Diversity 101: An Intro to the Diversity Discussion

So, I think we can all agree that it is incredibly frustrating to have the same conversation over and over.  At some point your eyes glaze over and you sigh and say “Never mind, don’t worry about it.”

This is what is happening with regards to conversations surrounding diversity.  The same three or four convos keep getting repeated over and over. So, as a timesaver, consider this your introductory course to the diversity discussion.  I doubt this will be the last entry, but it’s a good first step.

So, what’s the deal with diversity, anyway?

Diversity advocates want more variation in their media.  Whether it’s books or movies or television or stage, most media favors a white, heterosexual, able-bodied, male aesthetic (let’s call this the WHAM for short).  These stories often fetishize other groups into either stereotypes or plot devices.  Diversity advocates want to see the starring roles within these mediums  given over to lesser told stories, stories that are well told and give marginalized voices credit as being also the norm, as opposed to the “other”.  It isn’t about limiting creativity, it’s about changing a single narrative that is often marketed as “universal” into a truly universal narrative.

 

That’s cool. But I just like what I like.  I don’t even notice what the main characters look like, you know?

This is inherently untrue.  Scientists have proven again and again that the human brain is governed by internal, unconscious bias.  These hidden drivers prompt us to make hundreds of decisions a day, whether it’s ordering a tuna sandwich instead of ham or stepping aside to avoid a puddle.  The same survival instinct that keeps you from touching a hot oven also makes you shrink back from a strange black man in an elevator.  The difference is that while you learned about hot stoves from experience, your behavior toward that black man is a product of a long, sustained campaign in which society has bombarded you with the narrative of the dangerous black man, as opposed to the narrative of the dangerous white woman or the dangerous Asian man.  So if you don’t question that narrative that you’ve internalized you are going to automatically select media that promotes WHAM perspective, because that is what is considered good and right in Western society (and increasingly in other societies that consume Western media).

So, your apathy is actually a large part of the problem.

 

Wait, so do you expect me to question everything I read/watch/create?  That sounds like a lot of work.

Yes, it is.  But if you aren’t part of the solution you’re part of the problem. And the people who don’t have the luxury of seeing people who look like them everywhere probably don’t care about your whining. Also, the more you start to question the media you consume the easier it will be for you to consume better media and make choices that include better representation.  It’s the difference between eating candy for every meal because it’s easily accessible and driving to a four star restaurant.

 

Okay, but you can’t deny that good quality is just good quality, no matter if the creator is a one eyed purple people eater!

This perspective advances the idea of that everything in the world is meritocracy, which is inherently untrue.  If things were published because of quality and not because they were considered marketable or because they catered to a certain taste, the percentages within publishing would more closely match that of society at large.  When you say something is based on quality what you’re saying is that the WHAM narrative equals quality and everything else is not good.  It ignores the systemic issues that lead to certain things getting passed over, issues that link back to age old constructs of availability of resources and societal hierarchies.

And bringing mythological creatures into a discussion about diversity does the opposite of what you wanted to do.  It gives the impression that you think the possibility of a thoughtful black author is as unlikely as an alien, stripping the person of their humanity and relegating them to a fantastical status.  And the first step in devaluing a person’s opinion is to strip them of their relevance and their basic humanity.

 

Okay, okay, I get it. Diversity is important. But I don’t want to buy stuff just because it has a marginalized person in it. I want to read/watch GOOD stuff.

This statement assumes that the media produced by people from marginalized groups is fundamentally lesser than other groups, which in turn feeds back into the WHAM perspective.  WHAM stories aren’t better or more universal, they’re just the stories that have been privileged over others.  This also harkens back to the discussion of publication/production being directly related to quality, instead of a complicated series of human decisions and interactions.  There is not a single unbiased person in the decision process of what gets made/promoted.  So the end result is indicative of the collective bias of the people in charge, not happenstance.

 

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