[Taken from: http://sociology.mrdonn.org/diversity.html
Description: the word, “diversity” is written across the top of the image. Below the word are five smiling, cartoon human figures. In the middle is a dark skinned man with short, wavy/nappy black hair wearing a yellow sweater and belted brown jeans. His arms are around two other people. On his right is a pale white man with short, straight brown hair. He’s wearing a red polo shirt and blue jeans. To the pale white man’s right is a presumably East Asian woman in a manual wheelchair with shoulder-length black hair. She’s wearing a goldenrod button up and violet pants. Her chair is facing to the left. To the dark skinned man’s left is a warmer toned white woman with long red hair. She’s wearing a teal sweater with a white “H” in the middle and is wearing a shirt white skirt and knee high socks. To the left of the warmer toned white woman is a warm toned white man in a manual wheelchair with short, straight blonde hair. He’s wearing a green t-shirt and violet pants. His chair is facing forward.]
I feel pretty ambivalent about the word, “diversity”. On the one hand, I was raised discursively to talk about diversity through queer organizing and anti-oppressive work. But I can’t help but despair at where it falls short and how I see it being applied incorrectly.
For example, the image I chose to begin this post. I like how it centers a man of colour, but 3/5 of the people visible are white, 3/5 visibly able bodied, and 3/5 male. It in fact, looks a lot like the cast of the Power Rangers.
[Taken from: http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/power-rangers-turns-20-now/story?id=20106501
Description: There are six young people smiling up at the camera looking pretty cosy with arms around each other.They’re all wearing their Power Rangers uniforms minus the helmets. From top to bottom, left to right, we see the Power Rangers characters: Tommy (green), Billy (blue), Zach (black), Trini (yellow), Jason (red), and Kimberly (pink). Tommy is Indigenous (no details on what tribe), Billy is white (the actor is gay in real life), Zach is black, Trini is Vietnamese, and Kimberly is white.]
Both Power Rangers and the cover image I selected depict a majority of whiteness, a majority of able bodies, a majority of men, and arguably, only thin, straight/cis people. Even while they are depicting a range of bodies as a good thing (diversity), there is still an unspoken, invisible, “normal” body. This body is white, male, cis, straight, thin, and able bodied. Rosemarie Garland Thompson coined a term, the “normate” in her book, “Extraordinary Bodies”. The normate refers to a position, a group of identities that are imagined to be the average person, the normal. And the average person is understood to be white, male, cis, straight, thin, and able bodied. This experience of the average posits everything and everyone else as deviant. Unsurprisingly, the more things that differ from the normate, the more deviant one is.
As someone who is a mixed race, neurodiverse, fat, queer, transfeminine person with a physical disability, very little about me fits into the normate. When asked if there are people like me represented in the media, I feel fragmented. I see little pieces of myself here and there, but never as a whole. When I move through community, I also feel fragmented. I feel frustrated when people speak of diversity, they only mean marginally different from the normate.
Time and time again, I see in the media that I consume, in positions of leadership, in the cultures that I participate in, an oversaturation of normate bodies and bodies that are only have few differences from the normate. And it’s depressing. It tells me that I don’t belong, that I am not valuable for who I am. I feel like I have no choice but to live amongst the stars, at best placed there on a pedestal to be gazed up at as some revolutionary, magical being.
I have utilized visual imagery and identities to argue a point. It’s much easier for people to relate to something as visual as a difference in skin colour for example. But the application of my theorizing stretches much further than who we see on TV. It’s deeply entrenched in how we think.
When I come up with character/story ideas or talk anti-oppression, I sometimes hear that they’re too complicated if a character is for example, a fat, racialized, disabled trans person. Well, that’s quite literally me. Or it could be someone that I know. Audre Lorde wrote in her book, “Sister Outsider”, “I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self.” I hate having to fragment myself to make it palatable to a broader audience. My queerness is always present and intertwined with my fatness, my transfemininity, my neurodiversity, and my disabledness. To ask me to not to include a part of my identity erases some of the nuances of the violence I experience on a daily basis and is a form of violence in and of itself. If I were white, non-disabled, thin transfeminine person, I’d be so much more intelligible. Or if I were a mixed cis man with a disability. I’d have fewer parts of my identity that were glaringly on display.
Now I’m not saying that I experience more oppression than someone who is a mixed cis man with a disability or a white, non-disabled, thin transfeminine person. The kind of oppression I face is more lateral than horizontal. Who I am is intrinsically far away from the normate and thus I am and feel pushed to the margins.
The way we talk about diversity is designed to say that, “we accept group ______” and wish to include them. But what is left unsaid is that “group ______ is added, but does not become part of the norm”. The norm is still in tact. The norm is still the standard in which everything is put up against. Even in 2015, it’s still a big deal to have a movie with more than one or two people of colour leads in a Hollywood movie (see: Star Wars). There are also very few visibly disabled and trans people, but a lot of normate-bodied actors playing as disabled and trans people. The default is still bodies that resemble the normate. Diversity is still designed to benefit normate bodies through “enriching” them with their experiences but not to be the ones who benefit themselves.
We are not in a place where even someone who has one identity away from the normate can be widely accepted. I can’t think of many depictions in the mainstream media where we see for example, canonically trans characters talking to other canonically trans characters about things that aren’t about their transition or about cis characters. It’s even more rare to find depictions that have more than one or two identities away from the normate.
In an ideal world, I’d like to see depictions of all bodies and have them be protagonists, villains, best friends, leaders, and background characters. It would be totally okay for there to be a movie that just so happens to be made up of 3 trans lead characters of assorted genders, races, and abilities, and have a villain who’s a cis, non-disabled person of colour. We would see disabled trans men in visible positions of leadership outside of the trans and disabled communities and their skills would be seen as valid.
Basically, there’d be depictions of people where it’s not mandatory for a cishet non-disabled white person to be present. I’d love to be at a point where having a disabled POC trans person as prime minister would be no big deal because we’ve already had all sorts of people as prime minister and are well-represented in all positions in government.
This will never happen though. We would need to make fundamental changes to everything around us. From shitty housing policies, creating meaningful ways to assist non-normate folks get into and through university, and/or the ways we do hiring, it’s still designed to benefit the normate. Diversity is only diverse to those who fit the normate bill. (For the piece that inspired this one, click here ) Diversity benefits the neoliberal, c(r)apitalist state through accepting diverse identities, but doing nothing to actually bring them in. Those who are different from the normate are expected to fall in line with the system already put in place instead of changing the systems so everyone shares space.
As I’ve mentioned before, I feel too diverse. I have too much that marks me as different from the norm. I’m so different that I feel unintelligible sometimes. I’m not able to fit within the system even if I wanted to. I’m still a human being living in this world and sometimes being able to use the system is beneficial for survival.
I want people to think more about the kinds of bodies present around them. We’re fighting for queer rights, decolonization, universal accessibility, and a host of other social justice initiatives to make this world a better place. The people who more often fall between the cracks are the ones who have more things that mark them as not-normal. In OW offices, we see more disabled queers of colour. We see more trans women with disabilities doing sex work. Fat women of colour more frequently experience negative stereotypes in the healthcare system. We don’t see all these people often in positions of power or as protagonists in our media. We are all complicit in these systems and we are all responsible to become more aware of our actions first and foremost.