The last few weeks have been an important moment for race in America, and the rest of the world too. The brutal and unjustified killing of George Floyd has triggered not just a wave of global protests but a mass reflection on the nature of race and its role in society.
Books like White Fragility and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race have shot up the bestseller list as people across the world take a moment to reflect. While Black people have constantly been made aware of their ‘blackness’, for many white people this is the first time they’ve been made to think about their ‘whiteness’.
This moment didn’t come from nowhere, it’s been building slowly for decades. It represents the gradual erosion of ‘White Perspective’: the dominant view of western culture for as long as it’s been around. When we look back on 2020 it may be seen as a tipping point, the moment when a white view of the world truly started to collapse and turn into something more diverse.
If you’re white it can be easy not to realise how much of mainstream culture is portrayed through white eyes, but if you’re Black or brown this is something you’ve been fighting your whole life. White perspective is a powerful, unconscious shaping of the world that is only now truly being challenged. It created a world where superheroes have pale skin, where the 60s are seen as a prosperous decade and where non-guitar-based music is easily categorised as ‘urban’.
REMOVING THE WHITE FILTER
Over the last decade more and more Black and brown voices have fought their way into places of real cultural influence, as writers, music moguls and sport coaches. As they’ve done it they’ve managed to begin reshaping popular culture and start taking the white filter off the world we see.
Shows like Insecure have Black writers in the driver’s seat and are resulting in more nuanced portrayals of Black people. Black characters that aren’t viewed principally through their white counterpart’s eyes and that aren’t necessarily defined by their blackness.
Issa Rae, the creator and star of the show, felt she wasn’t going to get a break through the traditional industry pathway. So she created Awkward Black Girl, a YouTube show that propelled her to success and got her a HBO deal. The show has been lauded for creating a more realistic and non-stereotypical view of Black characters.
Black voices have fought their way into places of real cultural influence. As they’ve done it they’ve managed to begin reshaping popular culture and start taking the white filter off
Malorie Blackman is the Black British writer that created Noughts and Crosses, now a BBC drama series, that imagines a world where Africa colonised Europe. It’s part of a series of important pieces of art that are more actively challenging white perspective and asking us to actively reflect on how it shapes our views.
We’re starting to accept that there is no immutable law that says Black actors must be cast in ‘Black’ roles. There was outrage at the announcement of Black actors taking the roles of Ariel in the Little Mermaid and Hermione Granger in a theatre adaption of Harry Potter. Hermione was actually never specified as white in the books, most of us just assumed she was.
The incredible success of Black Panther (still from movie shown top) also can’t be underestimated as a moment of cultural significance. For the first time we saw that Black people can be superheroes on a blockbuster scale. This will be the first generation of Black kids to grow up with a heroic version of themselves to look up to on the big screen. The ‘Wakanda’ hand sign has come to signify so much more than just a comic book story.
REWRITING THE HISTORY BOOKS
One of the most fundamental ways we can see this shift occurring is in how we view history, particularly the age of European empires. White culture has often unquestioningly viewed these periods as times of great national pride, more and more we’re facing up to an alternative view. While academics and historians are playing their role, often it is modern cultural voices and institutions that are having the most powerful impact on the mainstream.
Here in the Netherlands, the Amsterdam Museum recently decided to end the use of ‘The Golden Age’ in reference to the Dutch-dominated 17th century. This was dismissed as “nonsense” by Prime Minister Mark Rutte but set off an important debate in the country.
While academics and historians are playing their role, often it is modern cultural voices and institutions that are having the most powerful impact on the mainstream
The Netherlands is not alone in taking a fresh look at its history books. In the last few weeks we’ve seen statues of slave traders pulled down in the UK, as well as the controversial tagging of Churchill as racist, creating wide discussion and debate.
In the United States the legacy of Thomas Jefferson has gone through a major transition. The writer of perhaps the world’s most powerful words on freedom and equality is finally being seen as the slave owner he was. Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton played a major role in helping rewrite this narrative and reposition one of the most important people in American history.
TIME TO SEE THE WORLD AS IT IS
This moment represents a tipping point on race. It’s one where we are rightly demanding a new level of action to address systemic racism. The cultural, creative and media industries need to reflect on the whiteness of our perspective and take concrete steps to address it.
We Are Pi is a Black owned business (Alex has British Jamaican heritage), so this has been a personal issue since the agency was founded. We made a documentary to educate people on the true Black, gay origins of House Music, we created a series championing Black female entrepreneurs, plus we’ve fought against racist casting standards. We just published a new research report exploring society’s changing rules and the end of the white mainstream and perspective.
We have a lot more to do though, and it’s important that the burden of those responsibilities is now shared by those of us that are white. It’s time for us to truly reflect on our whiteness and the perspective it’s given us. To lift the white filter from our eyes and the work we create, and to portray the world as it truly is.