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Moving Beyond To Kill a Mockingbird

January 5th, 2009     by Stark Koenig     Comments

I don’t often watch a lot of TV directed toward youth, so I miss out on much of the advertising that is directed at young people. However, in recent months I caught an advertisement released by the Canadian Centre for Diversity.

I feel a bit conflicted about bringing this up because clearly this is an organization that offers valuable resources, education and programs promoting equality, unity and confidence among diverse peoples, with special focus on empowering the youth of our country.

However, I find the ad they have released a bit problematic. In it, a number of young adults claim each other’s identity in the name of promoting diversity.

For those who cannot see the video, here is a basic transcript: Black man: “I am a woman when I am confronting inequality.” White man: “I am a Muslim when I am speaking out against discrimination.” East Asian man: “I am a Jew when I am learning about the Holocaust.” White woman: “I am a person with special needs when I am realizing how inaccessible our world is.” White woman: “I am an immigrant when I am looking to belong.” Slogan appears in print: “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” Young white girl: “I am a donor when I am investing in tomorrow.” Campaign name comes up in print: “See Different. A Campaign for Diversity.”

My difficulty with this advertising campaign stems from two things: first, I see a remarkable difference between aligning oneself with a subject group in struggle and assuming the identity of that group; second, I believe that there is much more to be done than to recognize that oppression based on differences exist. We must go beyond unpacking the invisible knapsack of privilege, but I don’t really think this advertisement fosters that. It seems to suggest that by thinking about difference alone we overcome it, when clearly that is not true. It’s like saying that you aren’t a racist because some of your best friends are black. In Breaking Bread, Cornell West and Bell Hooks talk about racism as a social disease or even an addiction that must be faced and overcome every single day with conscious effort. It is much more than a matter of learning about the Holocaust or some abstract concept of confronting inequality.

In addition, I feel that the advertisement almost encourages appropriation in its choice of script, with the “I am a…when I think about…” format. There is a slippery slope from the whole “walk in someone else’s shoes” line of mobilization to a place where those who would claim to align themselves with us actually force us out of our own spaces.

In general I think that the Centre starts from a good premise, to consider the positions of others who face oppression so that we may empathise and fight against that oppression. However, the ad leaves it there, which is highly dissatisfying. The whole To Kill a Mockingbird climb-into-someone-else’s-skin-and-walk-around-in-it sentiment is a good starting point, but it’s been nearly 50 years since that book was published–I would hope we could go a little further than that into dismantling privilege.

Tags: media savvy, race and racism

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