‘White People’ documentary plays at Bonaventure

By Sarah Waychoff

Image retrieved from newsbusters.org

On Wednesday, Nov. 4, St. Bonaventure University hosted one of many talks on the subject of “Race Matters”. The program #RaceMatters was designed to start a dialogue with students on the difficult discussion of racial issues on campus.

The event on Wednesday was a viewing of the MTV documentary ‘White People’. The film follows Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker, Jose Antonio Vargas, as he travels across country to speak on racism.  Vargas calls to question what is fair when it comes to affirmative action, if colorblindness is a good thing, what privilege really means and what it is like to become the “white minority” in a neighborhood.

The documentary focuses on how younger whites view matters of race, including those afflicted by a sense of victimization regarding affirmative-action policies and those who favor a color-blind society. As one of the people interviewed in the film says, whiteness is too often seen as “the default”.

A large point of discussion in the documentary is that white people are missing out on scholarships because of affirmative action in financial aid. Vargas speaks with a white teenage girl named Katie who cannot afford the college of her choice. Vargas brings in statistics showing that white people receive scholarships at a disproportionately higher rate compared to people of color.

Katie immediately went into defense mode, claiming that she felt like a victim. This sentiment is common among white people when made to talk about race, and the documentary explores showing people that they are not victims.

“The only thing I fear is not having these conversations,” Vargas said. “What I fear is the silence, the indifference, the ignorance. We can no longer have a conversation about race and diversity without having white people in it.”

After the viewing of the documentary, St. Bonaventure student leaders JW Cook and David Bryant held an open forum for discussion.  One of the first questions asked was, ‘What does being white mean to you?’  Students defined being white as the classic 1950’s styled life, being extremely patriotic, and a white picket fence.

Cook identified what micro aggressions are and how large of an impact they have on people over time.  These daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, communicate derogatory racial slights and insults toward people of color.  Many students offered stories about micro aggression they had either seen or experienced for themselves.

One student said that part of her white privilege means that she does not see racial issues every day on campus.

At first students were reluctant volunteering to answer these questions, which drives home the point of racism being a difficult subject to speak about.  This series of talks for #RaceMatters is meant to hear what people have to say about this subject on campus here at SBU.  The campaign has brought a safe place for students to learn more about racial issues and become more aware of what they can do to stop prejudices on campus.

Sophomore elementary education major Sierra Cross viewed the talks as effective, but still lacking.

“It was interesting because it made me think of my own town and our perspectives on racism,” said Cross. “I think SBU is headed in the right direction about covering racism, but I don’t think it’s hitting home to those who are truly racist because they would never attend these events.”

Leader of discussion, junior David Bryant offered a different perspective on the program.

“I think there is a change in behavior of students on campus,” said Bryant. “Students are so much more aware of racism, which is a huge step. We are all about opening dialogues and creating comfortable spaces for students to speak freely.”

When asked if the #RaceMatters program will continue for semesters to come Bryant responded, “Absolutely. As long as there is a need for societal change.”

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