A Discussion on Race and White Privilege at Busboys

On a sunny day on June 5, a group of about 50 people gathered at Busboys and Poets, a restaurant and bookstore that sponsors a monthly discussion on race titled, A.C.T.O.R or A Continuing Talk On Race.  The event is consistent with the restaurant owner’s commitment to social justice and racial/ethnic openness that is obvious when you walk through the doors. The small bookstore has a selective collection of progressive books and the crowd is always very diverse and integrated. It’s like a modern hippy hangout.

Busboys’s monthly discussion on race focused on an hour-long film titled “Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible.”  This summary primarily recaps the film, audience feedback and my brief analysis.

Film Summary: Primarily, the film features adults, all of them white, discussing  racism and, later, white privilege from a very personal place. The documentary used testimonies, dramatic reenactments and dance/theater interpretations to examine white privilege in America.

The film’s first hand stories were enlightening in their honesty and the frustration of learning about race. It’s rare to consider that racism inflicts pain on those who see their friends and relative behaving badly and the shame in feeling afraid or unsure about what to do.  The words: silence, power, family, friends, compartmentalization, denial, others, systems, understanding, pain and action capture the film’s overall message.

One man talked about growing up in an all-white town and seeing Confederate flags at the July 4th celebrations.  Another woman talks about the tensions she’s felt from a friend when it came to her adopted cousins, who were African American.  At a young age, an older women recalls how her grandmother did not want to kiss her after kissing the maid. Throughout the film, you saw a genuine desire within people to be a “good”, to understand race and to be understood by others.

Much of the documentary addressed white privilege in social environments, and provided a few systemic examines such aggressive policing and white flight.  It did not provide an extensive examination of structural inequality, which would have enhanced the film significantly. It is discussed, just not great detail. Overall, the film came across as educational and personal. I’d recommend it for members of any group. After the film screening there was small discussion about the film.

You can access the video in different segments here at YouTube. Here is a 10-minute clip.

From the audience. Overall, the audience enjoyed the film.  The was not extensive open discussion.  One audience member thought the film was a little long for a foundation members.  Another person said that the films examination of overt/semi overt racism seemed dated and not relevant to today’s world.  Someone indicated that the visual interpretations in the film were helpful.  A man expressed a strong desire for the discussion result in tangible anti-racist work.  A young woman talked about her uncertainty about breaking down racial barriers.She was encouraged to just be herself.

Many said  this specific topic needed more time, and requested an extra session during another month.  I agree. In fact, for the next discussion it would be good to understand more of who was in the audience and what motivated them to be there.

After some open discussion/initial reaction to the film about The audience continued the discussion in smaller groups where people shared their personal experiences with issues such as race, privilege and entitlement.  Some discussions continued over an hour after the official event ended.

Here are my takeaways.

There is power in personal relationships.  As simple as that sounds, relationships also play a powerful role.  Participants in the film learned a great deal through social relationships and family.  The film’s intimate stories seemed to break down barriers at the event. The film certainly seemed to create a safe space for discussing personal experiences that day.

Being liberal doesn’t equate to being anti-racist. Several in the film explained that being liberal did not make them anti-racist.  There’s a part in the film where someone says, “A person said to me, oh it’s cool you’re into race. I’m into animal rights.” That resonated with me significantly. Some of my most painful encounters were in liberal spaces where the brown people were treated as either invisible, alien and inferior to everyone else.

Modern Racism is complex. Modern racism/white privilege is very much about how everyone gets along, what constitutes conventional wisdom and how our nation shares resources such as good schools, jobs and even issues such as standards of beauty.  For sure, more Americans people have friends of a different backgrounds and even dated someone outside their race or culture. It’s progress, but social relationships and cordial relationships should be a bridge toward creating a fairer and more just society.

The time has come for new conversations on race.  How we discuss race in the country is not working.  People are as confused  and angry as ever.  Many people are left feeling that no one’s listening or that progress isn’t happening.  It is important that identify more accurate language beyond using the catch-all word “racist” for all thing race.  It’s time educate first, attack only when necessary.  We must all embrace history that is inclusive, comprehensive and honest.

In my world, we don’t pretend cultural differences exist, instead we celebrate them. We look at someone with curiosity versus assumptions, and understand what a person looks like is not an indication of who they are or who they out to be.

Privilege is not just a white thing. Each of us has the ability to exert power over others. This goes beyond black and white.  It extends to religion, class, ability, sexual orientation, gender, language and nationality.  As Audrey Lourde said, “There is no heirarchy of oppression.” This is an especially important issue for me as a Black woman. I know what racism and sexism feel like.  It bothers me that conditions impacting Black women are not understood, mentioned or supported as significantly   as issues impacting Black men such as police brutality, criminal justice.  It’s time for that to change, and for new perspective to emerge.

I look forward to Busboys and Poets’ next discussion on race. Thanks for reading.

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One Response to A Discussion on Race and White Privilege at Busboys

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