‘American Dirt’ and Beyond Superficial Diversity and Inclusion

Jan 22, 2020
7:12 PM
Originally published at CesarVargas365

There’s a 1961 episode of the Twilight Zone, “Shadow Play,” in which the protagonist is sentenced to death for murder. Spoiler: After he is electrocuted, he reappears in court, to be sentenced to death, again. This goes on and on, for an eternity.

That’s how it feels to be Black and Brown in this country, except we’re stuck in a trauma loop and the only crime we’re guilty of is having the audacity to exist.

We wake up every day to some fuckery. Sometimes we’re struck multiple times with different things, and sometimes they come from the same entity.

Read this piece if you’d like to know why most of us flee to the belly of the beast that is devouring us.

How to tell our friends apart from our foes? Even when entities present themselves as coming in peace, there’s always a caveat, or worse, a double-edged sword that we hastily and clumsily forged ourselves—Diversity and nI clusion being two of them. Diversity and Inclusion have been weaponized against us in such a sinister way that even our own people, our own allies, in their hot pursuit to seem like they’re helping, thrust that double-edged sword against our bodies—bodies that have been stripped of their armor by an unrelenting racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia…

Take the recent American Dirt very preventable disaster:

You know who that is.

You can and you will, indeed. Sigh.

Even Oprah gave that gross novel a huge boost:

You’re killing us, Smalls. Luckily, many of our folks no longer care about offending those who offend us, even if they believe they have good intentions.

Writer Myriam Gurba has a more comprehensive breakdown of the mess here. Here’s an excerpt from her piece:

“Unlike the narcos she vilifies, Cummins exudes neither grace nor flair. Instead, she bumbles with Trumpian tackiness, and a careful look at chronology reveals how she operates: opportunistically, selfishly, and parasitically. Cummins identified the gringo appetite for Mexican pain and found a way to exploit it. With her ambition in place, she shoved the “faceless” out of her way, ran for the microphone and ripped it out of our hands, deciding that her incompetent voice merited amplification.”

It’s a slap in the face of every single Latinx writer—to those of us who didn’t write some glowing review about the book, anyway. [Oh, yes, some of your faves did indeed]. This doesn’t just happen in the publishing industry, though. A blindingly white industry at that, like most industries are, I reckon. I know some woker than thou folks like to ask, “Are you surprised?” time after time we bring this up. Then they retire to their temple of defeat and indifference. No, I’m not. We’re not. We’re tired. We’re angry. We’re tired and angry of being tired and angry. But are you surprised that we balk at the bamboozlement every time it rears its ugly head? No? Then stop being a nuisance and do something productive or say nothing. Let us push back against this Frankenstein, this bizarre, this corrosive Diversity and Inclusion in peace.

We know that white people are terrible gatekeepers for us since they tend to choose the safest of us, those of us who look the closest to them and sound the most like them—down to our rhetoric. We’re allowed in close proximity to them when we strip away everything that makes us Black and Brown—racial identities they created themselves! Even then, they go as far as to give sweet deals to white writers, white artists, to speak about us, for us, since they prefer to channel our stories through their work. All so they can make it more palatable for them.

Of course, biases are going to come through and those biases manifest themselves through negative and positive stereotypes, clichés, tropes… Biases that hurt us immensely. That’s exactly what American Dirt is—a graveyard of ugly stereotypes. What’s worse is that this isn’t exclusive to the publishing industry. You’ll also see this in the film industry, the media, ad industry, and our own Hispanic orgs, platforms, conferences, and agencies. We can’t escape the terribleness of Diversity and Inclusion and in our fear of losing ourselves and our insatiable need to be acknowledged (both understandable), we too, join the cacophony of phoniness.

This isn’t us.

Face it: You’re all PR nightmares waiting to happen. If you don’t have an advocate working for you, you’re royally screwing it up. I know that some entities do employ advocates and then proceed to gaslight the shit out of them to the point of pushing them out. It’s something many of us know too well. We’re penalized for surviving and for trying to help you from falling over the precipice you created and climbed.

We must demand to be included without accepting just about anyone to represent us. We must demand a diversity of reps that truly know and understand us and are willing to speak up for us no matter who is in the room with them. We need folks who are willing to drop Molotov cocktails of wisdom and WTFs in meetings, boardrooms, media, you name it. We must. And you must listen, comprehend, and act in good faith on the information given to you. It’s that simple.

Social media changed things. Many of us act like we have nothing to lose because you’ve left us with nothing but our words.

Well, this writer will continue to use his to demand you do better by us—we do better by us.

That means no longer putting up with a bullshit Diversity and Inclusion that doesn’t benefit us—a Diversity and Inclusion that hurt us. Eat your own dirt.

Run and tell that to your clan.

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César Vargas is an award-winning writer, advocate, strategist, speaker, and social critic with a loyal following and a robust social capital that spans from coast to coast: Journalists, celebrities, activists, artists, executives, politicians, and more. He was named one of 40 Under 40: Latinos in American Politics by the Huffington Post. He’s written about internal and external community affairs to several news outlets and quoted in others: The Huffington Post, NBC, Fox News, Voxxi, Okayafrica, Okayplayer, Sky News, Salon, The Guardian, Latino Magazine, Vibe, The Hill, BET, and his own online magazine —which has a fan base of over 25,000 people and has reached over a million— UPLIFTT. He’s familiar with having a voice that informs, invigorates, and inspires people—creating content that usually goes viral. He recently won two awards from Fusion and the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts for his films Some Kind of Spanish and Black Latina Unapologetically. He attained a degree in Films Studies from Queens College, CUNY. He’s currently heading Azul, a PR & marketing firm for the modern world.