So this interview with Mathew Klickstein about the Golden Age of Nickelodeon is up at Flavorwire. It should have been a fluffy little piece as part of the press for New York Comic Con. I’m pretty sure that was the intent, and I say this as someone who has written these kinds of pieces, and who will be on a panel at Comic con preceded by a similar interview. Instead Klickstein decides to talk about how hard it is to be a white guy, with a side of “diversity is exploitation” that…well I think he had a point somewhere in there that doesn’t sound quite so racist. But I had to dig to find it, and I’m 99.9% certain that he made it by accident. What was it? That having white creators present one of a handful of characters of color isn’t really diversity. And I agree with him. Diverse media absolutely requires diverse creators, show runners, and executives. But, where things fall apart is his idea that there needs to be a reason for a character of color to exist at all. Because some how it’s find for kids of color to have to identify with white leads, but if the lead is a POC then there needs to be a reason for that.
Yet, it’s already been established that TV is damaging to the self esteem of anyone that isn’t a white male. And I guess it is possible that Klickstein somehow missed all of the discussions before and after that study about media’s impact on kids. Maybe he even ignored #WeNeedDiverseBooks and their data on the impact that having characters of color has on a kid’s desire to read, though one wonders how none of these things penetrated. Of course, it’s also entirely possible, and in fact probable that Klickstein is aware of these things, and just doesn’t care. It seems much more likely given his response to Clarissa’s success that anything that doesn’t center white men isn’t important to him. Nothing anyone says or does is likely to change that, and frankly I don’t really want to bother arguing that same point again.
It’s just more proof of why #WeNeedDiverseMedia. It’s not enough to be a token character bringing diversity to a white protagonist’s story. Nor do we need white savior creators to speak up for POC as though we don’t have our own stories to tell. We have been telling our own stories to combat racist tropes for generations.We haven’t let our history, our cultures, or our stake in our creations be erased even when it was just this side of illegal for us to exist at all.
Now, the problem is avoiding tokenism in terms of creators. What Shonda Rimes has accomplished is amazing, but she made history by being a showrunner on primetime broadcast TV recently. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop having “The first Black/first POC to do X in media” because it wasn’t so hard for creators of color to get access to major platforms? Wouldn’t it be great if the demographics of people in power in publishing houses, Hollywood, and major cable networks reflected the populations they claim to represent? No one’s going to hand us seats at those proverbial tables though, so we create our own tables, and clearly when we do, we have to be aware that for some people we need a reason to exist, and we can’t afford to worry about what those people, all we can do is focus on the work in front of us.