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MTV Launches New Campaign To Address “Complicated, Thorny” Race, Gender, And LGBT Issues

The network’s president, Stephen Friedman, talked to BuzzFeed about the “Look Different” campaign. Coming soon: “Untitled Whiteness Project” and “Racial Bias Cleanse.”

posted on April 30, 2014 at 8:00am EDT. MTV is launching a new campaign to appeal to younger viewers by tapping into the issues affecting them right now: race, gender, and sexual identity, the network’s president, Stephen Friedman, told BuzzFeed.

The network’s new “Look Different” campaign — a combination of on-air and digital content, plus social media, which will be officially announced later today — is aimed to “accelerate [the] fight against racial, gender & LGBT inequality,” according to a press release.

“What [we’ve] found is that these issues are a little bit of a third rail and there’s not a place for people to have the dialogue,” Friedman told BuzzFeed. “Our audience feels really strongly about fairness and equality, yet they don’t even really have the language to talk about it or the forum.”

The “Look Different” campaign will roll out over the course of several years in three phases: The first will focus on racial bias, the second will focus on gender bias, and the third will focus on anti-LGBT bias. Much of the on-air and digital content, which will be hosted on, is aimed at dismantling implicit biases and combating microaggressions, brief and often non-intentionally offensive verbal slights that have damaging effects on members of minority groups. (Get an exclusive sneak peek at an example of that project below.)

In particular, Friedman said, the network hopes to give young people — especially young white people — the language to talk about a topic in which they’re deeply interested, but also, he said, uncomfortable talking about. He cited original research conducted for MTV by David Binder Research, which consisted of surveys given to a U.S. representative sample of the network’s current viewers between the ages of 14 and 24 over the past three months.

“You look at our white audience: They said only 30% of them growing up ever talked about race. So, that’s 70% that are not talking about it,” Friedman said. “Half of our audience in general doesn’t feel comfortable even having a conversation around gender, around LGBT issues, or race. So the question was: Why?”

MTV’s study also found that 8 in 10 young people felt that bias is at the root of social issues such as prejudice and racism. Yet, despite these findings, a majority of young people felt they didn’t engage in bias themselves. Two-thirds of young white people in particular felt that social progress, such as having a black president, demonstrates that people of color now have the same opportunities as whites. Though those members of MTV’s audience who were surveyed may have had good intentions, the study showed that there was a disconnect between the way many millennials believe in having an equal society and understanding the historical and systemic inequities that continue to keep us from attaining one.

Friedman, himself fluent in the web’s current language of race and the digital conversation about it, described “colorblindness” as the main source of this disconnect, as it’s the notion that’s led many young people to believe that talking about race is inherently racist or bad.

“[They] feel like [they’re] going to step on a land mine if [they] say the wrong thing,” Friedman said. “The heart of that made us realize there’s an opportunity to look at these issues, dive in, and create a real forum — whether it’s through our spots on air or online — to have a conversation that excavates this very complicated, thorny issue.”



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