To box tick or not to box tick? That is the question! At least the question I’ve been asking myself, and others, a lot of late.
I’m Scarlett, I’m a disabled, queer, working-class woman based in Birmingham; the most unfortunate part of all!* This is what I’m currently telling everybody – and by everybody I mean any and all writer bio submissions. But should I be saying this? ‘I’m Scarlett, an emerging comedy writer/producer.’ If I’m talented and work hard enough I’ll make it, isn’t that true equality?
I used the word unfortunate above, chosen really to make my gag about Birmingham, nonetheless, this is how box-ticking is often framed. Inform us about your hardships and barriers to our traditional industry status quo because our data says we don’t have enough (or any) of you and we may just let you visit our club because, poor you (although really, poor us, we’re getting criticized and now we have to diversity hire).
So as an emerging talent, in an industry apparently crying out for ‘diverse’ talent – how much should you lean on that? The entertainment industry is so competitive, my toe (or the end of my walking stick) is in the door and I’d like to boot the metaphorical door down. The messaging at the moment seems to be: you can reinforce your boot, over others, with diversity steel! (I may start using this as a new nickname for my stick).
The problem is, no one wants to be just a diversity hire. This is why so many diversity schemes fail to retain those they bring in. If the environment you come into makes you doubt your worthiness when you get there you won’t flourish. Especially if ‘your diversity’ is a disability and may lead others to question if you are physically up for the job – the mental strain this can have on your self-esteem may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is why I have been questioning whether this is the way I would like to enter into this industry. I don’t particularly want to been known because I’m disabled and funny talented. Just funny and talented… and humble, please.
I’m aware of the irony that in writing this piece I add to my own emerging-ness through doing exactly what I claim to be worried about – so don’t @ me. This week I had a conversation with Rico Johnson-Sinclair, the new Race Equality Lead at the BFI, who had some much-needed insight into my dilemma. He reminded me that it’s not our responsibility, at the emerging stage, to dismantle the issues in our industry it’s for the people in the positions of power to do so as they hold more of a voice to be able to.
Right now we happen to at a moment in history where ticking those boxes may get you in, but like any rights in wider society, it will be rolled back. We’ve seen it happen. You have to be conscious that it can happen at any time. As wonderful as it would be to have sustainable opportunities for marginalized people – that isn’t the reality. If you can use what marginalizes you to get ahead in your career and be in a position where you can be comfortable then also pay it forward, shouldn’t you?
We won’t be able to change the industry immediately. It’s only our responsibility to come in and do our own work, without guilt and shame so that we can do it well. Mediocre able-bodied white men won’t be ruining their opportunities by stressing about whether they deserve to be where they are because they’ve been conditioned to belong anywhere they try to. Grab it like you’re Dyson reaching for a ventilator tender. Now while you can, don’t feel guilt, don’t second guess yourself, take all the energy you would have wasted on these feelings and put it into helping others later.
If it gets you in – tick that box – it’s those providing the boxes that need to think about how and why they are putting those boxes in place. I will be keeping all my box ticks for my bio on this here website. Check it out.
*I kid. I love my (admittedly creative industry starved) city and I will fight you if you slag it off.