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Truly listening to the concerns and aspirations of American citizens before understanding what they need is a skill and time commitment sadly lacking today.
Given your dedication to engaging citizens and strengthening the democratic process, we want to introduce you to Question Bridge: White Women in America, a multi-year transmedia project culminating in 2021 and aimed at building bridges of understanding across the very divides that your efforts forefront – divides that pose a clear and present threat to the United States’ democratic experiment.
We, too, have proof of concept. The original Question Bridge, created by conceptual artist and photography professor Chris Johnson, focused on Black Males (www.questionbridge.com). Chris, a Black male, learned that by limiting the project’s scope to a specific demographic, participants were less defensive and more vulnerable and willing to state their views. His project, produced between 1996 and 2012, has opened encouraging conversations among many different demographics and continues to be honored, with exhibitions at the Sundance Film Festival (2012) and in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Oakland Museum of California, The Brooklyn Museum, and the Harvey Gantt Center in North Carolina.
To extend and deepen the impact of the project, Johnson has been working since 2015 to bring Question Bridge: Black Males into American public schools. Recently, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system in North Carolina has agreed to collaborate with the Harvey Gantt Center to implement a project called “The Gantt Teacher Institute,” which contains at its heart content from Question Bridge: Black Males.
In May, 2019, Chris drafted a team of four white women – two seasoned journalists and two filmmakers – to produce “Question Bridge: White Women in America,” an appropriate and timely choice given that white women are arguably the largest voting bloc in the U.S. today and their voting pattern splits pretty much down the middle – mirroring our divided nation as a whole.
The purpose of the project is to reach across divides created by ideology, faith, and socio-economics (to name a few), to gain insights and understanding and, hopefully, a path toward more civil national discourse.
The Question Bridge format is simple and straight forward: the participant sits in front of our camera and is invited to imagine a white woman different from herself in some way and then ask the questions that she might not have the courage to ask in person if given the opportunity. To date, more than 70 ideologically diverse white women from 7 different American cities have asked about the environment, politics, religion, and more. Life and death, caregiving and childrearing, climate change, President Trump, abortion, immigration, faith, sexuality, body image...nothing is off limits.
Each participant is then invited to answer pre-filmed questions from previous participants. Our role is to act as facilitators. We never tell the women what to ask or how to answer (other than, at times, to encourage concision). She interacts with our team of four white women but does not interact with other participants except through the questions presented on screen.
Question Bridge: White Women has differed from Question Bridge: Black Males in several unanticipated ways. First, whereas the inclusion of “Black” in the original Question Bridge title was perceived as an invitation to an often-maligned demographic to be seen and heard in their own words, the inclusion of “White” in the second Question Bridge title has been more fraught – often viewed as exclusionary rather than inclusionary. Whereas race is an everyday reality for people of color, most White people don’t ponder to the same persistent degree its place and power in American life. We suspect that inviting White women to voice their views has spooked some potential funders rightly sensitive to the perception of exclusivity and attuned to the importance of inclusion and diversity.
As understandable as this concern is, we can testify based on participation so far that the prominence of the word “White” in the project title has sparked an examination of race in the U.S. that likely would not have otherwise occurred with such heartfelt depth. The questions and answers have been at times fitful, often self-exploratory, and, for the most part, encouraging that this model provides the possibility of an honest exploration of the deep wound of racism.
The second surprise for our team is how difficult it is to draft, in equal measure, White women along the full spectrum of experience and opinion – something that was not the case with Question Bridge: Black Males. We’ve enlisted terrific representatives, and everyone who has participated has told us she enjoyed the experience (we send post-participation thank you’s and surveys). But in terms of time cost per participant, it’s much more expensive to convince conservative women to participate. Our goal is to work harder at successfully including a wider variety of conservative women, rural women, and low-income women. We won’t succeed unless we include all views, and now understand that tapping into and gaining trust across the economic, religious, and ideological spectrum will require more robust and concerted effort and funding.
We hope to accelerate our work as the country heads into what, by all accounts, will be a brutally divisive 2020 political season. Thus far, we have relied on sweat equity and small grants but we are looking for the means to allow our team of four to fulfill our mission: to shape a civil national conversation, one that respectfully shows great diversity of thought within a single demographic while also highlighting the points of surprising convergence.
We believe Question Bridge: White Women in America will be a valued resource for media looking for civil, solutions-based stories in a time of increasingly dangerous political discord; for political campaigns interested in learning what members of a particular, and particularly important, demographic are concerned about and prioritize; for schools to use as a teaching tool; and for civic organizations to spark respectful conversations on the issues of the day.
Your support for our project will add vital means to continuing this work. Specifically, we seek financial support that could insure our team’s ability to accelerate the scope and breadth of Question Bridge: White Women in America.
For each day of filming, we work in one-hour increments with eight to ten female participants. We usually spend three to four days filming per city. The cost to cover our team’s travel, housing, and food per city is approximately $4,000, and this does not include any kind of compensation for the team. We are looking for an individual, group of concerned citizens, or an organization to come on as Executive Producers to help underwrite the cost of filming in 20 additional cities.
In concert with financial assistance, we seek networking help to make the kinds of community connections that will engender increased trust in our work and widen our participation base.
Finally, we welcome introductions to influencers who understand the importance of building bridges across gridlock and hyper-partisanship and are interested in amplifying the work of those whose core mission is to build just such bridges – in our case one question, one woman, one honest and respectful dialogue at a time.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss our project with you further. In the meantime, you can view several Q&A examples to give you a sense of our project below. More information about our team and mission, and further examples of our efforts to date, can be found at our website (www.questionbridgewhitewomen.com).
We look forward to hearing from you.