Thanks to social media and the #Blacklivesmatter movement, the phrase “White Silence = White Consent” has circulated Twitter and Facebook among many of all races who believe that the key to curing racism in America begins with an honest conversation among those who make up the country’s majority—White People. It’s the name of MTV’s upcoming documentary (airing July 22), which will hopefully take this conversation off social media and onto to the small screen for a demographic that needs it the most—White millennials.
“The construction of racism has benefited White people, not people of color,” says Jose Antonia Vargas, the Pulitzer Prize-winning filmmaker and journalist behind White People. “What I hope this film does is get us closer to the fuller reckoning in history of this country, which has yet to be really told.”
WATCH MTV'S WHITE PEOPLE HERE:
According to a 2014 study among millennials (provided by MTV’s public affairs campaign, Look Different), more than three in four (79%) admitted being friends with people with biases. Seventy-two percent said that their generation believes in equality more than older people. Though when asked if the government pays too much attention to the problems of racial minority groups, 41% of Whites answered “yes,” compared to 21% of people of color.
But in the age of a modern civil rights movement led by mostly millennials, the government’s responsibility in addressing race has become a hot topic, seen in the Department of Justice’s investigations of police brutality murders of unarmed Black men to the #TakeItDown confederate flag debate among Southern senators. Fifty-four percent of millennials polled agreed that it’s “hard to have a respectful conversation about bias in person or online.” Unsurprisingly, this seems to mainly be the issue of White people, who’ve been historically uncomfortable discussing racism.
An EW.com news article written by Marc Snetiker on MTV’s upcoming film is entitled “Watch the uncomfortable trailer for MTV’s documentary White People.” After breaking it down, the story finishes with the line, “Watch the trailer—did we mention it’s uncomfortable?—below.” A Refinery29.com piece by Lauren Le Vine entitled “Why Did MTV Make a Documentary Called White People?,” Le Vine (like EW.com) reminds readers, “The discussions in White People are bound to make some viewers uncomfortable.”
But isn’t that the point? When has an honest conversation about racism ever been comfortable? And when has avoiding a difficult topic ever been healthy for a relationship?
Racism is a people issue, a family issues and a (lack of) love issue. Like in any relationship, ignoring a lingering problem and not discussing it because it makes someone “uncomfortable” has always led to deeper complications. Hence network producers and people in charge of mainstream news media—who are mostly White—mimic the historical habitual silence of those in their culture by nervously choosing to not cover race related stories.
That is, until a millennial, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, shot dead nine African-American elders at a Charleston’s Emmanuel AME Church bible study while proudly representing White supremacists who wave the Confederate flag. Finally, after these disturbingly violent deaths, the country cannot deny that we need to discuss racial bias.
And thanks to the loud power of social media, ignited long ago by injustices in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, L.A. and countless cities nationwide, ignoring the skin color issue can no longer persist. America has officially been forced to admit to this country’s age-old embarrassing racist sickness proceeding the 1787 enactment of the Three-Fifths Compromise counting slaves as three-fifths of a human being in the United States Constitution.
Some will suck their teeth and erroneously point fingers, saying the Black community has its own self-deprecating issues that need to be addressed within itself. But this isn’t about mental illness or the victims of racism—the Africans, Latinos, Native Americans, Muslims and Asians. This is about Caucasians. This is about a White people-created issue that can only begin to end by first acknowledging and addressing it publicly among those who’ve benefitted from racism and know those that still perpetuate it—White people. MTV’s documentary is a necessary start.
“Whiteness often remains unexamined in conversations about race in this country, even as it acts as the implicit norm against which other racial identities are judged,” MTV’s president Stephen Friedman told The Wrap. “By shining a spotlight on Whiteness, we hope White People will serve as a powerful conversation starter that encourages our audience to address racial bias through honest, judgment-free dialogue.” Let’s just hope they get it right.
Raqiyah Mays is an author, journalist, radio personality, and activist. Her debut novel The Man Curse will be released by Simon & Schuster in November 2015.