To See is to Experience
by: Little GIANT Wolf
At little GIANT Wolf we love to make stories personal and shift conventional perceptions, so of course we loved hearing about 31 Lengths, their projects, and their creative approach to creating dialogue. We especially loved learning about “White Privilege Glasses,” a viral video campaign the New York-based ad company produced for the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS). The aim was to challenge viewers’ understanding around privilege and thereby start a dialogue around race from a new vantage point. Although the video launched in 2016, the topics of race, privilege, and racial inequality are still relevant today and the video’s approach to discussing them is still novel.
“White Privilege Glasses” is just over a minute long. It starts out with three friends chatting over coffee. The male caucasian friend expresses doubt about the concept of white privilege, and the other two, an African American man and woman, hand him a pair of “white privilege glasses.” They look like the kind you would receive at a 3D movie screening, but more cartoonish-looking; extra thick black frames with one very green and one very red lens. The product design is not the point here, though. “Helps you see the world the way we do,” says the woman to her white friend.
Now on the sidewalk, the white man puts on the glasses and his experience of the world changes. He sees a woman pushing a baby stroller look away and clutch her purse, where just seconds before she smiled cordially. Next he stops at an intersection and looks up at the street names. They are “Jefferson” and “Washington,” but after putting on the glasses, the names turn into “Slave Owner” and “Slave Owner.” In a grocery store he gets greeted by the clerk, but with the glasses on he now sees the clerk suspiciously trail him as he shops. Back on the sidewalk a police officer is polite and nonthreatening before the glasses and menacing after the glasses go on. Here the video stops, throws up a title card, to ask: “Can you see white privilege?”
This is an important question when discussing race, and from watching the video we get that white privilege is not something we necessarily see, rather it is something we experience. There are many avenues through which we come to experience reality, and there are many inroads to understanding another person’s experience. We might watch a foreign film, learn a different language, or listen to diverse music. With “White Privilege Glasses” 31 Lengths and CTS pose the idea that the most immediate avenue to understanding another’s experience is sight.
When we see the world as someone else sees it, when we see someone else’s experience, we are moved to shift our held beliefs and understanding of the world as we know it to be. It is only from this vantage point that we can begin to have a conversation about anything. CTS invites viewers to “come in for your free pair of glasses” presumably as a prompt to engage in the conversation about race and social justice, a cause which they are committed to. We here at little GIANT Wolf are inspired by how they used the power of media to challenge social perceptions and facilitate positive impact.
You can watch the video below, and learn more about 31 Lengths here.