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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Diversity and such

I don't agree with Scott's provocative idea because I prefer choice over chance. If we stop trusting people to make real decisions, we give up on their ability to make good choices and grapple with complexity.

Also, I detect in the larger diversity discussion a lack of specificity. Gender diversity and racial diversity and class diversity are different issues and have to be addressed entirely differently. Just because a group shares "under-represented" status doesn't mean they are under-represented in exactly the same way or for exactly the same historical/economic/cultural reasons. Isaac seems focused on racial diversity; Scott on cultural or geographic diversity, for example.

I am a supporter of affirmative action. I believe that you cannot confront a cultural history of racism without a systemic approach.

But, I also am deeply ambivalent about how race and ethnicity, even for those with good intentions, can be oversimplified and quantified superficially. Example: my sister is adopted. She is Korean. She was adopted before I was born, when she was only a few months old. She has no memory of Korea, never knew her Korean mother, and does not speak Korean. She has been a member of my family longer than I have, even if we don't share the same DNA. Culturally... is she Korean? No. Does she self-identify as Korean-American? Not in the way some people do, certainly.

So where does she fit in these calls for diversity? Does she represent a racial group? Is her group Adopted Children? Or women? Or women who grew up in Pennsylvania? Her life is simply not reducible that way. She's my sister, my older sister, and she comes from the same background that I do. Are we supposed to be grouped differently? Separately? I would certainly find that troubling. I'd protest anyone who would group her according to their own assessments of how she looked - even if they felt it was to her benefit.

Affirmative action is not about numbers: it's about acknowledging that racism was/is a part of our system, and that only a systematic approach can correct that on a large scale. Let's just remember that all discussions of "diversity" are about individuals and not about counting colors.

In short, before we talk about promoting diversity, I think we should know what we mean by that extremely loaded word. Do we want to see more representation from non-MFA playwrights Off-Off Broadway? Do we want to reduce the impact that affluence has on artistic merit? Do we want to see more Asian-Americans employed in literary departments? If so, why?

Once we identify something specific, a lack we can show, we can actually propose counter-methods. Otherwise, it's just so much posturing.

6 comments:

99 said...

I'm in just about full and total agreement with you here. I do think there's a kind of overlap, but achieving true racial diversity in our organizations and on our stages requires different things than achieving class/cultural diversity. And I think you're right that Isaac is pushing at one thing and Scott is pushing at another. I do think that, in the long run, both can get us there.

For me, in all honesty, racial diversity is more important right now. I think a strong, concerted push for affirmative action to make our theatres less monochromatic would do wonders for our industry. The experiences of people of color in this country right now, today, is so rich and varied and only a tiny fraction of that is making it onto our stages. If a provocative idea is what it takes to get us closer to that, I'm all for it.

Tom Loughlin said...

Matt,

I know you will read what 99 has posted concerning the "confessions of a literary manager." Would you call the system he describes choice? Or chance? Honestly, I am not being sarcastic; I would honestly like your opinion on the matter. Given what the anonymous poster wrote on 99's comments, I wonder if these days there is really much difference between choice and chance in the actual theatre world. -twl

Freeman said...

Tom,

A fair question. And one that affects me on some level, as I'm an unagented writer that does cold submit.

I still believe that despite the challenges inherent and laid bare, there is still a measure of choice involved and the core principle of that, no matter how compromised, is to be maintained and cultivated. What we're hearing about is how the decision making process can feel arbitrary, flawed or broken. I still insist that at the core of it is a desire to make good choices.

Scott Walters said...

If you read "The Trouble With Diversity," which I quote, you will see a pretty strong argument that race, which is based on bad genetics, is a cover-up for the real issue, which is class.

But the real problem is in this paragraph: "Affirmative action is not about numbers: it's about acknowledging that racism was/is a part of our system, and that only a systematic approach can correct that on a large scale. Let's just remember that all discussions of "diversity" are about individuals and not about counting colors."

So which is it, the system or individual people. I think I'm pretty clear: the system (the riverbed) must be changed. "Choice" lives at the individual level -- we've seen many years of fair, honest people whose hears are in the right place making choice after choice that excludes diversity (by which I mean all kinds of variety, not just race). It can't be done at the level of the individual. It has to be the system. My proposal, which is a stopgap measure, makes diversity more possible because the values are made explicit (through the rubric), so it can't hide behind "gut feelings" which mask prejudices. And it makes a change in the system, so that everyone is forced through the path of least resistance to do what they WANT to do (provide more diversity) but are afraid to do because the system punishes errors.

It is very puzzling to me that everyone is all about encouraging diversity as long as they don't have to change anything they do to accomplish it!

silent nic@knight said...

Scott is puzzled. So am I.

Statistics show that the Lotto sells best in poor neighborhoods. Tom and Scott are trying to sell the exact same as a viable option for the disenfranchised in theatre. Both are theatre educators. They would be rightly ridiculed at any faculty meeting if they proposed this notion. So why they allow themselves to propose the same in the theatrosphere is a puzzle. Similarly Tom proposes we read the anonymous comment hosted by the anonymous blogger competing with two other anonymous kibitzers in the comment section of an anonymous blog post and to accept what is said as fact without any added scrutiny or concern. Again, is this the research an educator would have students practice? So it’s puzzle to me why this is acceptable to the discussion here.

Joshua James said...

Nic, I am in total agreement with you.