MTV launched a new “Look Different” campaign this spring to encourage youth to challenge the racial, gender and anti-LGBT bias in their environments. Senior Lecturer at the Graduate School of Education and Associate Director of the International Educational Development Program Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher played an active role in launching this campaign. The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with Ghaffar-Kucher about her work with MTV and her thoughts on bias in society today.
Daily Pennsylvanian: How did you become involved with the Look Different campaign?
Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher: Just a little over a year ago, the folks from MTV reached out to me because they wanted to learn more about my work on Islamophobia and bullying. We had an hour-long phone chat and I thought that was that. But, a few months later, I received another email from MTV. And a couple of days later, I was sitting on the 40th floor of the MTV building in Times Square, listening to the ideas for the campaign. It was at that meeting that I was invited to be part of the advisory board for the campaign.
DP: What is the campaign’s mission?
AGK: The mission is multi-layered but at its core, it’s about challenging the way we interact with people who may be different from us in a variety of ways — race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity religion etc. — and hence to reconsider how we view people, as in to “look different.” The campaign strives to build on millennials’ commitment to issues of equity by giving them information and tools to understand and respond to bias of any kind...This first phase is focusing on racial bias but the next phase will look at gender bias and the final phase will tackle LGBT bias.
DP: Does the campaign have any personal significance to you?
AGK: Yes! The campaign’s focus on micro-aggressions is really important to me... Basically, [micro-aggressions] are these everyday, common statements or actions that seem really benign but the cumulative nature of them makes them quite harmful for those on the receiving end. As a woman of color and a Muslim, I’ve definitely experienced my share of micro-aggressions, so the campaign is a little personal for me. I’ve learned a lot from the incredible people who are on the advisory board as well. We’ve had some really great conversations and even a few debates on the issues at hand.
DP: How does your research connect to the campaign?
AGK: I have been deeply engaged with South Asian-American and Muslim-American youth from a variety of backgrounds since 2002. My research has focused on academic engagement and socialization of these youth, particularly in U.S. public schools. As a result of this research, I have become particularly interested in bias-based bullying. With two of my colleagues, Monisha Bajaj and Karishma Desai, and with the support of the good people at South Asian Americans Leading Together, we created curricular resource guide for teachers, which focuses specifically on how to address the bullying of South Asian American youth.
DP: Do you believe that we as a society are becoming more or less biased towards one another?
AGK: I think we’re a lot more open and maybe even tolerant but I’m not sure that we’re any less biased. And I should clarify that being “tolerant” isn’t necessary a good thing. Tolerance has come to mean simply putting up with something and this also means being tolerant to problematic behaviors. I think our biases and how we show them is changing, and that is something the campaign is trying to address by focusing on micro-aggressions rather than more “traditional” forms of racism and bigotry, which sadly also still exist.
DP: What do you think are the biggest problems we face today regarding biases towards specific groups?
AGK: Now that’s a big question! I think we’re more connected than ever and that means we have a lot more contact with people who may be “different” from us. There are so many positives about this close connectedness but at the same time, our hyperconnectivity is in some ways preventing us from really doing the work to “get to know” people. We’ve become a little lazy and quick to judge, partially because of an over-stimulation of information and partially because we’re impatient. This is a real problem. It means we’re investing less in nurturing relationships and learning about people and instead are making snap judgments and often even letting stereotypes prevail.