Let's talk about bias, yeah?
That's what Procter & Gamble hopes to accomplish with an educational website and a new video, "The Look," which launched during Cannes Lions. In it, you'll get a tiny taste of what it's like to be a black man in America.
Created by Saturday Morning, the work follows "The Talk," which illustrated the uncomfortable conversation black parents must have with their kids about moving safely in environments where merely being can put them in danger. The piece won an Emmy last year for outstanding commercial.
Saturday Morning is a collective composed of ad industry veterans making work that challenges received ideas about racial bias and injustice. "The Look" is largely silent and follows a black man through banal moments in a day, which become charged with unspoken aggression just because of who he is. He walks his kid to school, takes him swimming. He eats alone at a diner, visits a nice suit store, tries catching the elevator before it closes.
We were reminded of a phrase we learned in school—symbolic violence, coined by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. It categorizes the kind of violence that passes from person to person in a way that isn't visible, but can cause just as much harm, if not more. It's the violence of gaslighting, of insisting somebody gave you a look that nobody else saw. It's the violence of feeling the temperature in a room change when you walk into it, everybody looking at you, then away.
And it compounds when everyone else asks whether you are sure, or uses their own experiences to nullify your own.
In essence, symbolic violence is a power flex by a dominant group: It's often unconscious, agreed-upon by the imposer and the imposed-upon. It references the tacit ways we reinforce the status quo—using gestures, looks or a few choice words to signal, perfectly clearly, that someone is not welcome or has stepped out of line.
We've all thrown some hard shade, and we know it's a superpower—an act that, well deployed, can make a victim shrivel (and ideally leave a room). We've perhaps also been the victim. But "The Look" is replete with the kind of symbolic violence few people discuss with ease, because this is also part of the social contract we've accepted.
You and I know the dark pleasure of excluding a jerk with a dismissive eyebrow. We all acknowledge that's real, and revel in the unspoken message. Yet when an entire group talks about their kids getting shot just for walking, about the security guy who follows them right as they walk into a store, about the job they were sure to get until they showed up for the interview, or about that weird way of being polite that isn't polite at all, we are suddenly uncertain about any of it.
Are you sure? That's never happened to me. And our personal favorite: What were you wearing?
Ah. We're reminded of all that talk about a hoodie.
The ad ends on a happy note. We enter a courtroom, seemingly from the man's perspective. You're supposed to believe he did something bad, driving this condemnation about bias home.
But if you've absorbed the lesson of the past minute, you won't think that at all. You'll know exactly where he'll be—seated at the head, as the judge.
If you didn't, well … there's a website for that now. "Let's talk about the look so we can see beyond it," the film proposes.
"We all want to live in a world that is equal and inclusive—in race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, ability, religion and age—but the truth is, it's not fully equal or inclusive, and one of the core reasons is bias," says P&G's chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard.
"Empathy can be a particularly effective antidote to bias. We produced 'The Look' to change perspectives, prompt personal introspection to change hearts and minds, bringing people together for a conversation and ultimately behavior change."
I would add a caveat to this invitation to talk more. We've been talking a lot. If social networks now feel like the plague, it's because that's all we do—talk, and argue, and write essays and forward videos.
It's not a black person's job to spend their lives educating people on how to see them as people. We've got tons of resources for that now. Strong, powerful television. Books both new and very old. Conscious fashion. At least one unbelievable musical.
Rather than talk, it may be more useful to propose better listening, better awareness, doing the homework. Engage in the everyday work of examining the ways we possibly suck and are actually hurting others, even tacitly, instead of defensively pointing to reusable grocery bags and a black friend.
Talk has become a vacuum. Black folks still get shot for no reason, we're still more or less thoughts-and-prayers-ing the gun problem, 60 percent of animal diversity has vanished in less than 50 years, women's bodies are again being legislated away from them, Europe is in the middle of yet another record heat wave, and nobody gets world-saver cookies for Liking and Sharing.
Minorities shouldn't have to explain what it is to be a minority to anybody. If this work saves somebody a few minutes of life doing that, it will have done its job. We're out of time.
"The Look" was shot by Anthony Mandler of Stink Films, with Malik Sayeed as DP. It will appear online and also feature an interactive experience, developed by North Kingdom, that provides historical context for every scene so you know it's all really, really real and not just some overreactor's imagination.
A word from Mandler: "When I first saw the idea for 'The Look,' I immediately knew I wanted to be part of this project. As a filmmaker, I believe in the power of narrative. It can reveal truths, change minds, move culture. We can't fight racial bias unless we acknowledge that it exists, so I'm humbled to be part of a project that confronts a difficult subject with such directness."
Co-Founders - Geoff Edwards, Keith Cartwright, Kwame Taylor-Hayford, Jayanta Jenkins
Partner Lead - Deja Cox
Strategy Director - Sophie Ozoux
Executive Producer - Erin Sullivan
Interactive Copywriter - Brigg Bloomquist
Designers - Rick Souza, Thiago Gripp
Director: Anthony Mandler
Managing Director: Jeff Baron
Executive Producer: Fran McGivern
Producer: Mark Hall
Cinematographer: Malik Sayeed
Art Director: Fernanda Guerrero
Stylist: Monique Vilfort
Service Co Red Creek: Ivan Entel
Senior Producer: Aneisa Hagen
Art Director: Eric Margusity
Designer: Miryam Benito Lopez
Technical Director: Patrick Waks
Front-end Developer: Waverly Mandel
Cabin Editing Company
Editor: Sam Ostrove
Editor:Taylor Tracy Walsh
Editor: Randy Baublis
Assistant Editor: Nicholas Deliberto
Producer: Michelle Dorsch
EP: Remy Foxx
Managing Partner: Carr Schilling
Company 3 NY
Sofie Borup - Colorist
Alexandra Lubrano - Producer
Barking Owl Sound
Mix - AJ Murillo
Sound Design - Morgan Johnson
Music - Barking Owl
Creative Director - Kelly Bayett
Producer - Hannah Alter