Facing White Privilege

A Columbia University documentary project aids a Yale professor in exploring how white men think about their identity.

Caroline Harting
July 19, 2019

In a recent New York Times Magazine article, Claudia Rankine, a professor at Yale, describes her quest to examine how white men conceive of their privilege in an effort to understand what is happening in our society, particularly in the rise of nativism and treatment of recent immigrants.

Rankine and students in her class, "Constructing Whiteness," use Columbia's Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) and documentarian Whitney Dow's "Facing Whiteness" project to help them uncover what it means to be white in America. The team at INCITE and Dow spent over a year and a half interviewing 116 people in three communities: Battle Creek, MI; Cheyenne, WY; and Richmond, VA. According to Dow white men "are struggling to construct a just narrative for themselves as new information comes in, and they are having to restructure and refashion their own narratives and coming up short."