The Daily DeX 07/08/2019: Diversity Needs To Go All The Way Down

+“The Black Characters I Wish I Saw More Of” | The New York Times | Sesali Bowen

“We’re finally seeing amazing diversity in Hollywood. One-dimensional, stereotypical portrayals have given way to strong characters who drive compelling narratives. That’s because women, the L.G.B.T.Q. community and people of color spent decades demanding to be included in every stage of the storytelling process.

But this diversity could still use some diversifying.

I’m often confronted with two kinds of black people on TV. Criminal masterminds who dominate industries stereotypically associated with black people (music, drugs, basketball). Or black people who live and work in white communities without any racism. Neither captures the realities of race in America.

Hollywood needs to show a multiplicity of experiences within marginalized communities. For example, you can find nerds in the hood. I grew up in the South Side of Chicago and know a lot of them. You can also find people from the hood thriving in nerdy settings like a corporate boardroom. Both can be true at the same time.”

1) “Amazing diversity in Hollywood” should not be understood as diversity per se. Because the group of people who make decisions about diversity isn’t very diverse at all, there aren’t more than a handful of black people behind the camera making critical decisions about how black people in tv and film are represented and how black characters are played by black actors. (This reality has been obscured by award shows since about 2014.) If diversity issues within the milieu of black producers, writers, and actors affect more than several dozen black people in tv and film I’d be shocked. The kind of diversity reflected in “The Black Characters I Wish I Saw More Of” is a function of different kinds of privilege and therefore doesn’t go “all the way down” to regular black people whose lives look more like mine than they look like Donald Glover’s or Ava Duvernay’s. 

2) Perhaps it’s consequentially true that diversity represented and celebrated in culture tends to obscure diversity (or the lack of it) in real life. In this context, it actually means something that less than 3% of physics and less than 1% of math PhDs are earned by black people in a given year. This shows that what’s ignored in all our diversity talk is the disconnect between what diversity is and what it’s supposed to do. The assumption that the mere presence of diversity is doing social or economic good needs examining. (This is an argument for more, not less diversity. For instance, the social good of racial, gender, and sexual diversity in film and television is diluted by the lack of diversity of social class.) By now, simply making me feel good because I might see someone like me on a screen is nearing a point of diminishing returns. I don’t need more black characters as much as I need more black physicists and mathematicians.

Read more:

+“For a Black Mathematician, What It’s Like to Be the ‘Only One’” | The New York Times | Amy Harmon

+“Are Awards Shows Worth Watching Anymore?” | The New York Times | Natalie Proulx

+“GOP Lieutenant Governor Uses White Nationalist Language to Denounce Diversity in Hate-Filled Sermon” | ThinkProgress | Josh Israel  

@ProjectDeX

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Image Source: Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay

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