Race: Can I speak up if I’m white?
Yes. Not only can you speak up about race and racial inequality but as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis illustrate in their song featuring Jamila Woods, “your silence is a luxury.” A luxury and a privilege — more specifically, white privilege. If you haven’t yet, listen to their recent single “White Privilege II,” which was released earlier this year. A song that in 8:42 illuminates “a lot of opinions, a lot of confusion, a lot of resentment” and poses the question: “what are you willing to risk to create a more just society?”
There is a disconnect — a critical missing piece in the conversation about race — white people. Why more about white people? Some may argue that white people’s opinions are everywhere and the world doesn’t need to hear more from them but, as the Whiteness Project highlights in their two series of video interviews Intersection of I and Inside the White/Caucasian Box, white people aren’t used to talking about race, and particularly their own. As many interviews demonstrate, some white people rarely consider their own racial experiences and the role that whiteness plays and has played in the systems we all live within while others, that recognize their privilege, are left questioning what role they can and should have in creating equality.
“Should I even be here?” “Is it my place to give my two cents?” “Or should I stand on the side and shut my mouth?” — Macklemore sings.
It is an internal dialogue had by many. But as the artists call out: “It seems like we’re more concerned with being called racist than we actually are with racism.” That we are “aware of privilege and do nothing at all.”
Understanding this “White Fragility,” as Dr. Robin DiAngelo calls it — a shying away from race-based stress — which often results in silence or withdrawal, is critical.
So what is being done? And what can we do?
We can deconstruct white privilege and white supremacy, the system which protects that privilege and perpetuates a society of inequality.
Artists like Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Jamila Woods and Whiteness Project creator, Whitney Dow, are using their mediums — music and film — as tools to engage audiences and cultivate a conversation. A conversation that engages white people as well as people of color in order to raise awareness, build up the stamina against white fragility, and bring about a climate of change.
Now is not the time to be a passive viewer, to be offended by every little thing, to play it safe for fear of making a mistake, or to be silent.
Check out this round table discussion with Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Jamila Woods, Hollis Wong-Wear, and Dustin Washington with Colorlines’ Jay Smooth and interview with Whiteness Project creator Whitney Dow and AOL Build’s Ricky Camilleri to learn more about their initiatives, rationales behind them, and how to join the conversation.
“I don’t personally feel responsible for racism but I feel like, as a white person, it is almost a duty of mine to try and end it.” — Whiteness Project Participant Casey, age 18.
Take the conversation threads ignited by these artists and continue them in your own communities, with your family and friends, online and offline.
Naomi Ranz-Schleifer, MPH, is a film producer, writer, artist, and public health professional. She is a consultant on a variety of film projects, including the Whiteness Project, a program planner for a global public health film festival, and works with a number of non-profit organizations that focus on community engagement, education, behavior change, and the arts.