Today (June 22) we're announcing “White People,” a groundbreaking documentary on race that aims to answer the question, “What does it mean to be white?” from the viewpoint of young white people living in America today. “White People” will premiere on MTV on July 22 at 8/7c.
“White People” follows Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas as he travels across the country to get this complicated conversation started. The documentary asks what’s fair when it comes to affirmative action, if colorblindness is a good thing, what privilege really means, and what it’s like to become the “white minority” in your neighborhood.
That moment that you discover that you have certain unearned advantages just because of the color of your skin can be jarring – and can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt. But once you learn about your privilege, there's actually a lot you can do that’s empowering and constructive. While white people can’t help having been born white into a system where whiteness affords them privilege, they can help to create meaningful change.
Here are 9 ways white people can use white privilege for good:
Educate yourself about white privilege
Although many people of color are happy to talk about their personal experiences with race, it’s unfair to ask people of color to take responsibility for initiating all conversations about race and privilege. Doing your own homework goes a long way toward using your privilege for good.
Many white people also tend to view their own race simply as the absence of ethnicity, rather than as a unique heritage with its own meaningful history. It’s critical that we all take the time to explore our own ethnic and cultural backgrounds and learn how white people have historically been afforded privileges due to their race -- if we don’t know where we came from, how can we know where we’re going?
Have conversations with other white people about white privilege, race, and racism
Four out of five young white people say they feel uncomfortable discussing race issues, and less than one in three white people say they’ve talked about race within their family.
It can be difficult and uncomfortable at times, but it can often be more comfortable for white people to initiate conversations about race with other white people than it is for people of color. Educating their own families and communities is one of the most powerful ways white people can leverage their privilege for good.
The internet can be a scary place sometimes — especially for people who are still trying to learn more and have real conversations about such big, complex issues. Look Deeper is a new online tool that creates a safe, pre-moderated space for the conversations you want to have about bias: Whether it’s in pop culture, the news, or just something you might’ve encountered in your everyday life.
Keep the numbers handy so you can set the record straight
Did you know that if you’re white, you’re actually more than 40% more likely to receive a private scholarship than you are if you’re not white? When friends and family members say things like, “I didn’t get a scholarship because a person of color ‘took my spot,’” being armed with statistics that undercut bias by accurately portraying reality is a powerful tool.
Amplify the voices of people of color talking about race, racism, and white privilege on social media
There are lots of resources available online that can help everyone expand these conversation and encourage meaningful dialogue beyond your immediate circle. One of the best ways to call attention to racial inequities is by lifting up the voices of people of color sharing their own experiences.
Retweeting, reblogging, or quoting from the stories of people of color when, for example, protests are going on about police brutality, can help turn up the volume on those particular lived experiences – and prevents a white person from making the issue about themselves.
Be assertive about challenging racism in your community or workplace
Did you ever notice how, if a woman complains about sexism, she’s often ignored, but when a man steps in and stands up for her, people start to pay attention? Racism often works the same way. If a white person sees racial bias playing out at work or at school, it can be really helpful for them to speak up. Knowing how to speak in the language of the white community about issues that affect people of color is a powerful tool, and oftentimes it's safer or easier for a white person to challenge racism in those scenarios than it is for a person of color to do so.
That said, sometimes being an ally is just being supportive of a person of color, by validating their experiences or backing them up.
You can also help take these conversations beyond your own community: Tell us your creative ideas for a groundbreaking video project on privilege, and if we pick your idea, it'll be produced by MTV! Find out more and enter at lookdifferent.org.
Be an observant bystander
Fifteen-year-old Brandon Brooks helped bring the injustice encountered by the teenagers at the McKinney Pool Party into the national spotlight by filming the interaction. Observing racially-charged interactions and bearing witness to what's going on -- with or without the help of your smart phone -- is another simple but powerful way to use your privilege for good.
Support businesses owned by people of color
Money is power, and it’s no secret that as a result of historical advantages, many (but not all) white people tend to have more of it (Author Maggie Anderson’s family learned a lot about this when they tried to shop only at Black-owned businesses for an entire year). Supporting local businesses owned by people of color can help empower communities. If it’s hard to find businesses owned by people of color in your area, you can always shop online.
Fight for voting rights
For as long as people of color have had the right to vote in America, some people in power have used techniques like gerrymandering, voter intimidation, and voter disenfranchisement laws to minimize the number of minority voters.
Amazingly, many of these practices persist today, and the outcome of local elections often directly impact the lives of people of color. You can help fight for voting rights by volunteering to register people to vote.
Get involved with organizations doing anti-racism work
There are lots of organizations both on and off college campuses that ask white people to join the movement and do anti-racist work. Everyone can also support organizations fighting for racial justice by becoming a regular donor -- even giving $5 every month to an organization that’s working for change can make huge difference.
To learn more and join the conversation, check out “White People” on July 22 at 8/7c on MTV or MTV online, and in the meantime, visit race.lookdifferent.org for more on white privilege.