Art and Implicit Bias

August 26, 2013 2 Comments

The way Maya Wiley quickly and effectively names the problem that we have in how we deal with racism is truly remarkable.  It takes her two minutes to get across a point that can seem quite complex.  Her Center for Social Inclusion is my client and I couldn’t be prouder of the association.

We don’t know how to contend with the problem of implicit bias.  But this is indeed the problem that yields the profoundly unjust racialized outcomes that plague our communities.  The civil rights movement, and the march on Washington 50 years were essential steps forward.  And they gave us a set of tools for working with the explicit racism of Jim Crow and even the outrageous stuff coming out of talk radio.

But implicit race bias plagues good people, nice liberal people, people of color themselves.  It plagues good people and it hurts innocent people.

I caught up with this video while I was at this year’s Creative Change Retreat.  It was there that I met Sarah Lewis, author of the forthcoming book, Rise.  Sarah spoke of the power of aesthetics and the way in which beauty sneaks into our sub-conscious.  There is something about art that speaks to that in us which we do not fully understand.

We need to get creative in finding ways to get at the effect of implicit race bias.  We need creative policy proposals, imaginative interventions.  Blaming and shaming are not the best tools for dealing with this insidious problem.  So what can we do?

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t pretend that this is the only answer.  But I do know that aesthetics will play a role.  I know that we’ll need to look to art, to the sort of beauty that captivates the unknown inside ourselves.  This way we will begin to shed light upon the shadow of our fear of one another.


  • Jen Willsea says:


  • marktropolis says:

    So… read this earlier today, and as luck would have it, just came across this:

    Unfortunately, the original article is behind a paywall at the New Yorker, I was struck by the timing. It looks at some of the racial and gender assumptions made by Benjamin Millepied as the new director of the Paris Opera Ballet. Here’s the last paragraph:

    “Rethinking the way women’s bodies and what women are capable of doing with them, considering what stories you can tell and what audiences you can draw with a more diverse cast, and changing the stories you tell about the relationships with men and women are all major creative considerations. If Millepied were the head of a television network or a movie studio, these would be profoundly radical statements that would merit some consideration of the medium in question’s present workforce, the tropes it’s historically preferred, and what those tropes say about the medium’s relationship to and place within society as a whole. Maybe Mead’s trying to normalize that process by treating Millepied’s statements as if they’re not exceptionally controversial, just a statement of reality. But given how difficult diversity has been to achieve in other, more popular media, it might have been worth assessing this goal as part of Millepied’s larger project, and acknowledging exactly what it is that he’s taking on.”

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