[guest post by Dana]
I love documentaries, both large and small. Over at the New York Times, there is an interesting section called Op-Docs. As you can guess from its name, it is a compilation of essays and short-documentaries about any number of subjects. I regularly check it out to see what interesting person they have profiled, or which controversial or everyday subject they’re covering.
Of course, it’s the New York Times we are talking about, so with some subjects, viewer beware. They have a point of view and aren’t afraid to use it.
In today’s op-docs, readers are asked – without batting a self-aware eye – why white people are so uncomfortable and uneasy talking about race:
Why do so many white people find it extremely uncomfortable to talk about race? Setting out to make the next installment of our Op-Doc video series about race in America, we hoped to address that question. Because we live in New York, where there is no shortage of opinions, we didn’t think it would be too hard to find white people willing to speak publicly on this topic. We were wrong.
The people we ultimately found to start the conversation on this fraught topic were uniformly well-meaning and in favor of equality. Certainly they didn’t consider themselves racists. Racism is something that is perpetrated by other people — the ones complaining about affirmative action, refusing to take down their Confederate flags and sharing racist jokes. But if so few people identify as racist, why are racial tensions so pervasive right now? Subtle racism is harder to confront.
It has become easier for white people to think about race through the superficial lens of thinking about other people, instead of themselves. Indeed, most of the people in this Op-Doc hadn’t given much thought to being white other than that it was obvious by the color of their skin. But when we dug a bit deeper, the discussion gets tense, and visibly uncomfortable.
With this Op-Doc video, we’ve attempted to lean into that discomfort and prompt some self-reflection. We are all part of this system, and therefore we all have a responsibility to work toward dismantling it. If we’re going to have an honest conversation about race in America, that includes thinking — and talking — about what it means to be white in America. It might be uncomfortable, but it’s a conversation that must involve all of us.
Here’s a wild thought, NYT: perhaps white people who don’t think too much about race or discuss it in general is because THEY ARE JUST TOO DAMN BUSY GETTING ON WITH THE JOB OF LOVING THEIR NEIGHBORS AND LIVING THEIR LIVES. Yes, you heard me. I just spouted off some seriously ignorant royal white privilege (which confuses my brown skin…). But sadly, the fact is that if you are white, you have no choice in the matter. By default (because we are a nation that judges by skin color), you embody the institutional racism pervasive in every aspect of America. Your behavior and actions mean little. Because white skin. Oh, white privilege have you no shame?! No one is allowed to get on with the job of living their lives until they first cry “uncle” and own it – all of it. Because those are the rules. Get used to it.
Moreover, it’s wearying and mind-boggling that journalists who spend their days profiling and filming people from all walks of life, both here at home and in the world-at-large, can be so blinkered that they have no absolutely clue why there might be some hesitation or reluctance to discuss race these days – particularly white people discussing it with the NYT. And given that public shaming and retaliation are becoming another new normal when one doesn’t see race through the required lens, the risk is often too great to have that conversation they keep nagging us about. You know, the conversation that only goes one way: admit you are white privileged
or and be labeled racist. Buy what they’re selling. Get it right. Diversity is quite literally only skin deep. And we’re the worse for it.
Take a moment to click over to the comments section and compare the top Reader’s Picks vs. NYT Pick’s. I bet you can guess where they stand.