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What White People Think

Kathleen Dreier | Arizona, United States

Organization: Kathleen Dreier Photography

“Like many middle-class white people with educated parents I was raised that there’s a certain way that you speak and that indicates your intelligence and your intelligence tells people that you are worthy. And I unconsciously adopted a stance that if you didn’t speak the way I did, you were less intelligent and if you were less intelligent you were less worthy of my consideration. It’s extremely humbling now for me to recognize how wrong that is. Not only is it wrong morally, it’s just plain wrong to think that people who don’t speak English the way I was raised are less intelligent. Throughout my life I have categorized people and become friends with people who speak the way I do. I never understood until recently that AAVE (African American Vernacular English) was an actual language variation of its own. I’ve been dismissing huge swaths of the population because I considered them less valuable. I required black folks to code switch just to be my friend. I am sincerely sorry for my judgement and ignorance. I did not realize until recently what a white supremacist attitude this is.”

When I lost all of my paid photography work in March 2020 due to the pandemic, I began two social change portrait series related to our frontline workers and then in June 2020 after George Floyd’s murder, our Black communities. Following a courageous conversation with a Black friend in early September 2020, my third series, What White People Think, was birthed. He said Black people have been trying to demonstrate their worth for hundreds of years and that now it was time for me as a White woman and an artist to take greater risk, turning the camera on myself and other White people. In my heart, I knew he was right even though I was very uncomfortable proceeding. This ongoing series is in its beginning phases with approximately 20 participants to date. I am seeking guidance on how to evolve the series and how/if to interconnect it to my Tucson Black Voices series as well as my own personal revelations about racial matters.

Related exhibit: Tucson Black Voices

Note: The words associated with each image is an excerpt from the individual's full statement.




Adhering strictly to social distancing protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the portraits are done outside. I am masked, photographing 10 feet away from the person, typically outside of their home for their convenience. From the outset, I was committed to not formally interviewing the participant because I didn’t want to direct or shape the person’s statement. Instead I give each person a simple writing prompt, “Share with us whatever it is you want about your experience of being a White person and your awareness of systemic racism, privilege and bias.” After the person emails me their statement, I share their portrait and words to various social media pages including my dedicated Facebook and Instagram pages. I do not censor any statement, instead invite the person to express themselves freely.

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