On Matters of Representation


A few years ago at a church camp, I was responsible for audio and visuals. I decided to play black gospel music at the end of group gatherings. That's worth noting because this camp was made up of predominantly white campers and leaders—some of whom were probably not well exposed to gospel music. So, I sprinkled in some Donald Lawrence, Hezekiah Walker, Tamela Mann, Fred Hammond, Mary Mary, and others.

I distinctly remember two African-American campers who approached me in the sound booth so enthused that I had played gospel cuts. It wasn't that they hated the other music. It was just that in that particular setting, they heard music other than the norm (Christian Contemporary Music). They heard music familiar to them—music connected to their experience as persons of colour. They walked away and I thought (obliviously), "Huh, that was cool." It wasn't until later I was reminded why those moments matter—why representation matters. See, I grew up in a predominantly black country (shout out to The Bahamas) and a part of the racial majority. Moving to the US inverted that whole experience for me. Now, I don't know if those two campers thought about those moments as deep as I did. Yet, I think there's something to the fact that they mentioned it to me.

This week a story broke that a now former engineer at Google released an internal memo that seemed to communicate anti-diversity sentiments. He stated that Google's diversity programs are not effective because they ignore the biological differences of men and women. He made sweeping generalizations based on narrow stereotypes of men and women. From those conclusions, he inadvertently suggested a diminished role of women in the tech. This memo brought to light once again the tech industry's issue of lacking diversity, with particular regard to gender as well as race. Google's CEO has since spoken out against the memo.

Lauren Goode, Senior Editor for The Verge, aptly noted:

When there is a lack of representation of one type of group, then that group may be more likely to be discriminated against . . . When that happens, it can escalate to the next level, which is when someone feels sexually harassed or discriminated against, they’re not actually reporting it or don’t know where to go.
— Lauren Goode, The Vergecast (episode 269)

Whether it is geographically, religiously, racially, culturally, economically, in gender, or in sexual orientation, representation matters. Representation is not about erasing what is different in hopes of unity. (That's actually more like uniformity. We then have to ask, whose uniform are we adorning?) It is about learning to push back on the dominating voice in order to celebrate all the beauty that our differences bring to the table.

I love that Jesus was seen around different types of people—tax collectors, zealots, fishermen, the sick, children, women, and the foreigner, among others. In reaching out to the marginalized, Jesus communicates that as we see ourselves in these types of people, we see ourselves with and in him. The love of God is represented in and towards us. In this, hope is not seen in what is the present, but in what is possible. So . . .

May we see ourselves.
May we recognize the ones unseen.
And may we risk our privilege so they can see the gifts and beauty within themselves.

Keith BethellComment