Monday, September 19, 2016

Unpopular Opinion: A Rant on #Diversity

In my ASL class on Monday, we did receptivity practice with numbers. Someone signed a bunch of numbers at a moderate pace, and we had to write down those numbers on a whiteboard. While it first seemed straightforward, many of us found that it was actually really hard to split our attention between the signing and the writing. Taking my eyes away from the signer meant I was missing something – either the facial expressions or the signs themselves. I had to be a much more active receiver of information.

When one of my classmates brought this up and noted how difficult it was, our teacher Brian responded like, "Yes! Exactly! Now you get it."

Not only does effective communication require a certain level of visual attention, but think about how signing gets affected by poor lighting, people who don't face you when they speak, multiple people speaking at the same time...

For hearing people, these things don't really affect our ability to communicate. That's not true for deaf people.

It made me start thinking about accommodations. Lip-reading is an accommodation. Vocalizing can be an accommodation. Sometimes hearing aids and cochlear implants can be an accommodation.

Deaf people frequently have to accommodate hearing people. The reverse is much less frequently true; the hearing world does whatever the hearing world wants. The hearing world says, "We are the norm, and you have to figure out how to bend to our ways." (Sometimes the hearing world gets their feelings hurt when they are called out for being ableist. Sometimes they vehemently deny it. Sometimes they rationalize their behaviors.)

I think the same is true in other situations between privileged and non-privileged groups – so often, the non-privileged community has to accommodate the other. Like when the well-meaning privileged people start asking questions and making requests (because it's not like Google is a thing that exists):

"Why is X bad?"
"Why is Y good?"
"Can you explain...?"
"Tell me what I did wrong!"
"Tell me what I can do better!"
"Walk me through the hundreds of years of history & oppression so that I can understand what's wrong with this situation! Don't forget your sources!"

There's a certain exhaustion to being "diverse."

(Ugh. I really hate that word. "Diverse." It's an easy, lazy buzzword that absolves people from having to try. All you have to do is retweet a Diversity Tweet or post a Diversity Hashtag and suddenly you're exonerated from your racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc. ways! Congrats!!!!)

To be clear, I'm not knocking diversity. I am part of a "diverse" (ugh) community. I love being who I am. I'm genuinely glad that I come from a family of immigrants. I like the way I was raised. I like my perspective in life. I like my family's history. I like the values I've been brought up with. I like our culture and traditions.

I'm not saying that being "diverse" (ugh) is a burden.

I'm saying that in a world where you are different because of the way you identify, it can be exhausting to have to negotiate the world with that identity. (I'm saying that it's mostly other people who make it exhausting. I'm specifically saying that constantly accommodating other people is exhausting.)

And THEN when you're not being asked to accommodate – when you're not being asked to explain everything ever to people whose feelings are hurt – you're frequently being reduced to an object by those who are attempting to embrace diversity.

Take #MSWL, which stands for Manuscript Wish List, which is where agents/editors post book submissions they'd like to see in their inbox. There's some interesting requests ("a fresh new spin on REBECCA"), and then there's a lot of this:

"I'm looking for more diversity in MG and YA!"
"Looking for: diverse voices."
"Diverse, fresh fantasy!"
"Syria! Just, anything related to Syria!!!!!!"*

Oh. My. God. I hate when editors and agents and self-proclaimed diversity warriors make broad sweeping statements like this.

Here's what I'm hearing: "It doesn't matter what it is! Just diversity! Anything! Go team! OK!"

It strikes me as incredibly self-aggrandizing, and it feels like the people making these requests just want to claim their diversity/relevance cookie without even trying to understand why it matters and what's wrong with the industry as it currently stands.

Telling the stories of underrepresented people is not a trend. We're not a marketing ploy to boost your sales, or position you as socially/politically/culturally aware and relevant. We're not objects to collect – your token Asian girl, your token trans character, your token fat protagonist. DO NOT BE THE PUBLISHING EQUIVALENT OF DONALD TRUMP'S DIVERSITY COALITION. It won't ring true.

Listen. I am all for representation. But representation has to be meaningful – the point is to let readers see themselves in the books they read. And right now it appears there's a very low bar for diversity in stories – the kinds of requests coming from people in the industry make me feel like we're going to see a lot of misguided literature published in the name of being diverse.

I hope I am proven wrong. I hope I am just being pessimistic and cynical.

I'm going to continue keeping an eye on this whole diversity movement, and I'll continue to support "diverse" authors and "diverse" stories until I see the word "diverse" so many times that it stops making any sense. (I'm already halfway there.) I'm going to rethink purchasing and reading books written by people who have shown, time and again, that they don't care about inclusiveness, representation, intersectionality...

I'm going to end this post here because I'm tired of writing and talking about diversity. Like I said, it is EXHAUSTING.

S/o to all my people who regularly speak out and write thought posts on this stuff. I admire you.

*THIS WAS REALLY ON SOMEONE'S MANUSCRIPT WISHLIST. I added some exclamation marks.

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