About Facing Whiteness

A mural in Battle Creek, MI.

A mural in Battle Creek, MI.

We created Facing Whiteness as part of an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) at Columbia University and the documentarian Whitney Dow, creator of the “Whiteness Project.” We wanted to explore how Americans who identify as white or partially white think about their racial identities, along with a variety of other issues. Over 19 months in 2017-18, we focused on three communities: Battle Creek, Michigan; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Richmond, Virginia.  A select group of us lived in each location for approximately one month, during which time we participated in and observed local life: we attended church services and political meetings; visited local stores to discuss business and the community; and chatted with many, many people over coffee. Local participants became involved in Facing Whiteness through these social networks, with friends and family sharing our intake survey, which asked about one’s background, attitudes and beliefs.

In total, more than 850 people took this survey, and we personally interviewed 116 of these participants. Using a unique interviewing approach, Whitney Dow conducted most of these interviews. For these interviewees, we also collected data at three additional time points: surveying them right before and right after their interviews and three to six months after the interview, after they had had a chance to review their interview transcripts and submit photographs. We surveyed participants at multiple times to capture attitudinal changes over time. Thus, by design, survey questions were often repeated across surveys, though additional questions asking about participant social networks and about attitudes towards race and toward the interview experience, among other areas, were also added to later surveys.

As you explore our study website, you may want to consider some of the questions we found ourselves returning to over and over again during the project. How do “white people” conceptualize their race and/or ethnicity? What role does race place in the ways white people tell their life stories? What do white people think of the conversation on race in America? Why are some groups of white people more likely to talk to us about race than others? And, importantly, can such candid conversations about race change the way white people think about themselves and the world? Our hope is that you may be able to find some answers to these questions and others in the interview transcripts and data available on this website. As a whole, however, Facing Whiteness is far more interested in asking questions, of both ourselves and others, than in arriving at answers.

Who We Are

Our team is listed below in alphabetical order by last name. Any and all communications regarding Facing Whiteness should be directed towards Sam Lutzker (sal2176@columbia.edu).

INCITE and affiliates

Peter Bearman, Director, INCITE
Emma Bogler, Research Assistant, INCITE
Zhixin (Laura) Chen, Research Assistant, INCITE
Mary Marshall Clark, Director, Columbia Center for Oral History Research (CCOHR)
Whitney Dow, Creator and Director, Whiteness Project
Maurice Ivy Dowell, Project Consultant, INCITE
Michael Falco, Associate Director, INCITE
Sam Lutzker, Project Coordinator, INCITE
William McAllister, Senior Research Fellow, INCITE
Kristin Murphy, Researcher, INCITE
Akash Jason Singh, Communications Intern, INCITE
Gaurav Singh, Data Scientist, INCITE
Gabriel Varela, Staff Associate, INCITE
Charlotte Wang, Director of Research, INCITE

Film Production

Cheri Bales, Production Assistant, Battle Creek
Garrett Combs, Director of Photography, Cheyenne
Katrina Duclos, Production Assistant, Battle Creek
Gabriela Garcia-Pardo, Director of Photography, Richmond
Asya Gorbacheva, Film Editor
Jay Mallin, Director of Photography, Richmond
Ian Kibbe, Director of Photography, Battle Creek
Naomi Ranz-Schleifer, Associate Producer, Richmond
Todd Tue, Director of Photography, Battle Creek
Carlin Zia, Film Editor

Funding support for Facing Whiteness was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Chicago Media Project. We greatly thank them for their generosity!