The Wire promo (copyright HBO)
As a black person, I was never really bowled over by the prospect of black history month. It might be me, but I don’t need to designate a month to remember my history. I always figured it was for others to know and remember. So, I’ve always been proud, yet low-key about it, specifically trying to color outside the lines on the official designation.
Perhaps the goal with all that ws just enough to get me to think about race (I do that ll the time). But perhaps, another goal was to talk about it (something I almost never do). Except for now …
August of 2008, I heard an interview on Fresh Air (www.freshair.npr.org) perhaps the best interview show in media where the guest was David Simon one of the creators of The Wire which has been called one of the best television shows on television. In this interview, Simon talked about working with black actors and I share this because, the design industry, much like Hollywood has what may be an aversion to racial diversity. That comment is perhaps debatable—and I won’t—suffice to say, I’ve heard people, companies say “we’re committed to diversity” but to look at them or to see their actions, you’d never know.
Like Todd Henry says the founder of the Accidental Creative website and podcast (www.accidentalcreative.com) says: “Knowing something doesn’t change you, implementing it does.”
So anyway, David Simon says in the interview: “There’s a wonderful reservoir of African-american talent, there really is, and… they’re not working, there’s just not enough work. nobody’s writing the parts. What they are writing is very marginal, at best, and so there’s a natural hunger out there. I always bristle when people on shows that are supposedly ‘race-neutral’ … and they’re casting. And they come out ‘lily-white’ and you ask them about it and they say “they’re just isn’t that level of talent—you know—among black actors. I hear that [and] I get furious.”
I bring this up because how can I tie in The Wire (my favorite show), NPR, design and diversity into one post. But the takeaway I had from that is that collectively perhaps the will just isn’t there fully to embrace diversity in many facets—at least not meaningfully.
Things are changing. And not just the obvious. Attending the Robert Bringhurst lecture last fall, I heard Robert Bringhurst talk about the ever-marching loss of indigenous languages as societies become extinct and the world gets smaller. He quoted the loss of language, that happens when societies such as the Inuit become extinct as their people become less and less and often the young are no longer exposed tot he rigors of their own language—or are inclined to use it on a daily basis—making the language more of an educational pursuit than a facet of life. He showed how even myriad species of birds have instinctual and particular differences among their own species, even if the same is located as little one mile away. The difference glaring to birds in the song they are taught and learn to sing throughout their lives and how that song is reflection of the careful mixture of environment, experience, and nature.
It’s very similar with us people. Oh, how different is the Baltimore experience from the eyes of a lifelong Baltimorean as it compares to the newcomer. Same with each of our experiences on a day-to-day basis.
So when trying to connect with one another group of any type, our ability to tap into another group’s background is so valuable and not to be overlooked. That takes work and irrespective of color or background the goal of design to develop symbolism and translate experience in ways that resound and emanate and of course ultimately communicate the facts as well as the experience. Knowing all this, we needn’t be accusatory, but simply realize it’s good business to do the work of connecting with the diverse stock of cultures that our society is becoming.