White Actors Are Playing Black People In Virtual Diversity Training

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A tech firm that specializes in diversity training is getting called out for blackface after it was discovered they use white actors to portray Black people.

According to a deep-dive investigation by BuzzFeed News, Mursion, a tech company that provides human resource training to some of the biggest companies around the world, promises clients their employees will have a better understanding of racial oppression –– but some critics say they need to start at home.

The virtual reality trainings include hypothetical scenarios that employees participate in alongside a humanoid avatar, played by human actors, who, Mursion says, follow detailed scenario outlines, and sometime improvise.

Mursion actors, called "simulation specialists," work alone on a wide range of scenarios, so they end up playing multiple characters across gender and racial lines.

BuzzFeed viewed and participated in some of the trainings and found that some of the actors used the N-word or use AAVE while portraying a Black character in the training scenario. In another instance, a neurotypical adult played the role of a child with autism and that in other trainings, white actors also portray Asian people.

"You can't separate this from the history of blackface, yellowface, and redface in this country, even if you have the most sensitive actors in the world playing these characters," Y-Vonne Hutchinson, CEO of diversity and inclusion consultant agency ReadySet told BuzzFeed.

Mursion CEO Mark Atkinson told the outlet that the company is working to improve its own diversity and inclusion practices. The company is just one of several who quickly expanded its diversity trainings following the murder of George Floyd last May.

But, Mursion was not originally created to offer diversity or racial sensitivity trainings. It began as a K-12 education tool for teachers.
Hutchinson said that quick expansion into diversity, equity, and inclusion by some companies has caused the quality and depth of some of the training offers to be varied.

While virtual reality diversity training has seen some "positive indications" of effectiveness, but, Hutchinson said, "when providers don't have a deep area of expertise or lived experience," "problematic dynamics" can happen.

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