Barrett: Visibility has a place in diversity discussion

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When it comes to gender parity and diversity, I’m not a fan of quotas.

It’s frustrating when politicians appear to play identity politics, pointing out they have ‘x more people from x minority group’ and so they’re obviously so much better than their opponents because not have ‘x’ people makes them supposedly not racist, sexist, homophobic or oppressive.

It’s frustrating to see someone’s gender, race or sexuality used as a weapon for political gain.

As I’ve said before, people should be put into positions based on their skills and merit, otherwise the optics of gender parity and diversity are nothing more than an illusion.

In fact, I think forced visibility, the kind our current government likes to use to virtue signal, can be very damaging and counterproductive to diversity.

The reasons why aren’t hard to spot. We all likely know someone who has expressed some issue with immigration, fear minority groups will take jobs away from Canadians, or disdain whenever one talks about feminism or the gender gap. The more current powers at be seem to talk about these issues in this “us versus them,” holier-than-thou capacity, the more animosity towards diversity seems to grow, and the more some start to believe diversity is something we should all be against.

Being open to representation of minority groups is dismissed by those types as nothing more than political correctness, and suddenly anyone appointed to any position of power anywhere that is part of a minority group has their merit and skills questioned.

Are they there because they deserve to be, or because someone’s using them to make themselves look good for virtue signaling brownie points?

What can be overlooked, however, is the importance of visibility in the diversity conversation.

Over the weekend, I ran into a local family who emigrated from Korea.

The mom told me that not too long ago, her daughter, the lone Asian girl in her class at school, had started talking about changing her hair colour and getting plastic surgery to change her eyes because she didn’t feel proud to be Korean.

When K-pop started becoming more popular in North America, however, especially with the likes of BTS – whose Korean name stands for Bulletproof Boy Scouts – appearing on awards shows, talk shows and alongside English-speaking artists, the mom said her daughter’s attitude changed.

She was proud to be Korean, and no longer considering surgery and changes to her appearance that make her unique.

While it’s heartbreaking to think anyone would consider drastic changes because they didn’t feel proud of their heritage, knowing something as simple as seeing a band of the same culture on T.V. can change that is pretty powerful.

Just think about the impact on self-esteem and mental health.

That kind of visibility, the kind that celebrates differences rather than weaponizing them, and what it can do for youth shouldn’t be understated or overlooked.

We need more of it.

Renewed cries for entertainment companies to stop casting Caucasians in Asian-coded roles (like the live action version of Dragonball, Netflix’s adaptation of Deathnote, and Ghost in the Shell, just to name a few) as a result of BTS’ popularity should be heeded for those reasons.

What we don’t need more of is politicians going out of their way to use visibility of anyone’s race, sexual orientation, gender or otherwise to attack or bait and lure opponents into attacking them. Ultimately it works against diversity and doesn’t benefit anyone.

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