Coffee Rhetoric: Whitewashed: White Americans Reflect on White Privilege

November 03, 2013

Whitewashed: White Americans Reflect on White Privilege


"...To be white in this culture means to deny the reality of racism; it means to deny the privilege that we have as whites. Most people, who are Whites, don't want to accept that they are privileged, because they are." 
"People don't want to talk about being White because they know that at a deep level, even though some of them may not have talked about it with anybody or every expressed it, they do know that they get a benefit from being White." 
"... To me, it's about privilege. A lot of people get to walk around thinking that we live in a meritocracy, and thinking that their own hard work is the only thing that's responsible for their achievements. I think that it shapes everything." 
"I was taught that you respected Black folk, but not really as human beings, but more like cats, and dogs, and cows; you wouldn't mistreat a cat or a dog in my family, and you wouldn't mistreat a black person. I don't have any trouble admitting that I'm a racist; I think it's absurd to try to fight with that. I grew up in this society I was conditioned by, I think internally in my psyche I have grounded and rooted those attitudes and I see it in me all the time... I mean, I'm always dealing with it. I don't think that make me a bad person ... I just think it means I've been well indoctrinated." 
"... Like Malcolm X said: 'Racism is like a Cadillac; there's a new model every year'. Racism is a dynamic social construction, so it's always changing and it's always mutating. So people that say, 'well there's no racism anymore', they're referring to racism as it existed in 1950 or 1920 or 1910."  
Above is a collection of quotes from Whitewashed: Unmasking the World of Whites, a 2013 documentary by Mark Patrick George. Clocking in at just under 35 minutes this interesting featurette examines white privilege and racism via footage—(collected over the course of several years)—of several white Americans offering insight on what whiteness means to them and the situations that have prompted them to realize how institutional racism works to marginalize others, and work in their favor. 

According to the official website, Whitewashed is "intended to educate and spark dialogue both within and across racial groups." 

Many of the confessions in this documentary are stark and revelatory but not surprising. Very often during discussions about race, the conversation will devolve into a hailstorm of defensiveness and whitesplaining that decontextualizes and derails the conversation. There's also the frustration of dismissive hand waving and demands that Black people get over being marginalized and racially abused (notwithstanding that some white people have a disturbing sense of nostalgia for past trespasses). 
Add to those frustrations, the belief that any racism is a problem for Black and non-Black people of color to solve, tone deafness and tone policing, silencing tactics, and Black folks feeling as if they have to perform for the benefit of whiteness to the detriment of our own well-being and interests. These are a few of a myriad of reasons why many Black people shut down and refuse to further engage in racial discourse; often for our own self-care and because we come up against a wall of tone-deafness.
Because privilege is a helluva drug and ignorance is bliss, some white people aren't genuinely ready to deconstruct -- or even dismantle -- the topic of race and racism as much as they just want to center themselves during the discussion or demand ally cookies for recognizing the humanity and basic rights of others. However, the life-and-death experiences of Black people navigating racial micro-aggressions and state sanctioned violence isn't, and should never, be up for debate; and most Black folks are not keen on playing the role of the Magical Negro or Negress to placate fragile egos. 
The documentary quote that stood out to me the most was from the interviewee who admitted to being racist, and who likened the respect he extended to Black people as being akin to not mistreating an animal—basically, the bare minimum—as opposed to the deference he’d extend to another human being. That was the most evocative statement, because it was the most honest.

To be frank, more often than not, many White people don’t see the humanity of people of color despite protestations to the contrary, and this is what makes it easy for them to ignore oppression, disregard intersectionality within social justice and present-day civil rights movements, deny that racism persists, ignore the mental/physical/mental violence wrought by institutional racism, and to peddle colorblind propaganda.

I’m convinced that the discomfiting feeling race incites in some, comes from them having to hear things that are difficult to process and, many times, when uncensored, the denial comes from folks who benefit from white privilege when they’re allowed the space to talk freely. I believe those perspectives are equally as important, because white people can’t begin to try to help deconstruct racism, work towards helping resolve discontent and present themselves as genuine allies until they unpack their privilege and say the words they loathe hearing and saying out loud… racist, racism and privilege

When you feel comfortable enough to call a spade a spade, you can begin the work to dismantle the damage it does. 


See the documentary in full, below.