There is No Equality Without Being Able to Say ‘No’
On Ellen, Usain, “Design” and Real Freedom
You’re on Twitter (or maybe you’re not). You saw Ellen tweet out this picture of her riding on Usain Bolt’s back (or maybe you didn’t). You might even have shrugged, and said to yourself
OK, sure. That’s in poor taste, but why are people getting so bent out of shape?
I had been watching this unfold over the last two days, unsure of why
I was so unsettled by the image, until I saw that tweet from LeslieMac
and it all clicked.
Because here’s what happened:
After Usain Bolt’s earth-shattering 3rd 100m gold medal, the design/social media/#content/whatever-the-fuck team at The Ellen DeGeneres Show was seated around a table and someone — maybe Ellen, probably not — said
“Wouldn’t it be funny if we photoshopped Ellen onto Usain’s back? And then said something like “this is how I’m going to go everywhere now?”
At which point, one of two things is possible:
- The all-white design/social media/#content/whatever-the-fuck team
at The Ellen DeGeneres Show said “hahahahaha” and put the tweet together; or,
- The people (or likely, person) of color on the design/social media/
#content/whatever-the-fuck team at The Ellen DeGeneres Show felt
that familiar tightening in their chest, clenched their jaw imperceptibly for the 8th time that morning, rolled their eyes under the cover of a
long blink, thought of their student loans and the fact that the paycheck they just got was already 85% accounted for and grit their teeth and
had one extra drink after another day at their Good Job and got one step closer to no longer having any fucks to give.
My money’s on #2.
Because here’s the thing:
“Diversity” is bullshit if power relationships don’t change.
Imagine you’re our hypothetical Information Economy Worker of Color
from option #2. Maybe you’re a young Black woman who followed her parents footsteps and attended an HBCU, or a second-generation Mexican American guy, fresh out of the Cal State University system and you’ve leveraged all the co-signs and debt and connections you have to land a (tenuous, probably non-salary) spot at that table.
So when your boss, or someone on your team with some seniority (or even just that mediocre white guy who can seemingly do no wrong) has an awful fucking idea — and let’s be clear, photoshopping a white woman (even one as gay and famous and generally awesome as Ellen) onto a Black man’s back as if he’s her beast of burden is an Awful Fucking Idea — you’ve got no leg to stand on.
At that point, you’re not a person, you’re a pet.
And pets, as we know, are not free.
So sure, shame on The Ellen DeGeneres Show’s design/social media/#content/whatever-the-fuck team for making that graphic and attempting to rationalize it by saying “Ellen’s not a racist” (which, by the way, nobody is claiming); and if it’s an all-white team, well, get some non-white people(!), but let’s be clear:
We — all of us — live every day in an intentionally-created (that is to say, “designed”) set of circumstances that privileges the thoughts, feelings and very lives of some people over those of others.
Putting a few new faces in a few new places doesn’t — can’t — change how and why those places were built.