SEASON 1: EPISODE 10

Mike Gaston

A Visual Storyteller on How Viral Videos Can Combat Racism

Cut is known for its viral videos that challenge stereotypes and uncover biases. From asking black men ages five to 50 to say one word that they associate with “police” on camera, to asking guessers to name which kind of “Asian” people are in a lineup,  co-founder Michael Gaston is proving that simple questions have the gravity to shift hearts and minds when they go viral.

Consciously Unbiased co-founder Ashish Kaushal sat down with Michael in Seattle just before the coronavirus swept through the States. In this very real conversation, Michael shares everything from why traditional diversity training does not work, to what it was like growing up as a mixed race kid. You can listen to the full conversation here, and read on for some highlights.


 

ASHISH: You’re leading the charge on how to rethink diversity, and shifting how people see themselves and the world. How do you keep making innovative videos about diversity and inclusion go viral?

 

MICHAEL: “We don’t hire the same people [other media companies do]. We hire people [other companies] would never even consider. For example, my creative director was an arborist for 10 years, and he was 40 years old. So hiring this black, 40-year-old arborist to come in and be creative—even though he had never worked at a tech, startup or media company—and give him all this responsibility, would never have happened in a million years. The result has been great. He brings a completely different perspective than a 22-year old with a handlebar mustache riding a fixie bike.”

 

ASHISH: One of my favorite videos is the Lineup video where you have 10 or so people and a guesser has to match the occupation to the right person. Can you talk about how this is helping to break the bias around our perceptions of the jobs people do?

 

MICHAEL: “Lineup is one of our formats that we do. The purpose of that video wasn’t to discover or correctly match people to the right job. It’s an exercise in making public your private thoughts and judgements. Then that becomes a thing we examine as an exercise in exploring unconscious bias.”

 

ASHISH: Do you think we’re biased partially because it is our need to elevate ourselves over other people, or do you think we’re also more racist and biased because we’re afraid to talk about it with each other?

 

MICHAEL: “I think the main reason why biases and racism exist is because we don’t want to talk to each other about it, or examine it in any real way. It’s easy to become defensive or assertive about that kind of stuff. I know, I’ve had those conversations before…We live in a world where I truly believe the power structures are set up in such a way that black and brown bodies and minorities are at a disadvantage. The problem is that people with privilege who can take advantage of that world don’t want to examine it because it makes us uncomfortable.”

 

ASHISH: What does Consciously Unbiased say to you?

 

MICHAEL: “We talk about unconscious bias all the time, and we talk about it like it has to be a given. I think Consciously Unbiased means that we have to make a choice all the time to practice [unbiasing ourselves] and not just accept [bias] as a feature of being human. You could argue that it is a feature of being human, but we also don’t sh#!@ in the woods anymore and we now have air conditioning. There are lots of things we’ve done to mold ourselves, and I think that is one way that we can.”

 

SHOW NOTES:

Cut Videos:

Lineup: Asian People Versus Asian Food

Lineup: Match The Job To the Person

One Word: Black Men Respond To the Word “Police”

Black Parents Explain How to Deal With The Police

Book Recommendations:

So You Want to Talk About Race? By Ijeoma Oluo

21 Lessons for the 21st Century By Yuval Noah Harari

Black Imagination: Black Voices on Black Futures Curated By Natasha Marin

Michael’s Medium Blog