It’s always entertaining to watch the reactions of someone who realizes something isn’t about them, when they’re used to everything being about them. Similarly, it’s hilarious to watch what happens when someone is forced to share, especially when it’s clear that sharing is the most unnatural thing to them.
Those two points being said: my popcorn has been popped and buttered for the scores of Ontarians upset that a slice of media has attempted to become more representative of the diversity in our particular province.
The Agenda is a current-affairs program on TVO, a provincially-funded television station. Its summer edition is being hosted by the incomparable Nam Kiwanuka, while regular host Steve Paikin is on hiatus. The Agenda is no stranger to controversies around diversity – this article notes that “The Agenda is self-admittedly too white: only 17 per cent of its guests last year were visible minorities (about 25 per cent of Ontarians identified as visible minorities in the 2011 census)”, and I was actually a guest on the show after a debacle over the lack of women panelists on the show, which aims to represent the demographics of Ontario.
Efforts have been made by the show to exercise more diversity across topic choices and panelist selections, and I’ve enjoyed much of what the show has offered so far in its summer session. I’ve seen more people from a variety of societal intersections featured on the show – discussing topics that are relevant, enlightening, and entertaining – than I remember seeing in the past, and I hope this continues even once the regular season picks up again in the fall.
While I’m enjoying the fresh faces and topics, it seems not everyone is so enthusiastic. A quick glance at comments on The Agenda’s social media accounts show that some feel any topic highlighting the lived experience of non-white people is a red flag that the show has become some far-left demon spawn, spewing propaganda aimed at making white people feel guilty for their privilege.
I just want to know: why do those people think everything is about them?
I mean, on one hand, I get it. Nothing makes the majority feel more victimized than realizing that they have to give up some of their space to the minority. A shifting landscape can be scary. Their territory is being encroached upon by people who they don’t relate to on some level, and the thought that their narrative is not the only one being shared – and not the only one that matters – is a threatening idea. In their eyes, something that they feel rightfully belongs to them (in this case, space in media) is being siphoned from them by people that don’t deserve it, and it’s a cause for panic.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to The Agenda or any particular media outlet – here in Canadian media, we continue to have a huge problem with the inability to make space for diverse faces and diverse narratives, and the efforts to remedy the problem seem to take an incredible amount of time. Because of this, when space is finally made for someone non-white (add to that being a woman, and/or disabled, and/or LGBTQ, etc.), it’s taken as a personal affront by those who are used to seeing their faces and their faces only. Cue panic. Cue paranoia. Cue “Why are we talking about this? It doesn’t matter!” Cue nasty comments online from people with fake names and dog/flag/egg avis – comments designed to put the minority back in their place and restore balance in their tiny, tiny worlds.
It’s a clear sign of an insecurity issue when someone feels their personhood is threatened by the presence of someone else, and I smell a stench of ignorance tinged with arrogance when people feel that a story doesn’t matter simply because it is not one they identify with. These are people who would seek to push those voices back into the margins, only to be called out when they deem necessary (usually when they’re looking for a “new” cultural idea to appropriate, or when we’re pretending that Canada is a multicultural utopia). What I would hope for the offended to understand is that while they are used to being status quo, the presence of “other” isn’t a reactionary one. A non-white person taking up space in media is not there simply to be an antagonist to whiteness. We are there to tell our truths, share our expertise, and make our money just like anyone else. Basically, stop thinking everything is about you.
I have admittedly had to work to undo the thought processes that made me overly concerned with what white people thought of me. As a Black woman, I’ve practiced the habit of running myself through various filters, hoping that whatever diluted product was left at the end was enough to get my idea across efficiently without being “too much” of anything. The problem with that is, I filtered out myself in the act – so what’s really the point? Yes – I still aim to be professional, entertaining, intelligent, and whatever else is needed in the moment. However, worrying about what any one particular group thinks of me based on a paradigm that was created to make me inherently feel less than is not a good use of my energy. The space I take up in media as a Black woman, whether I’m talking about Blackness or anything else (another topic for another day: Canadian media, you can call on Black folks to discuss things other than Black issues), is valid and worthy and necessary.
That same validity, worth, and necessity is relevant to all of the diverse stories that can and should be told in our media. Until the Canadian industry catches up with what we all have to offer, I’ll continue to appreciate the entities that work to make room for us. Unfortunately for those who feel threatened by our presence: all I have to say is, get used to it. It really isn’t about you.