.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:55 PM on February 23, 2013


> I'd agree with ennui.bz that class is also a huge problem in America -- but in Venn diagram terms, I think the two issues have a lot of overlap, but the racism circle is not contained inside the class circle.

It seems more like there's a system that exploits everyone equally as a function of class, and racism is used as a distraction from this exploitation as well as a physical barrier to the inner circles of power who make sure the Class Exploitation System keeps running and the Show Must Go On.

Who knows what that looks like on a Venn Diagram. It's probably more of a downward spiral. The point is that there is a clear interaction between these two -isms that feed off of each other. Probably one of the most important definitional aspects of racism is that it is institutional rather than individual, so I'm just glad whenever the systemic effects on our everyday lives are highlighted like this.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 4:57 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno, posting what's more or less an hour-long video and then complaining that no one has commented 2.5 hours later....

On the other hand, I get the frustration, and I like the videos -- as much as I have watched. It's kind of like the necessity of men pointing out that fighting sexism isn't just an issue of "fairness for women," that sexist environment hurts men all the time as well. Similarly, I (liked is not quite the right word) these white people explaining the wounds that racism had done to them (while remaining aware that it had hurt their loved ones more). So I see this "whites speaking to whites" as similar to "men speaking to men."

And yeah, race and class (and gender and sexual identity) are all intertwined, but sometimes it's worth trying to look at race on its own.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:02 PM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I teach a class to future elementary school teachers. Most of my students are white, and not one of them considers him- or her-self racist, even though most of them have grown up in the deep south. .I look for ways to help them see just how deeply rooted racism is, and how important it is, as future teachers, for them to analyze it in their own lives, confront it in their own thinking, so that they can teach all of their future young students more equitably.

I plan to show them parts of this, thanks for posting it.
posted by mareli at 5:11 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


(me) I think the two issues have a lot of overlap, but the racism circle is not contained inside the class circle.

(ennui.bz) You are missing my point. They aren't separate domains, they are inextricably linked, knotted together.


This is where I start to feel like you barely read what I wrote. You're quite right to be up in arms about the class problems in America, but this isn't that thread. I don't want to get into a pointless argument about it, though.
posted by uosuaq at 5:16 PM on February 23, 2013




This is where I start to feel like you barely read what I wrote. You're quite right to be up in arms about the class problems in America, but this isn't that thread.
uosuaq



Contextualizing race within the class system isn't just about saying, "hey white people have it bad as well." The idea is to connect race to a broader discussion of our relationship to the government and economy. Legal and social equality still wouldn't necessary provide social/economic mobility, and without that key ingredient people that have been historically marginalized will remain marginalized in the future.

Tying discussions of gender and race to class and politics doesn't have to deprive them of their significance. It's meant to be a way to understand them in a broader political context, it's providing tools and mechanisms for continued social liberation rather than using difference to further marginalize and isolate already marginalized groups.

I'm not trying to shove that narrative down anyone's throat, but I think that it's important to understand that discussions of politics are relevant to the plight of marginalized groups. You can disagree, but suggesting that they don't belong in the thread is a bit much.

Instead of thinking of class as an interest group, think of it as a way of understanding our relationship to power. In that context it's horribly relevant to all marginalized people.
posted by Stagger Lee at 6:12 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I try to be aware of my own racism, but I worry that I'm obliviously being 'OH HI I'M NOT RACIST LET ME SHOW YOU MY RACISM WHILE EXPLAINING HOW NOT RACIST I AM' or something.

I know exactly what you mean here and it led me to one of my big personal realizations which is that what was (hopefully) the most racist thing about me was my unwillingness to talk about race. As a white person, I can totally just not have that discussion and it doesn't hurt me. In fact, having any conversation about race is a risk because I might get called a racist and I might be made uncomfortable so I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by just not talking about race or participating in those discussions. Now I try to make sure I actually have those conversations whenever they arise and if I'm with other white people I try to push them to have conversations about race as well. It still makes me kind of nervous and I'm still afraid someone will call me a racist or that I'll say something stupid or hurtful but at least I know I'm not being racist by simply refusing to talk about it at all. If we never discuss anything, it's never going to get better.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:21 PM on February 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


I watched the whole thing and found it really pretty interesting. Some of the stories, like the man who blew up at his black 12 year old student, were really unexpected and surprisingly detailed and introspective. It really lifted it beyond, "yeah I've seen some tough things, I get it" to "I've been part of this, and it hurts me."

I sometimes get really grumpy and disillusioned about liberal discussions about racism as it comes up currently in real life and the internet though. It seems like most discussions center around white = wealthy and privileged, not white = poor and frequently hassled by police, but as an Indian American woman that isn't even slightly my experience. Yet a very liberal white friend recently made an offhand comment to me that maybe this one guy was flirting with me even though he had a girlfriend because my dark hair and skin made me seem "mysterious and dangerously sexual." The what? It sort of came out nowhere and was really startling.

I've had people tell me they don't "count me" as a minority, I suppose because they think of minorities as only black people and some Hispanics? Or they only consider it to be about economics? I don't know. I guess it's on me to challenge those assumptions, but I feel like a lot of white liberal people really think of prejudice as this academic thing and not something they need to think about in real terms. Like they can talk about the injustices in the prison system, but then complain about the bad manners of the "other" residents in a building they're "gentrifying."

In general, I think of privilege as very layered and constantly overlapping and evolving issue. As a woman I don't have as much privilege as a man. As a certain type of minority I have more privilege than another type. As an able bodied person, I have more privilege than a disabled person. I don't have identical issues with racism as every single other nonwhite person, and I'm not living in some horrible racist hellscape every day. But it does touch me in certain ways very often, in much more subtle ways than being stopped by police, followed around a store, or inappropriately asked for verification of my citizenship.
posted by sweetkid at 6:50 PM on February 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


There certainly are connections between racism and classism, but there is very great risk of a discussion about race being hijacked into a discussion about class -- white leftists are rather notorious for derailing discussion of race into discussions of class. So it is something to be very cautious about doing, especially of you feel the urge to claim that there really isn't a race problem in America, but it is instead an issue of class. America has a class problem, but also a race problem, and when we are discussing race, class can augment that discussion, but shouldn't take over the discussion.

From 10 Conversations On Racism I’m Sick Of Having With White People:

Yes, these two often intersect, yes they often overlap. But racism and classism are two distinct issues. If it was simply about wealth and class, then Henry Louis Gates, a world renowned Harvard professor wouldn’t have been racially profiled and arrested by the police for entering his own home nor would there have been a coverup over the police report.

From “It’s not about race. It’s about class.”

To decontextualize the historical and present-day reality as if race hasn’t always and still happens to put an astericks (*) on the “class” experience of African-Americans regardless of the size of their bank account is an amazing trick.

From "Conversations On Race (Updated)"

“It’s not about race. It’s about class.” Although racism and class do intersect, they also differ. In conversations about race, people will often deviate the topic into the subject of class disparities and make it seem that class-ism is the more important problem as oppose to racism. While it is an important issue, that is not what’s at the forefront when talking about racism. Racism includes economic policies that greatly effect POC. Those policies help widen the gap between the wealth whites and blacks have creating a perpetual underclass within black communities nationwide. This includes the troubling fact that a black person with no criminal record is least likely to get hired as opposed to a white person with a criminal record. In other words race is STILL a major factor.

From Something You Should Read: Joel Olson Keeps On Winning With His Essay "Whiteness and the 99%"

As is my habit, some questions in the interest of sharing:
For those on the front lines of the OWS movement, are Olson's suggestions being heeded? Would they be met with a positive response? Is OWS actively interrogating white privilege?
Or are the knee jerk, "it's about class and not race" ideologues, limiting the conversation, and enforcing their own version of political correctness which marginalizes the broader interests and concerns of black and brown people?

posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:32 PM on February 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Okay, I watched about five minutes of the first one, so maybe I'm not giving it enough of a shot.

But, (and I say this as a white, straight, American male), I got turned off right away because it's all just white people talking. I know how white people think. I know what the white experience is. And you know what, I bet most white and non-white folks also know very, very well what the white experience is because that is the story which is ever-present in the U.S.

So, the first thing I had to ask myself was, who is the audience for this? What is the point of making this? I already know white people are guilty and contrite, except when they are unabashedly racist and ignorant. Bo-ring.

People are always asking, "then what do I do, what do I say? Hope me people of color!" Well, I'm white but I'll be bold here and say that what white folks need to do first and foremost is just shut up and listen to non-white folks more. Go and listen more, read more, watch movies and TV and other stuff that was made by non-white people and addresses issues from a non-white perspective. Absorb a lot of it. Just let it soak in.

This is also a huge issue in discussions relating to sexism: the privileged group wants to talk about their feelings ("but I'M a nice guy who would NEVER rape anyone why are you persecuting me?") when really the simplest, first thing you can do as someone with privilege is just shut up and listen. If you shut up and listen long enough, then it'll be quite easy to understand what the next thing you should do is: someone will tell you.
posted by dubitable at 11:57 PM on February 23, 2013


Bunny, I still think a point is being overlooked here. "Working class" doesn't mean poor white people, and class analysis isn't the struggle of poor people, it's a relationship to power.

Suggesting that race can be contextualized within a class analysis is probably the least patrimonial and condescending way that white people can interact with discussions of racism, it's providing people with the tools they need to liberate themselves, rather than trying to step in and do it for them.

Class struggle in America was founded by groups of immigrant workers. It is very much a tool of the repressed minority. Trying to suggest that it's the hobby horse of a white people is ludicrous. Class is a way of understanding relationships to power, one that has frequently been understood in the context of race struggle.

I don't think anyone hear has actually suggested that race isn't a problem, or tried to use the class issue to silence anyone, so those accusations sound really unfair and unfounded to me. Play nice.
posted by Stagger Lee at 6:25 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Maybe we can set aside class for now, since this post is about race?]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:24 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've had people tell me they don't "count me" as a minority, I suppose because they think of minorities as only black people and some Hispanics?

There is definitely a train of thought in the US that goes diversity = race and race = African-American. Which is kind of natural, as that is the most visible issue to the casual observer, but it gets kind of exhausting when a huge number of diversity conversations stop there.

But, (and I say this as a white, straight, American male), I got turned off right away because it's all just white people talking. I know how white people think. I know what the white experience is. And you know what, I bet most white and non-white folks also know very, very well what the white experience is because that is the story which is ever-present in the U.S.

Huh, this wasn't what I found at all. I mean, yes, it was about white people, but it seemed to me to be about how these particular white people found themselves trapped and injured by racism. And (I think) it was directed at white people, who might otherwise say "racism isn't an issue for me, so I can ignore it." But here you have a bunch of nice white Midwestern people saying "my life was damaged by racism; it's not just an issue for others, it's right here, right now." Which is worth doing. I didn't get a sense that this was "white people telling the racially disadvantage that the white people feel their pain." These white people were expressing their own pain. I dunno; maybe I am wrong.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:36 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some of my best friends are white!
posted by michaelh at 6:53 PM on February 24, 2013


Bookmarked to watch soon! But people interested in "making whiteness visible" might be interested in the #WhiteHistoryClasses trend on twitter.
posted by salvia at 11:21 PM on February 24, 2013


That leads to the question that everyone wonders but rarely dares to ask. If "black pride" is good for African-American children, where does that leave white children? It's horrifying to imagine kids being "proud to be white."

Maybe instead of pride in skin color, it might make more sense to support pride in ethnicity? Like, sure, "white pride" has a lot of awful, but nobody has a problem with "Irish pride" or "Greek pride" or "Italian pride." Or for that matter, uniquely American stuff, like "frontier pride."
posted by corb at 6:49 AM on February 25, 2013


I'm reminded of Wendell Berry's The Hidden Wound.
In this beautifully written book-length essay, Berry explores the "hidden wound" of racism and its pernicious effects on white people in America. Rigorous, honest, and deeply felt, "The Hidden Wound" is essential reading for anyone hoping to understand the problem of race in this country.
posted by you must supply a verb at 6:27 AM on February 26, 2013


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