How Art, Science and Technology Can Influence Oppression — ADL at the Murmuration Festival

  • July 21, 2016

As the project director for the Anti-Defamation League’s “World of Difference” Institute, Tabari Coleman understands why so many people — including himself — can find it difficult at times to discuss oppression.

“We feel the stakes are so high when we address these topics that we’ve got to get it right the first time,” says Coleman who’ll serve a featured presenter at Murmuration Festival in September. “What that does, though, is feed into the system of people being fearful of having these types of conversations about racism, heterosexism, genderism, etc. They don’t want to have those discussions because they’re afraid they might get it wrong.”

And that is why Coleman says he admires the approach of artists and scientists when it comes to taking on a challenge.

“They come to it with a different lense,” he says. “Artists and scientists try things. They experiment. And if they get it wrong the first time, they don’t give up. They keep coming back until they find something that does work. Then they share what they’ve learned, so others don’t make the same mistakes.”

Tabari Coleman

Tabari Coleman

How the arts and science can be used to address societal biases will factor heavily into Coleman’s Murmuration presentation — The Routes and Roots Contributing to Oppression. Coleman says he’ll also take a look at the complicated role technology, another major theme of Murmuration, influences oppression.

“Technology allows us to validate experiences, especially as men of color,” says Tabari, speaking to Cortex the same week that the death of two African-American men at the hands of police sparked national protests. “With technology we can get the other side to a story that we might not have been able to get before.”

Yet there are drawbacks, too, notes Coleman. Even something as commonplace as behavioral tracking software (the technology that serves people targeted online ads) can introduce bias and contribute to oppression says Coleman.

“A profile of a person might be based on the biases of whoever created the algorithm,” says Coleman. “As a person of color, perhaps I’m served ads for payday loans and not getting exposed to other things in my community that I might be interested in. So what other opportunities am I missing because of this technology?”

As with classes and projects he leads at the Anti-Defamation League, Saint Louis University and Saint Louis Art Museum, Coleman hopes those attending his Murmuration presentation will leave with a slightly altered perspective.

“I’m not looking to present something that fixes all our issues. That solution doesn’t exist. But I hope that it will encourage people to think of what we’re all doing on a regular basis that may be contributing to oppression. And that’s not limited to any group of people. It’s all of us.”

Murmuration Festival runs three days (September 23, 24, 25) on the campus of Cortex and will explore the conversion of music, art, technology and science. for more information.