Is there too much emphasis on ‘diversity’?

The headline exploded on the page. “Lack of diversity leads to cancellation of Minneapolis writing conference.” What??? I read it again, then quickly scanned the accompanying article. It wasn’t just ‘click bait’; apparently twenty-one of the twenty-two speakers booked to discuss writing for children at the Children’s and Young Adult Literature (CYA) Conference  in Minneapolis were white, so it was cancelled.

The lineup of speakers for the Loft Literary Center’s conference on writing for children and young adults was stellar. William Alexander, winner of a National Book Award. Kelly Barnhill, winner of the Newbery Medal. Phyllis Root, author of more than 40 books for children. And 19 others.

Other than Alexander, who is Cuban-American, every writer who agreed to speak was white. And so, just days after announcing it, the Loft in Minneapolis canceled the Oct. 20-21 conference.

“We have set a goal for ourselves to be inclusive and to work toward equity, and we didn’t think the conference would live up to that mission,” Britt Udesen, executive director of the Loft, said Wednesday. “We made a mistake.”

I’m going to get whacked for my reaction — I just know it — but this is the kind of situation that sets my teeth on edge. Being politically correct just for the sake of being politically correct. Making the colour of people’s skin more important than their qualifications for the job. Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy ridiculous?

It stirs the same reaction I had back in 2015 when Prime Minister Trudeau was being petitioned by a group of eighty prominent women (“former politicians, academics, businesswomen and other professionals”) to fill vacancies in Canada’s Senate, not just with women, but…

“To achieve gender equality as soon as possible, the twenty-two current vacancies should be filled by women from diverse backgrounds, including Indigenous women, women from minority linguistic, racial and ethnic communities, and others, consistent with the Senate’s role in minority representation.”

According to the 2016 census, Canadian women slightly outnumber men — there are one hundred women for every ninety-seven men, “a figure that has held relatively steady over fifteen years, based on data from Statistics Canada.” Women want to be equally represented in more than population statistics. I get that. Women have seen outrageous discrimination in our world and it’s important to address that kind of injustice.

Stats Can also says, “One out of five people in Canada’s population is foreign-born.” *

“Canada is a multicultural society whose ethnocultural make-up has been shaped over time by immigrants and their descendents…By 2031, if current demographic trends continue, 47% of the second generation (the Canadian-born children of immigrants) will belong to a visible minority group, nearly double the proportion of 24% in 2006.”

So yes, that’s something else to be considered, here and elsewhere, as we strive to be an inclusive society. But must we resort to reverse discrimination to achieve it?

When it comes to the CYA Conference, I think there’s more behind the cancellation than the lack of diversity on the panel.  Apparently there had been “dwindling interest in the event, which has been held at least every other year since 2003. Only thirteen people had registered for this year’s conference.” We’re told…

The Loft had invited more than ten writers of color to speak and expected a few “to come through at the last minute, “and then they didn’t,” Udesen said. “It’s MEA [teachers’ conference] weekend, so a lot of local writers were unavailable, or a lot of them had just recently taught with us and they thought it would be repetitive.”

Knowing how far in advance the planning happens for my favourite Canadian writers’ conference (the Surrey International Writers’ Conference), I’d say poor planning might have had as much or maybe even more to do with the cancellation of the CYA Conference than the lack of diversity on its panel. But that does nothing to alleviate my frustration at the reasons given.

When the colour of people’s skin, their racial origins and gender are considered first, before their qualifications for a task, we’ve lost our rationality. We’ve become extremists. IMO that can’t end well.

~

*Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada

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