Whitney Dow '86 Discusses Race and Identity with Claudia Rankine

March 16, 2018

On Wednesday, March 7, the Office of University Life hosted In Conversation: Exploring Race and Whiteness in America Today, a panel discussion featuring award-winning documentarian Whitney Dow ’86 and renowned poet Claudia Rankine ’93SOA, moderated by MSNBC national correspondent Joy Reid.

Rankine and Dow each discussed the different approaches they take when addressing structural racism in their work, and briefly described their target audiences.

Dow is dedicated to making films about race and identity and has been doing so for close to 20 years. He attributes this dedication to a “racial epiphany” that he experienced when he began to see how much his identity was impacted by race. This epiphany motivated him to analyze the narrative of white Americans and encourage them to be more candid and open with each other about their racial identities. Dow feels that white Americans need to recognize the role that whiteness has played in shaping their identities and realize how this impacts people of color in America. He hopes that giving white Americans a language with which to discuss their whiteness will open the door for social change.

“I think there is a cognitive distance in white people due to the narratives that they think they have, and we don’t have a narrative to replace it with besides a narrative of loss,” Dow said.

Dow graduated from GS in 1986. He is currently an adjunct associate professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and has a research scholar appointment at Columbia University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Innovating Theory and Empirics (INCITE). His documentary work has been recognized by numerous awards, including the George Foster Peabody Award, the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award, and the IFP Anthony Radziwill Documentary Achievement Award. He is currently working on the Whiteness Project, a story-based interactive investigation into how white Americans experience their identity.