As discussion and nationwide protests continue to swirl around race, violence, and the criminal justice system in America, Deigratia Daniels, one of Idea Capital’s new grant recipients, hopes to contribute his voice to the ongoing dialogue with his project The Black Man Simulator. An interactive 3-D learning tool, Black Man Simulator uses a headset that will completely enclose one’s field of vision, allowing users to engage in the panoramic experience of walking in someone else’s shoes, as they say. Inspiration for the project came from conversations with friends following the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. Daniels found that he was not so quick to attribute racism for the reasons behind the unjust killings.
“I don’t think people wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m going to shoot a black man today.’ I think sometimes there is a lack of empathy and understanding,” says Daniels. “My theory is that we as Americans don’t go too much further outside of our immediate circle and immerse ourselves in other people’s lives. So the Black Simulator will give people an opportunity to experience the reality of someone else who is in situations that they are not personally familiar with.”
A robotics engineer and designer for the aerospace technology firm Lockheed Martin, Daniels says his career in creating interactive simulators, many of which replicate major aircraft, gifts him with the ability to use his advanced technological skills for the betterment of his community. Simply put, he “transfers knowledge” and is humbled to be awarded the opportunity to do so on a larger scale. “To be given something that is typically reserved for professional artists is just something I still can’t believe.”
How does it work? “A panoramic attachment will be added to an iPhone that records a movie. A 360-degree lens will then allow the image to reflect onto the attachment and project a circular recording through the head-mounted display, which has motion and position tracking,” Daniels explains. “It will completely recreate various experiences that black men commonly face, and walk people through these experiences rather than just having them watch black men face challenging situations themselves.”
When it comes to the law, black men have completely different experiences than white men. Black men are more likely to be pulled over by the police, arrested by the police, and shot dead by the police, which, according to one study, is 21 times more likely to occur. As the ongoing “Black Lives Matter” campaign calls for an end to racial violence and reform to the criminal justice system, the Black Man Simulator hopes to contribute by not just illustrating these alarming statistics, but by being the vehicle in which people can experience them.
Daniels hopes people will use the simulator to better process their humanistic traits and see the importance of unity and dialogue. “I’ve traveled and worked with people from all over the world, so I understand how stepping outside of your circle and immersing yourself in different cultures and communities can work. ”
Annabella Jean-Laurent is an Atlanta-based freelance writer who blogs at militantbarbie.com. Her writing explores race, media, and gender in society.