What is white privilege?
This is the question white conservative Brian Grimm asked in 2008 when the United States was in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Grimm learned that black people have double the unemployment rate as white people and that the poverty rate for black people is 700% higher than white people.
A filmmaker, Grimm decided to ask black people about white privilege, but he realized he did not know any. Grimm said he then asked his liberal friends to help with setting up conversations, but they did not know any black people, either.
Over the next two years, Grimm talked to 150 people in seven states to better understand black history, white privilege and to begin to break down the uncomfortable walls between races.
Grimm learned that “everything I now (about black history) had been taught by someone white.”
The result is a 50-minute filmed titled “Racial Taboo.”
Mahomet resident Maggie Kinnamon worked with Mahomet United Methodist Church (MUMC) pastor John Macintosh to bring the film to Mahomet on October 1 from 2 to 5 p.m. The film will be shown at MUMC.
Kinnamon first saw “Racial Taboo” a year ago after her two sons, who were in seventh and eighth grade at the time, saw it with their grandmother.
The Kinnamon boys were impacted by a scene in the film that follows conversations with first-grade black children who have a white and black doll in front of them. The perceptions from the children showed how white is “good” and black is “bad” is ingrained into the beliefs about themselves, based on their skin color.
Although Maggie has been involved in many racial discussions within the Urbana School District where she has worked for more than 20 years, she said the movie has helped her notice her own white privilege in a way she hasn’t before.
Recently, she was walking out of a store, 10-feet behind a black woman, when the black woman was stopped to check her receipt.
“The woman handled it very well; she just asked why (the doorman) wanted to see her receipt when several people walked past before her without having their receipt inspected.”
“I would never have thought about that without seeing a film like this,” Kinnamon said. “I have never been questioned once in a store.”
Kinnamon also said that the film has given her more moxie to just acknowledge people who look different than her, rather than shy away as both black and white people tend to do.
“I’m a very open person naturally,” she said. “I’ve decided I’m going to make contact and smile no matter what someone’s race. I feel like I’m getting smiles back.”
2010 Mahomet census statistics show that Mahomet is comprised mostly of whites. With a 0.6% black population, Kinnamon said the town often has a stereotype of not being welcoming for people with a differing skin color.
“I think we are slowly becoming a town that has more people of color, and as that happens, I think we need to not have misconceptions about each other,” she said.
The film is followed by guided small group discussion where attendees can reflect on the film and how race has impacted their life or the American society. Organizers are also encouraged to continue the conversation with three sessions throughout the following months.
Kinnamon hopes the conversations will not only change the way people view Mahomet, but also educate community members on why the topic continues to be important.
“I think that most people are well-meaning,” she said. “Very few people consider themselves to be racist.”
“This film doesn’t come at you in an accusatory way. It just raises things you didn’t know about before or don’t really have reason to think about.”
“I think a lot of white people don’t think about it very often or they think ‘All this stuff is over with; slavery has been over for a long time. Everything is equal for everyone now…what’s the big deal? Why is it still an issue?’”
“But when you really look back and see how things have really been left out of mainstream education, you can make people aware of things you never learned before; and then you understand why it’s still an issue in our society.”
Kinnamon said one of the eye-opening statments in the film was when a black man described all of his fears and thoughts as he came to a cabin in a southern state.
He said, “privilege is not having to think about so many things.”
The film touches on black history, not only during slavery, but also during the Jim Crow era, into the 1960’s and today as media continues to paint black people as a threat.
“For 400 years of being we have been taught not to trust each other,” the film sites.
Kinnamon hopes that by bringing “Racial Taboo” and discussion to the Mahomet community, people of different races can work to change that misconception.
“Building relationships is key,” she said. “ We need to learn to look at a person for who they are instead of what their culture or skin color is.”
Eleven community members, Mahomet Police Chief Mike Metzler and Superintendent Lindsay Hall were at a preview night Sunday.
Kinnamon hopes to have the movie shown in Mahomet-Seymour Junior High or High school, too. She hopes parents will come see the showing on October 1.
When Kinnamon asked the group if they thought the movie was appropriate for students, Sharon Warren said she will bring her children to the film at Mahomet United Methodist Chruch.
“I hope to see many kids there,” Warren said.