An Open Letter to the Creative Community
Dear Creative Community,
We have a problem.
There is an invisible but not unspoken problem in our industry.
I’ve tried so many times to start this message hoping that it would strike the right chord and that I can do this issue justice. I don’t intend to be the sole spokesperson for this message and I hope that you’ll join me.
So bear with me as I try to express to you why I believe diversity is a much needed discussion right now. How diversity can personally impact you, and how you as a small business owner, no matter what your identity is, you can also make an impact should you choose so (and I sincerely hope you do).
You have a say. Most of us have privilege; there are different ways each of us have privilege but you probably have it in spades. If you’ve been educated, or are a racial majority, are well manicured, have money, you’re more than likely privileged. If you have some of these luxuries, it is our responsibility (and honestly a choice) to create safe space and platforms for others who don’t have the same luxuries to also thrive as well as you. It is only when we support others that we can all succeed.
I hope you’ll understand my tone: I am not lecturing. I am coming at this topic with an understanding of each side and the frustrations on both sides. I am coming at this topic with a ton of love. Because what we want right now is to be heard. All of us. We want to be understood.
But let me be clear. I am advocating for diversity. I am advocating for different voices, experiences, and thoughts to be taught and heard. I am NOT advocating for injecting the creative entrepreneur’s version of affirmative action and choosing a token, so that at face value, you seem that you’ve considered diverse voices.
Creatives are naturally diverse; we are painters, graphic designers, photographers, calligraphers, writers, and myriad other creative contributors. That’s not where our conversation of diversity ends. We’re also an international bunch. Thanks to the internet, we can talk to people literally on the other side of the globe and collaborate with them. There are people who are different races, religions, ethnicities, education levels, sexual or gender diversity and all other types of differentiating qualities.
Diversity is more than race
- Different races and ethnicities
- Educational levels
- Physical ability
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Accent and fluency in the English Language
- Relationship status
- Life experience
- Body shape + external beauty as deemed beautiful by society’s standards
Recently a few conference line-ups or collaborations have features rows and rows of beautiful white smiling women. My initial reaction was to ask myself, “where are the women of color?” I wanted to demand racial diversity. And although I remain strong in my desire to hold organizations accountable for creating and encouraging racial and ethnic diversity I am able to acknowledge the intersectionality and multiple dimensions of diversity that may not be as visually obvious as race. You don’t know which of the women might be queer, have different political persuasions, or have education (or not). You don’t know if somebody is part Hispanic or Middle Eastern. You can’t actually tell much of the time. Don’t make assumptions. As we strive for inclusive excellence we must look at race and ethnicities but also consider other identities that contribute to diversity of ideas and experience. It is important that we ask ourselves how our various aspects of diversity interact with one another and inform our perspective.
And I get it because it’s frustrating to me too. I never feel like I belong (hello, Asian minority category), which is why I think it’s worth having an open, uncomfortable conversation that doesn’t end in a shouting match. These organizers aren’t intentionally trying to make people feel marginalized.
To my friends who have and who will in the future create events, opportunities, and showcases of a group of women to come together, HELL YES. For so long, women have undercut each other, they have hurt each other. I’m so proud to be in an industry that lifts others up. But that’s where it seems to stop. We need to expand the circle of connections, friendships, and alliances to grow beyond who is similar to us: in creed, in looks, in upbringings. I implore you to think about whose voice you might need to also encapsulate. Nope, I’m not asking you to bring in everybody because, that’s simply impossible. But consider, just for a second somebody who might have a different perspective, and by chance, that person will look a little different than you. No guarantees, but that might just be the case.
I don’t claim to know all the conversations that happen behind the scenes or what logistics you’re fighting with, but this is a request (and please pin this on your heart) that you dig deep to find not just one but several people who bring diversity to your work. In the meantime, make friends with them too! I don’t want to be brought in because I’m the token Asian gal. I want you to bring me in because you know me for specific piece of content/energy/expertise I might bring.
Please, choose your leaders wisely.
For my minority (or if you feel like you’re not being seen, heard, or underutilized) creative friends, we have an uphill battle. Gosh, I know how unfair it is, how frustrated you must feel. But here’s the thing, we have to come alongside people who might not hear the advice I had for them above, and to educate with a lot of love, and not out of anger or bitterness. For the most part, your racial/identity counterparts haven’t excluded us out of malice. They just didn’t understand that there was a different way.
Work harder to make sure that you are known for a message you want to share. Be a megaphone louder than your counterparts around you. Not in an aggressive way, but in a way that shows people you mean business. Put yourself out there, challenge yourself, pitch effectively, create powerful relationships, serve others, and make sure you are known: not for your race/ethnicity/looks but for your knowledge, your content, your expertise.
You can’t be diverse all by yourself. You’re diverse when you mix with other people, opinions, other points of view, other experiences. But you cannot be diverse on your own. Tokenism hurts our industry. Often token minority members have expectations that are placed on them that do not serve our community at large. Suggest other women and advocate for others when you feel like there are opportunities to do so.
My ally friends: If you’re in a place of privilege and you have a platform, I encourage you to share your voice. If you’re in a place where you can create collaborations, make sure you’re considering all types of diversity. I know, you want to do something about this.
But here’s the deal: there is a right way and a very wrong way to address the issue of diversity (or the lack thereof). Going public with your disdain is not the answer. Shaming somebody’s work and blasting them on instagram to rile a crowd is not effective. It hurts people, makes them feel shame and ultimately hurts the cause of creating a conversation around diversity and ultimately inclusion. If you witness something that doesn’t sit right, address it via email, a private message, a call where you can have your thoughts heard more thoroughly. Call them out, but I implore you to choose your mode of conveying your message.
Additionally, You can turn down speaking engagements or choose to create your own opportunities for minority women to elevate your voice in lieu of tearing somebody else’s project down. You can choose to change who you feature on your website. You can use stock photos that represent different races, hair styles, body types, that invite inclusion. Are you a photographer? Have you ever considered doing stock photos with hands that aren’t white?
At the core, I’m not asking you to choose a line up of one white, one black, one Asian, one hispanic, one LGBT, one (insert minority group here). I am asking you to set your intention to finding the best person to connect with for something and when you do, to scan people who might represent minority groups as well or to choose intentionally who you work with because they’re interesting people.
All of you are welcome in my corner of the creative community. It’s the reason I named my business Reina + Co. I hoped that we would build this so that others who didn’t feel like they belonged anywhere could have a safe place to land, to have the tough conversations when the going gets tough.
It impacts the way I hire, the way I build community, the way I collaborate with people.
I’ve turned down speaking and guest posting opportunities when I didn’t think the organizer was willing to consider diversity of thought and experience, or when they wanted me as a token minority person. We have a say every day that we own and run our businesses. In small and big ways, we can make a difference to have a colorful array of voices be represented.
There are kick-ass people of all colors, races, sexual orientation, body shapes, hair color/textures… I hope you’re as excited as I am to embrace diversity in a different way.
How to be a good Ally
My ally friends: I encourage you to share your voice. I challenge you to seek ally relationships that are built on trust and respect. Fly by night allyship often does not produce results. Impactful allyship begins with cultivating a relationship with the group or groups with whom you wish to ally. This involves asking others to define your role of ally and using your knowledge and privilege to serve other according to their wishes. Supportive allyship involves advocating for those who are different from yourself, using your voice even when it’s hard because know that it’s probably harder for whoever you’re hoping to advocate for. Don’t be a martyr, you’re not carrying the whole issue of diversity or societal oppression on your shoulders alone and only together can we make shifts in the fabric of our industry and society at large.