My friend, a Japanese professor specializing in human sciences, recently traveled to North Carolina with the intention of studying racism and anti-racism initiatives. During her stay, she encountered various instances of racism, both overt and subtle, irrespective of their scale.

When I inquired about her feelings regarding the racism she encountered, her response was rather empathetic: “I felt sorry for them. They seem unaware of the broader world’s perspectives.”

It reminded me of the recent AI study. Researchers tasked AI with generating images of black doctors assisting white children. Surprisingly, even with the specific request, the AI consistently depicted doctors as white and children as black. When they requested images of traditional African healers aiding white children, the AI bizarrely adorned a white child with multiple beaded necklaces — a caricatured version of African dress. The AI’s limitations were evident due to a lack of diverse dataset.

The image is the only one from the experiment that showed a Black figure tending to a white child. This image was generated by a request for traditional African healers helping white kids.<br />
Midjourney Bot Version 5.1. Annotation by NPR.

The image is the only one from the experiment that showed a Black figure tending to a white child. This image was generated by a request for traditional African healers helping white kids.
Midjourney Bot Version 5.1. Annotation by NPR.

It underscores a fundamental truth: we are often oblivious to what we do not understand. Sometimes I find myself cringing at Japanese behaviors that may be unintentionally offensive to other cultures, but these actions are often accepted in Japan due to limited exposure to the world outside. While they welcome travelers from across the globe, holding the small island mentality, many people don’t really understand outside of the small island.

When we tell stories, it is imperative to consider our audience. Success with one group does not guarantee universal acceptance. If somebody gives you constructive criticism, embrace it. Such critiques present an invaluable opportunity to expand our knowledge and view our stories from new angles. They reveal what we did not know before.

 

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