Some recent online criticism took me by surprise. It probably shouldn’t have.
Last week, Twitter punched me in the gut.
After someone reposted a link to my project explainer, noting that with a white person behind it, it had the chance to go sideways, a small community of Latinx U.S. Americans jumped on board with the criticism, which got pretty extreme in a few cases.
I’m embarrassed to say, it took me by surprise.
I wanted to create this new docu-series exploring U.S. imperialism because I see a real dearth of those kinds of stories in U.S. media — and because these lesser-told accounts that may seem distant and long ago to some are actually critical context for the issues we’re all concerned about today.
In many ways, we’ve forgotten our own history or we were lied to from the start. Revisiting some of those stories and bringing light to them is what I’ve been driven to do.
But since I began the project, I’ve also described, in part, my motivations for what not to do. I’ve talked about being hyper aware of the history of white people in other countries — colonizing and enslaving, diminishing and extorting, profiteering off of faces and experiences and controlling narratives for their own gain.
I’ve explained that as a white person moving through non-white places, one of the few ways I felt I could do good and not harm was to make my work a critique of my own people, my own government; to be a voice in examining that influence so that we can work to change the direction of the tide.
Still, when some of those accusations were slung my way, I was shamefully taken off guard.
After months of working on this project from El Salvador, writing and recording Salvadoran stories, Salvadoran faces, Salvadoran meals, I had forgotten the delicacy of someone like me doing this, too.
In focusing so intently on the context of my series, I had forgotten the context of who I am as its creator: another white person telling another non-white story, just in a different way. I had forgotten that regardless of my intentions, by my very presence, I could cause harm.
More impactful than the realization that I had forgotten, though, was the jolting reminder of one particular reality: that it was possible for me to forget.
The fact that I could forget — while many of those responding to me on Twitter clearly couldn’t — is the very definition of privilege.
As a white person, I don’t have to think about what it would feel like for someone to seize a piece of my culture and describe it to the world; I don’t have to think about the trust it would require to allow someone to do that. White perspectives already control the annuls of history —its origin stories, its war accounts, its political context, its explanations of poverty, the way we even think about the world.
My narrative isn’t threatened. I can forget.
Thus, after the Twitter tirade, I realized with a deep pit in my gut, that even if all the responses I was getting weren’t rational, the anger was. Given the framework of what I’m doing, I deserve the scrutiny, the doubt, even the jumping to conclusions.
Put together, the effect was excruciating. It was also an important reminder of what is at stake. It was a reminder of how critical it is for me to be really careful about how I do this work and how I insert myself into it. It was a reminder that if I *don’t* take great care, that I could be part of the very problem I’m trying to address.
Since that, I have questioned so many aspects of my project. I have deleted scenes from the script and from my Final Cut Pro editor, and have set out to reimagine major elements of the final production (a terrifying prospect at this stage). I remember now, that in every scene, with every clip, I need to ask myself: does this do good and not harm?
If I’m honest, since last week, there is also a new, sinking self-doubt in me; there is a searing new fear.
Again, here, perspective is needed: that this painful feeling of enlightenment is not the point; that it pales in comparison to the continued pain, in others, that I’m trying to avoid exacerbating.
But the reality is that for everyone who has privilege, coming to terms with it piece by piece — in all the little and large ways that are necessary for us to relearn what we thought we knew, a context we thought we understood — is not meant to be a comfortable process. It is gut-wrenching and dismantling. It makes you question who you are. It’s why we’re all so stubborn and loathe to acknowledge it in the first place.
It does not feel good. But I hope these emotions, raw and aching, will drive me toward something I feel proud of, will allow me to make this project better, and help me continue to try to be a better white person every day.