By now, it’s a pretty observable fact that the U.S. has a major problem when it comes to race and inequality. We see it through star-studded outrage, like Hollywood’s #OscarsSoWhite, or companies attempting to start a well-meaning but poorly-thought-out conversation on race, like Starbucks’s #RaceTogether. Not only does this illustrate the results of racial inequality in the U.S., it also brings light to the fact that very few organizations have people of color in positions of power, or else these might not have been issues in the first place. Looks like a lot of Americans need a handy way to seem like they’re not racists. Enter today’s web crush: Rent-A-Minority.
Rent-A-Minority is, of course, a satirical site, but it takes aim at a very real problem. Institutionalized racist hiring practices mean that there are gatekeepers to a lot of upper-level fields, which means that much of the leadership in various fields is still “male, pale, and stale“. Yet many current CEOs and leaders seem to have decided that the best way to combat racist hiring practices is to say that they’re not racists and they’re totally diverse, just look at this one person of color on staff! (i.e., they are your old high school friend who Facebooks about their “Black friend”.) This sort of tokenism is apparent in the higher echelons of many companies. So Rent-A-Minority‘s premise, as satirical as it is, actually serves to answer a very real question: can you solve massive racial inequality through hiring a few token people of color? The clear answer is no. As its FAQ page says:
[Y]es, this is a joke. Obviously. You can stop getting angry now. Or get angry, but get angry at what Rent-a-Minority is angry about. The site is a #satire on a type of tokenism that is particularly rife in the tech and media world. Rather than address institutional inequality in any meaningful way, diversity is something that is generally just for (temporary) show. Companies tend to be very careful to ensure that their websites contain an acceptable ratio of women and non-white people; on their leadership boards, however, it’s another matter.
Rent-A-Minority‘s front page “offers” a variety of diverse minorities, from the “Smiling Muslim Woman” to the “Intellectual Black Guy”. Creator Arwa Mahdawi, who works for an ad agency in New York, told Refinery29 that she came up with the idea after a man suggested that being a woman of color was actually an “advantage” for her in the workforce.
Though Mahdawi approaches the topic with humor, it’s clear that unaddressed biases can have a harmful effect on both the hiring of a more diverse workforce and the people of color already working in largely white-male-controlled organizations. In the Stories section of the website, many minorities offer their own experiences in the workplace:
I am Asian […] I was at a PD session on diversity with about 60 other people. We were discussing a racially insensitive post that an Asian-American made on social media. The facilitator stopped for questions and called on the one other Asian woman in the room but called her by my name.
I’m an amputee. Though not one of those smiling people in wheelchairs, I find that my disability makes me an object that inspires others for all the presumed adversity I’ve faced, even though I’m a middle-class straight white cis person with good health insurance who hasn’t really faced much adversity. Just being places inspires people — I’m not clear what I’m inspiring them to do […] Once I was picking out corn at the grocery store, and someone stopped to tell me what an inspiration I was. Puzzled, I said I was only picking out corn, but then I was congratulated for being out in public.
I’m a woman in construction […] I got trotted out to show the shop promoted diversity. As soon as the client was gone, I’d be sent in back, and only allowed to do housekeeping.
[I’m] frequently referred to as the “gay best friend”; jokes involving penises are always made around me; jokes involving me having sex with women are always made around me; frequent questions about anything and everything LGBT always come my way; a number of straight women insist on coming to me for fashion advice (I do not advertise my fashion advice, nor do I even enjoy giving it. Also, I’m not really good at fashion advice anyway[.])
And despite the fact that many people are speaking out about diversity nowadays, roadblocks to true inclusivity are still extremely hard to overcome. An NYT interview about diversity with Mexican-Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o and the new host of The Daily Show, the South African Trevor Noah, shows that sometimes hiring more diverse people isn’t as simple as just saying “this position is open to all people”. After the interviewer asks Noah about diversifying The Daily Show after the departure of Jon Stewart, Noah offers a particularly illuminating answer:
TN: When it comes to diversifying, I had never realized how ingrained people’s mentality can be. It’s not even conscious. When I was looking for new people to try on the show, the network sent out all their tentacles. And people sent in audition tapes. And 95 percent of them were white and male. I was like: Does nobody else want to be a part of this show? Does nobody else even want a job? […] I said, “I want more diversity.” And they said, “But this is what we’re getting.” So I said, “Then I will go out and look for it in the street.”
LN: However they were reaching out was not reaching into diverse communities.
TN: So I went to all the young comedians I knew — black, Hispanic, female, whatever — and I said, “Are you interested?” And they all said: “Are you crazy? Of course, I’m interested.” So I asked, “Why didn’t you audition?” And they said, “We didn’t know about it.” But they told me they’d sent it out to all the agents and managers. And they all went: “Oh, that’s where you made the mistake. We can’t get agents or managers.” We can say we want diversity, but there’s this little roadblock that no one tells you about.
LN: The gatekeepers.
Although it’s difficult to address diversity in the workplace and even more difficult to successfully challenge the status quo, it’s important now more than ever to bring these issues to light. Rent-A-Minority is a satirical site, and the humorous way it lays out the problem can help grow the conversation so that someday we can force the gatekeepers out of the equation. You can check out Rent-A-Minority on its website and, if you’re a minority, submit your own experiences.