First, I want to talk about a very particular part in Amara's video entitled "Here's MY Truth: I Don't 'Stand' For Diversity". Up until about the 4 min 45 second mark she's simply been talking about the diverse makeup of her own family. On the surface, this doesn't seem like anything noteworthy, because tons of people make videos about their families and how unique they are, especially in regards to multi racial families and such, but what made the video so important to include in this piece is also something that continues to grate on my nerves as I write. Amara asserts that part of the discomfort that people feel when it comes to discussions of diversity is that the problem isn't that diverse narratives are hard to find, instead it's that we jump to conclusions and assume that characters are white and that the problem is with the individual. I have several major issues with that statement. (Before I go any further, even though I shouldn't have to say this, I'm not trying to pick on Amara, her video is just a jumping off point.)
My first issue is that it comes across that Amara, like anti-diversity detractors, is insinuating that she has and has had complete control over how she consumes media, forgetting that her life is an exception, not the rule. Unlike Amara not every person of color grows up in an environment that includes so many varying identities. She mentions several of her family members deal with some sort of physical or mental disability, she provides a breakdown of the racial makeup of her family, and she even details the media that she consumed from a young age, which included anime and manga. However, just as with other people, she had no control over her exposure to these things, so she can't solely credit herself with seemingly going against the grain of majority white media.
There's a specific psychological term that refers to the brains shortcut creating portion that is partly responsible for things like stereotypes and unconscious biases; that word is schema. This post from a psychology major better explains it:
MEDIA DOES NOT EXIST WITHIN A VACUUM!!!
It's not that people are consciously making the choice to super impose a white face onto a fictional character, but with the pattern of whitewashing CANON characters of color, erasure of people of colors contributions to pop culture, the general overwhelming whiteness of entertainment today, and the unfortunate internalized racism many people are still working to unlearn, it is not difficult to see how it becomes very easy for people to fill in a white face where there may not be one.
An example Amara uses as a point to how she doesn't do that is The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, but her point about not automatically imagining a white face is sort of moot because if you've read the series, Carson deliberately wrote the main cast of characters to be Hispanic-esque/people of color, so that isn't something the reader can credit his or herself with imagining on his or her own. That's part of what this whole diversity conversation is trying to create more of: works that center marginalized communities in their entirety, that don't try and separate us from our ethnicity and culture and have us for the sake of saying "My work is diverse".
Even when people head-canon characters as anything other straight or white, oftentimes when adaptation time rolls around, if the creator doesn't specify what characters are, the people involved with the project, who will most definitely be white, will default them to white; you can set your watch to the white director saying something off-the-charts racist, one of the white actors saying something off the wall nonsensical in defense of the director, and then you'll have to avalanche of think-pieces and blog posts from fans and critics - or any random assortment of white people - going through all sorts of mental gymnastics to prove why fans of color or female fans or LGBT fans are overreacting and why it's our fault that fandom and media is so "toxic" and "politically correct".
White people, for as long as the entertainment industry has existed, have been the heroes, the love interests, the mentors, the directors, the producers, the writers, the publishers, the award winners, the judge, jury, and executioner, and to pretend as if none of that matters and that marginalized people had a CHOICE in making media the way it is is pretty much the mentality of All Lives Matter people, and those people are assholes.
White supremacy and violent erasure is the life blood of the United States and it's reflected back at us at every avenue of life, including the entertainment that we consume. The Mammy, the Mexican drug lord, the overly sexually aggressive black man, the submissive Geisha, the nerdy Asian boy, the Hot, Spicy, Latin lover, the slutty bisexual, the psycho lesbian, the gay pedophile, the promiscuous Tranny, the miracle cure for a disability; all stereotypes meant to normalize the dehumanization of people of color, people in the LGBT+ community, the physically disabled, the mentally challenged, etc. Marginalized people have devised ways to fight this "othering" and that includes hyper-criticism of the media that we consume. We are not creating this all white media, this is the way that it is, and that's not "on us."
The second part of my issue with Amara's video is that, like Francina's video about diversity, it does more to simply argue over semantics than actually critically thinking about what it is that people are really saying when they say things like "I Stand for Diversity" and offering up solutions or alternatives. It doesn't make sense to say that you don't like words like diversity or representation because they don't "fully convey the purpose", but then not have any real idea of what other words or phrases to use or what to do in place of their usage.
Diversity, representation, inclusion, visibility, all these words mean different things to different people, and they're often used interchangeably, but the goal is the same. We want equal visibility of our issues and representation of our ACTUAL selves in media. We want to have the choice of choosing something that fits our tastes just the same as white people. We want to be the heroes, the love interests, the doctors, the mentors, etc., and we want to have our pick. Every single black person shouldn't have to be satisfied with just watching Luke Cage or Empire until something else rolls around next year if those things are not our taste, but since only a few shows even exist with predominantly black casts (or predominantly any racial minority casts), we either have to watch those shows or default to something full of white people, but white folks have the luxury of being represented in nearly everything and not having to worry about something like that.
What we also want is for the issues that are affecting us in real life to be given the same attention and consideration from our government and leaders that "issues" that have white people up in a tizzy are given. Media has shaped so much of the negative perceptions of people of color, and media is what is going to fix it.
That's why so many artists and creatives of color are fighting so hard for their projects to be funded and acknowledged. That's what the fight for diversity is about. We need to move past arguing about what words we do or don't like to use and contemplate more on what results we want to see come out of all this conversation and working to see that vision come to fruition.
Booktube, Speak Up!!!
The second video I wanted to talk about is from another Booktuber and one of the organizers of Diverse-A-Thon, Christina Marie (@LCMarie19). Back in July of this year, she made a video called BOOKTUBE, SPEAK UP! where she took a minute to address some of the grievances that she has with the Booktube community, namely that people (mostly the white ones) speak so much about diversity in fiction and the impact it has on people, but when it comes to real life issues, Booktube becomes rather silent.
This is an annoyance I've had with Booktube for a very long time as well. I've seen so many Booktubers, female Booktubers specifically, go on and on about representation of marginalized groups in fiction, but when it comes to the continuous escalation of real life violence against and actual oppression of marginalized communities, especially with regards to racism in America, many of them (persons of color or not) won't acknowledge what's happening.
You can't claim "ally-ship" in the fight for equality for marginalized people but only be about it in your videos (I'm going to write a whole other post about non-marginalized people self appointing as "allies").
The common excuse that a lot of people will give for not stepping up more often is that their platforms are not political, which is something Christina mentions in her video as well, but the fact of the matter is that many within the Booktube community continue to post videos and participate in conversations about diversity in the media, and that is a definitive stance and challenge to the status quo of White-lywood. Those sentiments are political (because everything is) because they are demanding visibility and consideration for a group of people normally ignored by the mainstream. That is social activism, but so few actually own up to it.
I know that not everyone can stomach the inevitable vitriol that will inevitably conjure up in the comments section of their videos or on their social media or even in their real, everyday lives as a result of activism on behalf of minorities, but if someone truly wants to be an ally, a title so many want to claim without actually continually putting in the work, he or she will have go all the way. It may be uncomfortable to call out that long-time friend or family member on their racism or homophobia, but guess what?
There's a gay, Latino man that has been dealing with uncomfortable situations for most of his life. There's a Muslim woman who's had her hijab tugged on one too many times, but she can't say anything because she doesn't want to be beaten. There's a little black girl getting slurs hurled at her by some random, white asshole on the street and she can't say anything either because she's literally just a kid.
You flexing for the timeline and posting videos about how much you want ain' t helping not one of those people. Don't just talk about it or read about it, be about it!!!
If you want the coveted title of ally so bad and you truly want to feel like you're making a change in someone's life, then surface level gestures of "solidarity" have got to go out the window.
Activists give speeches and lectures at colleges, go to one or try and petition your college to let them come speak.
Do research on organizations and movements being lead by marginalized people and participate and collaborate with them, don't try and start your own thing and be someone else's voice, especially if you do not belong to the community being harmed.
Support creatives of color, donate to their Patreon's, read their books/articles/blogs, watch their videos/movies, buy their products, buy their music, tell your friends and family, follow them on social media; we're heading into some shit in 2017, I get if this book thing is the lane you've gotten comfortable in, but you know swerving isn't always a bad thing if you do it right.
Now, For the Good Shit!!!
I've got a short list of people and web series that you can check out if you need somewhere to start with everything I just mentioned. Mind you, this list is not as inclusive as I would like it to be, I'll mostly be mentioning things created by black women since we been doin' the damn thing since forever, so if there's something or someone you would like me to add to this list, please leave a comment or tweet a link to me @Vermillion2K15.
People to Know
Black box = YouTube channel Gray box = Blog/Tumblr/Other website
Click the pictures to be taken to their respective sites.
So, that concludes my long overdue response, for now. I'm sure that in a couple of months there will be a new jackass saying ridiculous shit because this is the internet and ridiculousness has no limit. Let me know what you think about this whole diversity conversation or what you think of the points that I made in the comments or talk to me on Twitter @Vermillion2K15 and as always have a fantastic day!!! BYE!!!