"Normal, regular white people" discuss their race
"The Whiteness Project," an interactive documentary available on PBS' POV website, investigates how Americans identify with being white.
Twenty-one Caucasians from Buffalo, New York speak candidly about their race, producing provocative and sometimes uncomfortable results.
"I sat people down and I asked them very, very simple questions, such as, 'what is it that makes you white? Can you describe any benefits that you got from being white?'" producer and director Whitney Dow said on "CBS This Morning." "Not radical questions. But things that white people don't get asked very often."
When complete, Dow and his team will have conducted 1,000 interviews of white Americans from all walks of life.
Dow has been making films about race with his Two Tones Productions partner Marco Williams since 1998.
"I've always been struck that every time there's things that's done on race, it's kind of an oppositional construct, or sort of a victim perpetrator, which I always felt allowed normal white people to look at it and say, well, that's really not me," he said.
His plan was to take "normal, regular white people" who don't necessarily see themselves as racist and capture their explanations for how being white affects their lives.
One of Dow's discoveries: most white people don't believe there's a race problem.
"We do a lot of research on how white people view race in America, so the things they're saying are hopefully representational of how a large portion of white people feel," Dow said.
But whether Americans will ever be able to get away from identifying themselves by the color of their skin remains to be seen.
"It is a defining characteristic and that's just the reality of it," Dow explained. "I think that white people would like to think that it's not a defining characteristic."
He says that race plays a critical role in the way we conduct our lives.
"I think for years, we've been allowed to sort of say, 'well our whiteness is sort of a passive part of our lives instead of an active component of our lives,' and I would argue it impacts every interaction of every moment of every day," he said.
The project has attracted a diverse range of criticism.
"I would say that 80 percent to 85 percent of the feedback I've gotten has been incredibly, incredibly positive from all sides of the political spectrum from both black and white people and I kind of made it as something for white people in a sense," Dow said.
But not all of the criticism has been positive.
"A lot of people have gone through and pulled some of the negative things to Twitter," he said. "People go to the website, take a screen shot and put up something about it."
He hopes any negative criticism stays directed at him and not at the people who appeared in his videos.
"I am worried about backlash against them," he said. "And I would say I'm incredibly grateful to these people for going on the air -- talking honestly about something that's a very, very hot topic. And if you want to attack anybody, attack me for putting it out there. Don't attack them."
He says he's not providing a platform for people to reinforce negative stereotypes.
"I think I'm giving the platform for people to look at the reality of how white people are actually living in this country right now and I think there's a disconnect between how most white people perceive their place in this society and actually the objective quantitative reality of what it means to be white in America right now."
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