Monday, April 20, 2015

"Demographically Symbolic" Got It All Wrong

While reading about the potential for a woman president in the near future (with more and more women considering joining the race), I came across a statement from the president of the NRA. He was talking about how we already have a black president and have crossed that "hurdle," so when it comes to the idea of a female president:

"Eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough."

I'm sorry, what? Obama didn't get elected because he's black. He got elected because he's a good politician. I would hope any female president would be the same. However much I want to see a woman in office in my lifetime, I'm not going to vote for one whom I don't think is competent.

You want to know why a black man became president? Because there are black people in this country, and some of them--just like some white people--are good at political leadership. One day we'll get a Latino president, and it's not because we've been conquered by Guatemala. It's because Latinos live here. They grow up here. Pureblooded Americans. Just like me, German though my roots might be.

The term "demographically symbolic" is wrong on many levels. We've had eight years of a demographically representative president. This isn't about symbolism. The president represents the people. A lot of people are black. We should continue to have black presidents in the future if our government is to continue accurately reflecting this country.

I think the problem here is the assumption that anyone who isn't a white cis heterosexual man has specialized needs, whereas the experience of white cishet men is somehow common or universal, covering the experiences of everyone else. Not true. If anything, minorities understand each other better than the privileged do since they've all experienced discrimination, prejudice, and microaggressions.

If you do the math, only about 28% of Americans are straight, cis, white men. Nearly three quarters of the population fit into at least one "diverse" category, whether they're queer, women, POC, or as intersectional as Laverne Cox. (For those who don't know, she's a black transgender woman and a darn good actress.) In other words, white cisgender hetersexual men are a minority.

In the end, nobody's experience is universal. That's why we need diversity. That's why this is so important.

When the majority of our presidents, CEOs, movie actors, book protagonists, and influential figures are cishet white men, much of the human experience is being overlooked and ignored. We're getting only a narrow perspective on the issues. We're not learning about other groups' needs and ideas. We're not learning to empathize with people who are different. We're not getting role models that show each of us we can indeed have a seat at the big table, no matter who we are.

This applies to politics and the presidency. It applies to speculative fiction and the Hugo Awards. It applies everywhere. Everyone is human. Everyone should get a voice.

We often like to say, "I don't see skin color, I see the quality of the work!" Or, "I don't see gender, I see their skill level." Which sounds fine enough. If diverse people produce good work, they'll be included, right? There's no need to make a big fuss about diverse inclusion.

Unfortunately, no matter what we say, statistics prove otherwise. In Hollywood, for example, we've seen over and over that diversity sells. The more diversity you have, in actors, writers, directors, etc., the more money a movie makes. And yet, Hollywood is overwhelmingly full of white male directors and writers and actors, who create white cishet male heroes.

We claim we don't see skin color, gender, and the rest, but we do. Consciously or unconsciously, we discriminate. That's why we have to be deliberate about pushing for diversity in all areas of life. As we begin to hear diverse voices in our culture and become used to seeing diverse faces on our televisions, it will become more natural to tune in to, and promote, diverse narratives.

Word count: 670.