Sunday, April 30, 2017


Two images used to promote local events have gotten under my skin and I can't seem to let them go.

My gut feeling is that they were chosen by well-meaning people without any sort of malice so I'm not going to focus on the organizations involved. I just want to focus on the pictures. Both images suggest nostalgia for a time gone by. I suspect the intent was light-hearted: to invoke a mood, to bring a smile.

What I see when I look at these pictures?

"Remember the good old days when we didn't have any black or brown people? Gee, wasn't that swell?"

Representation. You can't be what you can't see. I thought that quote originated with astronaut Sally Ride but, in fact, it looks like it may have been Marian Wright Edelman. In an essay for the Children's Defense Fund, she writes:

It’s hard to be what you can’t see. Children of color need to be able to see themselves in the books they read. Just as importantly, all children need to be exposed to a wide range of books that reflect the true diversity of our nation and world as they really are.

This brings to mind the data from the study by JHU which finds that having even one black teacher increases the likelihood that black students will graduate. 

Representation. You can't be what you can't see.

Word spread Friday after the work session on the school budget in Howard County that funding the position of Diversity Coordinator will be a priority. That's excellent news. As with anything that involves the school system, budgets, and political gamesmanship, I'll believe it when I see it.

But it's not just the school system that needs a diversity coordinator. When two excellent local groups use illustrations for events that completely omit non-whites, I wonder if they are looking at the reach of their organization with an inclusive eye. 

  • Who will see this? 
  • How will they feel? 
  • Would they feel comfortable at our event?
  • What does this picture say about our organization?

(As a footnote, can we take a moment to consider how oppressively heteronormative both of these images are? Sheesh.)

In closing, I'd like to suggest that, when aiming for a retro feel, it is wise to remember that the "good old days" were not "good" for everybody. 

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