What are your blind spots?
When you see a black person in a white neighborhood, do you question what they are doing there? When you see a white person in a black neighborhood, do you assume they are gentrifying? What if they’ve lived there all their life? What if they actually do belong there? Is implicit bias a two-way street?
These are some of the questions I asked myself after watching Blindspotting, a masterful film by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Diggs and Casal, two former cast members of Hamilton who grew up together in the East Bay area of Northern California, wrote Blindspotting as both a love letter to their hometown of Oakland and as a wake up call to any and everyone who has interactions with people who are different from them—culturally, economically, racially or otherwise.
The movie confronts several issues at once—police violence, gentrification, re-entry after incarceration, and of course, implicit bias.
I had a chance to sit with Diggs and Casal at a press junket in Los Angeles. I then had a later, more in-depth conversation with Casal, and I asked them both about implicit bias as it pertains to the world we are living in right now.
“All of your experiences up to any given point are influencing the way you are going see something naturally,” Diggs told me. “Empathy is about the work you have to do to see the other side of it—to see somebody else’s perspective on it.”
And that is the crux of it. As we navigate life in the age of a Trump presidency, a time that not only embodies racial divisiveness, but seems to encourage it, we come face-to-face with the ugliness of white supremacy, white privilege and institutionalized racism on a daily basis. The power structure that keeps those things in place is the same power structure that builds anger and resentment in people of color. It simultaneously fuels their entitlement and our rebellion against said privilege, racism and entitlement.
Casal and I discussed how implicit bias has led to white people using 911 as some sort of concierge service whenever black people are not compliant with their wishes. He told me that white people tend to be blind to implicit bias.
“There’s a line in the poem Collin (Diggs) recites in the movie that asks, ‘How perfect must a black boy be before we mourn him?’ There’s the assumption that the authority [police] and the people who call the authority are in the right until they are proven wrong,” Casal said.
“We are scanning the footage for the catalyst for the event when there isn’t one. We are looking at the truth and still trying to justify why this is happening. The thing about the systemic way white people view the police is that they are right and doing their job. They are weaponizing an authority that we know has bias. The reason you feel comfortable calling the police on two young black men in a Starbucks is because you know they will do something. It favors a point of view. Even the police at their best are part of a system that favors a point of view.”
Blindspotting illustrates implicit bias beautifully throughout the film. Without spoiling the movie, I urge you to pay attention to the interactions that Collin and Miles (Casal) have with the public while working in their moving truck and hanging around town with their friends.
The East Bay is as much a character in the film as it is its location. Casal described it as a “melting pot community of different people that is not always completely harmonious, but the conversation has evolved and become more nuanced. It being a melting pot helps those conversations happen with more ease and more frequency.”
Inasmuch as Blindspotting carries lessons for us all in its 95 minutes, it doesn’t beat us over the head with them, and it does not come off as preachy. Instead, we are drawn into an interesting story with compelling characters that make us want to know how it all turns out.
And still, with all of that, its creators still recognize that there is a lot of work to be done to undo systemic racism and implicit bias, and according to Casal, that work is mostly with those who hold the cards.
“It is not the job of oppressed groups to pull themselves out of oppression,” he said. “There is a segment of the population that is a part of upholding white supremacy just by existing. The responsibility should be on those who have the power in society.
“It requires the people who people are listening to help make change. It requires that you do something responsible with it. What a lot of white folks are lacking is the language to talk about this,” he added.
Hopefully, Blindspotting can be a part of helping them find the needed language.
Blindspotting is currently in theaters nationwide. Go see it.