Design and Dissent 2019 Design + Diversity Conference Recap by Michael Sasorith October 26, 2019
“...get big but don’t get close.”
In many Minnesotan spaces, where most of the occupants reflect dominant identities, saying words and phrases like white supremacy and privilege often create discomfort, fragility, and possibly anger. The term “Minnesota Nice” is applicable as long as whiteness and other dominant identities are comfortable — upholding a facade to maintain the culture behind the friendly phrase, “Oh ya sure you betcha.”
Though many Minnesotans, specifically those in the Twin Cities Metro, like to believe that the Land of 10,000 Lakes is an amazing place, Minnesotans who identify as BIPOC may believe otherwise. The state continues to have some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. And, although it would be shocking to some when using the word segregation to describe the “Bold North,” it is visibly and historically true for cities like Minneapolis. Tactics like housing covenants, redlining, and the construction of interstates that destroyed Black neighborhoods, continue to impact lives and create disparities that Minnesota has a hard time confronting.
In an essay called Smaller, and Smaller, and Smaller by Marlon James, he repeatedly imprints the phrase, “get big but don’t get close.” This expression sums up why fighting for change can be a struggle in Minnesota. To progress and transform the state would mean to get close. But, getting close would mean acknowledging and being aware of the issues. Unfortunately, many Minnesotans prefer comfort at a “safe” distance.
The design industry in Minnesota is not immune to the troubling realities that impact the state. Much of the industry operates in insular circles, and even when entering those circles, it can be difficult to feel free to openly discuss topics like diversity — or the lack thereof.
Design + Diversity in Chicago, IL
Before attending the Design + Diversity Conference in Chicago on August 1–3, 2019 on behalf of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee of AIGA Minnesota, I had no expectations. It was my way of providing some room for optimism, but also preventing myself from being disappointed. Too often, the term “diversity” is used at its most superficial form. But after spending three days at the conference, I felt energized, empowered, and excited to bring what I had heard and learned back to Minnesota.
It was a space where people were unafraid and unapologetically calling out white supremacy, patriarchy, and all systems of oppression. Coming from Minnesota, where most spaces hesitate to even whisper such words, it was uplifting to have discussions and feel like I was a part of making progress.
It would be impossible to recount exactly every word of the amazing speeches and discussions had at the conference, but here is a recap of what was said.
August 1, 2019
August 2, 2019
August 3, 2019
CEO & Co-Founder at Creative Reaction Lab // Co-Founder and Co-Director of Design + Diversity Conference
UX Consultant at World Wide Technology // Co-Founder and Co-Director of Design + Diversity Conference
Senior Deputy Art Director of AARP // Mistress of Ceremony
Product Design Leader at Zillow // Speaker and D+D Fellowship Program Manager
The Work is Never Done
Leaving directly to the airport after the conference, there were so many thoughts in my head. With all this knowledge and energy, I was excited to bring what I had learned back to Minnesota. Waiting to board my flight at the gate, news of a white supremist shooter in El Paso, Texas finally entered my consciousness. My energy was quickly sobered.
Fighting for diversity, inclusion, and social justice can be exhausting. And when tragic events like the shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio happen, or even when receiving microaggressions on a frequent basis, it can feel like change is impossible.
Without a doubt the work is never ending, but because of events like Design + Diversity, there is a great sense of hope. I learned a lot of great things at the conference, but the greatest takeaway is seeing and knowing that there are people, a community, and a movement to collectively work to dismantle white supremacy, patriarchy, and all systems of oppression. Although the energy might ebb and flow, the fight is always there.