Ed. Note—This is a recurring feature about race. The opinions expressed during this conversation do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Complex Media. This month, Lauretta Charlton and Julian Kimble discuss the Whiteness Project, a series of interviews where whites elaborate on their experience in America, and the unlikelihood that Officer Darren Wilson will be arrested or charged for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. in August.
[The Whiteness Project is described as "an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as 'white' experience their ethnicity." The first batch of interviews were filmed in Buffalo, N.Y. July 2014, and reveal a certain degree of unawareness that, while off-putting, isn't unsurprising.]
Lauretta: So now whiteness has a project. Fitting. I thought projects were for black people? But really though, what the fuck is wrong with the white people of Buffalo, N.Y.?
Julian: Nothing, they're just white and unaware. That's their flaw.
Lauretta: Is it okay to be unaware?
Julian: Only if you're white.
Lauretta: Am I allowed to criticize them for being ignorant?
Julian: You absolutely are.
Lauretta: Also, why didn't the director, who is black, stop them and explain a few things about racism? This could have been a teachable moment. I suppose that's not the job of a documentarian.
Julian: If black people have to stop making excuses for slavery holding them back, then white folks don't get a pass for being ignorant in 2014.
Lauretta: Amen. Which video was the most offensive to you? (I didn't watch them all, because they get pretty boring.)
Julian: The one that stood out the most was the one with the "voluptuous" white woman who has a message for all black men: Her smiling at you is not an invitation to pursue her. She should be happy someone smiled at her. The nerve. But then she admitted that she's afraid of black men, after opening with, "They're beautiful people," which is always a precursor for something offensive.
Lauretta: It's offensive to make assumptions about an entire group of people based on their race. The one that really bothered me was the girl with coke cans in her hair. The one who made the fried chicken and watermelon comment. When she basically says, "I have gay friends. It's practically the same as having black friends." It's like, no, no that's not the same at all. They are completely different things. You can take a seat now. It's not your call to determine how someone responds to the racial prejudices perpetrated against them.
Julian: Her belief that having gay friends is the same as having black friends lets me know she doesn't have any gay black friends. I also can't take someone with a six-pack in their hair seriously.
Lauretta: Right. Maybe she's a cabaret artist with a dark, dark future. But let's talk about the fact that the director, Whitney Dow, is black. Does that mean anything to you?
Julian: I picked that up from the way the subjects responded to questions.
Lauretta: They're like, "You're black and you want me to tell you the god's honest truth? Well, you asked for it!"
Julian: Perhaps the director was letting uninformed folks talk themselves into holes.
Lauretta: Definitely. I respect him for doing his job. I like that he makes it clear in the "Artistic Statement" that his aim is to document, not to sway or influence. My question is, why now? Do we really need these videos? I know he works in this space—identity politics—and I respect him, but did he expect this to generate meaningful conversation among blacks and whites? I don't think it has. If anything, it's more divisive. It's not about how ignorant and silly the subjects look, but what purpose the Whiteness Project served, and from where I sit, it has little purpose. (Assuming that the goal is to create dialog.)
Julian: It didn't explore any new territory. There's no new insight.
Lauretta: Another area with no new news is the Michael Brown case. What is happening with Darren Wilson?
[It's been nearly three months since Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown's death at Wilson's hands has ignited protests and dominated headlines, but Wilson has yet to be arrested or charged. The release of details from Brown's autopsy by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch made Wilson's arrest seem doubtful, and, as time passes, civil rights charges don't seem any more probable.]
Julian: Yes. 90 days with no arrest, so it looks to me like he's going to walk.
Lauretta: People are saying that Ferguson should prepare for the worse. They are stockpiling riot gear.
Julian: They've been preparing since the protests died down. I have the same feeling I had while watching the George Zimmerman trial last year. It's that "he's gonna walk" feeling.
Lauretta: In that case, though, we didn't see the same level of anticipation, anxiety, participation. It was bad, but are things going to get worse? Also, HOW CAN THIS GUY WALK? Self-defense?
Julian: That autopsy report that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published has already swayed public opinion. You have two forensic scientists saying that evidence indicated that Michael Brown reached for Wilson's gun, but then they say the findings are inconclusive. Which of the two do you think people are going to remember?
Lauretta: Even if he reached for the gun, which I don't know if he did, that does not justify six bullets.
Julian: He didn't deserve to die for that.
Lauretta: If he walks, Darren Wilson will not be able to leave his house.
Julian: He's not going to be employable. Is the Ferguson Police Department going to have to discharge him for his own safety?
Lauretta: That's very likely.
Julian: As for civil rights charges, they're unlikely because, according to the Washington Post, the Department of Justice won't say that it doesn't think they have a strong enough case. The question I'm left struggling to answer is what's going to happen now? Is this just another loss the black community is going to have to take on the chin?
Lauretta: I think everything that went down in Ferguson post the shooting is emblematic of a shift we are going to see in America. People are fed up. It's not just black people who are genuinely angry about this.
Julian: Whatever happens, the Ferguson Police Department and the town of Ferguson, Mo. aren't going to be able to sweep this under the rug.
Lauretta: He should be convicted.
Julian: Charged at least.
Lauretta: At the very least.
Julian: But it likely won't make it to trial. I just doubt that his life will be any better as a free man. Look at how George Zimmerman's making out.
Lauretta: Yeah, well, it will be interesting to see what happens in the aftermath. Obviously we'll be covering it in great detail.
Julian: But of course. The whole world will be watching.
Is there a very racist topic you'd like Julian and Lauretta to discuss next month? Let us know about it in the comments.