The Strange Story of Whitelandia

In a magical taste of irony, Whitelandia, a new documentary on the problematic racial history of Oregon, has run into some problems surrounding appropriation and white privilege. The filmmakers of the documentary, Matt Zodrow and Tracy MacDonald who are both white, had planned to work with black communities in Oregon, but it turns out that the individuals who the filmmakers reported as supporting the film were not on board. Writer and scholar Walidah Imarisha whose work the documentary was based on, was featured in the trailer for the documentary and the movie’s Kickstarter all without her permission. She explains: 

This situation, where my work as a Black female scholar has been used by two white filmmakers without conversation, credit, compensation or control reeks of intellectual colonialism.

Maybe it’s time we let people tell their own story.

Team Blackness also discussed a black student president wh0 was forced to resign after mocking her rich, white, lacrosse playing, overprivileged brethren; the worst states in which to raise black children; and how Jeremy Meeks has gone from felon to fashion model.

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21 replies
  1. 1
    Paul in KY says:

    Read about the Student President at some fancypants HS who was forced to resign. Many white people have no sense of humour. The assholes she was mocking are the same assholes I mock.

  2. 2
    TomG says:

    It’s astounding (but really shouldn’t be) how many of the overprivileged have NO sense of humor. She was punching up, very VERY lightly. They punched down. HARD.

  3. 3
    MomSense says:

    I can’t listen now but will when I get home.

  4. 4
    celticdragonchick says:

    This situation, where my work as a Black female scholar has been used by two white filmmakers without conversation, credit, compensation or control reeks of intellectual colonialism.

    Maybe it’s time we let people tell their own story.

    We have seen this before in academic circles, and I can’t help but think that this deadens intellectual freedom. Am I not allowed to do academic work on African American history since I am of Scottish desent? Are African Americans precluded from writing about Culloden in 1745 or highland clan social structures by way of retaliation?

    Effing ridiculous.

    (I start my undergrad history senior dissertation in about 6 weeks, so this question has actual meaning for me. This wil be my second degree, as I already have a bs in geology.)

  5. 5
    Darkrose says:

    @celticdragonchick: You seem to have missed this part:

    my work as a Black female scholar has been used by two white filmmakers without conversation, credit, compensation or control

    The problem is not that the filmmakers are white. It’s that they used work done by others without attribution, and then misrepresented the final product as having a stamp of approval from the very people who had declined to be involved in the project. The fact that it was a couple of white guys who just discovered the racial history of Oregon appropriating the work done on that topic by people of color is a perfect encapsulation of why this is problematic: they’re claiming to tell peoples’ stories while silencing them in the process.

  6. 6
    Paul in KY says:

    @Darkrose: No compensation either for using her work.

  7. 7
    daveNYC says:

    The picture had her holding a hockey stick.
    The fact that she hashtagged the photo with ‘peakedinhighschool’ seems to be tempting fate.

  8. 8
    smintheus says:

    She was mocking fellow students for playing hockey, not lacrosse.

  9. 9
    Spinoza Is My Co-pilot says:

    @Darkrose:

    The problem is not that the filmmakers are white. It’s that they used work done by others without attribution, and then misrepresented the final product as having a stamp of approval from the very people who had declined to be involved in the project. The fact that it was a couple of white guys who just discovered the racial history of Oregon appropriating the work done on that topic by people of color is a perfect encapsulation of why this is problematic: they’re claiming to tell peoples’ stories while silencing them in the process.

    As an aging, white-haired white guy I agree with you, mostly (assuming these are the facts of the case — I have no reason to doubt that, by the way).

    In fact, it’s not just “problematic” — it’s downright wrong.

    However, I’ll also agree with celticdragonchick that Elon James White’s conclusion that “Maybe it’s time we let people tell their own story” could definitely have the effect of deadening intellectual freedom (well, I’d tone it down and say “inhibiting”).

    Only people from whatever subgroup are entitled to tell the “story” of said subgroup? Nah — not down with that concept at all.

    And I’m not sure who exactly it is who is stopping people here in the good ol’ US of A from telling their own story. Not in the 21st century, anyway.

    Zodrow and MacDonald may have misappropriated Walidah Imarisha’s work, but how is that “silencing them (her) in the process”? No one is preventing her from promulgating it herself, and she seems to not be “silenced” but rather forcefully speaking up on her own behalf, to the point that we here know about it. Good for her.

  10. 10
    Paul in KY says:

    @Spinoza Is My Co-pilot: IMO, it was silencing her by getting her work out there, under their name. Thus, everyone would go to them (and not her) on the story that she did first.

  11. 11
    Groucho48 says:

    There is a long comment thread on buzzfeed about the young lady and her actions. The comments seem pretty evenly split amongst folks calling her a racist, folks thinking it’s great that she’s speaking out and folks saying…who cares, this is just typical high school drama.

    I thought the photos, themselves, were clever and only gently mocking. There was /outrage at her labeling them with a #confederate hashtag, but, I commented that if you didn’t like being labeled with a #confederate hashtag, don’t hang confederate flags in your dorm windows, which is, apparently, a fairly common occurrence.

    The /outraged ones also mocked her for being a freeloader, because they apparently assumed that she, as a black person, was given a free ride, then, when it turns out her parents had paid the full tuition, they switched to mocking her for being a rich kid, herself, so, it’s hypocritical of her to mock other rich kids.

    There was also the usual…well, if she had been a white male mocking black females, she would have been kicked out of school. As there doesn’t seem to be any indication that the folks hanging the confederate flags suffered any kind of consequences, nor did there seem to be any big effort on the part of the school to track down the students sending her nasty text messages and such, their argument doesn’t seem to have any merit. I alos mentioned Mitt Romney’s behavior when he was in prep school and asked what kind of consequences he received, but, haven’t gotten a reply, yet. Not holding my breath.

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/katiej.....f3fc61588c

  12. 12
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Darkrose:

    Attribution is easy enough to correct, and that is not a ‘white privilige’ failing. It is merely asshat-edness that can be seen in end of term papers in every college in America. I have had to grade a few myself. The insistence that only members of group (Y) can be allowed to hold opinions, conduct research or publish findings on said group (Y) is destructive to free academic inquiry and stifles debate even within the aforementioned group.

    Tell your story any way you like, but don’t expect me to automatically concede that it is the only version or even a correct version. That of course applies to my own Celtic Scots story…which is full of (justifiable) outraged indignation over English war crimes and atrocities over the last 1,000 years, but goes light on war crimes and atrocities committed by Scots on one another (and which became the basis for several of George Martin’s bloodier moments in GoT, including the “Black Dinner” of 1440 and the Glencoe Massacre…which has lingering effects to this very day. One of my own officers in the Army spat on the ground every time he said “Campbell” because of Clan Campbell’s role in the event.)

  13. 13
    kc says:

    Wondering if you read the entire story at the link you posted.

  14. 14
    celticdragonchick says:

    Meh. Wouldn’t let me correct “privilege”. Annoyance.

  15. 15
    kc says:

    @Darkrose:

    c: they’re claiming to tell peoples’ stories while silencing them in the process.

    Sorry, no. No one is being “silenced.”

  16. 16
    Tone In DC says:

    @Groucho48:

    I know a bit about schools like that. And kids like those MoTU spawn that were oh so offended at Maya Peterson’s poking fun at them.

    It says a lot that those confederate flags apparently weren’t worthy of censure by the school, but the mixed raced NI(Clang) making jibes at their expense necessitated her stepping down as school president.

    And the kids, talking about her hair, her need for financial aid (inaccurate, as it turns out) and such, calling her hateful… irony fails.

  17. 17
    taylormattd says:

    @celticdragonchick: You might want to actually click links and read.

  18. 18
    celticdragonchick says:

    @taylormattd:

    I did. If anything, the film makers seem to have tried to work with Ms. Amarisha from the beginning. I am not sure what to believe about the controversy at this point.

  19. 19
    kc says:

    From the link:

    I reached out to both Imarisha and Whitelandia’s producers to ask about their reactions to these developments; Imarisha didn’t return emails by press time, but Zodrow replied that he and MacDonald felt “disappointment” when reading Imarisha’s post, claiming that Imarisha had voiced no complaints about the filmmakers’ use of the video, which was posted on YouTube in 2012 by “Joe Anybody.” The Whitelandia video that featured Imarisha went online this past March; prior to that, Zodrow claims, Imarisha contacted the filmmakers “via Facebook two months before, in January, inquiring about the project and offering her support. Tracy MacDonald and I met with her on March 13, at which point we discussed the trailer and the use of Joe Anybody’s video. She voiced no objections to her image being used.”

  20. 20
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    Do the film makers have signed releases from Walidah Imarisha allowing them to use her material? If not, then they have a problem.

  21. 21
    adepsis says:

    @celticdragonchick: What if they did? That does not automatically give them the right to her intellectual property. Did you click through and read Ms. Imarisha’s complete statement? Her main point pertains to the concerns about the film itself rather than her relationship with the filmmakers.

    To say my work is the only work out there is indicative of the problems with this film, the lack of connection with, and knowledge of, the Black community, evident in their preparation and approach. When we met, the producers only mentioned a couple connections they had sought to establish to the Black community. They had no concrete plans about relationship building or accountability processes, and beyond saying “Folks will get to tell their story in our film,” they had no ideas about compensation or support for the individuals and organizations who would be giving their time and energy for these filmmakers to use. I expressed my concerns to them about all of this. I talked to them about what steps they had put into place to build relationships with the Black community. I asked them how they would support work being led by the Black community now, about accountability to the community, about control, credit and compensation for individual community members featured in the film, and the people like me they were asking to be advisers and conduits to the community. Their answers were vague and didn’t feel thought-out to me. Their actions since have confirmed this, and have led me to request they remove me from the trailer, as well as not use my framework for their film.

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