Notes on Talking and Writing Diversity from a Newbie

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I know privilege conversations can be difficult, and I know that to say I’m not trying to be political by bringing up privilege would be a lie. However, I am able to look at my privilege and that of others objectively. I can check mine at the door, which is what I’ve done to write this post. If you’re unable to do so, I am recommending you stop reading here. You may see parallels between my existence and yours and dislike my comments about “our” privilege and how it has forwarded “us” better means to navigate the world.

There’s no “us” here I’m up for debating. I’m talking about me. Fair warning.

I am very lucky from a privilege perspective. I have led a far from “easy” life, I’ve faced hurdles I couldn’t imagine overcoming again in my lifetime, but I still recognize that I have had a lot going for me (even when it felt/feels otherwise). The fact that I’m Caucasian, straight, cisgender, abled, and near-ish the middle class with my current living situation has made many of the obstacles I’ve faced a lot easier to overcome. It also makes my life a lot easier to live because the major social adversity I face is sexism. Not to say sexism isn’t an enormous burden in our time.

I’m far from perfect, and I can’t say that my privilege hasn’t blinded me naïvely. Especially when it comes to the media I have consumed all my life. All media is produced with stories that reflect aspects of my reality. I can open almost any book, turn on nearly any TV show, pop in the most popular movies, even click play on my iPod, and learn all about people who look exactly like me. For years, I had no idea –not one wit– that this was not the reality for everyone on the planet. I thought I was only gravitating to my likeness.

Unfortunately, ignorance is not a valid excuse. Ignorance equates to compliance. Thankfully, I am far smarter and more aware of our current status quo. And I can hardly believe it.

I grew up surrounded by diversity –in a small Calgary enclave located in the heart of conservative Alberta. That was and is reality, no matter how often the media likes to whitewash it. And I hate that I didn’t notice. Or rather, I hate that I went along with the reflecting from a white centre.

Like I said above, this is a loaded topic, one that I could go on at length about for thousands of words. I’m trying to keep it short and focused, so I want to share three quotes that coalesce into something that strikes me as a writer:

“Diverse characters do not need to be non-threatening and palatable to ALL readers –‘dangerous’ things must be non-threatening to be accepted?” –The Diversity is Real panel at WWC

“The Strong Female Character is NOT the everywoman. The everywoman arises when you only have one woman on your team, which relegates that woman to the role of being every kind of woman. It is completely unrealistic for a woman to be altogether smart/dumb, sexy/virginal, vulnerable/independent, damsel in distress/butt kicker –all the gendered binaries we place on women.” –The Strong Female Character panel at WWC and this post I wrote previously about Annihilating the Everywoman

“Most black movies, for better or worse, carry a burden of expectation, having to be everything to everyone because we have so little to choose from.” –“The Last Day of a Young Black Man.” Bad Feminist. Roxane Gay. 3. ebook.

What ties these three comments together for me is this: they all deal with issues of expectation. Each brings up the idea of forcing characters certain people would find unpleasant into stereotypical molds in order to make them identifiable, understandable, and palatable to these certain people.

The rest of us as members of the audience should be disturbed and angered that these certain people get to dictate so much to us. Furthermore, the act of moulding diverse characters– of erasing them –is beyond damaging for the very real people they reflect.

I cannot speak more honestly from any perspective than my own, which is why two of my quotes reflect the perception of women in media, a topic dear to me. But this is a matter of basic logic at its core. For instance, I know that I, and my female/straight/white/cis friends are not cookie cutter images of one another or even the others that conform to those labels. And those are just my friends who fall into those specific categories!

I’m pretty sure the world at large knows that too, so I don’t really understand why a belief even persists that stereotyping is applicable to any group with similarities on the surface. I suppose that’s the big problem, we’re stuck on the surface.

I’m new to discussing and writing about diversity, but at least I’m trying to do it correctly. I can’t say I’m always successful at it, but I’m damn diligent about my research and would never intentionally promote stigmatizing images. I’ve always written about more than people who look like me or live like me, and I work extremely hard to do so authentically.

I probably have and will make mistakes. I can confront it, be confronted, learn from it, and I’ll try again. I think that’s part of what acknowledging your privilege is all about.

 

If diversity is a topic you find yourself interested in and need a place to start, I highly recommend these articles that Anxiety Ink has shared online:

As far as diverse books go, non-fiction and fiction I’ve recently fallen in love with include:

  • Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay
  • The Farsala Trilogy, Hilari Bell
  • Minion, L.A. Banks
  • Marked Series, S.J. Day
  • Three Day Road, Joseph Boyden

My list is woefully lacking at this time.

Other excellent resources I adore include:

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