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Tag: overcoming institutionalized racism

Representation Matters

Owning our “own voices”

The Artdog Quote(s) of the Week

Who owns our voices? If you run in the circles I do, you’re aware of the “own voices” movement, which has been growing since 2015. It started in children’s books, but it’s reaching far beyond that now, because it’s a sound idea.

In simplest terms, as Blue Crow Publishing lays it out, “Own voices’ means that if you are writing a main character who is part of marginalized group, you are part of that marginalized group.

This quote from actor and activist Rosario Dawson reads, "It's extremely important for women to be writing their own stories, truly crafting those stories, writing them down, directing them and giving them to people to really emotionally become impacted by."
(image quote courtesy of a tumblr that no longer exists, via Pinterest)

It’s a simple, elegant, empowering idea

For so many, many years, marginalized voices went unheard. Drawing on Blue Crow’s explanation above, if, for example, you were a trans* person writing about a trans* main character in the past, you wouldn’t even be able to get published at all.  The gatekeepers were all white cis folk who didn’t have a clue about the issues, drama, and authentic visions of trans* persons. 

Heck, most of the traditional media still have a problem letting more marginalized voices speak up. Remember #Oscarssowhite? That was a few years ago (2015), but it seems the lessons keep on having to be re-learned.  

Sorry to all the wishful thinkers. No, we are not yet “post-racial. We have a long, long, long way to go, before we get there.

I remain convinced that until the rise of indie publishing, and the success of niche markets such as gay erotica (which doesn’t even seem so “niche” any more), we would have seen the “own voices” movement rise even more slowly.

This quote from John Leguizamo reads, "I had to [do my own projects]. It was an antidote to the system, to the Hollywouldn't-ness of it all . . .because I didn't want to be a drug dealer or a murderer for the rest of my life. That's not me, that's not my people.
(Photo from the Huffington Post)

Why are authentic “own voices” needed?

Environmental science, biology, history, business experience, and common sense all teach us the same lesson. A diverse community brings a variety of strengths to the table. More approaches. More interesting meetings of minds and cultures and perspectives. Diverse communities are stronger and more adaptable. Yet humans’ instinct for tribalism fights this truth.

Likewise, intellectual communities are more adaptable, versatile, and robust when they accept many inputs. Our own individual world-views are deepened and enhanced by knowledge of wider ranges of possibility. When we pay attention to writers who tell their own stories and speak in their own voices, our understandings expand.

I recently blogged on my publisher’s website about the book American Dirt, and the need to read works by people who really know what they’re writing about. Such accounts tend (when well-written) to be more powerful and more realistic. And interesting

This quote image from Idris Elba says, "I was busy, I was getting lots of work, but I realized I could only play so many 'best friends' or gang leaders.'  I knew I wasn't going to land a lead role.  I knew there wasn't enough imagination in the industry for me to be seen as a lead."
(Photo from the Huffington Post).


Many thanks to The Huffington Post, which published two features that provided all of these posts. They are “18 Times Black Actors Nailed Why We Need Representation in Film,” and its sidebar slide show (scroll to the bottom), “16 Times Latinos Were Brutally Honest about Hollywood’s Lack of Diversity.” 


The Artdog Quote of the Week

IMAGE: Many thanks to Brainy Quote for this thought from Abraham Joshua Heschel.

A square, green, orange, and black background sets off Jeffrey St. Clair’s rectangular design for the fifth day of Kwanzaa. On the left side of St. Clair’s orange rectangle is a square symbol of “Nia,” or Purpose. The words that surround it say, “The seven principles: Nia: Purpose. To restore African-American people to their traditional greatness.”

Empowerment Through Purpose

The fifth day of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa’s fifth principle is purpose, and empowerment through purpose is an important strength that has served the Black community well. Sometimes purpose, a vision of what can and should be, is about all they have had!

Here in the United States today, we continue to re-fight battles that should long ago have been won. Still today, a hundred small and large disadvantages assail African-Americans at every encounter. Continually.

A square, green, orange, and black background sets off Jeffrey St. Clair’s rectangular design for the fifth day of Kwanzaa. On the left side of St. Clair’s orange rectangle is a square symbol of “Nia,” or Purpose. The words that surround it say, “The seven principles: Nia: Purpose. To restore African-American people to their traditional greatness.”
Image by, and courtesy of, Jeffrey St. Clair. See Credits below.

Purpose Empowers Dreams

All Americans stand to gain, if only we can keep working together for the goal of realizing the dream of true equality. It is only when all of us are empowered to reach our full potential that we will truly reach greatness. We move forward without a vision of where we are going. But we first must find a purpose to power our dreams.

This square gray image features a sepia-brown photo of Harriet Tubman in later life, wearing a patterned head-scarf, a dark shawl, and a long dark skirt, with her hands clasped in front of her. The words to her right say, “‘Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.’ -Harriet Tubman. African American History Month.”
Courtesy of @Songs4Teaching on X. See Credits below.

Empowerment through Purpose

When our leaders have the integrity to follow their vision of equity and justice for all, the community prospers. Empowerment through purpose builds us up when it is directed toward the common good. Until our country achieves the deepest, truest, most equitable form of what it aspires (and purports) to be, African-American people will not be “restored to their traditional greatness,” and all the rest of us will fall short, too.

But let’s not just put it on the shoulders of our leaders. It’s up to us to motivate them, pay attention to what they do, and hold them accountable. Our leaders are only as good as we demand that they be.

This black square image features a black and white picture of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the right. On the left it says, “‘If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.’ -Martin Luther King Jr.”
Photo courtesy of Covenant House TO on X. See Credits below.

Let Empowerment through Purpose fuel the Future

The long fight for equity and justice for all, in all aspects of our public lives in a multicultural democracy has not ended. Far from it! Each generation has an obligation to advance on that goal. In the year to come and throughout our lives, let us gain empowerment through purpose to move our communities toward that greater vision.


Many thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair via LinkedIn’s SlideShare, for the nicely designed symbol image and “seven principles” slide. I’m grateful to Songs for Teaching on X (@Songs4Teaching) for the Harriet Tubman quote, and to Covenant House TO on X (@CovenantHouseTO) for the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote.

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