Whitewashed: White Americans Discuss Their 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-short 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. Very often during discussions about race between people of color and White people, things will disintegrate and melt into a sticky puddle of defensive excuses (via ‘I’m not like them‘ disclaimers that decontextualize the conversation), dismissive hand waving and demands that we ‘get over’it’ (although some long for its return), thinking discussions about race is reserved for people of color, silencing, and tone policing; which is why many people of color shut down and refuse to engage any further, because we feel as if our voices are being stifled, we aren’t truly being heard, the White person (or people) we’re conversing with isn’t really ready to deconstruct the topic of race as much as s/he just wants to prove how ‘anti-racist’ s/he is, and we feel as if our lived experiences navigating microaggressions are viewed as being trivial… note the many antagonistic blackface costumes that abounded this Halloween despite pre-Halloween pleas that White people have their costume fun sans anti-Black minstrelsy, and the collective annoyance at Black people’s disappointment and righteous indignation.

The quote that stood out to me the most was from the subject who admitted to being racist, and who likened the respect he offered to Black people as being akin to not mistreating an animal, 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, to disregard intersectionality within various social justice and present-day civil rights movements, to deny that racism still exists, to ignore the violence (mentally, emotionally, and physically) wrought by institutional racism, and to peddle post-racial propaganda.

The discomfiting feeling race discussions generally incite, comes from hearing things that are difficult to process and  many times, when uncensored, they come from folks who benefit from White privilege, when they’re allowed the space and time to talk freely. I believe those perspectives are equally as important, because White people can’t begin to try to help deconstruct racism and work towards resolving tensions and present themselves as genuine allies (a word I’m beginning to loathe) like many claim to want to do, until they unpack their privilege and say the words they loathe hearing out loud and identify the elephant in the room for what it is. When you call it out… White privilege… Racism… you can begin the work to dismantle it.

See Whitewashed in full, below.