press, Typical American Families, community dialogue

Mackey, Knight, MailChimp: A Beautiful Band of 'Misfits'

Friday, September 18th, 2015 

BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE Directors Carlton Mackey, Director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at the Emory University Center for Ethics, and Ross Oscar Knight, international photographer and photo-culturalist, presented to the employees of MailChimp at their Ponce City Market headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. While MailChimp is a corporate company, focused on email marketing services, CEO Ben Chestnut takes pride in the fact that his company is made up of “misfits” and has made it his mission to create a culture that celebrates difference and diversity within the workplace.

Chestnut met Mackey at Chestnut’s first meeting as a new member of the Emory Center for Ethics Advisory Board. At this meeting, Mackey presented his work on Typical American Families—a project that explores the beautiful spectrum of family and ways it crosses barriers of race, religion, ability, class, sexuality, and age. Chestnut invited Mackey to present to his company as part of the company’s “Coffee Hour” series, which invites “creative, interesting, thought-provoking, and downright weird people” to come to challenge the view’s of the employees and teach them something new. 

Just as several guest speakers before them, including Big Boi from Outkast and Ann Friedman, journalist and professional .GIF-master, Mackey and Knight challenged normative thinking through their presentation. Mackey and Knight brought the Typical American Families photo exhibit, shared stories from families that were part of the project, expressed their understanding of art and its role in social change, and communicated their overall philosophical approach to their work.

In my interview with Mackey, he linked the mission of the company with his work with Beautiful in Every Shade and Typical American Families, which, as he said, “celebrates the misfit and gives them an opportunity to affirm that identity.”

The presentation was widely received. People stressed the importance of Mackey and Knight’s work and the need to broaden the image pool of people seen and how they are seen. One person talked about how, even though evidence would show that diversity is all around him, when he stopped and thought about a ‘typical’ American family, the image that pops into his head is always a very normative one. He felt challenged by this realization.

Sure enough, Mackey and Knight achieved the mission of the Typical American Families project and pushed MailChimp employees to think about “What is typical? What is American? What is family?...and who gets to decide?” 

-Ashwini Krishnamurthy
Emory University Freshman and Ethics & the Art Program Intern