The Internet at the Speed of Thought

The Convoluted Message Behind the Whiteness Project

at 1:26 pm | By

The Silent Majority

Minorities and other marginalized, disenfranchised groups often remain repressed by the mere fact that they don’t have a voice with which to speak out against the imbalanced or unfair societies in which they live.

As we move slowly-but-hopefully-surely towards a more equal society that learns to embrace our similarities instead of focusing on our differences, these minorities are often overrepresented in order to maximize their opportunities and normalize their presence, making people realize that they do, indeed, exist. And yet simply by trying to balance the scales, members of the majority will always feel threatened.

In our society that tries its hardest to remain PC and not tread on anybody’s toes, you may constantly find yourself questioning if your words and actions are acceptable. One of the strangest effects that empathizing with the plight many minorities face in the United States is feeling the reverse guilt that people report simply for being white. This can lead to a misplaced victimization which is typically a reaction to a changing status quo, a shifting tide in race relations. But are the people who feel this alleged remorse even aware of the institutional racism of the system that has allowed them to rise to and remain at the top?

The Whiteness Project is a social experiment that set out to find out how the silent majority of American teens who identify as white feel about their skin color, and nobody’s quite sure what to think of it.

whitness project intro doesnt see color

Source: Facebook/ Let’s Talk: Whiteness Project

Should they be ashamed of their whiteness?

The Whiteness Project

whiteness project interracial friends

Source: Facebook/ Let’s Talk: Whiteness Project

You might feel that everything in America is whitewashed. From the characters in our movies and shows to our beauty standards and even the way we speak, whiteness—or the concept of it—has defined the American way for centuries. So how often do you hear white people discuss the struggle of being white?

It may seem like a joke, especially to those who have actually experienced discrimination due to their race, skin color, or heritage, but doesn’t everybody deserve the right to speak about the troubles they face with the skin they’re in?

The Whiteness Project set out as a platform to do just that.

An example of exploratory media, the Whiteness Project: Inside the White/ Caucasian Box was an interactive documentary created by Whitney Dow in 2014, the first part of a larger experiment consisting of hundreds of interviews with white people of different socioeconomic backgrounds from across the country who are asked about “their relationship to, and their understanding of their own whiteness.”

Does the idea of it make you cringe yet? According to the Project Creator, it shouldn’t. And yet, through the candid and often poorly thought out responses from many of the younger interviewees, we witness hardly any revelations at all, rather a series of misguided and ignorant case studies confirming the blind privilege that comes with growing up white and middle class in America. First and foremost among this privilege? “Othering,” that is, pitching each story as being “us vs. them,” even when the person being interviewed says they don’t see any differences between whites and nonwhites.

The Whiteness Problem

whiteness project slavery not a factor

Source: Facebook/ Let’s Talk: Whiteness Project

The intentions of The Whiteness Project may be good, shedding light on the omnipresent and oversaturated—yet largely unexplored—white experience in America, but when we focus on uplifting marginalized groups within society it’s because they deserve more opportunities and attention. That’s why some people are finding The Whiteness Project to be redundant, giving a voice to those who have always had the loudest voice of all. A privilege inherent to being white is not having to think about being white in the first place. In the eyes of those who disagree with the project, the very concept of providing white people with a platform to victimize themselves, atone their “race” for its misdoings, or flatly deny that racism is still a problem is, in and of itself, racist.

Yet on the contrary, where The Whiteness Project fails the most is in the very belief that “whiteness” can be categorized into a single, similar experience for the approximate 63% of Americans who identify as non-Hispanic white. The American experiment is not identical for every member of any racial grouping, least of all for white people.

As Arielle Newton brilliantly writes, “[W]hiteness is not a person, and it’s barely a people. Whiteness is a discriminatory system which functions to marginalize and oppress people of color. In a cultural sense, whiteness need not only encompass white people. Whiteness touches those who remain ignorant of dire racial realities [….] Whiteness has adapted to fit within a fictional post-racial framework, and exercises itself through a myriad of intangible instances.”

Whiteness is a fallacy; a false promise inherent to the American Dream that continually loses significance and grip even as more people try desperately to cling to it or identify with it.