From #oscarssowhite to creating a more inclusive workspace – media and business have been vocal about the effort to create more diversity and representation. And while the word diversity has been tossed around as a goal institutions are aspiring to. We haven’t examined what the goal truly is.
What does it mean to champion the cause diversity?
When I was a child, I looked up to and identified with He-Man. Not only because he had magical powers, but because he had blonde hair like my dad and brown skin like me. So I figured it was obvious that he was mixed.
Seeing yourself is important when you’re growing up. We feel comfortable when we’re among those who look and talk like ourselves. The familiar shows that you belong – that you matter. You’re part of the standard and not an outsider.
For too long, we’ve just seen one standard. One portrayal of what is considered mainstream where everything else has been pushed to a niche. Even though Spike Lee and John Singleton made films that addressed common themes that every human faces – they were quickly labeled as Black Filmmakers in the early stages of their career. Adding a separator and pushing them to the outside. And there’s still concern whether a film can be led by a person of color or a woman. Even though the evidence shows that people show up to the theater in masses when there’s more inclusivity.
In the workplace, the value of having a diverse company is that you are expanding your pool of talent. Some may attack Affirmative Action, but forcing companies and institutions a few decades ago to add more diversity to their ranks has had the effect of adding more value to these places. And for many companies, this is seen as an asset and not a burden. Not to mention, many new companies and startups promote a diverse workforce as part of their benefits which in turn makes them more competitive and profitable.
But it’s not enough to just see people who look like yourself. There has always been a small presence of minorities in all walks of life.. But it’s only recently that their points of view have been allowed to be taken seriously.
It’s about showcasing someone’s point of view. If a film has a diverse cast, but simply puts forth stereotypical tropes of race then nothing is gained. If there’s a diverse workforce, but none of them have the ability to voice opinions or take ownership of their work then it becomes a practice of window dressing – putting a colored mask on the same mannequin. We know there’s nothing different underneath the surface.
It’s About Value
Diversity is the promotion of a difference of opinion. It is addition, making someone’s experience and viewpoint a part of the culture. It’s embracing that perspective and allowing it to be put in the open so that it can be appreciated, criticized, and recognized as having value to everyone.
Having more films with diverse casts or companies with employees with different skin tones and genders isn’t about being able to boast that they are present. It’s about what’s behind the curtain that counts. It’s about empowering the voices of people who may not hear from so that we can refine our own.
A true embrace of diversity is allowing the voices of the many to change the minds of few. The greatest boon to your perspective is to travel to other places. See how other people live and think. It teaches you about your values and changes what you see as important. But this is a luxury that not all can afford, especially at the given moment.
However if we continue to truly champion diversity, we’ll be able to get those different and oh so necessary perspectives. We’ll all be better as a society for it.