Over the years I’ve had a number of “good” classes of students, but I can’t recall a good class conversation about race. This is a problem, because without the ability to think about the ways that people understand race it is harder to tear those understandings down and introduce a sociological perspective (even if the sociological perspective is sometimes debated). The Whiteness Project, A new series from PBS, and related videos online, provide a possible solution to these problems. As the “About” section on the webpage notes:
The Whiteness Project is a multiplatform investigation into how Americans who identify as “white” experience their ethnicity.
The project is conducting 1,000 interviews with white people from all walks of life and localities in which they are asked about their relationship to, and their understanding of, their own whiteness. It also includes data drawn from a variety of sources that highlights some quantitative aspects of what it means to be a white American.
This is great for the classroom because it allows instructors to show a brief video clip and then discuss the ideas it contains, the likely origins of those ideas, and sociological responses. Essentially, it shifts the burden of revealing the types of ideas that many white Americans hold from students to video clips. Take Jason, for instance, who says that he has not received any benefits from being white an discusses blacks blaming problems that have long-since been solved (you know, like slavery and discrimination) for their current situations. Or Harold, who believes that whites are the ones who suffer from discrimination today.
Using these videos as a starting point will allow students to do the work of critiquing the ideas present from a sociological perspective. I’m looking forward to trying it out.
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