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Decenterizing “White”

When I started dating my husband six years ago now in Baltimore city, I remember my husband commenting on my show suggestions on my streaming platforms. He commented on how White my suggestions were and how I needed to work on diversifying my media intake. I remember feeling defensive (fragility) at his observation and proposition but I took time alone to process what he had said and review my lists and suggestions in media and literature. There was definitely room for improvement.

Fast forward to the summer of 2020 when the #diversifyyourfeeds was viral, highlighting that social media and streaming services play to our comfort bubbles. It takes active and conscious change to evolve beyond these echo chambers supported by the algorithm. I always come back to this riddle that was widely shared in the early 2000s:

A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!” Explain.

The riddle is aimed at confronting our internalized gender biases as still even today a majority of people think of a White man when envisioning a doctor or surgeon. A huge part of our biases and limited imagination comes from our exposure. (AGAIN WHY REPRESENTATION IS SOOOOOOO IMPORTANT!) Clear examples of hurt through lack of exposure are the negative received by Disney for having a Black mermaid play Ariel (If you don’t already know this there are Black mermaids and have always been Black mermaids. If this is news to you, that is a google search I would suggest you take some time out to do). Our world racist roots have prevented us from seeing possibilities for groups, communities, countries, and individuals can be or become.

If when you use your imagination and your visuals default to White, that is a problem. It is a clear sign to do a deep dive into media and literature that is exposing you and your family to faces you aren’t used to seeing. As much as I have grown in this area, I have been shown that there is always more to be done. As an author sometimes I like to use a google image to explain what I am seeing in my head to others and to illustrators I work with, especially if English is not their first language. It helps us see what we are building our creating. When you Google any visual in a generic sense, “man gardening” the ratio of White men gardening to BIPOC men gardening is disheartening. For more images of BIPOC men gardening, I have to be far more specific in my search and there have definitely been visuals I have searched for and have been completely unable to find BIPOC individuals in those searches. DO BETTER GOOGLE!

Don’t overthink what this change looks like; Expand your diversity in areas that you care about and already have an interest in. If you like cooking, follow a bunch of BIPOC accounts that focus on cooking, buy cookbooks that are BIPOC’s own voices, take a cooking class run by a BIPOC individual and add cooking shows that are run by or feature BIPOC individuals. Then share the accounts, books, movies, films, and experiences you have engaged in with your circle. Basically a #payitforward diversity edition.

There are other things we as a society and world need to decentralize, but we will save that conversation for another day. For now, work to engage in fields and topics that call to your being but expose you to individuals and communities that push beyond your normal racial engagement in literature and media. AND listen. Give them center stage and allow them to reintroduce you to your interests through their world. We have to move away from “White” being the default and continue to broaden our worldviews.

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