The Diversity Petrichor
“White men write, and are read more, because they are likely to think their ideas matter.”
noun: The pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.
The term “diversity" can be galling to people of color. While on one hand visibility and proper representation is important, white people seeking out “diversity” sets off the tokenism alarm bells. Tokenism is a problem on many levels, the most worrying being- when POC are used to mask racist behaviour. There are too many examples of this, the most recent that comes to my mind is the black woman brought up at the Cohen hearing. As an editor, I’m constantly thinking about representation and place of discourse. How do we, at G&R, deal with “diversity”?
There is not much I can say about what happened before 2017, but about the past year and a half there is plenty. My joining the team is probably a result of an effort to expand the range of perspectives featured at G&R. I wasn’t “given a voice”, I was seen as a comrade and was made a partner. That’s how it should go, ideally. But if we are gonna be honest, that’s not how it usually goes everywhere else. People tend to ask for diversity, they want to “give voice”, but only to the extent to which they can still revoke it. The truth is that sometimes people aren’t ready to hear what they don’t wanna hear, and other times they might simply not care about what the other has to say.
A good portion of the black people who wrote for the site wrote in Brazilian Portuguese. We had over an article a month in Portuguese (BR), and not many people talking about them. People continued, however, asking for more voices from the “Global South”. It gave me the impression that the problem isn’t that there aren’t enough people speaking, just not enough people paying attention.
Of the people who paid attention, many were not happy with what they read. Examples of this are the reactions to the Winnie Mandela and to the Transnational adoption articles. The first was criticised for glorifying a woman they considered to be a “war criminal”, ignoring that the article honoured the life of a woman who had just passed away, and who represents radical resistance against apartheid. The latter was criticised for not honouring charitable white people who adopt African children, after all “isn’t it better than leaving them there?” No, unfortunately, it’s not. Some people say they want to hear from Africans, but then they don’t read, and when they do, it makes them uncomfortable.
White men write, and are read more, because they are likely to think their ideas matter. During this past year, I got into a hand full of fights with some of them when I showed zero interest in what they had to say regarding feminism, blackness, and (in some cases) queerness. Ugly fights, where I was patronised, insulted, and couldn’t keep my temper. At the same time, I’ve asked for articles from an array of people who straight up said they’d rather I write about them.
This problem is widespread. In Brazil, you will see people reading and sharing work by an older, white, Portuguese (European) scholar called Boaventura, but they won’t read or pay attention to the Indigenous and Quilombist peoples he writes about. In fact, I’ve seen Black women from Quilombos deliver texts to him explaining their situation, for him to use as reference in his writing. They know they will get more visibility through him, but at the same time, the fact that he is needed is only a gross display of the enemy we are trying to combat. There is no guarantee that he doesn’t reproduce in real-life the Patriarchal, white, heteronormative colonialism he criticizes in his written work, there is only the guarantee that those Black women are running out of options.
Categorizing people is never an easy or welcome task, as it’s so often used to oppress people. On the other hand, when we pretend not to “see color” we also end up not seeing the whole picture. Taking privacy and personal agency into account, here is a short overview of G&R’s past year in terms of diversity.
Of the 200 pieces published the past year (counting from March 2018):
64% were by white people;
32% were by POC (20% by black people, 12% by other non-white people);
51% were by women (7 out of 8 people who administer G&R are women);
48% were by men;
18% were by members of the LGBTQ community;
1% were by people with special needs.
While 4% are not racially identifiable for privacy reasons, of the non-white category, some are white-passing and/or of jewish descent. However, some people of jewish descent have been categorised as white when they speak about whiteness in their work. 1% is not categorised as man or woman, and all of the special needs writers face obstacles related to mobility. Even though these numbers can never be exact, they give some insight over where we are and where we should strive to be.*
One thing I’ve noticed is that ableism is not even close to discussed enough, and when it is, it’s from a specific perspective. Does that mean I’m gonna go to a sign language school and recruit someone? No. Remember- people who are deaf or work with them can also be reactionary. Michelle Bolsonaro, for instance, was the 1st first lady to deliver a speech during an inauguration, and it was in sign language. That makes her neither a feminist nor an advocate for deaf people’s rights, it makes her the 1st person to ever make me glad I don’t understand what those gestures mean.
Diversifying voices shouldn’t be seen as diversifying nutrients in a meal; as something we choose, collect, consume for our own nourishment. It’s about holding hands, while acknowledging differences. It’s like being each other’s emergency contact without being related.
G&R isn’t here to seek “diversity” for our institution by appropriating struggles. We are here to support each other, remunerate fairly for work, value the perspectives of people who are routinely ignored, and boost each other in the process. The work isn’t about numbers, clicks, and shares. It’s about constantly seeking improvement, forging new connections, and creating international solidarity networks strong enough to tear down the structures that confine us all. Together we can make it rain, and enjoy the petrichor after.
*If you feel that I might have mis-categorized you, or would like to know more about the process, feel free to contact me. We are open to making these numbers even more representative of our contributor demographics. (0,5% rounded up.)
Writer, editor, teacher, and translator. (Website)