Perception Institute and Mic Launch “Shifting Perceptions: Being Black in America” Essay Series

June 29, 2015

MEDIA CONTACT: Xakota Espinoza,

Leading activists, musicians, and thought leaders weigh in on the state of race relations in America

New York, June 29, 2015 – In the wake of the recent tragic deaths of black Americans across the country and the ensuing dialogue about race, discrimination, and implicit bias, the Perception Institute and Mic have partnered to publish a first-of-its-kind essay series that showcases a range of voices examining the lived experiences and perceptions of black Americans.

“The tragic loss of lives as a result of hate and discrimination has prompted a fresh and robust conversation about the current state of race in America,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, executive director of the Perception Institute. “We hope this series, with its intentional focus on disrupting the negative perceptions of black Americans, and black men in particular, can affirm the humanity of all people, and spur the implementation of solutions to address and ultimately eliminate discrimination resulting from overt racism and more subtle but pervasive phenomena such as implicit bias and stereotype threat.”

The series commences with a piece by hip-hop artist Talib Kweli, “From Ferguson to Freedom: Hip-Hop’s Role,” and will be featured on and the Perception 20/20 blog. The series includes pieces from an impressive line-up of activists and thought leaders, including:

  • Talib Kweli, hip-hop artist
  • Jamilah Lemieux, senior editor for
  • James Braxton Peterson, director of Africana Studies and associate professor of English at Lehigh University
  • Michael Skolnik, civil rights activist and president of Global Grind
  • Mark Anthony Neal, African and African-American Studies professor at Duke University
  • Haki Madhubuti, poet and founder and publisher of Third World Press
  • Maya Rockeymoore, president and CEO of Global Policy Solutions
  • Alexis McGill Johnson, executive director of Perception Institute
  • Bakari Kitwana, executive director of Rap Sessions and curator of the essay series

“In the five decades since 1950s and 1960s civil rights legislation, countless American intellectuals have grappled with the dilemma the late legal scholar Derrick Bell called ‘the permanence of racism,’” said Bakari Kitwana, Executive Director of Rap Sessions and essay series curator. “The commentary in the ‘Shifting Perceptions: Being Black in America’ essay series builds on that foundation, but also interrogates the mainstream American race analysis which continues to make excuses for institutional and structural racism, while preventing black Americans from obtaining full citizenship.”

“At Mic, we think it’s important to foster a diverse and robust dialogue about race in America. We are proud to partner with the Perception Institute to showcase the voices of respected thought leaders who are asking the right questions and elevating an important conversation,” said Jake Horowitz, editor-in-chief of Mic.

The essay series explores perceptions of black Americans, and in particular black men and boys, which often does not line up with reality, and does not acknowledge the disproportionate discrimination and violence they face:

  • There is a misconception that there are more black men in prison than in college. According to National Center for Education Statistic, there were 745,000 black male inmates held in custody in state or federal prisons or local jails in 2009, but nearly 1.5 million black men were enrolled in college in the fall of the same year.
  • A 2013 study by the Sentencing Project found that black males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and, if current trends continue, one in every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, compared to one in every seventeen white males.
  • A recent analysis by ProPublica found that black males are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts.

“The problem of discrimination is a complicated one—operating on both structural and individual levels—but failure and tragedy are not inevitable,” said McGill Johnson. “The perception of black men and boys is itself a structural barrier and can be a matter of life and death. Our goal with this essay series is to provide a clear vision and inspire solutions.”


The Perception Institute is a consortium of researchers, advocates, and strategists that uses cutting-edge mind science research to reduce discrimination and other harms linked to race, gender, and other identity differences. Working in areas where bias has the most profound impact—education, health care, law enforcement and civil justice, and the workplace—Perception designs interventions, evaluations, communications strategies, and trainings. Turning research into remedies, Perception Institute crafts real-world solutions for everyday relationships. To follow Perception’s work, please visit


Mic is a leading news and media company for young people. From global affairs and politics to arts and science, Mic offers compelling stories and perspectives on the issues that define the next generation. Each month, more than 30 million people rely on Mic’s unique sensibility to stay informed and rethink the world.