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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that White People is a documentary with real people of different races talking about what it means to be white in America. The discussions are unfailingly respectful and thoughtful. There are a few bleeped curse words and some racial slurs (unbleeped); the subjects also talk about sensitive matters such as privilege, poverty, and intolerance. The documentary consists almost entirely of interviews interspersed with statistics about race. Therefore, though it's fine for young kids, older kids and teens will best absorb the messages. Parents may want to watch along for after-viewing discussions with their teens.
What's the story?
This documentary about race in America focuses on WHITE PEOPLE. That's the twist in this provocative doc, in which host Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, investigates white privilege and the "white experience" among young people in the United States. He travels to various locations -- a mostly white college in Washington, an Indian reservation in South Dakota, a changing neighborhood in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn -- interviewing the people who live there on how their race has affected their viewpoints and life, as well as their own relationships to people of color. What emerges is a compelling portrait of young people in flux -- aware that they have it good but not sure exactly how to view their place in the American experience.
Is it any good?
This documentary demonstrates that the wheels of change grind slowly in America's privileged class. "White is the default race," says one earnest young college student in White People, seemingly unaware of the privilege that underlies this (all too common) viewpoint. "To be white, that's the good thing," says another. Is it true? The strength of Vargas' doc is how he gently, respectfully teases out his interviewee's thoughts about race and then hits them with statistics and interviews that prove these viewpoints utterly wrong. White college students are discriminated against when it comes to handing out scholarships? In fact, white students are 40 percent more likely to get a scholarship than a student of color. Racism is a thing of the past? Tell that to the angry young teens at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, who say that white people only like remembering the heroic parts of their history -- not the parts where they committed genocide against Native Americans.
Throughout, participants are honest and thoughtful rather than inflammatory, even while speaking out against injustices. For example, a young man who teaches a course on white privilege has his students read out statements such as "I can choose a profession without wondering if a person of my race should be doing this"; the teacher's conservative stepfather sits in, befuddled by what he's hearing. Ultimately, White People shows that there's hope for all of us if we treat each other with tolerance, dignity, and respect.
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