On Facebook this morning, The Rev. Shelley Best asked the questions, “I'm not sure why this documentary was so controversial? Is talking about whiteness as difficult as this documentary says it is?”
I’ve missed the controversy, so I watched the first few minutes of the documentary, and skimmed a few articles about it. The first I came to was, Why White People Should Not Watch the MTV Documentary White People.
Willa Paskin writes, “I think this is a pretty great idea for a documentary that was a little too remedial with and gentle on, well, white people.” Later, she says, ‘Vargas approached the material as though he imagined he were speaking to white people who had thought about race almost not at all”.
Perhaps Slate’s television critic lives in a world where white people have been thinking about race, where white people say Sandra Bland’s name, where people understand the politics behind the difference between #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter.
However, I find Vargas’ view of the world much more realistic. I work in a world focused on cultural competency and addressing health disparities, but when I go home at night, when I go to Church on Sunday, when I ran for State Representative, I did all of that in a world much closer to the world Vargas sees.
Erica Williams Simon had a different take on the documentary in her article in Upworthy, MTV decided to make a bunch of white kids talk about whiteness. And it may have helped them
She commented about Vargas responded to certain people talking negatively about “minorities”. “The gentleness and ease of it all disturbed me.” Yet later, when she described reactions to the documentary, such as when “a 19-year-old white college freshman who said her school is extremely racially segregated, earnestly asked, ‘How can I join conversations about race at school and on Facebook and say what I think without silencing other important voices?’”
She ends off with “If, with all that in mind, it takes MTV, an empathetic journalist, and the right amount of gentle awkwardness to give them a peek into the reality of whiteness, it just might be an all right place to start.”
In a similar vein, Spencer Kornhaber’s article in The Atlantic, White People 101 has, “MTV’s documentary points out some facts about race that might seem obvious until you realize that for many Americans they’re not.”
So, let me go back to Shelley’s question, “Is talking about whiteness as difficult as this documentary says it is?” I’m not sure that Vargas’ ultimate goal is to talk about whiteness, it is to address racism. So, rephrasing Shelley’s question, “Is talking about addressing racism as difficult as this documentary says it is?”
It struck me that perhaps talking about addressing racism is similar to talking with kids about sex. I remember in high school classmates, talking about sex would say, everyone’s talking about it, but nobody is doing it. It was probably a truism which the few sexually active students in my school rolled their eyes at, but everyone else knew was pretty true.
When you get right down to it, talking about sexuality with kids can be daunting. You can be afraid to say something embarrassing, something wrong, you may be afraid to admit your own sexual inadequacies, or sexual desires that are based on your own desires for gratification and not on mutual respect. Yet sex can be wonderful and is crucial to the survival of the species.
Sound familiar? Perhaps it provides a helpful way to think about talking with addressing racism in America today.
No, that is not a cable news style podcast about the augmented reality game, Ingress, although it could be. It is one of the many ‘glyph hack’ phrases I’ve come to recognize playing Ingress. In the game, you hack portals to get gear for playing the game. They added a new feature several months ago called glyph hacking. If you repeat a pattern on your phone successfully, you get extra gear, and if you do it perfectly, you get glyph hack points. You get more points for more complicated patterns from more powerful portals.
Then, you get badges for depending on the number of points. The highest glyph hacking badge, onyx (or black) requires 50,000 points. I’ve gotten pretty good at glyph hacking and yoday, I got that badge. However, at the level I’m at, other badges become further and further apart.
Saturday is the Feast of St. James and it has been on my mind. A friend spoke about Camino de Santiago recently, and I’ve started reading about the pilgrimage. As the feast day approaches, I’ve been reading up more about St. James. The symbol for St. James is the scallop, which has always been one of my favorite foods. In France scallops are served as Coquilles St. Jacques, the cockles (or scallops) of St. Jacques (or St. James).
I was brought up a Congregationalist and was confirmed at around age 12 in the First Congregational Church of Williamstown, MA. In my high school years, I started exploring other churches and spent a bit of time with Baptists and Episcopalians. One of my high school yearbook quotes was James 1:5. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
In college I was received in the Episcopal Church at St. James Episcopal Church in Wooster, OH. In college, one of my favorite professors, told a story of when he had led a group of students on the Camino de Santiago years before. It is a story that I’ve often told.
So now, I am setting out on my own metaphorical Camino de Santiago. I’m still not exactly sure what it means or where it will lead me. In many ways we are all on our own Caminos, and with that, I’m now signing messages,
Buen Camino, a common greeting on the Camino de Santiago.
It’s been a long day and this evening, my server chose to act up, just as I was mentioning my blog in a Facebook group. Now, it is later than I hoped as I finally sit down to write.
All of my recent blog posts seem like they are flowing into one another. The heat, a road trip, to Falcon Ridge. My random wanderings and what I’m reading. Yet nothing is coming together.
I’m tired and hopefully have more to write tomorrow.
This morning, I woke up to a great idea for a long, complicated poem. I had a general idea, phrases I wanted to use, and an overall outline. A long day has passed, with usual tasks at work, followed by a community event in the evening. By the time I got home, the idea for the poem had evaporated. I wished I had written down some notes. Hopefully, the idea will return.
I spend a little time looking at the tabs that are open in my browser. Perhaps one of them will give a clue. Is it something about ‘Dabar Yawheh’? None of the other currently open tabs seem to provide a lead.
I get distracted looking at THE OBSESSIVELY DETAILED MAP OF AMERICAN LITERATURE'S MOST EPIC ROAD TRIPS. What was William Least Heat Moon’s path in Blue Highways? Which road trip books included Connecticut?
Then, the idea starts to come back. The Road Trip. Starting from #Rhizo15. Getting lost in books as a kid, in encyclopedias, in libraries, and finally, on the road. All of it as a metaphor for that great trip, from cradle to grave, along with whatever comes before or after. I think of the great epics. I think of travelogues. I think of the Camino de Santiago, the 88 temples of Shikoku. I think of my own journeys when I was younger, and virtually retracing some of Blue Highways. I think of Wim Wenders Road Trip Trilogy, and I think of wandering in the desert for forty years.