I really don’t like having to explain discrimination to people.
I don’t like having to prove that it exists.
I don’t like having to prove that there are benefits to making it not exist.
But sometimes, even with close, personal friends, I find myself having to have this conversation.
In many ways, I’m the least qualified person in the world to talk about discrimination. I am a young white American male. I am the pinnacle of people that aren’t discriminated against in this country. This leads some people to believe that I should shut my fat piehole on the topic, since clearly I don’t know what “those people” have been through.
I tend to hold the opposite view. I think everyone has to speak up against things that they see that aren’t okay.
Here’s a confession: I don’t donate to charities that help alleviate and work against discrimination. This isn’t because I don’t think they’re valuable. It’s because most of the time I have NO. FUCKING. MONEY. I will someday. But a failure to put my money where my mouth is doesn’t mean my mouth should shut up.
If only people who are being discriminated against could speak against discrimination, discrimination would never change. Because it would be an “us” versus “them.” Sure, THEY’RE complaining. But you know THEM. THEY find any excuse they can to get aggravated about stuff.
I found myself in a restaurant this week, and an ad came on the television for Black Nativity, a Kasi Lemmons film starring Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and others. Honestly, I don’t know fuck-all about it. Is it a re-telling of the Nativity with African Americans? I have no idea.
But once the title came up on the screen, someone at the table said, “How is THAT not racist?”
Racist? Because it’s a movie with predominantly black people?
“Sure. Why don’t they have any white people? How can they accuse us of being racist if they’re doing the same thing?”
NOW HOLD ON, READER.
I know you’re reading this now, and you’re upset. You’re probably angry at this unnamed friend of mine, and you can’t wait to hear the story of how I proved what an absolute idiot he was.
You won’t, because I didn’t. I don’t do that to most people. I think there are very few REALLY racist, hateful people out there. And I don’t even want to deal with them. But most people who spout gems like the above are really, actually, just ignorant. They’re unable to see the big picture, and they don’t know how discrimination actually affects people.
And if you take it to the extreme reductio ad absurdum of the point he’s trying to make, he’s right. Considering no other factors, it’s just as bad to have a film excluding white people as it is to have a film excluding black people.
But how can you get angry about it when you consider the fact that 95% of the films in Hollywood could have the name “White” put in front of them, and they’d be completely accurate.
Before anyone gets too clever and points out Sammy LJ in the above poster, let me point out that he’s not an Avenger. He’s the one who asks everyone to join the team when he can’t handle things himself.
“Well, but of course we wouldn’t put White in front of every movie title! That’s racist! And that’s why they shouldn’t do it for Black Nativity!”
Okay, good counter-argument. Except that Black Nativity isn’t carrying a hidden message of ‘white people are less admirable role models than black people.’
Which is what the Hollywood industry in general is saying about black people.
Let’s look at some graphs. Here’s the percentage of three major races in America as of 2012:
Now let’s look at the demographics of actors in film today:
Whoah, what happened? I mean, okay, the percentage for black actors is reduced, but close to the same. But what about the others? Hispanics have taken a massive hit. “Other” is almost invisible.
It gets worse, though. And this is where we begin to get to the root of the problem. Check out the same graph when we consider filmmaking “principals” — that is, the above-the line jobs (writer, director, producer):
I think it’s interesting to note that black people in film are doing…well, not GOOD, but better than the other minorities. I believe that’s because they’re doing very well at uniting to push themselves into the industry more. With all of the black auteurs you’ve got out there, Spike Lee and Tyler Perry being the most famous, there is a real push to get their faces out there in the world.
But look at that “principals” graph. You think these black auteurs are getting any love from the mainstream Hollywood industry? Of course not. They have to do it on their own, most of the time. In many ways, they’re the face of independent cinema today.
But there’s one big, big, BIIIIG area of discrimination we haven’t even touched on yet.
Let’s see some more graphs.
So, I guess women just clearly can’t act, then, right? Or write or direct? Because that’s clearly what the above graphs are telling me.
OH, WAIT! I GET IT! They must not WANT to do any of those things! After all, if fifty percent of the people who were applying for a job were women, then fifty percent of the people getting those jobs would be women! Because discrimination is over, right? It doesn’t exist any more! Right, guys?
WHAT TO DO?
Most of you reading my blog are creatives. You write, or you work in film.
If you want to do something about discrimination, it doesn’t require you to make every book and film an “issue” project. You don’t have to write books and films dealing with racism and genderism unless you really want to.
All you have to do is NOT be part of the discrimination any more.
Writing a book? Have you already assumed that most of your characters are white?
Go through, select ten percent of them at random, and turn them black. Take fifteen percent and make them Hispanic.
If you think that, after you do this, you’ll have to go rewrite them to “sound black” or “sound Hispanic,” please just…just don’t.
Check out your male/female ratio. Are half of your characters female? Are even a quarter of them female?
Don’t you think they should be?
Do a literal gender-swap. Let’s say you’ve reviewed your book and only 25% of your characters are female.
Select another random 25% of your characters, and make them female. But here’s the catch — DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING ELSE ABOUT THEM.
When they were men, were they flirting with women? Keep it. When they were dudes, did they talk about how much their crotch itched? Leave it in. Were they a bit flabby? Did they have a stomach that hung out from under their shirt and over their belt? Did they have a habit of taking their shirt off at inappropriate times, when they were a man?
Leave it ALL.
Bam. You’ve probably got some cool, interesting female characters in your book now. And it took you hardly any time at all.
Of course, it’s easier if you start out thinking about this.
My current book series, the Realm Keepers, has characters of multiple races. And hey, guess what? FIFTY PERCENT OF THE CHARACTERS ARE FEMALE.
You know, like real life.
And guess what? The black people DON’T EVEN SAY “HOMIE” or whatever the fuck.
Because why would they? They’re not gangsters, thugs or gangster rap enthusiasts. They didn’t grow up in the ghetto, their father didn’t walk out on them and they don’t play basketball.
They’re just black.
When you “cast” a character’s race, you don’t then need to fly through your text making sure that you’ve got enough stereotypes to reinforce the fact that he is that race.
You can just…make him that race.
Revolutionary thought, isn’t it?
Am I doing it to be politically correct? No. I’m doing it to be realistic.
WHY DO IT AT ALL, THEN?
If characters are going to be have the same no matter what race they are, then why have them be different races at all? Why can’t they just all be white? If it doesn’t really matter what race they are, why does it matter that you have minority races? Can’t a minority audience look up to a white role model? And for that matter, can’t girls look up to a male role model? Why do we need fifty percent of our characters to be women?
Well, first of all, there’s that point of realism. If you create a world that’s filled only with white males who save the day, I as a reader wonder what kind of world you’re living in. Because you’re clearly not living on Earth.
Second of all, it’s the same principles as propaganda. By having only ONE type of character at the forefront of films and books, over and over again for years, you are VERY, VERY DEFINITELY reinforcing the idea that that type of character is the only real, true valid hero that exists in the world.
When 85% of all heroes in film are white men, it reinforces the idea in our culture that the white man is the norm and that everyone else is “different.”
We all relate to heroes. We all want to go on their journey. And we want to find similarities between ourselves and those heroes, to reinforce the idea in our own mind that we, too, are the hero in our own personal epic journey through life.
Why do you think “all-black” films (like Black Nativity) pull in mostly black audiences? It’s because it reinforces the idea in that audience’s mind that they, too, can go on that epic journey. They don’t have to watch on the sidelines while someone other guy, some white guy, solves the world’s problems.
Films like this aren’t discriminating against white people so much as they are saying, “Hey, we’re cool, too, guys. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”
It exists in arts and culture. It exists in the broader world.
You don’t have to campaign endlessly to fix it. You don’t have to dedicate your life to eradicating discrimination. That’s not required of EVERYONE. A few stellar individuals, the Gandhis and the Martin Luther King Jr.’s and the Mandela’s of the world, they’ll dedicate their lives to that goal.
But you’ve got to recognize it exists.
Don’t you even realize that that’s ALL it would take to end discrimination forever? If everyone realized it existed, it wouldn’t any more?
That’s why I educate.
That’s why I don’t attack people who are too blind to see it.
I educate. I give them facts. I point out statistics like the ones I gave you in the above graphs.
All we need to do is remind people that it does exist.
And then, as creatives, we can do our part to fix it.