You wanna diversify huh? That’s nice, pay us

So…this is inspired by a few things that have happened recently and conversations, etc. See, I talk about diversity in gaming, occasionally about racial issues, feminism, etc online and at conventions, etc.

I’m not the only person who talks about these issues, not by a long shot. But I often get tagged in on conversations about how can I do better? Or I’ll get emails asking my opinion on how to better diversify a project that’s in the works or about to start. Usually, this comes with no offer of compensation for my time or knowledge. Again, I’m not the only POC approached to give time, effort and know-how free of charge. But I’m tired of it.

I’m tired of the idea that our knowledge, our lived experience is good enough to take but not to pay us for. That we should give, and give and help others prosper without our due.

Fuck — that — noise

Because we have earned, lived, breathed, dreamed, died and more for the knowledge you’d glean for free from us. Then you’d proclaim yourself a diversity advocate, or expert with your ill gotten gains. I say that because getting someone’s knowledge, time and expertise for free is theft of the highest order.

It doesn’t matter if someone foolishly gave you their time for nothing. You know what you wanted, you knew your endgame when you asked for just a few minutes of their time that turned into an eternal email chain, several Skype calls and maybe even extended into a few in person chats. That’s where it usually ends, or if you find a person who knows their value then it doesn’t go beyond that first contact.

Here’s the thing, and pay attention because it’s important. Non-POC/LGBTQIA/Trans/Binary/[fill in the blank space of your diversification needs here ] folk need the input and knowledge of those in those in-groups to make meaningful progress towards change and actually diversifying your space; be it an organization, writing group, game studio, convention, what have you. What you will usually wind up with is a bunch of (supposedly) well meaning people who want to do better but don’t know what to do in order to make things better. Or they will do things like have a diversity brown bag! and have all the presenters be cis, white, hetero folk who’s knowledge of diversity is what they have read in the company brochure.

Perhaps they will have panels at conferences on diversity with either no marginalized people at all; and turn it into a lookit us, we done good circle jerk of congratulating yourselves on acknowledging diversity. Or worse, there will be one panel, maybe two where the few marginalized people in attendance will be placed and no where else, again with the same LOOK WE HAD A PANEL WITH MARGINALIZED PEOPLE!!! LOOOOOK AT HOW GOOD WE ARE stink of self congratulation about it.

Organizations often try to do more for diversity, but they often commit a faux paus, like Twitter; where they hired a white man as head of Diversity and Inclusion. and not realize just how egregious this is for a long time, if ever. Or hey pull the same thing in higher ed, like at my last institution; they gave Diversity initiatives to a white woman who reads as cis, hetero-normative upon first glance. Yeah, students will really think they’ll be heard when they come to the diversity office and not see someone who looks like them.

Whenever organizations do realize their failure; they then come to the marginalized with hands out, going educate me, give me your time and help me not be full of fail! Yet they are not willing to compensate us for our time. Especially when you are starting at 001 level discourse with some people, forget 101 level.

This is where we circle back to fuck you, pay me. Not pay another non-marginalized person to reinforce your piss poor understanding of how diversity works, what it is and definitely is not while replenishing the tainted well you all drank from to get this bad knowledge from to begin with. Simply put, if you want our time, our expertise and knowledge to make your convention, organization, office, event better and reflective of the actual world we live in? Then come correct, come with compensation, NOT exposure. You know what exposure gets someone? Not a fucking thing in this life or the next. People can’t eat exposure, or pay bills/rent with it. So stop offering it.

It’s also offensive to think anyone, no matter how young and fresh out of school they are should be flattered by the offer of exposure. Well if we even got offered that much in exchange for our time. That’s part of the rub for me, that even the basest of social currency is rarely offered for what we can do for others. Like it’s owed or something. Spoiler: it isn’t.

So do the following if you really want to do better in diversifying your spaces and before you reach out to people and ask for free labor:

  • Use Google, it exists as a search tool. Amazingly enough it works pretty damned well.
  • Don’t cold call/DM/tweet at/message people you don’t know with requests for their time with nothing in hand for it. Again, people are busy & don’t have time or inclination to do free work for you
  • Have a sense of what your goal is, why you are doing it and reexamine yourself a couple of times before reaching out. We can see through the bullshit if you aren’t sincere.
  • Be ready for a NO. No one is obligated to you. Be polite, thank the person/people you’ve reached out to and don’t pester them after they decline.

Ok so I’ve done the work, now what you ask? Good question! Here are more tips:

  • If you are running a convention and want to truly have better representation on your panels; Don’t have one or two diversity panels and stick the brown folks on it. We are sick of fucking talking about this. We have plenty of other things to speak on. Try it, it won’t hurt.
  • If you invite someone to your organization; PAY THEM. Pay an honorarium, pay travel fees, cover costs. It is an expense of time, energy and prep to do these things.
  • If you invite someone to your organization/convention/what have you; value their time and expertise. You invited them and they could very well be doing something else with their time. (You, reading this may not think it’s necessary to say this but trust me. I’ve seen this happen; where someone is invited to speak on diversity and their time & knowledge is not respected. That’s when you can tell it’s lip service and nothing will change once you leave)
  • If you do get someone willing to help you, then listen, take notes and follow up. Follow up with actionable things, not just take the knowledge that you’ve gotten and let it get dusty on a shelf.
  • Realize you will fail, no matter how much advice you get or consultation. Truly diversifying your organization, event, etc means small steps forward, a couple times of tripping and falling before you get your bearings. Don’t let one small failure turn into I CAN’T DO THIS, IT WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH FOR [MARGINALIZED GROUP] SO I AM DONE TRYING kind of hissy fit. You will get rightfully told where you went wrong, how you failed and then it will be the same sad cycle all over again and nothing will change.

So yeah, tl;dr before you hit up a marginalized person for free work… stop and go back to the first bullet point up there. Then proceed, if you fuck up well start at the beginning and repeat until you get it. Our knowledge isn’t free, exposure kills and we simply are not here to give you something for nothing.