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The Whiteness Project examines the 'white experience'

Photo from The Whiteness Project

A special documentary features Western New Yorkers talking about race and being white. WBFO'S Eileen Buckley says The Whiteness Project examines what the filmmaker calls the 'white experience.'

"I don't see any, myself personally, of a race problem, I see a responsibility problem."  "Your color means absolutely nothing to me." Those are some of the quotes from The Whiteness Project videos.  24 Western New Yorkers are featured in this project.  Filmmaker Whitney Dow calls it 'White People in Buffalo, New York, talk about race'.    

"All the things that are said there are things that all whites are grappling with to a greater or lesser degree. I think all whites grapple with this idea -- do we owe black people or people of color something because of our history," stated Dow.

Dow is originally from Buffalo.  He thought it was the best place to begin his project to explore views on race.  

"Nothing they said, I think, is out of mainstream white thought. The woman who talks about being afraid of black men," said Dow. "I challenge any white person, to say at some point, they weren't irrationally afraid of a black person at some point in their life. It might seem racists on the surface to people because I don't think people speak honestly."

This is not the first time Dow has selected Buffalo for his films.  He's been making them for about 18-years with producer Marco Williams.  One of those films  includes "I Sit Where I Want: The Legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education. The film was produced at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts.  

The first round of videos for The Whiteness Project were produced at WNED studio's this  past July and began appearing nationally as digital shorts on PBS from POV Digital.

WBFO News asked Dow what type of criticism he has received from the project.  "There's been a couple of types of criticism. I think I've gotten criticized from both the left and the right," noted Dow. 

Buffalo's NAACP chapter president Frank Mesiah was one of those critics. Mesiah tells WBFO News the project is  'a joke'.    

"Because the issue was never let's discuss whiteness and in this country what it means to be white -- the advantages of being white," said Mesiah.

Mesiah said for African-American children, so much of their life is about white America.

"Everything from a time a kid goes to school, everything is primarily white. The ones doing great things are all white scientists, white doctors white soldiers and children never see themselves in that way," stated Mesiah. 

"Yes, whites tend to control the media. Whites tend to control the national discourse, but they are not talking about their own race. When they talk about racism, they are using talking about other races and so I think this very different," said Dow.
 
Far too often Mesiah says whites often misunderstand that African-American children are not seeing positive black role models. 

"All they see is white and that white is right. they don't see anything where black is right," said Mesiah. 

Buffalo was the beginning for The Whiteness Project"  Dow is hoping to have 1,000 interviews collected.