Whenever the conversation turns to diverse voices in arts and media, the first thing that comes to mind is: Why?
I mean this for real. Why? Why put in all this work to make sure that us minorities get heard? Why bother creating respectful representations of people who don’t fit the assumed default human beings? Catering to the straightwhitedude is working, so if it ain’t broke, why fix it? What difference does it make to include women, people of color, the disabled, transgendered, queer, and working class? Why do we matter so much?
We know what we’re supposed to say, don’t we? Something along the lines of diversity being good for you (“Read stuff by queer Black women and eat your spinach!”). But that doesn’t quite cut it anymore. It sounds like a slogan people regurgitate to sound appropriately progressive instead of a real understanding of why our voices are not just beneficial, but vital to the arts and media.
I think Toni Morrison says it best (emphasis mine).
Almost all of the African-American writers that I know were very much uninterested in one particular area of the world, which is white men. That frees up a lot. It frees up the imagination, because you don’t have that gaze. And when I say white men, I don’t mean just the character, I mean the establishment, the reviewers, the publishers, the people who are in control. So once you erase that from your canvas, you can really play.
I believe that ability to play is crucial. We’ve all come across various works that have been watered down for popular consumption. In catering to our assumed ignorance and egocentricity, it has sacrificed no small part of its vitality. Now, instead of being a doorway into new ways of expressing and knowing and being, we are constantly fed the same old bullshit. What’s really fucked up is that we know it’s bullshit.
Look at recent events in Egypt, Libya, and Japan, and it becomes clear: the world does not revolve around the straightwhitedude. Look at the ascension of India and China as global economic powerhouses, and it’s obvious: the world is a lot bigger than the WASPified version that gets shoved down our throats. Look at the people we know who are queer, transgendered, disabled, women, of color, and lower class. Diversity is the rule, not the exception. By choice or by force, all will be made aware of this.
For real, how many ways can you talk about how unique, special, and wonderful straight White dudes are (and how fortunate we are that they rule the world)? And how long do you think it will be before everyone – even the straightwhitedude who’s supposed to be so exalted by this – gets tired of it? Fuck, we see signs of it now. People are getting bored with it because they see it everywhere all the time. They don’t know what it is, and they can’t put their finger on it, but they’re noticing that it’s all starting to look the same.
They’re looking for something different, something only we can give them because we’ve lived it. But it’s about more than what we, the marginalized and oppressed, can do for everyone else. It’s primarily about what we can do for ourselves.
We’ve already had the experience where our worth as human beings rested upon our ability to play the roles the dominant groups prescribe for us. Yet rare is the case where we are affirmed as we are in our fullest humanity – pure, rough, messy, and beautiful.
For those of us who are silenced every day because the world we live in devalues and dehumanizes us for our gender, our color, sexuality, ability, and/or income, to speak for ourselves as ourselves is an act of reclaiming what is often taken from us. Asserting our truth is radical. It is a transformative act and therefore a revolutionary act. This is not the way society tells us we’re supposed to be. We’re supposed to be silent and invisible, content in our silence and invisibility, and/or afraid of what would happen were we to see or be seen as we are. Putting ourselves at the center of our lives exposes the status quo for the lie that it is: that there is only one truth worth knowing, one beauty worth having, one goodness worth becoming.
As each of us dares to do this, we begin to realize that our goodness, truth, and beauty comes because of who we are rather than despite it.