If you log onto any modern internet platform (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.), you won’t have to look far for the latest instance of internet trolls spouting off that by including one character that isn’t white, straight, cisgender, abled, they are “forcing diversity.” But are they really? Is the world really as white as these decriers would have us believe?
The short answer is no. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the racial breakdown of the United States while predominantly white is filled with many beautiful colors. The black or African American population makes up 13.4 percent, the Hispanic population makes up 18.5 percent and the Asian population makes up 5.9 percent. Now, these may not seem like large figures but when you think about how many people actually live in the United States (328 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, again), that’s a lot of people. This also doesn’t account for racially concentrated areas such as communities on the West Coast with a large Asian population, communities near the southern border with a larger Hispanic population, or communities in the Deep South with higher concentrations of black and African American citizens than elsewhere. Simply put, the United States is colorful and that’s a good thing.
According to the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law Williams Institute, the percentage of people identifying as part of the LGBT community in the United States is somewhere in the ballpark of 4.5 percent. That also doesn’t seem like a lot, but it should be noted that almost all studies on the demographics of LGBT people are about those that openly identify as such. That’s not even considering those that are either “in the closet,” or keeping their identity a secret, about their identity or those that would be considered members of the LGBT community by external standards, but they choose not to identify as such. Again, this statistic can be separated out into concentration by area.
People with disabilities is where this topic gets really dicey. According to the CDC, 61 million adults live with a disability in the United States. When was the last time you saw a character that had a disability on screen? If you’re last thought was either Artie from Glee which in ended in 2015 or Walter Jr from Breaking Bad which ended in 2013, there’s clearly an issue.
When someone begins to cry “forced diversity” or “social justice warriors at it again,” we can come at the problem with empathy. We can try to understand the systems that have created their warped world view. They were probably raised in a household that didn’t have much diversity or went to a school that had little diversity as well. This is hardly their fault. However, it is entirely their fault if they remain this way.
A separate issue relies in the question, “What is the difference between representation and exploitation?” The answer is simple. If a member of the community you are attempting to represent does not have a seat at the table metaphorically speaking, you are exploiting that group. We need black voices, Hispanic voices, Asian voices, Indian voices, disabled voices, gay voices, trans voices, nonbinary voices, bisexual voices when making representation about these groups so it’s their story. Not our story through their lens. Seeing someone like them on screen can change a young person’s life for the better. In addition to that, there are plenty of actors of color and diversity that could use the work. Stop hiring people who are not LGBT or disabled to play characters that are. It’s insulting and disingenuous especially when you have the resources to find and hire appropriate talent.