AIGA is white supremacist? Get a grip

Now even a world-leading association for professional designers is accused of being institutionally racist.

Alex Cameron

Topics Culture USA

AIGA, the professional association of design, is a world leader in design practice and education. It now also stands accused of being white supremacist.

Formerly known as the American Institute of Graphic Arts, AIGA was founded in 1914 by a small number of American giants of the visual arts. Among them were William Addison Dwiggins, a typographer and book designer who coined the term ‘graphic designer’; Frederic William Goudy, a printer and master craftsman and designer of over 125 typefaces; and the brilliant pioneering photographer and artist, Alfred Stieglitz. Today AIGA is a national organisation of over 25,000 paid-up members, and it has significant international influence.

The accusation that AIGA is a bastion of white supremacy has been celebrated by leading identitarian academics and designers. But it will have undoubtedly shocked many in the association and the wider design community. And so it should. It would be a truly devastating revelation, were there any demonstrable substance to the claim. It is hard to imagine it could survive such an accusation. But of course, it is not a white-supremacist organisation, ‘culturally’ or otherwise. AIGA is an ideologically problematic organisation for sure. But racist? Please.

A recent article published on Medium by George Aye, a leading designer, educator, and co-founder of the Greater Good Studio, was a response to an invitation from the board of AIGA for his counsel on the issue of diversity. The article was damning, if light on actual content. According to Aye, AIGA is a ‘culturally white supremacist organisation’ and ‘perpetuate[s] white-supremacy culture and the silencing and erasure of Black voices and labour’. Alongside such an explosive claim, one might expect some evidence to back it up. But none was forthcoming. It seems that in the highly charged atmosphere following the brutal murder of George Floyd, evidence is not necessary for such a ludicrous charge to be taken seriously, never mind stick.

The article does nothing but state that AIGA is racist, before moving on to call for AIGA to cease and desist all activities, re-educate and structurally reform along strict racial-quota lines. Aye also demands, rather chillingly, that any individuals not complying with the new orthodoxy – laid out through ‘power and privilege’ workshops – would be noted and publicly shamed. A man of his time, Aye’s authoritarianism has a certain lockdown quality to it – quarantine, re-educate, change behaviour, and accept and embrace the new normal or be cast out as a heretic. Resistance is futile.

Unfortunately, Aye is not alone in this kind of hyper-racialised design thinking. His article comes hot on the heels of the very public resignation in 2019 of AIGA board member Antionette Carroll. In a YouTube video, Carroll explains the decisions that led her to resign from her post as a board member, and as the founding chair of AIGA’s diversity and inclusion taskforce. You cannot help but feel for Carroll as she expresses her frustrations at being in a leadership position within a lumbering organisation.

She talks of her weariness that organisational strategies were not being adopted or implemented quickly enough. Worse still, even when they were, they were promoted without due credit. Anyone with any experience of working for large organisations will recognise such frustrations. But it is important to note that at no point did Carroll accuse any of her colleagues of racism against her, or offer examples of racism against members. Nevertheless, in a parting shot Carroll said she ‘felt she didn’t belong’. She declared that the organisation she led for over a decade is ‘culturally white supremacist’ and responsible for the ‘erasure and discrediting’ of non-white voices. It smacks of an attitude that says, ‘you are just not listening to me’. Carroll has since formed Creative Reaction Lab. Alongside other community-leadership initiatives, it is hosting webinars on ‘how traditional design thinking protects white supremacy’.

What’s more, the New York-based Type Directors Club (TDC), established in 1946, has been wound down ‘due to financial pressures’. But not before it was also accused of racism by outgoing board member Juan Villanueva. Like Carroll’s, Villanueva’s post provided no evidence for this accusation.

But as important as Villanueva’s, Carroll’s and Aye’s interventions may be to the standing of AIGA, TDC and other design institutions, especially right now, it is important to note that the crisis afflicting them is illustrative of a more profound crisis in design thinking itself. The racialised attacks on these institutions make for painful reading, but they are not the work of radical design ‘outsiders’. They are the logical outcome of the design elite’s own ideology of ‘ethical design’. The current crisis is merely the thin end of a wretched wedge.

Since the 1960s, the design elite has consumed and promoted a postmodern ideological outlook. At its core is a rejection of the notion of the human subject. This results in a mode of design that rejects the idea of the public as rational and capable subjects, in favour of a worldview that sees us as irrational and feels compelled to manipulate and control our behaviour. If postmodernism is the product, ‘ethical design’ is the brand. The elite’s ethical-design agenda is anti-design and anti-people.

The ‘ethical design’ ideology is successful insofar as it dominates the design landscape. But it simply cannot deliver in any meaningful, material sense. Its future rests on the maintenance of a permanent cultural revolution of representation and re-education, and ever more fantastic and delusional demands that design is the solution to social problems. It revels in a world where perception is more important than material progress.

The elitist, ethical-design ideology may still be in the ascendancy and dominant in design discourse. But, as the crisis at AIGA illustrates, it is unravelling. The design elite’s ethically treated, free-range, corn-fed chickens are coming home to roost.

Alex Cameron is a writer and designer based in Madrid. Visit his blog here.

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dom torato

12th July 2020 at 7:39 am

Alex— I struggle with the value of articles like this where the author is commenting on issues that require actually experiencing something HERE► Read More

Matthew Timmis

10th July 2020 at 4:09 am

Is Japanese literature systematically racist because it features so many Japanese people? Is Islamic art racist because it excludes non-Muslims? You wonder if these people have any knowledge of alternative cultures at all. No other culture has this passionate self-loathing of the modern White Leftist. They have multicultural societies, food, culture and outlook and yet they are endlessly decried as insufficiently inclusive. Unless you crawl on your knees self-flagellating yourself constantly, you are decried as a racist. Yet no such movements can be found in China, India, Nigeria or anywhere else. There it is assumed that the majority culture is entirely right to dominate culture.

Richard Hollant

8th July 2020 at 10:50 pm

Alex— I struggle with the value of articles like this where the author is commenting on issues that require actually experiencing something that they haven’t actually experienced. I get the sense you know “of” AIGA and Antionette and George, but you don’t know them. That sense is based on how very very off you are in your postulates. Antionette is far from elitist. George is mindful, respectful curious being. There comments were not for you, they were from a community that felt the same as they felt by-and-large—a community pining for voices to confirm what they already knew… what they’d already been discussing. Being recognized and being elitist is not the same. You would have to know Antionette and George to realize that. I am guessing you don’t know them. I am a Black designer who, like Antionette, resigned from the board. There is a list of us who have had actual experiences that are attributable to the organization’s naissance. Systemic racism is a thing, my man—however inconvenient you might find it. This article does a great job of not listening at all to what Black people are telling you in growing numbers, but rather uses word play to switch the poles around. I’m sure you’ve seem it similar objections play out—”I’m not racist, you’re racist for saying I’m racist,” or “I’m not elitist, you’re elitist for saying I’m elitist.” I am grateful for my colleagues who have risked their platform to punch up and to prompt a dialogue that has motivated the chapter structure of AIGA to mandate change. The new chair of the organization has said publicly that if we don’t fix this issue in the organization then she is there to blow it up. I hope she maintains her vigorous determination there. When I resigned from the board with weeks left to my term, I did so because I could not bring myself to align with what was happening in board meetings—how some board members and leadership were talking both in and out of the boardroom about members of our community that we were there to serve. I left as a matter of integrity where there simply wasn’t the time or the cool heads to create any change (the events of the following weeks would certainly validate my sad observation—if you were following, it was quite a disaster). That said—I left that board with the awareness that these oppressive systems can consume even the best of us… no matter how Black we are. I remain hopeful that this leadership will find it’s way, will get back to fighting this exclusive legacy in favor of what AIGA could be but isn’t. I hope they swing away at windmills with all of the maddening joy of people who are doing what’s right, and will get back to this idea that we dismantle broken systems of oppression or we blow them up. I hope this because the organization comprises a lot of great individuals I’ve come to love—people out in the chapter communities whom I believe in and deeply honor. I can’t imagine that you could know that as you haven’t experienced the leadership challenges, the structural disappointments, and the unconscious systemic racism of this organization. And yet—you want to rewrite the context for so many people—not all of whom have written articles—who have shared their experiences. That, in a nutshell, fits into my framing of elitism… or something like that.


8th July 2020 at 6:08 pm

Someone who was appointed ‘diversity officer’ for a University ( a post he held at another University ) has had his job offer taken away after criticism that he wasn’t ‘diverse’ ie BAME. So the son of say an African leader worth millions is ok but someone white brought up on a council estate isn’t considered diverse by this definition. Now is the time for the rich BAME chancer who know if they complain everyone is going to cave into their demands.This has an unfortunate affect on the career of ordinary BAME people who others may be afraid are going to be ‘trouble-makers’ if they offer them a job.

Richard Hollant

8th July 2020 at 10:52 pm

How does this grievance apply to this article, exactly?

Michel Houllebeq

8th July 2020 at 2:26 pm

The White Mans burden – You build the most successful and free and tolerant countries on the planet only to be called a racist while you have your children groomed by the 1000s and see violent crime explode around you by non-whites and be called racist for no reason. As for the White working-class, they are already second class citizens in the Nation they built and fought for many times over recent immigrants from the third world. You have nothing to lose but your chains accepting this servitude.

S. Garside

8th July 2020 at 2:18 pm

Excellent article Alex.
Even though I have no domain knowledge, whilst watching Antionette Carroll’s resignation address, I was wondering “What they hell has she contributed to Design in general or AIGA in particular? Less than nothing.”
What was she trying to achieve?. The speech patterns and language and ideas expressed are all very old Soviet-style “National Liberation” that is parroted by SJWs.
She, George Aye, Juan Villanueva and others are obvious 5th-Columns. Surely AIGA and other can see this?

TBF, I think that Aye can genuinely detect something off, but it is elitism, exclusivity and snobbery: It has very little to do with Race; it has everything to do with culture and values. The US has, for years, told itself that it’s a Classless society (because of “Meritocracy”), but this is/was as false in the US as it was in the UK and the USSR.

Richard Hollant

8th July 2020 at 10:55 pm

Did you actually just condescend to Antionette’s “speech pattern”? Pathetic.

S. Garside

9th July 2020 at 8:50 am

The “speech patterns” I was referring too are the idioms of Marxists and newer SJWs.
These repeated patterns belie that these people have the same training and outlook and thought patterns.
It’s similar to when certain Born-again Christians try to “save” you – the speech patterns are of those people when “saving” are all the same.
I think Jordan Peterson said a similar thing when people who turn out to be Marxists – something like “It’s not really them that’s there – it’s an ideology speaking to you”.
Well, in her, I heard an ideology in her speech patterns and ideas.
When ideology takes over someone, thinking diminishes and automatic speech patterns com to the fore.

So yes, I am pointing her “speech patterns” out – as for “condescending”, it seems to me that you’re just looking for offence – you just went straight to the insult. Save that shit for Twitter.

Dominic Straiton

8th July 2020 at 6:22 am

Its hard being white these days. Having to walk around being all supreme and that ,all the time.
I could do with a day off. But you never get one when your white.Its a heavy burden. White man burden. Its exhausting.I could do with a cup of tea.

Dominic Straiton

8th July 2020 at 6:24 am

It was much easier a couple of decades ago. You could be white and a bit crap and no one would notice.

Richard Hollant

8th July 2020 at 10:50 pm

Well said.

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