Diversity Illusionist Part 1: Mirrors, Windows, and Other Worlds

First things first.

I tried to be succinct! Epic Fail. Apologies! So, what started as a quick response, ended up being almost 2200 words. And then that rolled over into more. Part 2 will be available in a couple of days.

*********

Earlier this month another blogger, Raimey Gallant, discussed a not so Happily-Ever-After episode churning in the literary world of Romancelandia involving Courtney Milan, whom I support. You may want to check that out before reading my take on this disconcerting topic.

Rainey explained that there are two kinds of diversity advocates.

1. Full-Equity Diversity Advocates: those publishing stakeholders, whether they be authors, critics, literary agents, editors, etc., who advocate for equity no matter how much space and power they have to give up in the process.
2. Fair-Weather Diversity Advocates: these are publishing stakeholders who say, “Yes, come in, but stop when we reach our quota” or, “Do come in, but that’s far enough,” or, “Welcome, so long as you’re the kinds of diversity we like.”

I agree with her, and I fear that there may be a third kind that does more harm than the second type.

Before I dive into my take on this nightmare sh!tefest of f#ckery, let’s stretch our limbs into the warm, nurturing sunlight of background knowledge . . .

Analyze this image and consider the messages and conclusions:

Mirror_Diversity in Children's Books 2015
WTF? 12.5%? If it wasn’t for Scooby-Doo and those meddling kids, too! 😉

Now, let’s consider this beautifully bejewelled quote:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real
or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

-Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990

And this:

Books Transmit Values

It’s truly amazing how powerful and timeless words are. It’s also amazing how different people can come to similar conclusions about books and their impact on people. I’m a Myers fan and I’m so glad I found Bishop’s quote during my research for this post. In a previous post, I shared my experiences as a budding writer and ravenous reader.

With headlines like these, who dares for diversity and inclusion?

Marvel Executives Cry Baa Baa Baa

No, Marvel Executives. It’s not that we don’t want diversity, we just want it done right! We also don’t want or need fake allies pretending to help when they only want to harm genuine efforts toward progress! 😦

I’m tired of seeing harmful stereotypes and tropes weaponized against Black woman and girls in the form of:

  1. The Mammy
  2. The Jezebel
  3. The Masculinized Warrior

We, too are multifaceted, and need a balance in representation!

For example, in the middle-grade novel that it is on the Florida’s ELA curriculum reading list, a little Black girl is used as a Magical Negro to teach and guide a little white boy in quasi-desegregated Georgia. In one unbelievable scene, Frita, punches a white boy that is bullying Gabriel. This little girl sacrifices her safety, compromises her father’s teachings (he’s a strong church leader in his community), and her family’s safety (KKK is you know, a thing) . . . for what though?

Blurb_Liberation of Gabriel King

If I didn’t witness on a daily basis how books, social media, movies, and music have the power to transmit values often in a negative way for Black girls, I wouldn’t possess the understanding as to why this seemingly innocuous novel has a negative effect on children when taught in an empathy-lacking vacuum. After all, the themes found in between the covers sing of friendship, fear can enslave you, liberate yourself with bravery, have the ability to teach important lessons, but at what cost? Unfortunately, not all values transmitted through books are noble. For example, a lot of the black girls (including myself) that I knew growing up believed that we had to defend and cape not just for ourselves, but for others. We were everyone’s Super Hero, but it was a rare occurrence when someone would come along to protect and defend us. If you’re struggling to understand this reality, please visit these YouTubers and learn:

YouTube_Chrissie TVYouTube_RashidaYouTube_For Harriet

 

The Liberation of Gabriel King

My primary purpose for writing this post is to shine a spotlight on another kind of Diversity Advocate. And as my thinking matures or evolves, the conclusions I’ve drawn may further develop, cement, or crystallize. Regardless, I love making sense of things. Let’s collaborate.

So . . .

mario-here-we-go

Twilight of the Diversity Illusionist

You’ve most likely heard of the term Social Justice Warrior. This term has been hijacked and bastardized from its original meaning:

Social Justice Definition

Social Justice Warrior

In the 2006 romantic mystery movie starring Edward Norton and Jessica Biel, The Illusionist, “nothing is what it seems”.

The same can be said about diversity, inclusion, the movers, shakers, players, and what’s at stake.

So, I had to coin the term #DiversityIllusionist to refocus the narrative.

Based on my observations, Diversity Illusionists are Industry stakeholders that appear to understand and/or superficially desire diversity to thrive and be successful, due to their ignorance and inexperience.

Keeping up appearances is everything with these kinds of folks. They use the proper hashtags, they support the “correct” on-going movements. They “like”, retweet, and share, and take all the right photos. They speak oh-so-very well about diversity and inclusion that it seems oh-so genuine.

If only . . .

When my oldest son was little, he loved the Little Miss and Mr. Men picture book series by Roger Hargreaves. One of our favorites was Little Miss Helpful.

Little Miss Helpful

Like the character teaser states above, Little Miss Helpful’s help is tragically not helpful. It’s downright destructive or comically problematic.

She reminds me of the Diversity Illusionist that hear the “masses” crying for diversity and inclusion and then they come running to help, but unfortunately they often only make things more worse. These kind of Diversity Illusionist are benign. They’re for the most part what one could call “tone-deaf” or they can’t read the room. And because of their ignorance, discord ensues, thus impeding progress.

The second half of the third kind of Diversity Advocate slink in the shadows, planting pieces of their contempt, hatred, stereotypes, bigotry, sexism, elitism, and venom like Voldemort plants horcruxes, as they poison the waters. I dub them the malignant Diversity Illusionist. They proclaim to be all about diversity and inclusion; however, their real purpose is to undermine the cause and to cry and beat their chest when things go sideways, “See! It didn’t work! It doesn’t sell! Diversity is a lie!”

For example, you may get re-makings and rabid reactions like this from either the benign or malignant ones:

Ariel Shouldn't Be Black

The argument above that people had a right to be angry regarding Ariel being “re-imagined” as a Black girl is a false equivalency. Ariel is a mermaid (an obviously humanoid creature) that chooses to be human for the sake of love. Comparing this “re-make” to the species swaps of dogs and anthropomorphic hot dog eating, faster than the speed of sound hedgehogs is marked with ignorance and reeks of oversimplification. It’s also insulting. Nonwhite people, in this case a Black actress, are not animals that will be immune and oblivious to the angry outcry of “reverse-racism” criers.

Little Mermaid Ariel

Disclaimer: Let it be understood that I’m not for or against Ariel being re-imagined as a gorgeous Black young lady. I have a different argument altogether: What bothers me is why are those with so much power behind what gets produced crying and whining when critics (both black, white, and every other shade in between) throw righteous shade at their mediocre efforts: “See,” Power Keepers whine, “we’re being more inclusive. We’re being diverse! Look what we’ve done! We made Ariel Black! See what we’ve done! Praise us! Praise us! Only the racist and sexist are mad, mad, mad at the sacrifices we’ve made on the Diversity Pyre!” when they could actually do real work by looking at the already huge treasure trove of African-American, African, Asian, Caribbean, Pacific Island myths and inviting writers from those groups (Moana anyone, and yet) instead of taking already established fairy tale characters, and then just slapping a new brown face on it. This is not what I or others are asking for, and why should we settle for less?

Are Black characters and stories so undesirable, unnecessary, and so un-inspirationally (is this a word? Uh, it is now!) “other” that we have to be fronted by a white and already established face and story? If so, have those that have chosen this route unaware of how demoralizing this is? Do they even care?

Dillon-MaryBelleAndTheMermaid-sj
This gorgeous painting is from Virginia Hamilton’s “Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales” (1995). Proud owner of the book! 🙂

Regardless, this is no longer the time for laziness, myopia (this is 2020 and the vision must be clear, after all), or apathy! 🙂

Words like virtue-signaling, cancel culture, and battle cries such as “go woke or go broke” have been over 9000 Super-Saiyan-screamed all over digital spaces, such as Twitter and Facebook. Lines have been drawn with permanent marker, arrangements made to improve inclusive numbers, but how come there hasn’t been much progress?

No, really . . . why hasn’t there been much real progress?

To speak up about the need for diversity is one thing, but to actually go about filling that need is another thing entirely.

Torture Porn? No thank you.

I agree that books can be a mirror, window, or door to other peoples or places; however, not every window is meant to be peeked into. That’s why the term Peeping Tom deserves its negative connotation. The same goes for voyeurs of the sadistic kind. When Black people are brutalized in films, there’s no doubt in my mind that it pleases those that consider us less than human or a blight on the planet. While watching these scenes which are created to garner empathy, none will be found for those that watch to smile and cheer at the inhumanity done to other humans.

I won’t deny that there has been an increase in movies with non-white characters or even movies and series written by Black writers and producers. Oh, there most definitely have been. That’s fantastic. And there have been disgruntled reactionary rumblings in the Black spaces and groups and channels I frequently visit. Two primary laments that repeatedly come up are:

“We don’t need or want another slave movie”

“We don’t need to see another murdered-by-the-police story”.

And more:

“Is it too much to ask to see a healthy, Black couple just living their lives?” or “I’d love to see more Black people in horror–you know, not dying within the first scene . . . or an other-ised monstrosity?”

But asking does not mean you shall receive.

So then when we end up getting “movies” like this:

When what we really wanted was something more like these:

makes me wonder what the heck is going on. 😐

Disclaimer1

These are my opinions. I do not speak for all Black people.

B-b-but It’s Not About Race . . . aka It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby!

Believe it or not . . . money and race are not exclusionary. Both can simultaneously exist and not cancel each other out. For those that argue diversity is failing or that it doesn’t work because audiences won’t spend money on it is a false conclusion. Furthermore, just because something is lucrative does not equate its level of value or worth.

That aside, there have been a lot of remakes!

Some call this rehashing of old ideas and nostalgia-bathing intertextuality. And believe me, there’s nothing wrong with nostalgia.

Intertextuality is an idea that any text has been influenced and shaped by texts that have preceded it. Thus, no film exists on its own and consciously or unconsciously all films borrow ideas from other films, past or present. In other words, there is nothing new under the sun. Needless to say, my take on Little Red Riding Hood will still be unique because it comes from my own personal experiences and idiosyncrasies that make me moi.

Intertextuality is now a bankable thing, but I go for the head and will also call this phenomenon Lucrative Ego-Tripping.

Tony Stark Make it Rain

Dr. Dolittle Remake
Color me surprised . . . another remake! ::gasp::

Basically, the latest movies from both the DCU, MCU, and even the beloved Disney live-action remakes are sometimes regurgitated “goodness”, sure to sell, and sell oh-so-very well, which poses the rhetorical question: why try something new when the old guarantees overflowing coffers?

Diversity and Inclusion

To the naysayers, fakers (looking at you, Diversity Illusionist!), and haters diversity and inclusion isn’t going away. It is not a trend. It is not the latest fashion. It is not charity work done by well-meaning and sometimes mealy-mouthed people looking to get a pat on the head paired with a glass of milk and a cookie.

It is the way of the world.

And the world is a beautifully diverse place.

So, books in all shapes and forms should reflect this reality.

After all, books are the conduit to all that and more.

A Reader lives_Martin

Consider and reflect on where you stand . . . happy reading and writing!

 

6 thoughts on “Diversity Illusionist Part 1: Mirrors, Windows, and Other Worlds

  1. This post is not only insightful as to how to separate diversity illusionists from real efforts, but it’s a treasure trove of great sources I want to have on hand for future reference, so bookmarking! You’ve framed this in such a way that I can compare it to other movements in which the efforts are illusion deep, such as when a big company spends more money advertising their environmental efforts than they actually spends on the environmental efforts.

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