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Butler speaks on race relations

Sara Gardner | Monday, September 25, 2006

Dr. Shakti Butler, director of “Making Whiteness Visible,” strove to create a space of conversation in a presentation and discussion of her documentary film on Wednesday, Sept. 20, in Vander Vennet Theater.

Saint Mary’s Office of Multicultural Affairs presented the event, which captured the voices of white activists as they toil with a pervasive prejudice that still plagues our country today.

“To be white in this country is to be encapsulated in this social [milieu], this realm that not only allows denial of the issue of racism but really mandates denial,” said Tim Wise, one of the many faces trying to grip the “mirror of prejudice” in Butler’s film.

In the documentary, each activist’s story provides a live thread of mirrors, reflecting the state of denial within the white community. A white woman who saw her high school classmate forced to act out racial stereotypes in a play and a white man wanting to help a child of “abject poverty” around his college campus were two such stories,

Then there was the white female teacher “who knew only one black author” when her students asked to read black poets.

“Here I am with a Theater/English degree,” she said. “I could not [give them anything].”

Butler, the executive director World Trust Educational Services, Inc, opened the door to “transformative learning” or being able to “notice embedded assumptions and work with them.”

A multiracial woman of African-American, Arawak Indian and Russian-Jewish American mix, Butler spoke to students about her film through interactive partner and group discussions.

With “seeds of conversation,” we can delve deeper in the full meaning of our environment, Butler said.

“If white people don’t stand up, you are definitely going to have a hard time ever retaining anything ever remotely resembling a just community,” Wise said in his final statement in the documentary.

Overall, Butler’s message was a positive one.

“May you go forth and be curious of what you don’t know,” she said.