Coachella’s Silent Headliner: Discrimination and Bias


Another Coachella has come and gone. Beyond the flower crowns and surprise boy band reunions, lies a music festival with deep-seated issues. From brands failing to include diverse ambassadors to an entire festival that waited 20 years to place a black female artist as a headliner, the highest-grossing festival in the world has yet to correct the diversity disparities that plague the yearly event.

Here’s a rundown on a few diversity and inclusion issues impacting the country’s most prominent music festival.


As the trifecta of millennials, influencers, and music lovers flock to the California desert, brands launch bold experiential campaigns to draw in festival goers, specifically those with large followings. One such brand is fashion retailer Revolve with their annual activation, #RevolveFestival. Revolve CEO Michael Mente even joked that he ‘broke the budget’ for last year’s activation which flew out and accommodated 90 influencers and styled approximately 450 others. One major caveat; there are serious representation issues in Revolve’s campaign. Last year, the brand came under fire for hosting events with very little diversity. Protestors circulated the hashtag #RevolveSoWhite. This Coachella, Revolve has notably improved the spectrum of ethnicities featured on their channel. However, there are virtually no plus-size influencers, anywhere. Plunkett Research estimates that 68 percent of American women wear a size 14 or above. It’s evident that the brand has a way to go to truly reach an inclusive marketing campaign.


Recently, InStyle published an article titled “What It's Like to Be a Black Woman at Coachella” in which the reporter, Stephanie Smith-Strickland, takes a closer look at the festival’s disproportionate demographics and how it leads to deeply uncomfortable festival dynamics for black attendees. The writer described how she left a set early because a crowd of mostly white concertgoers were screaming lyrics that included the N-word. The ignorance did not stop there. She was asked many times by security to show her wristband while other white attendees were not. Smith was not alone in her experience. She interviewed a variety of attendees and influencers that included Uche Nwosu and her boyfriend Clinton Moxam.

“I do think it’s tough when it’s really whitewashed at times,” explained Nwosu. “Even for me, it’s been a little hard getting into it. We both started on an MTV show, which gave us a little bit of exposure, but I definitely have experienced discrimination.”

Transgender Discrimination

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought to light discrimination against the transgender community. In February, the foundation sent a demand letter to Coachella’s organizers Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and Goldenvoice, Inc. on behalf of two transgender siblings who say they were refused access to restrooms that corresponded to their gender identities at last year's festival. Not only does this reflect intolerance against the transgender community, but these allegations are against California law which protects every person's right to access restrooms based on their gender identity. The ACLU requested a written policy guaranteeing all patrons access to restrooms and other facilities based on gender identity, and to provide related training to Coachella 2019 staff and contractors so this incident would not happen again. Coachella said in a statement that the festival had plans to introduce steps to ensure that all festival goers could access restrooms that correspond with their gender identity as part of their “Every One” campaign. The initiative was launched this year with a goal to host an environment “safe, inclusive and fun for all.”

Sexual Harassment

The “Every One” campaign was this year’s response to last year’s now viral Teen Vogue article by Vera Papisova who revealed widespread sexual harassment at the festival. The writer interviewed 54 women who claimed to have faced some form of sexual assault or harassment. Post-article, Coachella leaned on the help of a consultant to guide teams through harassment prevention as well as diversity and inclusion in the workplace. According to a survey conducted by OurMusicMyBody, 92 percent of females said they experienced some form of sexual misconduct at a festival. 99 percent of music fans surveyed said they would more likely attend a music venue with increased security measures.

Although Coachella’s shift toward inclusivity is still behind the times our diverse nation lives, we have witnessed notable strives. Beyoncé’s 2018 performance and her intentionality to amplify the HBCU experience was a major step toward bridging the gap. Additionally, multicultural artists like J Balvin, who was just announced Lollapalooza's first Latino headliner, were well represented. Now if Coachella can only attract and cater to an audience as diverse as the artists.

The Truth About AI Bias.


Like a Black Mirror plot line come to life, Artificial Intelligence is pouring into our lives whether we know it or not. AI continues to evolve and gain traction across industries. AI implementation grew 37 percent during 2018, and 270 percent over the last four years according to research by Gartner. The success stories of AI and data-driven machine learning ranges from the light-hearted to life-saving. Google’s DeepMind researchers developed a machine that can mimic the thought processes of the human brain. In 2016, they created an AI that plays an ancient and complex Chinese strategy game called Go. Google’s AI beat the reigning world champion Lee Sedol four to one. Recently, China’s AI startup Infervision has taught AI to detect cancerous lung cells from images. This 30-second transformative report has already been implemented in 280 hospitals around the world. As more data is collected and algorithms advance, we will only see an increase of AI and its impact on our daily lives.

Unfortunately, there’s one huge problem. There exists an AI bias.

How does AI bias occur?

In order for AI to function there needs to be deep learning, where artificial neural networks learn from large amounts of data. These algorithms are inspired by the human brain. There are many points in the deep learning process where bias can surface. From framing the problem to collecting and preparing data, algorithms are set by data scientists who may lack the understanding to incorporate a full scope of context and data from diverse sources. Additionally, data science is typically guided by mathematical terms, balancing the false positive and false negative rates of a prediction system. However, when it comes to ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender, mathematical “balance” and predictive systems cannot be perfectly applied to such fluid concepts.

Who are the data scientists?

The data scientists overseeing the information being collected and analyzed come from a limited number of individuals, not a broad spectrum that makes up the human race. Stanford recently announced a new AI Institute to guide its research and ethics. According to the university, “designers of AI must be broadly representative of humanity.” Of the 120 faculty and tech leaders partnering on the initiative, not a single member of this “representative” group appeared to be black. This lack of diversity for AI research doesn’t end with universities. Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft launched the Partnership established to study and formulate best practices on AI technologies. Yet, there does not appear to be a black board member listed on their site. Additionally, the majority of their board is made up of men. This all mirrors an unfortunate trend in the AI industry. Minorities and women are severely underrepresented.

The damage of AI bias

The frightening part of AI bias is that it has the power to truly disrupt our lives, and not for the better. The unregulated deployment of AI has already made its way into surveillance, the criminal justice system, recruiting, education, the financial sector, and transportation. In 2017, Amazon had to abandon an AI recruiting tool they developed after discovering it was not gender neutral. Because most of the applicants were men, the system taught itself to favor male applications over female. Law enforcement agencies have begun incorporating the use of face recognition systems to help identify suspects and determine deployment. In 2018, a study led by MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini discovered that gender classification systems sold by IBM, Microsoft, and Face++ had an error rate as much as 34.4 percentage points higher for darker-skinned females than lighter-skinned males. These highly skewed results should outrage us all.

What we can do?

As AI advisory boards and councils are being assembled across corporations and startups, we need to encourage company leaders to include board members from all races and backgrounds. We need to advocate for schools and companies to recruit diverse talent as professors and researchers. Lastly, companies need to be held accountable for the mistakes, hidden biases, and blind spots in their technologies.

If you’re a startup founder or CEO, before jumping on the latest AI integration that comes your way, take the time to investigate who developed the algorithms and the diversity of data. Diverse teams and datasets will offer a comprehensive approach to deep learning and deliver better, impartial, and impactful results.