Hundreds of people sent us reactions to the 12 videos that make up our “Under Our Skin” video project. An equal number said the videos “resonated with” and “frustrated” them.
The reactions to “Under Our Skin” — a Seattle Times video project about the words we use to talk about race — have ranged from “this left me conflicted” to “this made me reflect” to “this rustled my jimmies.”
The project features 18 people explaining what a dozen terms mean to them, including diversity, person of color, microaggression, institutional racism and white fragility.
So far we’ve received about 450 comments about the 12 videos, and published about 60 percent of them. We chose comments that introduced new perspectives, challenged the ones discussed in the videos and overall added value to the comment thread.
One piece of data that best summarizes the range of feedback we’ve received: The number of people who said they were frustrated by the videos is equal to the number who said the videos resonated with them.
So far, the most popular videos are the ones that explored the terms white privilege, white fragility, person of color, microaggression and institutional racism. That mirrors the ones that generated the most comments — which were white fragility, white privilege and institutional racism. Commenters ranged in age from 16 to 88.
A number of local media organizations have interviewed us about the project, including Q13 FOX, KPLU and KING 5’s New Day NW. We’ve also received requests to use the videos for training purposes in schools, city government and churches.
Whether people loved or hated the project, one thing is clear: It’s gotten our community talking about what can be a very uncomfortable subject. That’s what we hoped would happen — and we’re grateful for it.
Here are some themes in the reactions we’ve received so far:
Some offered their own definitions of the words.
“This video on [institutional racism] resonated with me because racism is like riding a bike in a gentle breeze. If you have a 10-15 mph wind at your back, you do not feel it. You have no sense that you are being helped by the breeze at your back. But if you ride INTO the wind, even a gentle 10-15 mph breeze, you FEEL it pushing against you, impeding your progress. This explains why many whites fail to recognize racism. They have never had to ride against the wind.”— Dan Pens, 60
“This video on [racism] frustrated me because racism is not about speech nor about hurt feelings. It is about leveraging the infrastructure of racist repression. A white neighbor and friend told me he was a victim of racism because he went to a black bar and people there were not nice to him so his feelings were hurt. I asked him whether he thought those black people could have had the police come and beat him up for being white in a black bar. He admitted he was never afraid of that. Then he understood what racism is.”— Oscar Brain, 44
Some think people are being too sensitive, especially when it comes to microaggressions.
“This video [on microaggression] made me feel frustrated because sometimes people are curious and want to know what ethnicity you may be. Or maybe they are legitimately giving a compliment when they say, “you have great skin.” I am of mixed race and “microaggression” is not a word that people need to promote about talking about it. Let. It. Go.”— Pamela, 31
“This video [on microaggression] frustrated me because it seems that there is no safe way to talk with people. The general theme that I took away was since anything could be construed as microaggression it’s just safer to not to communicate with people who are different. I think intent is critical when labeling something ‘aggression.’ While you may be offended by something, that doesn’t mean the other person is being an aggressor. They may just be ignorant or curious or you may be overly sensitive. An aggressor is someone doing something purposely.”— Mark, 43
A few people addressed the “being overly sensitive” sentiment.
“This video [on institutional racism] resonated with me because until I worked with the tribes I thought people were overly sensitive. But after experiencing the sensation of repeated ‘miscommunications’ and ‘perceived slights,’ I came to understand how destructive this entrenched bigotry, on racial-cultural-sexual basis, is. The nearest analogy is very fine sandpaper on wood. It is ‘only’ a ‘minor’ irritant, but over time with repeated application it can wear down and destroy the material it is attacking. So it destroys people, cultures and identities.”— K, 66
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“This video [on microaggression] resonated with me because in middle school I didn’t study and people called me dumb for an Asian. When I got to high school, I worked hard and now attend UW Seattle, but people say it’s because I’m Asian. Also, I agree that microaggression stems from ignorance. It seems to me that some people think that we’re asking them to think about every little action and saying, but that’s not it all at; we’re asking them to be racially educated and aware.”— Haebin, 21
And some said they would like to be more sensitive to issues discussed in the videos.
“This video [about white fragility] made me feel inspired because a light bulb went off: it is my Whiteness that is fragile, not me. I am a strong, compassionate, resilient human. But one of the programs I run is White Man, and that programming responds defensively when I’m called to witness the unfairness in the world. I can recognize the White Man program’s fragile response, and not identify completely with it, which can help me take a breath, and open my ears and heart to who is in front of me.”— Tim Smith, 41
“This video [about white fragility] resonated with me because I have black cousins, friends, and co-workers. I have never been raised in a racist household, so I don’t think I am remotely racist. But still, I get defensive if it’s ever even hinted at that I am benefiting from racism. I think that from now on, I will challenge myself to stop being defensive and listen. Sure maybe I have never been racist, but have I questioned the advantages that society gives me based off of skin color? Have I asked my white friends how we can be a part of the solution?”— Kym Miller, 21
Some people think using these words, particularly white privilege and white fragility, to talk about race and our racial differences divides us more.
“This video [about white fragility] saddened me because I honestly think our diversity and videos like this have split us more as a country. Instead of being a ‘melting pot,’ we’ve decided to focus on our differences. The only constant similarity has been to blame white people. I think white people are sick of being blamed, especially when they see people of other cultures having the same problems and the answer is to blame white people.”— Bill Conley, 45
“This video [about white privilege] angered me because this video classifies people by their race first, and everything else second. If we continue to divide everyone by race, then we are only furthering racism in our children. If you live in America, you have some kind of privilege. Are you going to let that stop you from getting what you want?”— Alex, 30
Some said talking about the words has liberated them to start talking about race in a way they hadn’t been able to before.
“This video [about white fragility] inspired me because it modeled for me how to talk about race — openly, honestly, respectfully, with an acknowledgment that it’s going to take communication and tolerating some vulnerability to figure out what each individual needs to feel respected and as safe as possible during that conversation. It reminded me we need those conversations about race to make any progress toward justice, safety, compassion, connection, peace.”— Sara, 54
“This video [about white privilege] resonated with me because after nearly 40 years in the Seattle area finally I feel I can openly discuss white privilege, is a sad commentary!”— Pervis Willis, 61
And some expressed thoughtful frustration about what words to use when talking about race.
“This video [about white fragility] interested me because I had never even heard that term before. It was also frustrating because, indeed, if you have never heard it before and really listen to what the group is saying, hardly any of them are in agreement. If no one can agree on what the term even means, why use it at all? At the same time, I definitely understand the problem of discussing race with a white person, because — especially if they are white liberals — we tend to see ourselves as part of the solution, not part of the problem.”— R.L. Stroud, 58
Finally, one commenter responded to the idea that there are no clear definitions to the words.
“This video [about white fragility] made me feel inspired because it’s great that these words have been presented in all their contradictions. All these brave people are speaking truthfully from their own positions of authority and experience. There’s clearly not one right answer. So really, I think the question ‘What do we mean when we talk about race?’ isn’t resolved here so much as echoed and amplified.”— Andrew D., 25
To read more reactions to the project or add your own (we’re getting new comments coming in every day), check out the comment threads under each video at st.news/under-our-skin.