This is a story about the safety of white supremacy culture for white folks. It is intended to continue to engage with white people about how whiteness works, so that together we can work to dismantle it.
In the wake of the horrific murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, some white people in my town wanted to help. They asked the Chief of Police what his policies are, and got back a manifesto that included things such as participating in cultural diversity training, biased policing training, and events for Martin Luther King Day. It was embraced on Facebook. I looked through the list of people who "liked" it, and realized I know a lot of them. I was horrified, but perhaps I shouldn't have been.
If you are white, you might be asking yourself why this is a problem. Aren't they doing the "right thing"? Let me break it down for you.
White people asked the majority white police force how they are keeping people of color safe, and then applauded each other for their efforts. That is the status quo. White people protect each other and define the protection of all other people. Finding safety in whiteness is exactly what damages communities of color, because whiteness can only thrive if there is an "other" that is dangerous. Our comfort in the status quo puts communities of color in mortal danger.
If you are still wondering why I am concerned, all you need to do is pay attention. In the same town, where white people are applauding themselves, I have witnessed a fight initiated by a white kid at school where the black kid who was attacked got disciplined. I know of a black man who was simply walking down the street and got reported for suspicious activity. I saw a group of children playing at the park. A person rolled down her window and shrieked at the black kid "where is your mother, who is in charge of you" because his bike momentarily went in the road; while ignoring the behavior of the large group of white kids.
White people have a lens through which we see the world with a special filter. I'm beginning to think we should call it the white supremacy filter. You might be a very well meaning white person and not realize you have this filter.
Many of you have heard me talk about a new short film I am developing. My original plan was to tell a personal story about my own journey raised in whiteness to open up this conversation for more white people. I'm listening deeply to figure out if that story is what is needed.
As I go through this process, I am particularly interested in engaging with fellow white media makers to begin to understand the white supremacy filter and how it impacts the media we create. We have to name it in order to dismantle it. Use the contact form if you are a media maker and would like to join me in this journey.
How I am educating myself this week:
#LiveWithLayla: Why Whiteness Must be Named
And if you are parenting:
The Conscious Kid on Instagram and Patreon
If you are looking for more, check out this complete list.
Amidst the chaos of quarantine and demands of homeschooling, I am slowly moving forward with a new short film project about white culture. The film will be a personal story, but the project is intended for white people to talk about what it is that makes us white. I believe this is a first step to dismantling the white supremacy ingrained in our culture. We can certainly be proud of who we are, and value our families, without unintentionally carrying forward a belief system that privileges some humans over others.
As part of that work, I've been doing some of my own reflecting on the stories that we, as white people, tell ourselves. I am going to tell you a true story about myself. It is not something I am proud of. I believe understanding the stories we tell ourselves can help us figure out how we see ourselves, as well as who we want to be. This story serves that purpose.
In early February my mother-in-law told me about a video her friend sent her from Italy, about a horrible virus. She is Dominican born, and now lives in the U.S. She did not finish elementary school. Her primary sources of news is what people send her in WhatsApp messages. I am a white U.S. citizen and I have two post-graduate degrees. I read mainstream news sources on a daily basis. So there is already an unspoken assumption that I might have more information to share with her about this new virus.
Back to my story. She has just told me there is a disease called the coronavirus with obvious concern. I respond quickly disregarding the what she had heard. (It is embarrassing, but I really did this!) "Don't worry about that. It's not that different from the flu," I tell her. "Areas with fewer resources will be hit hard, and that will be devastating. But we have good healthcare and we will be fine." To really make my point, I ended our conversation with this advice. "In any case, I heard on the news they are already developing a vaccine. We will be able to get it easily at the doctor's office or the pharmacy. I feel bad for people who won't have access to the vaccine." (This is true. I had heard about a vaccine on NPR that morning. Clearly I didn't pay attention to the timeline!)
If I were telling this story in a live format, I would take a deep breath. Perhaps I would let you all take a moment to allow it to sink in.
As you may have already surmised, I am a white economically privileged straight person and I have always had the system on my side. So I assumed my family and I would be fine, while tragedy would unfold elsewhere. I assumed I was untouchable. I assumed our government would protect us, which comes from having always had a government that was on my side. I assumed the healthcare system would support us, because we have good insurance and always have. And I assumed tragic stories of loss and hardship would unfold around me, but I would not be part of them.
Let that sink in. I completely believed others would suffer, and we would be untouched.
I am certainly not alone in having underestimated the impact of this virus. Most of us did, and our leaders certainly led us astray. Still, we can learn a lot about the story I was telling myself. I believed I was outside the system. I was actively assuming my privilege will somehow carry me through. As a mother of two children of color, and a person who believes myself to be anti-racist, that is horrifying to admit. Why? Because that means that I depend on my privilege. Who am I without privilege?
I value myself immensely, as well as all of my white ancestors, so please don't read this thinking I need to be told to love myself. The point in telling this story is to start to understand how whiteness works.
If you are reading this and you are white, this is a moment to reflect on how often you are wrong and the people of color in your life are right. This is an ongoing theme in my life. What is it that a white lens misses so profoundly?
When the virus hit in March, I apologized to my mother-in-law for having miscalculated. I'm not sure an apology was warranted. After all, she was simply telling me about a conversation with a friend, and I gave my opinion. But I was embarrassed at having been so wrong. She just smiled and nodded as if she knew all along.
In reflecting over the past few years of work, I realized how much I have learned about fundraising for independent film and grassroots distribution. And, when I talk to other filmmakers, I learn more. In the spirit of sharing our best practices, I put together two PDFs that summarize some of what now guides me. Download by clicking the links. Fundraising for Independent Documentary and Grassroots Distribution.
What are your best practices? Tweet them @timetravelprodu or contact me the regular way.
I am working on a new short film project. It all began last summer when I attended a conference where a panelist reflected that he did not know much about 'white culture.' What is white culture anyway?
It is true that we rarely talk about white culture, and that is because whiteness is the dominant structure of our society. The cultural choice to not talk about whiteness empowers white people. Why is that? Because we can't be responsible for something we don't name. But white culture consumes America; it is everywhere and everything around us, which is what makes it feel invisible. But in fact, it is very visible, if we are willing to identify it.
Once we start to identify white culture, it can be painful for white people. We have to face the fact that our culture is violent, and that we spend a lot of time identifying the "other"; which creates scapegoats for our problems. I believe this haunts us.
One tenet of whiteness is its centrality, so a project like this runs the risk of once again, centering whiteness. I ask viewers to consider that when we identify something it helps us transform it. This film is for white people to engage in that work.
This will be a deeply personal short based on my own life, narrated by me. It will include series of images and audio clips that will elicit emotion and spark discussion about whiteness and white culture in America.
Imagine a 7 min. film that you could show as part of a workshop, meeting or family gathering. I'm also considering whether we should create a museum-style installation for people to interact with in different spaces (traditional museums and non-traditional spaces such as churches, community centers, libraries, etc.).
Transformation is about love. This is a project made with profound love for all humans.
If your group is interested in learning more, send me a quick note on our contact us page.
If you want to dive in now, check out this reading list:
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Why Does Patriarchy Persist? By Carol Gilligan and Naomi Snider
NYTimes Opinion Piece, by Darlene Cunha (read beyond the headline to see how it's relevant to this project)
Sending light and love to all in the new year.
Most of the past month has been a joyous journey filming the trailblazing Episcopal women priests who claimed their vocation despite earthly patriarchal institutions that sought to deny it. We published this very short clip as a sneak peak earlier this fall. You can sign up for our newsletter for more in-depth updates on the progress of the film.
I continue to work on a new personal project at the intersection of understanding whiteness and dismantling structural racism. More to come in early 2020!
Life happens, and so I've fallen behind in these blog posts. Here are a few quick lessons from the past few months.
1) Excitement continues to build following the America ReFramed broadcast of Councilwoman in September. The need for inspiring stories from voices who rarely get the limelight, goes far beyond television. Check out the latest here, including our first international screenings in South Korea, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic (the one closest to our hearts)! #RepresentationMatters #CouncilwomanFilm
2) In honor of the Rev. Dr. Alison Cheek, we published our first public clip from the work-in-progress project The Philadelphia Eleven. You can watch the clip here.
3) It's hard when your mother passes away. Sending light and love to all of you who have been through this and whose footsteps I now follow. The picture below is me and my mother this summer, about a month before she passed.
I am discovering delicious ways to turn fundraising into creative work. Our fundraising efforts have connected me to almost daily conversations with people who were part of the movement for the ordination of Episcopal women to the priesthood. Each connection is a gift, and has deepened my understanding of this history.
Here are some fun shots of Kickstarter reward preparation and delivery, including a shot of books waiting for Bishop Barbara Harris's signature, me showing you how I sometimes feel like pulling my hair out when packaging all of this in my office corner, and my favorite assistant, our rescue lab-mutt Shadow.
I always tell people that I am both a filmmaker and a mother. But I stumble when people ask why I insist on including my parenting status. For me, parenting and my career are equally part of my soul. I give all of myself to both of these things as part of living fully. My days are full, and each day brings difficult decisions to balance the demands of both jobs. But why is this so hard to explain? Perhaps because we have never valued parenting as equal with income-earning work.
My choice is a celebration of vocation. I spent many years facing infertility, and for the past decade I have been blessed to raise two children. I am also a daughter, sister and a spouse, but those roles are not a part of my work. Being a mother is a part of the work of each and every day. I find it immensely challenging and rewarding, just like filmmaking has huge challenges and rewards.
It is a radical balance to give career and parenting equal value. But it is who I am and what I do. The unfortunate reality is that my privilege makes this possible. The privilege of a partner with a secure income, a network that only comes with growing up in the same region where you work, and the privilege of education that gives me the tools to take on independent freelancing. There is always an underlying privilege of whiteness. I'm not going to give up this radical balance because others do not have the liberty to create their own radical balance; instead I will fight for a world where everyone can follow their vocations with a vengeance.
I feel like I'm in a daily battle against oversimplification. By its very nature film requires simplification because the storytelling is linear and it takes a very long time to say things on screen. On social media, most of us read headlines or one sentence, which encourages us to use language that simplifies.
But life isn't simple. In fact, the more we engage with all of its complexities, the closer we can get to the truth. To me that truth is the soul of the human condition. The best we can do is strive to understand and be as honest as possible, as there is no such thing as absolute truth. The closer we can get to that deep honest place, the better solutions we will come up with about how to solve humanity's most pressing problems. I make films as a tool for us to dig deeper, and challenge our pre-conceptions. It is ironic that we must simplify stories in order to get to the emotions and truths that help us understand a more complex world.
We are on the verge of launching a Kickstarter campaign, which will require plenty of one-liners to get people's attention and encourage them to support a film. As we engage in this process, I wonder if the challenge of being succinct can somehow help us get closer to the complexities that make this story all that it is.