MTV is airing a documentary about racial identity issues that debuts Wednesday, July 22 at 8/7 c (you can also check it out on MTV.com, the MTV App, MTV’s Facebook page or YouTube channel). Usually, conversations about race focus on the experience of racial minorities but Pulitzer Prize-winning filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas has, to the surprise of many, set the focus of his film on white people.
Taking into consideration that many Caucasians do not identify with having racial identity, Vargas takes people out of their comfort zone by filming white Americans in situations in which they are forced to confront racial identity issues. The MTV documentary has already faced heavy criticism with Rush Limbaugh and the conservative Breitbart news service accusing the documentary of shaming whites. Vergas is not intending to put-down Caucasians, rather he simply asserts “We can no longer have a conversation about race and diversity without having white people in it.”
I recently came across the results of an informal study that shares the same theme as the upcoming documentary. Figuring that “there must be something about the experience of race for white people that [she] just didn’t understand”, Ijeoma Oluo, a young African American woman, created a simple survey of questions about race realization. The results reveal that white people often don’t identify as having a racial identity, rather they consider themselves to be a member of the “default race”.
When she asked respondents when they became aware of their race, Oluo found that all of the people of color surveyed had become aware of their race at a very early age, often “from birth”. The vast majority of the white people surveyed, on the other hand, didn’t really answer her question. The white respondents didn’t talk about when they became aware of their race, rather they shared about when they became aware of the race others; the word “white” was rarely seen in the answers.
At first Oluo thought that the white respondents simply didn’t understand the question but, due to the uniformity of the answers she came to realize that the responses go “to the core of how white people experience race”. She points out that, “For the majority of white people, race is something that happens to other people. Whiteness is a default that needs no name — all deviations must be categorized and given a ‘race.'”
Oluo shares Vergas’s belief that discussions about race should include the category of Caucasian. In her article she also aptly points out, “If race is always something that happens to other people, how are you able to see the part you play in the system?”
Read Oluo’s article here.
Check out the trailer for the MTV documentary: