Inclusion

The Importance of Positive Representation In and Out of the Media

This post is inspired by a six-person student tour going on at my job. I didn’t see any black people on the tour. Five white people and an Asian person.

Why are there so many men? Why are there so many straight people? Why are there so many white people? Why are there so many cisgender people? Where are the people like me? This is something that people belonging in marginalized groups have often asked. Even I have started asking this question.

First, I personally believe that representation of different ethnicities was better back in the 1990s and early 2000s than it was now. The 1990s had many sitcoms where the cast was majority black or African-American. People who had (and still have) HBO on their TV could watch Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child on HBO Family (that show retold fairy tales with characters from different ethniticies and countries) with a Latin American Cinderella, a Chinese Little Red Riding Hood, an African-American Steadfast Tin Soldier, and others. Now, minority main characters are so few and far between outside of minority-centric television stations that shows like Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat are seen as gimmicks.

Even though the LGBT community (yes, all aspects. Not just gay people) are getting more representation in the media, there still could be some more representation. Shows that are known for LGBT representation include Glee, Degrassi: The Next Generation, and Steven Universe. Billions, a show on Showtime, has a non-binary character named Taylor Mason (the character explicitly says their pronouns are “they/them/theirs”) who is played by non-binary acting profession Asia Kate Dillion (who also uses “they/them/theirs” as their pronouns). Other shows have LGBT characters, but not all shows have positive representation of the LGBT community…

…Which is why my blog post is titled “The Importance of Positive Representation In and Out of the Media” instead of “The Importance of Representation In and Out of the Media.” Let me make it clear that I think representation is important, but positive representation helps to break negative stereotypes of marginalized people. Most of the time, bisexual representation plays upon the harmful stereotypes of bisexuals being greedy or promiscuous.

What about representation outside of media? I’m going to use the example of the workplace. The tech industry is filled with white men (and if they’re not white, they’re most likely Asian). A woman walks into an office for an interview and only sees men. How would she feel about that? Would she think there are no women who work there (they could just be in a part of the office she never walks by)? Would she fear sexist language and actions? Let’s take a black person who just started a new job. They see only one or two black people in the office. Everyone else is white or Asian. Even though there are others like them, would they fear they will be the target of racism, especially in this political climate?

Representation is important, whether you are someone with a disability, someone who doesn’t identify as a guy, a person of color, transgender, or not heterosexual. The world isn’t filled with able-bodied cisgender straight white men.

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Inclusion

Talk to Me, Too! The Importance of Inclusive Language

Warning: The first paragraph mentions sexual stuff. If you are at work, you may want to hold off on reading this. If you are in class, read this at your own risk if you’re worried about people seeing the first paragraph. If any mention of sex is triggering, skip the first paragraph.

In November 2012, I was at a national conference related to my on-campus job. I was at a breakout session called “Are You Talking to Me?” that was hosted by a few college students. We were given a slip of paper and we had to watch a scripted sex education presentation as if we were the person described on the slip of paper (mine was “A guy who is in a sexual relationship with another guy”). Afterwards, we would discuss how the sex education presentation was not inclusive. For example, the presentation was only about safer penis-in-vagina sex between a cisgender man and a cisgender woman. They say “man’s penis” and “woman’s vagina”, which could alienate transgender and non-binary people.

That breakout session ended up being my favorite session during the three days the conference occurred. I felt like I really learned something that I could apply to life outside of educating my peers at my university. I can use my words to welcome marginalized people instead of harming them. I can make people feel that they didn’t waste their time by coming here. I hear the cries of people who want representation, and I will answer that cry. After the breakout session, I started using inclusive language more often.

Some people wonder why we should use inclusive language. You don’t know every single person in the audience, so why write or say something like everyone was the same? Imagine yourself being a gay male and you read something about relationships. They only mention “straight” relationships. Would you feel welcome, knowing that you are not straight? Would it seem like you wasted your time reading the article? Or imagine you are a bisexual person attending an LGBT event and there’s only mentions of gay or lesbian themes. Bi+ people and people who aren’t cisgender feel excluded. This is a sad, common reality in the LGBT community, but that will be a rant for another day. There are many examples, but the point is that you don’t know your audience and by catering to what is typical, you are excluding people. Word have power. Remove the barriers and treat people fairly.

So what can you say to be more inclusive? Talk about same-gender couples as well as different-gender couples. Use gender-neutral job titles (mail carrier instead of mailman, salesperson instead of salesman, flight attendant instead of stewardess). Include bi+ and transpeople in LGBT conversations. There are many other ways to use inclusive language too. Figure out how you can use inclusive language more often.