12168595_10156089852135623_1640447970_oCoquí Content Marketing is pleased to announce the addition of columnist Shannon Luders-Manuel to the team. Shannon is a critical mixed race scholar living in Los Angeles. Her work has been published in both academic journals and most recently when she wrote What it Means to Be Mixed Race During the Fight for Black Lives Matter. Her blog post was picked up by For Harriet and it went viral.

We look forward to hearing more of Shannon’s thoughts on gender and race advocacy.

In the season premiere of HBO’s Project Greenlight, a competition meant to give those outside Hollywood a chance to make a feature film, Matt Damon held a controversial conversation with Black producer Effie Brown about the importance, or lack thereof, of hiring directors of color. Brown expressed concerns over a finalist duo’s script, in which the only character of color is a prostitute named Harmony who is slapped around by her White pimp. Brown is only able to express her concerns for a few seconds before Damon interrupts, in what seems like an effort to deflect any claim that he or his project is not race-aware and would not address these issues himself.

While Damon no doubt intended for his response to come from a place of understanding and support, what he did was react to Brown’s genuine concerns with fear and trepidation. In a time when everyone seems to have his or her race antennae up, it’s not surprising that this is a real fear both inside and outside the film industry.

However, if Damon really wants to lend an understanding ear, it’s important for him, and others, to let people of color (POC) express their concerns without being on the defensive. Damon went on to “clarify” that diversity is done in the casting of the film and not in the show, which Jezebel magazine translates as “they don’t have to hire any diverse filmmakers on Project Greenlight as long as they throw a few women and Black people onscreen.”

Give Marginalized Groups a Platform

In order for a business or advocacy group to truly make marginalized groups welcome and valued, their voices must have a platform, and those who represent the mainstream must allow themselves to listen without interjection. For Damon, he seems to feel that as long as minorities are represented onscreen, real diversity will take place. However, marginalized groups can often speak accurately of their experiences to a greater degree than anyone looking in from the outside. This has proven to be the case with the increased diversity in network television, particularly with the steady rise of Shonda Rhimes. It is not a leap to say that Viola Davis’ character in How to Get Away with Murder would not have been complex enough for Davis to have received a 2015 Emmy, no matter how well she had acted, if it weren’t for Shonda Rhimes’ executive production of the show.

It’s Not Always About Black and White

Marginalized groups consist of more than just Black members. Unfortunately, Damon put his foot in his mouth shortly after the Project Greenlight controversy, by stating that actors shouldn’t let their sexuality be known so as to retain a level of mystery. Again, Damon was speaking from a well-meaning place—one where he wanted to see gay and lesbian actors receive no backlash from coming out of the closet, which his colleague Rupert Everett had unfortunately experienced. Regardless, he was “Mattsplaining” again by telling a marginalized group how it could avoid marginalization.

The flaw in his argument was apparent to many, both gay and straight. While straight actors normally don’t discuss being straight, their orientation is usually apparent. Even if they don’t discuss the details of a relationship, just by walking the red carpet with a romantic partner of the opposite sex, they’re asserting their sexuality.

Actress Ellen Page, who came out publicly in 2014 at a conference for the Human Rights Campaign, told Metro Weekly that Damon’s argument lacked a valid point: “When you’re a public person, you need to think about your safety. But if it’s in relation to sexuality, then no—that’s an unfair double standard.” During Page’s brave speech at the conference, she visibly shook as she told the participants, and the world, that she’s gay. She did so not to put herself in danger, but because she knew if she didn’t, she’d be living a double standard of her own.

White, heterosexual males, and anyone else in a place of privilege in a particular workplace, may want to protect those under them by offering unsolicited advice. Any advice that comes across as shaming, however, does nothing more than add to the problem. If discrimination is apparent in the workplace, these issues must be dealt with in as upfront of a manner as possible.

If someone’s concern is met with silence, or even apologies made behind closed doors, it can reinforce to the damaged party that discrimination is an issue that will always be swept under the rug. While businesses may want to assert that they are void of any types of discrimination, this is in fact not possible. What is healthier is to address any real or potential problems in open dialogue between affected and offending parties. This dialogue both shows instigators that the behavior will not be tolerated and shows the victim that he or she has a place of value within the company.

Advocacy Is Not Just About Listening, but Also About Letting Others Speak for Themselves

Recently, there was a thread in a secret (closed) Facebook group for women writers about how to accurately write people of color into their works. The question was posed by a White writer, and the thread was made up mostly of other White writers who shared their “success” at crafting novels with protagonists of various races and genders. While the women seemed to be giving each other pats on the back for “relieving” minority writers of the task of being the only ones to write POC protagonists into their works, the actual POC women in the thread expressed concern over this practice.

These women seemed to fall under the same misguided opinion as Matt Damon. As long as POC protagonists, or even characters, exist, they thought, literature is becoming appropriately diverse. The women failed to realize that women of color (WOC) might want to tell their own stories—not have them told for them—and that they don’t judge white women for telling White stories, they only judge society for not embracing more WOC writers. When those in the mainstream feel it’s their duty to tell the story of others, they can, in effect, take away those others’ stories and silence their voices. What is often left are inaccurate representations of minority characters, who are postured in stereotypical scenarios, much like the prostitute “Harmony.”

In a private group purely for women of color, one member commented on the other thread, stating her frustration with a White member of her critique group who wrote about “the Colombian drug lord with his spandex wearing platinum blonde wife; the wisecracking Russian taxi driver with a bad accent, the Puerto Rican whose parents are shot dead in their convenience store, [and] the undocumented Filipina maid having wild sex in her employers’ bed with the Arab doorman.” If one were to ask this writer if she employed diversity in her works, she would undoubtedly say yes. In reality, her “diversity” succeeds only in perpetuating long-held stereotypes that keep marginalized groups from being accurately represented in the media.

What Is the Takeaway?

Naturally, no one can undo his or her Whiteness, gender or heterosexuality. Instead of attempting to deflect their positions of power by asserting that they are completely versed in issues related to discrimination and diversity, it’s imperative for men and women to open up real conversations with those who represent the groups for which they are trying to advocate—a point Sarah makes in last week’s blog about letting our guards down and opening up about race. No one is able to have all the answers, and that is not a defect, but a reality.