Daily Cosmonaut #14: Privilege & Tokenism

neurodiversityLast month I was invited to speak on a panel about the arts. I agreed and a month later I received another email, explaining that a woman panelist had canceled and had been replaced with a man. The curator was concerned that having a panel with four men and only one woman might appear to have a lack of diversity. It’s certainly an important thing to consider when putting on a public event. The recent social justice movements around race and gender have gotten gears grinding in people’s heads. At the same time numerous people have expressed to me just how patronizing it feels when the stated reason for sending them an invitation is because of their race or gender, rather than the merit of their work or just how brilliant they are in the first place.

None of these ideas are groundbreaking or unique, but they keep leading me to another thought: When considering public perception of the composition of an event or organization, curators and boards think of diversity in terms of a visual analysis rather than a contextual one. On the surface I’m a white man. At the same time I would bet you that I will be the only panelist that didn’t go to college, let alone one that cost more than my annual income. I suspect that I will also be the only neurodiverse panelist and the only physically disabled one as well. I can tell you this because it’s been true of almost every panel that I’ve been on in my life. The room often gets awfully awkward when people try to compare childhoods or stories with me, because, frankly, my life is so different from almost anyone that tries to relate with me—especially other people that work in publishing or bicycle advocacy.
Obviously these lived experiences inform my perspective and sensitivities but also my take on any subject that I discuss. And often the behaviors that I exhibit as a result of these things is the very reason that I’m not invited to be a part of speaking events in the first place. Social justice movements have done a tremendous service for society by creating an awareness and new language around inclusion and I’m proud to be part of the leading edge of challenging around class and neurodiversity as well!