I think I might have given someone a daily racist experience last night.
I was working with two classmates on a design project for advertising class. I'll go ahead and mention that they are Black and Latina. We were collaborating with each other on print ads. Something else we worked on was a magazine cover (not mine). it was a picture of a mom opening her blouse to reveal the superman costume but with an "m" instead of an "s". She was surrounded by kids, her husband, pets, etc, and all of them are wearing clothing with different colors. Overall, the illustration has every color you can imagine and it took up the whole page, so when several chunks of text were placed on top of it the each one changed color depending on what was behind it. The whole thing just looked busy and tacky to me, and it was really hard to read. So I offered to fix it. I made the illustration smaller and centered it. The white background was more pronounced and all the text was dark red (for contrast) and positioned around the illustration instead of on top of it. While I was doing this they would make comments drained of enthusiasm which I didn't think much of at the time. "oh, he's taking away the color, " "he's making it more white," "it has less color now," etc. I just kept working on it, even though I also started feeling uncomfortable but I couldn't figure out why. When I got home an hour ago, I thought about it and felt a chill when I realized that, to them, maybe the colors represented diversity or had a cultural significance. And like some kind of ethnocentric asshole, I went in there and started eliminating what they connected to in order to add more white space, lol.
So when I arrived home I started thinking about it. Knowing that so, SO much of society in the united states (of which I am a citizen) is still infected with very subtle white supremest conceptions (we see it everywhere in the media, and advertising is of course no exception), could there be something inherently prejudice with the design philosophy for advertising and communication design that is taught in our schools and practiced in most studios and offices around the country? If you look at the vast majority of art from ethnicities around the world that are largely made up of folks who aren't white, you'll see that most of the artwork produced is extremely rich and varied in color. Mexican art, Indonesian art, African art, Indian art, Native American art, Chinese art, and so on. I'm not going to be too general and say something like, "the art of cultures largely made up of white people have blander colors than that of cultures largely made up of 'non-white' people," because that has to be a stereotype. But I imagine that many Americans of African or Mexican decent who have close ties to their culture (like my two friends, which I know because they told me so) and its art might feel that many of the 'standard' design styles in this country are bland and not as exciting to look at. I mean, one of the main rules of design is "simplicity is important". You're told to "use color sparingly", and that colors each have a definite mood/meaning (orange is joy, happiness, nostalgia or ignorance and deceit. That's it, it can't mean anything else, apparently.) We see a lot of websites/graphics/ads like these:
Images that, though clever at times, reek of Milquetoast, corporate influence. Basically, images that I grew up thinking were acceptable advertising/design.
So, what I'm trying to figure out in my head is, was I imposing a design philosophy on people of color that has some root in white supremacy? Or, if not that, western ethnocentrism? Could something that is really (to me) about little more than arranging colors, shapes and text on a page until I and the person paying me both say, "dig it", be loaded with destructive racist or ethnocentric baggage? Am I over-analyzing this? In my mind at the time, I just felt that what I saw was tacky and hard to read, so it needed to be improved in those areas. Nothing more, nothing less. I just hope I'm not subconsciously practicing a very, very subtle form of white supremacy, and if I am I want to change it ASAP. I still haven't talked to them about this, and I plan to when I see them next.
Anyway, enough "deep thoughts" for now. There's a strong possibility that I'm overanalyzing, as I tend to do. I just want to bring it up because I'm ignorant of other cultures sometimes and if every person who said something racist or ethnocentric went on believing that what he/she said wasn't as hurtful as it was, progress towards social justice would be impossible.