What The Whiteness Project Reveals About Race in the U.S.

Most Whites Believe Racism and White Privilege are Myths

A screen grab from The Whiteness Project, and online interactive set of video testimonials from white people about what it means to be white. Many have no idea how much privilege they hold.
A screen grab from The Whiteness Project website. The Whiteness Project

Racism does not exist. “White privilege” is a myth. In fact, racial minorities have more privileges than whites. Black people have no one to blame but themselves for their problems.

This is the story of race told by The Whiteness Project, a web-based series about what it means to be white in the U.S. today. The creators of the project hatched it in order to specifically address whiteness and the experiences of white people, because conversations about race in the U.S. tend to focus on people of color. The project brings white people and their voices to the forefront of the conversation.

The first installment of the project, released in 2014, features a series of video clips in which white people from Buffalo, New York address the camera. They talk about what it means to be white, the extent to which they are or are not conscious of their race, and what they think about the state of race relations and racism. What they say is revelatory.

A common theme among the testimonies is a sense of being victimized or punished for being white. A few participants describe feeling that they must censor themselves when topics of race arise in mixed race settings, or when the topic of conversation might be read as stereotypical by some (fried chicken and Kool-Aid, specifically). A couple said that they worry that people of color judge them for being white, and expect them to be racist.

Others speak more directly to a sense of victimization at the hands of racial minorities and the state as a result of Civil Rights legislation, Affirmative Action policies, and racial hiring quotas. One stated that racial minorities have more privileges today than do white people because of such policies, while another stated, “it’s the white race that is discriminated against today.”

Another and related core trend is the denial of white privilege. A few respondents explicitly state that they do not receive any privileges because they are white. One explained that she experiences the equivalent of racial profiling while shopping because she has purple hair, facial piercings, and visible and prominent tattoos on her chest and neck. Ironically, a couple of people express white privilege while claiming that it has not affected their lives by pointing to one key aspect of it: going through life without anyone “noticing” their race and never being aware of their own race.

The series ultimately amounts to a mass denial of racism on the part of white people, which is expressed in the sentiments described above, and in the widespread claim that people of color, and black people specifically, have no one to blame for their problems but themselves and their own communities. One pointed to the fact that three black women outscored him on an employment exam as proof that racism is a thing of the past, and that black people are on equal footing with whites.

Though a few respondents express some concern about racism in their professions and communities, the majority of these testimonials are quite troubling. For starters, the idea that white people are the victims of racial minorities is the height of absurdity. While some white people may, on occasion, not get a job they want in part because hiring practices account for race, this does not mean that white people as a whole are discriminated against when seeking employment. This is a very important distinction, as the latter is very much the case for people of color in the U.S. Further, people deny white privilege because they haven’t made an effort to see and understand the multitude of ways in which white skin makes them better off in a racially stratified society. (I won’t list them here, because I already did so here.) That itself is a manifestation of white privilege.

Finally, these testimonies are troubling because research shows clearly that black and Latino people are over-policed, over-arrested, and disproportionately sentenced as compared with whites (see Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow for a wealth of research on these topics); because statistics show that white people hold the vast majority of wealth and political power in the U.S (see Black Wealth/White Wealth by Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro for a deep discussion of the racialized wealth divide); because studies routinely show that people of color are discriminated against by potential employers and in educational contexts; and because I could list statistics like these for days. The clear reality is that the U.S. is a racially stratified society and that racism is deeply embedded within it.

The Whiteness Project reveals that it is currently impossible to meaningfully address racism in the U.S. because we still have to convince white people, the racial majority of the nation, that it is a problem.

If you are white and want to be a part of the solution and not the problem, a good place to start is to educate yourself about the history of racism in the U.S., and how that history is connected to racism today. Systemic Racism by sociologist Joe R. Feagin is a readable and well-researched book to start with.