Reality testing, Dylan Marron and Every Single Word

Every Single Word is a fantastic project by Dylan Marron. It’s a few years old. He takes Hollywood feature films and edits them down so that what he has left is every line spoken by a person of colour.

They are brilliant.

What becomes evident is just how few racialized minority characters there are in mainstream films.

And even though I’m reasonably familiar with research on racism and white-washing and the under-representation of marginalized people in movies, I find the videos to be surprising and informative.

They are, in this sense, guides to an important dimension of emotional intelligence: reality testing

Racism is, among other things, a deeply rooted cognitive bias. The research on implicit associations, for example, is telling us that racism is far more pernicious than we’ve understood it to be.1 This is all obvious, of course, to folks who experience the impacts of racism. It’s the daily grind of living in a racist society.2 3 4

But for those of us with the privilege of floating above the experience of those impacts, these movies can help make the point in a different and more lasting, and more emotionally powerful way.

This is the point of reality testing, by the way. We humans believe a wide range of false things. We often don’t even realize what we believe. We just operationalize it.

In Hollywood movies, white folks are over-represented and have been for, well, forever. Partly this is the result of white washing stories. And partly this is simply the result of stories being written, produced, cast and directed by mostly white folks with cognitive bias.

One study from USC, which corroborated the finding that racial minorities are underrepresented in movies, found that black directors were positively correlated with having more black actors on screen. Racialized minority women were affected the most by exclusionary hiring practices.5

When asked, most white folks don’t realize that white people are over-represented in Hollywood movies. This is a pretty classic example of how reality testing can be skewed by privilege.6

And that’s why I love tests and guides that allow us, especially those of us with privilege, to check our assumptions. They are aids to our reality testing and our willingness to use them is part of our emotional intelligence.7

And now we have another visual guide, Every Single Word, by Dylan Marron. He has done us the favour of editing movies down to the words spoken by people of colour.8910

Marron has also launched a podcast that role models important dialogue, and demonstrates a different kind of emotional intelligence: Conversations with People Who Hate Me.11

  1. Check out http://blindspot.fas.harvard.edu/
  2. Try out the online Harvard IAT.
  3. Check out the Kirwan Institute of Race and Ethnicity.
  4. See also the Perception Institute.
  5. See also this study from UCLA (PDF).
  6. If you ask white folks about the over-representation of white folks on screen, they will often misunderstand and/or underestimate the degree and seriousness of over-representation.
  7. We’ve written before about the Woolf-Wallace-Bechdel test and the way it helps us refine our view of the world and to see sexism in movies and popular culture.
  8. The entire seven movies of Harry Potter only have about six minutes worth of lines by folks who aren’t white.
  9. So popular is this device in helping people to wake up to their false beliefs about representation in movies, that Marron’s Tumblr was declared #1 Tumblr of 2015. This speech by Marron at the Smithsonian Museum is worth a read.
  10. Listen to Marron give an interview on CBC q.
  11. And Marron’s TED talk on empathy is also interesting! For Marron, empathy is a coping mechanism. For Marron, empathy is not endorsement.

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