General Assembly 2009 Event 2045
Moderated by Ken Wagner, Treasurer and Stewardship Coordinator of ARE.
Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible was the featured film for this session, the first of three nights of a film discussion series sponsored by Unitarian Universalist Allies for Racial Equity (ARE).
The film is the latest release of World Trust Educational Services and was produced and directed by Dr. Shakti Butler. Butler is a multiracial African American woman (African, Arawak Indian, and Russian-Jewish), described by World Trust as “a creative and visionary bridge builder who has challenged and inspired learning for over twenty-one years.”
“Mirrors of Privilege is a moving call, long overdue, coming from the heart of white people working to restore their own humanity,” says Van Jones, founder of Green for All and last year’s Ware lecturer. “Undoing the false teachings of racial supremacy, which are all-pervasive and quite subtle, requires a lifetime of work.”
The film consisted mainly of accounts from white women and men about their journey in gaining insight into what it means to, first of all, recognize white privilege, and then to challenge it. As white speakers recalled their first encounters with racism against blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, many still choked up at the memory of these painful childhood events.
A few observations of featured speakers in the film:
- “To be white in this country is to be encapsulated in this social milieu—this realm—that not only allows denial of the issue of racism but really mandates denial.”
- “Walking down the street, walking in a bank, going to look for a house, buy a car, I’ve got the mask of whiteness. The advantage is always there.”
- “I didn’t want to be the bad guy, I didn’t want to be the person that causes pain, I didn’t want to be the guy that says stupid stuff, so I tried to distance myself from that. I tried to deny that I was white. But I realized... that I couldn’t run away from it. So the question became: ‘If I have to have this privilege, what am I going to do with it?’”
- “I was in a workshop on reparations and had a conversation with a young man. Even though all the people of color in the room had just discussed their own experiences with racism... and how reparations were justified and needed, he then proceeded to say: ‘I think that anybody can make it in this country if they try hard enough. They all can stand on their own two feet; this is the greatest country on earth...’ He doesn’t have a clue! At the end of his soliloquy about how racism isn’t all that bad, I looked at him and asked him, ‘What do you think it would mean if these people in the room know their reality better than you know their reality?’”
- And finally, this poem:
“When I’m walking down the street, I like to smile at black people.
That warm, cuddly puppies and babies smile,
To let them know I’m friendly... guilty... sorry.
It’s all been a really bad joke, huh?
I’m nervous, I’m angry—not at you, but me.
But you remind me that I hurt you and now I hurt too,
And that you will never be sorry for me.”
Ken Wagner moderated the discussion afterwards. Audience members talked about the comments and characters in the film they most identified with.
One attendee wondered how racism continues to perpetuate itself even though so many white people don’t feel racist. The answer: It is so ingrained in the system that white people can’t recognize their reality as just one perspective.
Attendees were left with the thought that it is each person’s responsibility as a fair person and as part of becoming fully human to see—and help others see—our role in changing the culture.
ARE exists as a response to a request by Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM) for a group of white antiracist allies to serve as partners in “building an antiracism movement among white Unitarian Universalists.”
DRUUMM is a Unitarian Universalist people of color organization, formed in 1997 to provide support and advocacy for people of color working in professional capacities within Unitarian Universalism. DRUUMM has since expanded into a national organization for all Unitarian Universalists.
ARE states their mission thus: “To confront racism in ways that are accountable to communities of color and by creating opportunities for white UUs to understand white privilege and unlearn white supremacy.”
Reported by Dee Ray; edited by Dana Dwinell-Yardley.