Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Check Your Netflix: An easy first step to being an ally

Let's all try making new choices in the books we read and the shows we watch.

Calling all people!

Looking for an introductory way you can begin understand people who are different from you?  Want to start the process of checking your privilege (whatever it is) and trying to be an ally to a group of people who could use an ally?

Here is a very very easy beginner step: the next time you go to read a book, watch a movie, or binge a show on Netflix, try picking something that was written/directed/produced by or is featuring someone from another background than your own.

See, executive producers and publisher-types generally think that stories about people who are not white, not male, not straight, not gender-normative, or not able-bodied are only of interest to other people from that group, and that stories about white, able-bodied, straight, cisgendered dudes are interesting to everyone, which is both silly and kind of insulting to us all, right?  The whole point of sharing stories is to share a different experience of life, and through that find everything from entertainment to soul-changing realizations.

So here's a simple guide to get you started on seeing the world through someone else's eyes:

Are you a dude?  Read a book written by a woman with a female protagonist.

Are you white?  Watch a show written by and about people of colour.

Are you cisgendered?  Check out a documentary about a transperson's experience.

Able-bodied?  Read a comic from the perspective of someone in a wheelchair.

This will involve a bit of effort because you'll have to look beyond the "Recommended for You" options, but that doesn't mean there's nothing out there.  Just ask yourself, next time you are looking for a new book to read or sit down to binge on Netflix: am I just absorbing more of the same?

FOUR THINGS TO REMEMBER:

It doesn't make you an expert.  Watching Master of None doesn't mean you completely understand life for Indian people in America.  Listening to #GoodMuslimBadMuslim doesn't mean you are a pro on what it's like to be a Muslim in America.  Reading A Complicated Kindness doesn't make you an expert on the experience of women (or Mennonites, for that matter).  Just like Walter White may not represent your reality, Mindy Kaling does not represent all women of colour, so keep going!  Explore more!

It's okay to not like it.  Something isn't automatically awesome if it was made by a member of a "minority" group, and you aren't a racist/sexist/homophobe/anti-disabled-person (is there a word for that?) if you don't like it.  Don't forget, though: just because you didn't like one thing doesn't mean everything from that demographic is lame.  We don't blame all white men for Michael Bay movies.

It doesn't excuse stereotypes.  We have all been raised and educated by this glorious system we call society.  What does this mean?  That means that every single one of us have absorbed a lot of stereotypical thinking and so, for example, a show written by a woman might still perpetuate some sexism.  It's tempting to think a stereotype is "okay" or true if it's been shared by a person from that group, but that is not necessarily the case.  It really just means that either the person has a sense of humour about the prejudice people hold against them, or that we have that much more work to do on this whole thing we call equality.  Probably both.

You are still "allowed" to go with the default.  Whenever these conversations come up, people get really caught up in words like "always" and "never" and "allowed."  Life isn't about constants.  Consider this encouragement to make a greater effort to expand your horizons, not some rule that you can't take in a single piece of entertainment made by a white dude.  I mean, there are more superhero blockbusters coming out all the time and they must be watched!  Just pay attention to your choices, and see what else is out there once and a while.

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