A couple of weeks ago as my husband and I were leaving church we were stopped by our pastor, who asked us if we had seen the guest pastor from the previous week. We hadn’t. “Oh, that’s a shame” he said, “He was Black and I wanted to know what you guys thought”. While the population of Orange County includes quite a large number of minorities, the one group that is woefully underrepresented is Blacks. Being among the few Black congregants in our large church, we took it as a natural curiosity that he would ask our opinion of the guest pastor. We took no offense, but did have a giggle as we told him perhaps our names had been left off the minority alerts email blast. He rolled his eyes apologetically. “I know. We aren’t the most diverse church. We need to do more to address that”.
On the drive home I started thinking about that. Why do we need to make a concerted effort to diversify? When it comes to church, Black people are different from White people in many ways. They are more interactive, they worship differently, and they hear messages differently. That is not a bad thing. It’s a cultural thing. Attracting more Black people would mean having to change the whole approach to services, and if you do that, then aren’t you letting the quest for diversity trump genuine message? Church is not for meeting your weekly diversity quotient. It’s for fellowshipping with other believers and spreading the Word. For those who aren’t drawn to a particular service, there are other churches with different ways of worshipping that may work better for them and that is why God made diversity, so there could be a myriad of choices for folks of different stripes.
My thoughts turned to Hollywood and their seemingly never-ending modern quest for diversity. What I find most frustrating about this is how it is so deliberate and methodical. It’s as if there is a formula that must be adhered to in order to receive the diversity stamp of approval. I’ll call it the Rainbow Formula. 1 Black + 1 Asian (any type) + 1 Hispanic (any type) + multiple White people = officially diverse. Sorry, Native Americans. You don’t make the cut unless the script calls for something to happen on an Indian reservation.
I suppose I appreciate the effort, but the result is a “false diversity” that ends up bleeding cultural appeal and uniqueness. The Rainbow Formula creates a “vanilla” diversity that adheres to a color quota, but denies any other relevant differences between the cultures other than the superficial aspects. Cue sassy Black friend, cue nerdy, overachieving Asian friend, cue clueless, rhythmless White friend.
This false diversity is not only offensive, it’s bad for business. I believe Hollywood could be creating a lot more revenue if it strove for a genuine assortment of offerings. In other words, the diversity doesn’t come in the casting, it comes in the programming. Recognizing that different cultures perceive, laugh, love, work and interact differently could be the key to creating a diverse arrangement of shows that appeal to Americans in many different, but lucrative ways. Take BET, for example. Two of their most popular offerings in the history of their channel cater specifically to the sensibilities of Black people. The Game and Girlfriends.
Of course, it’s not only Black people who watch those shows, but they are marketed to Black people in the respect that they approach issues from a specific cultural perspective. The fact that they do that unapologetically and organically ends up making the shows palatable to all races, while recognizing their cultural market. Black people flock to those shows and they’re happy to do it because it’s a show for them and about them. It’s just too bad that those millions and millions of Black viewers have to navigate their dollars to the nether regions of cable when they could and would be just as happy to turn their televisions to any of the major networks if only their programming was more… diverse.
We’ve seen hints of this diversity model in the past. Both Fox and the CW built their fan base on Black shows (Living Single, In Living Color, Moesha, etc.) before abandoning that audience. They ignored programming diversity in favor of the Rainbow Formula, forgetting that those shows were popular precisely because they celebrated cultural identity instead of sanitizing it.
Modern liberal Hollywood’s sad obsession with false diversity effectively reduces every person to nothing more than the color of his or her skin. It erases individuality and very real cultural differences. The Rainbow Formula becomes more important than solid entertainment. Its born of a twisted need to prove that they are not racist like the great unwashed masses of middle America, a guilt that transcends time and reason. It ends up whitewashing (if you’ll forgive the term) the unique cultural flavors that have gathered to make up America. Ultimately, and by Hollywood terms almost unforgivably, it throws away the significant entertainment dollars of minority communities (see Tyler Perry’s Tyler Perry for more information about harnessing that particular revenue stream). It sends the message that those communities have no important stories to tell that don’t include Jim Crow or “white knights” riding to rescue the natives.
Perhaps the real problem is the almost religious connotation liberal Hollywood has given the word ‘diversity’. There is no inherent virtue in diversity. Diversity, as we use the term today, is a joke and applied almost exclusively to color while ignoring culture. Hollywood needs to give up this stifling quest and start working on creating real programming choices. That is where the money is, and ultimately, the viewer’s heart.