World Trust

Self-Reflection: One White Community's Experience with "Mirrors of Privilege"

Posted by Lisa Abbott on February 3, 2015

We are always on the lookout for diversity activities taking place in local communities across the country. unitarian_antiracistsWe recently learned about a diversity initiative in Marblehead, Massachusetts, a predominately white bedroom community north of Boston, that included a screening of the World Trust diversity video, Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible.

Curious to hear how that conversation went, we contacted Reverend Wendy von Zirpolo, the event organizer. The first part of a larger anti-racism series undertaken by interfaith members of the Marblehead Ministerial Association, the screening and facilitated discussion that followed sparked new insights and got participants thinking about systemic racism.

Why White People Need to Talk About Race

Regardless of their individual economic and social status, white people in the U.S. have one thing in common: they benefit from institutional racism. It's a historical legacy that goes back hundreds of years, starting in Europe and developing here in the New World.

This is not something we like to think about. In fact, it's easy to deflect the issue and become defensive. White people may say things like:

  • It's been a long time since the Civil Rights movement.
  • What's all this about Black Lives Matter? Don't all lives matter?
  • Why do "they" have to make everything about race?

According to Rev. von Zirpolo, education about white privilege is needed for two main reasons:

  1. It gives individuals a foundation of knowledge that makes it easier for interracial groups to engage in community building efforts together without having to come back to the same points over and over again.
  2. It allows white people to develop empathy and learn to view the world from a different perspective.

When these two things happen, Rev. von Zirpolo says, "we can move forward to use our collective power to change the system."

How the Marblehead Ministerial Association is Taking Action

"The Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead has been engaged in this work for many years," Rev. von Zirpolo tells us. "Back in 2006, several of us were participating in anti-racism work for many reasons, one of the most important being preparing to engage in relief work after Hurricane Katrina. An ongoing conversation has always been present."

After the events in Ferguson, and especially after some local incidents of racism that shocked citizens of the town, the Marblehead Ministerial Association felt the time was right to support these actions and attempt to raise awareness in their community.

"There is a perception that issues of racism are not present here," Rev. von Zirpolo says. "We know that not to be true, and the Association moved ahead to create forums where learning could take place, questions could be asked, and actions could be planned to build toward a better tomorrow for all people."

How Screening a Diversity Video Helps

Rev. von Zirpolo has been using Mirrors of Privilege for years, showing it in a training session with the Unitarian Universalist Allies Board of Trustees and at annual General Assembly meetings of the Unitarian Universalist Allies for Racial Equity as part of an evening film series.

"What I like about Mirrors of Privilege," Rev. von Zirpolo says, "is that it invites white-identified people in wherever they are. This film somehow provides room for [people at all levels of awareness about race] to be in the room, to stay at the table and leave altered by the experience. For those who are looking for a direct call to action, it's there. For those looking to expand their understanding, there are enough different stories present that they are sure to find themselves. For those who believe we live in a post-racial world or that they are colorblind, seeing the film may or may not change them, but it doesn't leave much room for a fight because so many others will connect."

What Rev. von Zirpolo also likes about the Mirrors of Privilege is that the film gives people who watch it some next steps to follow. "The hour-long conversation that followed was very rich," she says. "I like that the film references Peggy McIntosh's work and includes Tim Wise. We sent people home with a list of 25 privileges from McIntosh and a link to her article, and we invited them to read White Like Me or one of Wise's other books."

The Association will sit down in February, 2015 to discuss the next events in their anti-racism series.

World Trust creates diversity training videos that provide groups and individuals with the context needed to unpack difficult concepts about race and understand them by using powerful stories. To watch the trailer or to stream Mirrors of Privilege:Making Whiteness Visible, download the conversation guide, or purchase the DVD, please click here.

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Topics: Film: Mirrors of Privilege, Community Building, Faith