Just what is going on with white people? Police shootings of unarmed African Americans. Acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists. The renewed embrace of raw, undisguised white-identity politics. Unending racial inequity in schools, housing, criminal justice, and hiring. Some of this feels new, but in truth it’s an old story.

Why? Where did the notion of “whiteness” come from? What does it mean? What is whiteness for?

Scene on Radio host and producer John Biewen took a deep dive into these questions, along with an array of leading scholars and regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, in this fourteen-part documentary series, released between February and August 2017. The series editor is Loretta Williams.

 

  • Episode 31: Turning the Lens (Seeing White, Part 1)

    Events of the past few years have turned a challenging spotlight on White people, and Whiteness, in the United States. An introduction to our series exploring what it means to be White. By John Biewen, with special guest Chenjerai Kumanyika. Download a transcript of the episode.

  • Episode 32: How Race Was Made (Seeing White, Part 2)

    For much of human history, people viewed themselves as members of tribes or nations but had no notion of “race.” Today, science deems race biologically meaningless. Who invented race as we know it, and why? By John Biewen, with guest Chenjerai Kumanyika. Photo: The Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal. The highlighted figure in the center ...

  • Episode 33: Made in America (Seeing White, Part 3)

    Chattel slavery in the United States, with its distinctive – and strikingly cruel – laws and structures, took shape over many decades in colonial America. The innovations that built American slavery are inseparable from the construction of Whiteness as we know it today. By John Biewen, with guest Chenjerai Kumanyika. Image: Meeting of the Virginia House ...

  • Episode 34: On Crazy We Built a Nation (Seeing White, Part 4)

    “All men are created equal.” Those words, from the Declaration of Independence, are central to the story that Americans tell about ourselves and our history. But what did those words mean to the man who actually wrote them? By John Biewen, with guest Chenjerai Kumanyika. Image: Bronze Statue of Thomas Jefferson being erected in Jefferson Memorial, ...

  • Episode 35: Little War on the Prairie (Seeing White, Part 5)

    Growing up in Mankato, Minnesota, John Biewen heard next to nothing about the town’s most important historical event. In 1862, Mankato was the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history – the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors – following one of the major wars between Plains Indians and settlers. In this documentary, originally ...

  • Episode 36: That’s Not Us, So We’re Clean (Seeing White, Part 6)

    When it comes to America’s racial sins, past and present, a lot of us see people in one region of the country as guiltier than the rest. Host John Biewen spoke with some white Southern friends about that tendency. Part Six of our ongoing series, Seeing White. With recurring guest, Chenjerai Kumanyika. Image: A lynching on ...

  • Episode 37: Chenjerai’s Challenge (Seeing White, Part 7)

    “How attached are you to the idea of being white?” Chenjerai Kumanyika puts that question to host John Biewen, as they revisit an unfinished conversation from a previous episode. Part 7 of our series, Seeing White. Download a transcript of the episode. Composite image: Chenjerai Kumanyika, left; photo by Danusia Trevino. And John Biewen, photo by Ewa ...

  • Episode 38: Skulls and Skin (Seeing White, Part 8)

    Scientists weren’t the first to divide humanity along racial – and racist – lines. But for hundreds of years, racial scientists claimed to provide proof for those racist hierarchies – and some still do. Image: Skulls in the Samuel Morton Collection, University of Pennsylvania Museum. Photo by John Biewen Resources for this episode: Fatal Invention, by Dorothy Roberts The ...

  • Episode 39: A Racial Cleansing in America (Seeing White Part 9)

    In 1919, a white mob forced the entire black population of Corbin, Kentucky, to leave, at gunpoint. It was one of many racial expulsions in the United States. What happened, and how such racial cleansings became “America’s family secret.”  Image: Train track in Corbin, Kentucky. Photo by John Biewen The history of Corbin as presented by the ...

  • Episode 40: Citizen Thind (Seeing White, Part 10)

    The story of Bhagat Singh Thind, and also of Takao Ozawa – Asian immigrants who, in the 1920s, sought to convince the U.S. Supreme Court that they were white in order to gain American citizenship. Thind’s “bargain with white supremacy,” and the deeply revealing results. Photo: Bhagat Singh Thind in U.S. Army uniform. Smithsonian Institution

  • Episode 41: Danger (Seeing White, Part 11)

    For hundreds of years, the white-dominated American culture has raised the specter of the dangerous, violent black man. Host John Biewen tells the story of a confrontation with an African American teenager. Then he and recurring guest Chenjerai Kumanyika discuss that longstanding image – and its neglected flipside: white-on-black violence. Photo: A police car near a ...

  • Episode 42: My White Friends (Seeing White, Part 12)

    For years, Myra Greene had explored blackness through her photography, often in self-portraits. She wondered, what would it mean to take pictures of whiteness? For her friends, what was it like to be photographed because you’re white? With another conversation between host John Biewen and series collaborator Chenjerai Kumanyika. Photo: Matt Geesaman, Chicago, 2009. By Myra ...

  • Episode 44: White Affirmative Action (Seeing White, Part 13)

    When it comes to U.S. government programs and support earmarked for the benefit of particular racial groups, history is clear. White folks have received most of the goodies. By John Biewen, with Deena Hayes-Greene of the Racial Equity Institute and recurring series partner Chenjerai Kumanyika. Photo: U.S. soldiers returning home from World War Two the same month ...

  • Episode 45: Transformation (Seeing White, Part 14)

    The concluding episode in our series, Seeing White. An exploration of solutions and responses to America’s deep history of white supremacy by host John Biewen, with Chenjerai Kumanyika, Robin DiAngelo, and William “Sandy” Darity, Jr.