Why are so many people completely missing the point of diversity in media?

Sorry, guys. I’m going esoteric again. Something has been irritating the hell out of me, and I have to complain about it, because, like so many other things in the world, people are getting it totally wrong.

There’s been a lot of talk lately of introducing more diverse characters into fiction, with a variety of media outlets calling for greater racial and gender diversity in books, movies, TV shows, and so on. I don’t find anything explicitly wrong with this, as the world is simply a more interesting place if people are able to experience more of it. This is why I like to go places.

But the demands for greater minority representation in media rarely have anything to do with this. It’s not really about broadening one’s horizons. It’s about providing heroes.

This boiled over recently when Marvel decided to cast a white actor as a white character in an upcoming superhero TV series. Yes, you read that right. People were upset that a white actor was chosen to play a white character.

If this all sounds perfectly acceptable to you, then congratulations, you’re a normal person! But a lot of people out there were hoping that Marvel would take the opportunity to change the ethnicity of Iron Fist from white to Asian, making him the first Asian-American superhero to be portrayed in TV or movies.

This effort attracted enough attention that it inspired a petition with thousands of signatures, and endless commentary on the “missed opportunity” that Marvel had with this particular character when it was finally revealed that they would leave him the way he was.

Now, ordinarily, I don’t really care about superheroes. In fact I find it astonishingly weird that spandex-clad crime fighters have somehow ascended to the pinnacle of the pop cultural hierarchy for some reason, and I expect it will collapse in on itself at some point or another. But this is such a perfect encapsulation of what’s wrong with the diversity-in-media debate that it might as well come wrapped in a little bow.

Granted, there were some partially-legitimate objections to the original character, who is a white person who goes to a fictional Asian country to learn martial arts, and brings it home to be a crime-fighting superhero. Several commentators have pointed out how frustrating it is that a white person would upstage Asian people at their own game, and it makes a certain kind of sense.

But on the other hand, you could just view it as a timeless lesson regarding how important it is to learn as much as you can from other cultures, because they might have something of value to offer…something that could make you, and your homeland, stronger for it.

See how that works? You can learn just about any lesson you want, whether positive or negative, from a work of art. The way you choose to interpret it often says more about you than it does about the work itself.

All of this is to say nothing of the fact that if Marvel had made the ethnicity switch, then the first Asian superhero would have been a perfect “all Asians know martial arts” Kung Fu stereotype. And how constructive is that?

Rock and hard place road sign
Artist’s rendering of Marvel’s decision process.

Quite a few people have suggested that Marvel could instead develop a TV show or movie starring one of the existing Asian superheroes, instead of modifying an existing character and annoying the hell out of everyone, because nobody likes it when someone tampers with a beloved character. Besides, if it’s wrong to white-wash, why isn’t it wrong to white-erase?

But you know what would have been even better? Realizing that superheroes are stupid, and that you don’t need imaginary crime fighters in spandex to inspire kids to do something great. If you’re worried about your Asian kid not having Asian role models who are absolutely amazing, allow me to introduce you to someone who was pretty much a superhero in real life.

Bruce Lee was so goddamn good at what he did that the videocameras at the time allegedly couldn’t capture his movements, so the directors told him to slow down so people could see. And you’d rather get a fake superhero to inspire your children?! Over Bruce Lee?!?

Bruce Lee graffiti
I mean come on.

But this still misses the point entirely. What bothers me the most about all this is that the Outrage Industrial Complex seems to have no understanding of the purpose of racial diversity in the first place.

They’ll keep telling you that black, Asian, hispanic, transgender and other people need characters just like them, or they won’t be able to relate. Clearly black people need black characters, or they just won’t care.

If this sounds stupid to you, that’s because it is. And we need only look to the wisdom of the Wu-Tang Clan to see why.

Wu-Tang Clan 36 Chambers
Parental Advisory: May contain wisdom.

They are literally called the Wu-Tang Clan, because they adore and took inspiration from Kung Fu movies, which, as you may know, have a lot of non-black characters in them. And did they say they didn’t care about the non-black characters, simply because they were of a different race? No, you silly people, because you shouldn’t need a character to be of the same race as you to relate! In fact, if you do need a character to be of the same race, gender, sexuality, body type, blood type, hair color, and nationality as you to relate, then you are a terrible person.

“Ah, but wait,” they say. “What about the children? Surely small children need superheroes and other role models that look like them, so they can look up to those characters and be inspired by their actions, so they may someday follow in their footsteps and achieve great things, just like their favorite childhood characters!”

This is such a stupid argument that I’m literally going to use cartoon characters to show how wrong it is.

Take a look at the most beloved childhood heroes of the 1980s, in all their reptilian glory:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 series
I bet you’re humming the theme song right now.

That’s right, my friends and loved ones. Everyone’s favorite childhood hero of the era was a goddamn turtle.

It wasn’t a white person. It wasn’t a black person. It wasn’t a Laotian, or a Peruvian, or an Uzbek, or a Greek. It was a goddamn turtle. And you know why? Because humans are capable of boundless empathy, you ignorant weirdos!

This is why this is so infuriating to me. All these “we need more characters of Ethnicity X so people of Ethnicity X can relate” people are saying we need diversity because they lack the empathy to care equally about other people. And not only do they not care, but they want to infect their children with the same failure of human compassion so their children won’t care equally about other racial groups either. They think it’s because their kids are incapable of being inspired by a hero of a different racial group, but their kids already have the capacity to be inspired by a goddamn turtle. They don’t even need to be the same species, much less the same skin color, and that is a beautiful thing that should not be ruined!

I mean, have you seen Beauty and the Beast? The movie with characters who were candlesticks and teapots?!? Or an ottoman?! Did you care any less about them because they “didn’t look like you?” Well, your kids sure didn’t! So why should you?

And has anyone seen The Secret of NIMH? That movie about a single mother who’s just trying her best to raise her children after the death of her husband? Because that is a really goddamn good movie for kids, and kids aren’t even single mothers! Do they need to be single mothers to relate to a character who is also a single mother? No, of course not! Oh, and did I mention the main character is also a mouse?! No? Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot! And you know why? Because it doesn’t matter! People should be capable of caring about other people, especially if they don’t look like them, because that is objectively better than only caring about people who look like you!

And this actually gets to the crux of the argument for why diversity in media is actually a good thing, because it’s clearly not for the “we should encourage children to care only for their own racial group” nonsense. The reason we should encourage diversity in media is because it encourages people of one group to care about other people from a different group. You know, empathy? Which is the root of literally all morally commendable behavior in the history of human civilization?!?

That’s why we need diversity in media. Because when you have a movie like Slumdog Millionaire, or Pan’s Labyrinth, or The Gods Must Be Crazy––a well-written movie, with well-written characters––you can actually get people to care about other people, who aren’t like them at all.

At least, not on the outside. Because it’s not what’s on the outside that matters. Remember that? From kindergarten? It’s a good life lesson. One you might want to teach your kids.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch Shaolin Soccer, which is a goddamn gift from heaven. I suggest you do the same.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook or Twitter.

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40 Comments on “Why are so many people completely missing the point of diversity in media?”

  1. Okayyyy so while there were points that I do agree with you on in this article, i really do feel like you missed the point. As a black person in America (one who is an afro-latina at that), I cannot even begin to tell you how frustrating it has been to grow up in a country whose media doesn’t seem to value who i am. Do you know how hard it is to find black female characters on tv that weren’t ghetto, highly fetishized/sexualized, or single moms with multiple kids?? if it wasn’t for showrunners like Shonda Rhimes and Mara Brock Akil, I would still be searching like crazy. Do i think I only need black women in a show in order to relate or enjoy it? NO! Some of my favorite shows growing up were Saved by the Bell, Boy Meets World, Full House, various anime, and hell, even CATDOG. But if you never see yourself represented in a positive light, or even represented at all, how do you think that effects someone’s self worth? I’m tired of people saying ‘well, people are being chosen off of talent, not race/gender/etc’, because that argument suggests that the only talented people are straight, white males since they’re the most widely represented group (in various roles). Are you seeing where i’m getting at? and while you’re tired of the diversity conversation, i’m tired of being effected by it. I’m tired of filmmakers making movies based in Egypt with all white casts. I’m tired of knowing that in the 87-year history of the Academy Awards, only 35 awards have been give to black talent… in all categories. It’s frustrating. No one should feel as though it’s like pulling teeth in order to be seen, and THAT’S the point.

    1. I agree with you 100% on the issue of harmful stereotypes and overly negative portrayals, because they can perpetuate potentially harmful attitudes towards minority groups. That’s a perfectly valid complaint.

      In terms of overall representation though, I don’t think the numbers are quite as skewed as the media narrative would suggest. There’s this report, claiming that the percentage of black actors on TV is actually higher than their overall presence in the US population, at 15% vs about 12-13%. There’s also this report about how, yes, the Oscars are disproportionately white, and black actors get nominated at a (slightly) lower percentage than their share of the US population, but in terms of actual Oscar wins, they are over-represented, at least in terms of acting specifically. I’ve also seen certain articles, such as this one, expressing frustration at how black musicians are under-represented at the Grammies (claiming it’s exclusively for reasons of racism), citing in particular the statistic that since 1999, black artists have received only 11 out of 90 nominations. This sounds terrible, until you actually do the math. That’s 12.2%, which is exactly the proportion of black people in the United States. I’m not saying there’s no problem, but certain media outlets are so misguided that they will literally use statistics that disprove their case, and not even see the issue at all. They get people riled up and mad at each other, for reasons that make no sense.

      I’m not saying I disagree with you. I think it’s great to have more diverse (and accurate) representation in media. But if a minority group only makes up a certain percentage of the population in a certain country, their appearances in media are going to be in the minority forever. If people are still upset about it, especially in cases where their media presence is perfectly proportional to their presence in the national population, then it doesn’t make much sense to get frustrated. They’re just going to be upset forever, and it’s simply not healthy. If you want to fight up to that point, great. But let’s at least be happy that, at least in some cases, we’re already there.

    1. Ironically, this has more to do with what minority privilege is, because whenever a straight white male critiques something, his opinions can be summarily dismissed by invoking his gender, sexuality, and skin color. Just like Martin Luther King Jr once said, “I have a dream that one day, people will be intellectually ignored because of the color of their skin.”

      It’s not like the argument of white privilege doesn’t have a point, but it’s so often invoked as a counterargument to whatever white people say, so that complaining about white privilege has become its own form of privilege. The same is true with the invention of the word “mansplain,” which is about as intellectually dishonest as phrenology. If people can’t stand on the strength of their arguments, they have to fall back on something else.

      1. As a big fan of your blog, I’d recommend you stick to travel and gear.

        This article doesn’t exemplify white privilege because you’re white. It exemplifies white privilege because your arguments stem from a place of white privilege.

        I appreciate that it’s difficult, but it would be best to direct your energy on this matter towards understanding/empathising with those who have grown up in a society in which they struggled to identify with any role models in mainstream media. I believe it would be very rewarding.

        1. Though I appreciate the civil comment, I cannot see the veracity of the claim that because an argument comes from a place of privilege, that it’s therefore incorrect, or less valid. It is not a refutation of anything in any way. It is simply “you have privilege, therefore you’re wrong.” Isn’t telling people they’re automatically wrong because of their privilege a form of privilege in itself? A way to derail conversation and make your points seem to stand on their own while denigrating someone else’s, but without offering any substantive argument of your own? It is a non-argument. That is all.

          And I have made an effort to understand why someone would want to see people like themselves represented on TV, and in many cases, the answer is simply that it would be nice, or simply more accurate when compared to the society in which they live, and I have no problem with that. It is when certain people go further, claiming that their absence on TV is symptomatic of deeply-entrenched racial hatred, or that they, or their children, are incapable of relating to people who don’t look like them, that I take issue. When people say “I just couldn’t relate to the character, because he didn’t look like me” is objectively terrible, and I think it becomes indisputably obvious if you were to imagine a white person watching 12 Years a Slave and saying “I just didn’t relate, because they didn’t look like me.” It is astonishingly clear how wrong this is. Yet somehow this exact same sentence is seen not only as acceptable, but in some cases good, in the case of the main character being from a large racial group rather than a small one.

          So I can’t refute any of your points, because you didn’t make any. But I can tell you why I find this important. There’s a pattern going on behind the conversation about representation in media, one that has reached a horrifying zenith on college campuses. The racially-motivated campus reform protests include things like demanding the reintroduction of segregation, or racially-based discrimination in the hiring of faculty members, which of course would require the dismissal of existing ones, based exclusively on their race. Many of these protests also include outright falsehoods, such as three students who claimed they were the victims of a hate crime, yet when video footage surfaced, were found to be the perpetuators themselves. This was echoed in the fake “car crash” incident in which one of the Mizzou protestors literally ran into a car and then went on a hunger strike demanding the resignation of the president because he claimed he was driven into. Mizzou was also the site of the infamous “I need some muscle over here” incident in which white and Asian students were physically removed from the scene of the protests because they were photographing or filming what was going on, despite them being perfectly within their rights to be on public property and documenting the events. It’s not much of a surprise though, because if protestors are staging fake hate crimes to make their case, they don’t want facts getting in the way. A few more protests included going into the library and shouting at people who were trying to study, or banning white people from attending meetings, even though those meetings were held in public buildings, which was against the library’s inclusive policy. When they were caught and informed that they had to let all racial groups into their meetings equally, the protestors claimed they were banned because of “white supremacy.”

          At Claremont McKenna College, a student mob collected outside a faculty office to demand statements from them, and when someone suggested they give the faculty member a megaphone so that everyone could hear (as the students had several of them), she was told to shut up and that it wasn’t a space for her to talk. Guess what skin color she was? White. This is because the protesting students felt that they were “unsafe.” But when a white person says “hey, give him a microphone so we can hear him talk,” she is shouted down by a mob of hundreds of students and told she’s not allowed to talk because of the color of her skin. So who’s unsafe there?

          Over at Western Washington University, the students are demanding $50,000 for a Thought Police Headquarters, whose members will go around campus listening in on student and faculty conversations and monitoring them for “micro aggressions,” which, according to the University of California’s list of unacceptable micro aggressions, includes such horribly racist comments as “where are you from?” At Western, they’re demanding a “three strikes and you’re out” policy, which, if they adopt the University of California code of micro aggression recognition, means that if you ask three people where they’re from, you’re out.

          Up in Canada, students were physically blocked from entering a building because the speakers intended to have a discussion about the issues that men face, such as the fact that the vast majority of suicides are committed by men. Protestors cheered as guests had no choice but to leave, who were then interviewed in near-tearful conversations in which one particular student said that two of his friends had committed suicide, and that he wanted to understand more about why that might have happened. He, and others, were called rape supporters for wanting to attend this meeting. When police finally showed up to clear the protestors so the event could take place, protestors pulled the fire alarm to stop it from happening.

          If this all sounds like radical totalitarianism, that’s because it is. Telling people to shut up because of their skin color, staging fake hate crimes to make your side look good, physically removing journalists from public places to shut down the documentation of fact, and disrupting speakers from expressing their right to free speech are all exactly what a tyrannical dictatorship does best. It has no place in modern society, and deserves to treated as such.

          Ironically, these identity politics have the predictable effect of galvanizing white people into resistance, who look at this nonsense and see themselves as under attack. And you know what? THEY ARE. When white people can be shut up just because of the color of their skin, or when fake hate crimes are perpetrated against them as propaganda tools to demand changes in faculty exclusively on the basis of discriminating against white people, or when they’re told their opinion is automatically wrong JUST BECAUSE OF THEIR SKIN COLOR, things are only going to get worse. Radical identity politics and racial discrimination in favor of non-white people is only going to lead to a predictable backlash in which white people will angrily fight back. And for a country in which non-discrimination and equal protection under the law is enshrined in the Constitution, they have every right to demand fair treatment. As do we all.

          So no, I won’t avoid the topic because of my skin color. I don’t think it makes any sense to do so. I hope this list, brief as it is (there is MUCH MORE going on that what is listed here), provides some insight into why I feel this is important. People are being taught NOT to empathize with other racial groups, and there’s no way it won’t lead somewhere horrifying. Because it already has.

          1. Small quibble: The free speech bit in the constitution just means the government has disqualified itself from censoring unsavory things. Nobody is obligated to share their platform with someone they disagree with (reacting to the third paragraph from the end).

          2. It’s true, there’s nothing illegal about shouting so loudly that no one can hear what someone is trying to say. But it’s still an attempt to silence others, which ends up accomplishing the same thing. So although it’s not an illegal violation in any sense, it’s still a suppression of speech.

          3. I don’t think you’ve understand the implication of the ‘white privilege’ comment. I think we can both agree that both you and I both possess white privilege. (I’m white and from Australia/U.K.). And no, that doesn’t make either of us automatically ‘wrong’ on topics of race. But a lack of awareness of that privilege, will make it incredibly difficult to empathise with the experience of someone who doesn’t have it. Your posts make it very clear that you do lack that awareness.

            I don’t think you should avoid the topic, I think you should endeavour to expemlify the empathy you espouse.

          4. The problem is a lot more complicated than a simple privilege vs victimhood argument. While there’s evidence to suggest that resumes with names that “sound black” aren’t likely to get as many phone calls as those with white-sounding names, and that’s a perfectly good reason for marginalized people to be upset, affirmative action means those same individuals will be able to take a spot at a university from a more qualified person, simply because of their skin color. That in itself is a form of privilege. Same goes for corporate hiring practices, if they have diversity requirements. To say that it’s simply a matter of one group being having all the power is demonstrably false. One might have more advantages than another, but it’s certainly not a matter as skewed as certain people claim, and, like it or not, there’s only one group right now that’s universally despised by members of this victimhood philosophy, and that’s straight white males. They’re systematically excluded from events, shut down in conversations, and, if some of these students get their way, they will be fired from their positions, and will have to live in segregated dorms, and will have no say in the matter because their opinions don’t count for anything. No good can come from this.

            Secondly, understanding one’s privilege is not a prerequisite for empathy. I would argue that the reverse is true. If people just shout “you have privilege” then it simply fails to communicate anything at all. Imagine if all war refugees simply shouted “you have privilege” at people, and didn’t bother telling them what they’ve been through. It accomplishes nothing. No one learns. I do not need to be aware of my “privilege” to empathize with others. In fact the ability to empathize is exactly what informs people of their radically different life circumstances. I remember going through Vietnam, seeing slum housing for the first time. This was long before the term “white privilege” even existed, or was in widespread use. Does that mean I failed to empathize with them because I wasn’t “educated” about my “white privilege?” Not at all. I could see the difference. It was clear. Understanding of privilege does not enable empathy. Empathy enables understanding of privilege. The exact same experiences have occurred to me during a visit to the Vietnam War museum, every World War II memorial, the KGB and Soviet occupation museums in the Baltic states, the war remnants and memorials of the recent war in Bosnia, the current Syrian refugee crisis, and infinite others. I do not need to be “educated” on my “privilege” to understand those disparate circumstances. Neither do you.

            And that’s really the problem I have with all this. I just watched a video the other day about a student who described one of the exercises in her diversity class, which involved splitting up the group into white students and black students. The teacher then said “you on that side have privilege, and you on that side are victims.” Not only does it not take into consideration that people might be rich or poor independent of their skin color (which is exactly the case of the guy who ran into a car and then said he was hit; he’s the son of a millionaire railroad tycoon), but it literally…LITERALLY…divides people into groups based on skin color. Then it levels the blame, or at least the reason for resentment, squarely on the shoulders of one group. It has nothing to do with whether they’re good people or not, or whether they’ve actually benefited in some way from their genetic heritage. It just splits people up along racial lines, and teaches them to resent each other.

            I can offer my experiences of having grown up in a Jewish family, which offers a lot of parallels to this situation. Within the Jewish community, you’ll frequently hear things like “it could happen again at any time” or “no one’s ever had it as bad as the Jews.” The effect of these sorts of paranoid thought processes are that it encourages people to look at themselves as victims, and view the rest of the world suspiciously, to shut themselves off from the outside world, and to have only Jewish friends. And what does that accomplish? Does it foster empathy for Jewish people? No, because it actively diminishes the ability of them to communicate their experiences. Does it foster empathy from the Jewish people toward other marginalized groups? No, for the same reason. I’ve met Jewish people who refuse to visit certain countries, because of “what happened there,” which, in one case, included an event that occurred in England in the 1200s. This is what radical victimhood creates. Suspicion, paranoia, isolation, and an exponential increase of racial tension. And that is all.

            So no, it’s not my “privilege” that makes me say that empathy for others is critical. It’s simply the understanding that all moral behavior in the history of human civilization stems from it. And when you divide people into groups along racial or other lines, the only result is that people will be less empathetic toward others than they were in the first place. No good ever came from that, and it never will.

    1. Happy to hear it. This specific issue is a small symptom of a much larger issue at stake, which is the rise of identity politics; there’s a huge pushback against it, and I find it critically important, especially if, as is the case, people want to re-segregate the schools…

  2. Brave stuff to say in today’s environment and I applaud your cordial, thoughtful responses to what are mostly pretty baseless criticisms, particularly the “white privilege” remarks which themselves amount to little more than ad hominem attacks and racist statements. I can say all this because I am a minority :P

    1. Ah, of course, your opinion is of greater value because of your skin color or something like that. Weird how that works, isn’t it? We’ve gone from judging people not for the color of their skin, but the content of their character, to the exact opposite. Oh well. Maybe in a few decades it’ll get back to where it’s supposed to be.

  3. Hey. First off, I love your site. It’s made me a better traveler, and I enjoy your writing even when you stray off of the topic of travel. This is your site and you can write about whatever you want, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You may lose a few readers, but if they’re too sensitive to hear an opinion that differs from their own then they deserve to be less efficient travelers. Now, to the topic at hand…

    I myself am not white. I’m Latino and grew up in a military family and thus, was exposed to diversity at quite an early age, even living oversees for a while during my formative years. I share your concern for this PC culture that stifles open and civil conversation about important topics and draws lines in the sand in which victims are on one side and transgressors are on the other. I have pretty liberal views about social issues but this current trend among our young people is very disturbing most of all because its entire premise is based more upon feelings than reason. How can I help someone who’s whole argument is that they feel oppressed even while enjoying all the benefits of living in a free, first world country. How can society have an open and civil discussion about important topics when entire segments of society (males, whites, white males) are excluded from the conversation because they may come from a point of privilege. Reason transcends privilege. Objective evidence transcends privilege. If someone has those things to offer, whether they be Donald Trump (who I loathe by the way) or Martin Luther King Jr. they deserve a spot at the table of discussion. Any society who upholds feelings above reason is doomed to be warped and ultimately fail. Thankfully, many people, conservatives and liberals alike can see this. This is not to say that the topics of racism and white privilege can not be argued using reason and evidence but that’s not what many of these current regressive liberals are trying to do. So let me try…

    I’ll stick to reason here as I don’t feel like scouring the internet for evidence at the moment. I disagree with you about the problem(s) of Hollywood. I don’t think the primary issue is empathy. I for one have spent most of my life learning to empathize with white people so has every other minority who grew up with American pop culture. The argument is not that I can’t relate to a white hero or a white victim even though this argument has probably clumsily been put forth by some people. Most minorities, I think, would argue that we’ve proven we can empathize with the lives of white people. We have contributed to the financial success of every blockbuster with a primarily white cast that has ever been made. Ask most minorities to list a few of their favorite movies and you’ll most likely hear a number of movies with primarily white casts, same thing goes for television. You know why? Because we know all about empathy and because we have very little choice. Your argument that minorities are represented in proportion to their percentage of population misses the point. To see how it misses the point you only have to look at the arguments of feminists and women in general who continue to fight for their place in hollywood. Why are they mad? They’re probably represented fairly in terms of numbers. Can’t they empathize with men? It’s PC politics run amok. Or is it something else? Is it really about wanting to have a Hollywood where the directors, producers, studio heads (white males mainly) can improve at empathizing (to steal your argument) with women and minorities and their lives and how diverse they can be. Right now, white men can be anything they want. They can be the hero, the victim, gay, straight, into rap, into metal, stoic, nerdy, intelligent, incompetent. There aren’t any “white male roles” every role with few exceptions is potentially a white male role. That’s ok. I don’t resent you as a white male for that. I only want a Hollywood, a world, where the same was true for women and minorities. It is because we don’t have that that you get people calling out the so called “white-washing” of Gods of Egypt or The Last Airbender. It it because we don’t yet live in that world that you have people calling for the casting of an Asian in the role of Iron Fist. Now, I don’t want to heap all the blame on white men. Minority communities definitely hold a lot of the blame when it comes to reinforcing negative stereotypes and limiting the horizons of a lot of their young people. We ourselves need to take a page out of the book of feminism and realize there isn’t only one way to be a black person. There isn’t only one way to be a Latino. We don’t have to embrace the “exports of our culture” if it’s negative, sexisit, homophobic or racist just because “one of our own” made it. Every individual needs to be more of an individual and do their part in creating a world where anyone can truly be anything. But in the world of Hollywood, at the moment, the people who have the most power and ability to do that are white males. As far as empathy is an issue, why not call for them to show more empathy instead of someone like me whose favorite movie is Almost Famous, whose favorite music group is Smashing Pumpkins and whose favorite book is Dune. Come to think of it, I don’t think there’s a single Latino in any of those.

    My two cents. Keep doing what your doing, and keep the off topic topics coming. They’re important and need to be talked about.

    1. I agree with you on a lot of what you said, and I think the ideal end result would be that anyone of any background can be in any role in any movie or book or whatever; black/white/gay/female/tall/short/whatever people can be heroes, villains, side characters, and so on. That would essentially be neutral on any aspect of someone’s background other than personality.

      What bothers me is that even when this is done, people still complain. For example, there has been a backlash against the show The 100, because it allegedly portrays lesbian characters poorly, and there are now demonstrations and Twitter hashtags about how terrible it is when lesbian characters are killed on TV, and apparently this is happening at an alarming rate. But if they want to be treated like everyone else, sooner or later they’ll be on a show where they suffer the same fate as everyone else. For some people…and I emphasize SOME people, because others see right through the silliness here…what they really want is special treatment. To be portrayed positively at all times, or in the heroic roles, or without flaw. I even saw an article recently about how there was a strong female character in a TV show, but it was terrible because she was humiliated by something. But so what? What does that have to do with anything?

      So yes, the push toward greater inclusivity is often valuable, but it’s being twisted into something that isn’t about equality, but more about positive PR, and that’s what bothers me.

  4. I feel you should write whatever you like. It’s your blog, and that’s what blogs are for- they are personal. You write about whatever topic you feel strongly about. If people don’t like it, then it’s them who should ignore it. Like the entry you had about guns. In typical in your face abrasive thick headed unbending fashion, the gun nuts attacked you non stop. It’s worrying that people who read your interesting and useful blog about travel are actually semi psychotic.

    But back to this topic at hand.

    You give a reasonable discussion about this subject. I don’t think you’ll be able to write a completely inclusive fully detailed article as it’s something that about 66% of the US could contribute to, since “mainstream” consists of the 34% of the US who are white males. However, the situation is not likely to change much anytime soon.The white men in charge of Hollywood and big business even discriminate against their own white mothers and sisters. No women in the boardroom where big sweeping decisions are made , thank you. Only white middle aged men.

    I’m rambling a bit.

    Anyway, enjoy your blog, enjoyed the Buildings of Flame from your latest travels.

    1. I would agree that groups of white men won’t necessarily make decisions that are good for everyone, but what bothers me is that people are making decisions exclusively on the basis of skin color. For example, let’s say you determine that a certain percentage of black people commit crimes. Well, unless that number is 100%, then you’ve discovered that a certain percentage of black people DON’T commit crimes. Therefore if you start treating black people as though they’re all guilty of committing those crimes, you’re clearly discriminating against the perfectly good, law-abiding people at the same time.

      Same goes for white people in board meetings. Let’s say we figure out that 70% of the time, they make terrible decisions. Well, that means we’ve discovered that 30% of the time, they make good decisions. So we can either discriminate on the basis of skin color, or we can hire people that have a history of making good decisions, without discriminating based on skin color. The 2nd option is clearly a win win.

  5. Never seen “The 100” but I agree it can be frustrating when it seems that all a certain group wants is special treatment. You’re right, being included, being treated like everyone else means having “your” characters suffer the same fates as everybody else. Sometimes that means dying or being humiliated or being shown in a negative light.  As far as I’m concerned, if it’s a break from a stereotype, it’s a good thing. Some of the best roles an actor will ever get will be the role of the villain or the victim.

    But to play devil’s advocate, I think what we are seeing here with this ultra-sensitivity or desire for special treatment is a result of an awakening or coming of age so to speak of these communities. Take the gay community, for a long time gay characters just weren’t shown in pop culture, not openly. They may have been suggested or eluded to but almost always in a derogatory or bigoted manner. That’s changed. Now you can find these characters in every spectrum of pop culture but big picture wise it’s only been that way for a short period of time. I think that’s why you see certain groups clinging to these characters and being ultra-protective of them. They’re finally being allowed to walk among us, dance in the light, spread their wings and fly, etc.

    A certain hyper-sensitivity to portrayals of “their characters” is kind of natural. It may be hard for a large part of America to understand because even though now you can find all kinds of seedy portrayals of white male characters on TV it comes after decades of Father Know’s Best, The Andy Griffith Show, Bonaza and the like. During this time, women were often treated just slightly above children in intellect, minorities were nonexistent or criminals and gays were unheard of.

    So while I don’t agree with these internet activists calling for “special treatment” I think it’s an expected phenomenon and will probably even get worse for a while as our society continues the transition that it’s currently going through (more on that in a sec). That doesn’t change the fact that it’s annoying and frustrating but it will pass in time. I would call for those of us who are all for a society that allows people to be themselves openly, that judges people on their character and that values differing opinions to not overreact to this phenomenon. I think if we really believe in a society like I describe above the onus is on us to try and understand why they’re calling for something (like a gay Captain America – eyes rolling) and even if we can’t agree, we must refuse to let our frustration and anger push us into extreme ideology (aka Trump effect).

    I get so angry when I hear about some of the things going down on college campuses these days. Mainly because I think it’s counterproductive to reaching what I believe our main goal should be (above mentioned society). But still, I have faith that these people can be brought into the fold. I have faith that as they mature and learn life lessons they’ll see that yes, they’re not a pariah that needs to be run out of town but they aren’t a special, unique snowflake either. They’re just one of us, American. I don’t have the same faith in someone who is racist or homophobic or believes the world will be ending any day now.

    1. I certainly hope it all works out the way you describe. Part of the issue is that the people making these complaints are mostly young, and although I think it’s somewhat condescending to say they’ll just grow out of it someday, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a youthful spirit of disobedience that will fade with time.

      I just read an article recently about how Game of Thrones is misogynist because it portrays misogyny. Argh. This is insane. It’s like saying Schindler’s List is anti-Semitic because it portrays anti-Semitism. It’s like they want “their” characters to be shown only as positive at all times, as though that will somehow solve anything. Much of the reason people portray this “misogynist” behavior is to show how horrible it was, yet somehow they throw a hissy fit and say “look, women are being portrayed as weak!” Yes, you idiots, just like 12 Years a Slave portrayed black people as being subservient to whites, to show how bad it was. Life lessons! Learn them!

  6. Would love to hear your thoughts on Jesse Williams’ BET speech. It’s a lightning rod, I know, so if you don’t want to touch it, I understand.

    1. I have mixed feelings. There’s no doubt that black Americans have been dealt a shitty hand, and getting infuriated about it makes perfect sense. His comments about the 12 year old shot by the police are perfectly reasonable complaints. That was insane. However, it’s not a problem exclusive to black people; there are plenty of cases of non-white people brutalized by the police, and in a country of 300 million people, there’s no reason to think we wouldn’t see these stories all the time. Not to say that this makes it acceptable, but even at extremely low rates, we’ll still see it a lot, and it can still dominate the news, and create a narrative.

      I think the problem has a great deal to do with the militarization of the police in general, which affects everyone. I would say the war on drugs is a problem as well, though it disproportionately affects black and Latino people, so there’s probably discrimination there. It then creates a criminal record, which leads to trouble getting a job, then turning to illegal sources of income…it’s a vicious cycle. But I think it’s more complicated than simply that the officers are racist.

      I also take issue with the topic of “systemic racism.” This may appear true in the criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to the war on drugs, but there’s no “system” in place that forces black kids to go to underfunded schools, for example. It’s poverty and class, more so than race, that are the problem. White people don’t magically get transferred to a fancy school just because they’re white. It’s their money that does that. So when people say “systemic,” I think they’re misusing the term. It’s not systemic. It’s circumstantial. And even if we were to have 100% non-racist police officers, the criminal justice system would still disproportionately affect black people, because if they’re going to shitty schools in shitty neighborhoods, they’re not going to look at education as a path to a financially comfortable life. And if they’re still poor, they’re still going to be driven to extreme measures, like theft or drugs. So when people say the problem lies with the police, I would say they’re only partially correct, at best. Fixing the police would still not fix the racially-slanted end result of black people disproportionately being affected by the criminal justice system, and its resulting poverty cycle, if they’re quite often in shitty schools and in shitty neighborhoods with high crime rates.

      I would take the Scandinavian approach, both to education, and incarceration. They have tutors to help the kids in school who need it the most, and little or no private schools; this means nobody gets a vastly superior education compared to other students, and the kids with the most trouble get the most extra help. This has led Finland from having a mediocre educational performance to becoming the consistent global leader, at the very top, or maybe in one of the top five places, among educational performance tests each year, in every subject. The rate of repeat offenses after a prison sentence is also absurdly low; something like 20% compared to our 50%. Imagine fixing JUST that problem. That’s about a million people who wouldn’t reoffend, more or less. And they do it, counterintuitively, by treating the inmates like people…not criminals.

      As for what individual black, Latino, and other people can do in the meantime, I think the answer is to look at those immigrating to the United States, especially those from Africa and India. They’re black or brown, and yet they seem to do quite a bit better. The median income level of African immigrants in America is often significantly higher than the median income of African Americans (source). If they’re dealt the same skin color and still manage to do quite a bit better, then it’s not the skin color that’s the problem. It’s something else. And I think that something else is education, dedication, and not blaming “the system.” If Nigerian Americans have an income that’s almost double that of native-born African Americans, maybe just…do whatever they’re doing. I know it’s difficult to get a good education if you’re stuck in a shitty school, but they were stuck in Nigeria, and their median income is almost double that of native-born black Americans. If they can do it, it means it’s not an impossible burden.

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