Friday, April 13, 2012

Let's tell Vanity Fair: Publish Diverse Faces!

I just created this petition to try and get Vanity Fair to do better in representing actors across racial lines. I just ended my subscription today because I was so fed up with how narrow their lens is. They have the potential to drive our cultural conversation in an intelligent, thoughtful direction. But so far, they've just taken a turn for the worse.

Calla Lily
A white lily. By Flickr user chiaraogan.

Vanity Fair has gotten more and more disappointing in terms of showing the style and elegance of actors across racial lines. It's gone from a great read to a trashy one. Now I enjoy a trashy mag anytime, but I appreciated that they were trying to inject some thought into the cultural conversation. Now, it appears, they've abandoned that.Help me encourage them to bring it back!

So here's what I wrote. If you like it, please sign on and share it with friends. I'd love to see the Vanity Fair editorial staff see that there's an earnest desire from readers to have a more diverse representation of actors in their Hollywood/pop culture coverage:


The Problem: It's almost cliche now that Vanity Fair's annual Hollywood Issue will feature white actors to the near-total exclusion of actors of color who are as busy and talented as their white colleagues.

Too often, actors of color-- and the important stories they tell-- are relegated to specialized or marginalized publications. Rather than segregating actors, we paying newsstand readers and subscribers would prefer to see and read about actors who are telling compelling, powerful stories-- which are sometimes not at the top of the box office returns-- no matter what race they are.

One Solution: Vanity Fair has an impressive stable of writers, photographers and editors. They are thinkers who have the ability to do more than pander to the masses, just as countless other publications do already. VF has a unique position and ability to elevate and challenge our cultural conversation. Therefore, we ask that they make an effort to do so, starting with that most powerful of impression-makers, the visual on the cover.

That's why I created a petition to Graydon Carter, Editor in Chief, which says:

"As Vanity Fair readers, we ask Graydon Carter, Krista Smith and the editors who contribute to the yearly Vanity Fair Hollywood edition to provide equal visual representation among talented actors across racial lines. "

Will you sign this petition? Click here:

And please feel free to share this with friends you think might want to sign on too.

Thanks so much! I think if we get enough signatures, we can really make an impression. Lord knows I've heard enough people complain about VF's lack of diversity. Maybe if enough of us let them know we want them to do better, they'll make some change. Thank you!!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tavi tells it! What we can take from her TED talk.

I love Tavi. I don't know if she ever feels afraid of backlash, but it doesn't stop her from speaking up anyway. It's a good thing to remember that no matter what the opposition thinks, if you're speaking from your heart and using the facts with integrity, you will be making connections over the internets with people who need to hear what you're saying.

So don't censor yourself. And don't shut down others. (I'm looking at you, hashtag hijackers. More on that one later.)

Create a dialogue. Reach out and reach out again. Sure, it's harder than bullying others into silence and harder than giving up on people. Creating a dialogue takes some courage and some time. But I'm ever more convinced that it's how we move forward as humanity.

I'm going to try and take my own advice here. This is how:

1. Assume that, unless they say otherwise, people want similar things: health, happiness, security for themselves and for their families, and for the country we share. Assume that we all have similar goals, but that we may have different ideas about how to get there.

Recently, I read an article about a Republican who said, “No business would split a team working on its most important policies into two oppositional groups, and we citizens shouldn’t allow this either."

That sounds downright reasonable. Clearly, there should be multiple parties contributing to our government and serving as checks/balances on each other. That's a good thing. But we don't have to hate each other. It doesn't help us move forward together (which we kind of have to do, living on the same Earth and all.)

I've said it before: No institution benefits when it excludes the contributions from any group based on immutable characteristics (I'm looking at you, United Methodist Church and exclusion of gay people).

2. Leave aside ad hominem attacks. No questioning someone's sanity, love of family or country or countries or world, none of that. (I want to make an exception for comedians, who as our culture's court jesters, go by a different set of communication rules.)

3. Speak honestly. It doesn't help the world if we don't share our experiences truthfully.

4. Speak intelligently. Because it also doesn't help the world if we speak from ignorance. It's ok to say, "I don't know."

5. Speak lovingly. Basically, #1 again. Just a reminder.

Will practice this daily, hopefully right here.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

I'm a total fake

Probably I should say up front that this is a post about identity, not personality. (Which, for the record, is authentic. What you see is what you get-- I'm generally happy and low blood pressure. Born this way.) I'm talking about identifying as a real American and real Californian. And others not believing it.

I have a face that so completely identifies me in a certain way. There are aspects to my face that I know I don't understand. Because I've had Indian people come up to me and say, "You're from India?" And I give my standard response, "My parents are from India. I was the first in my family born here. They're from the south, from Kerala and Tamil Nadu." And many of them respond, "Yes, you look like you're from Kerala."

Keep in mind, India is pretty small geographically but with a billion people. And yet people can identify the state my parents are from just by looking at my face.

And if they hear my last name, they know with even more certainty where I'm from. I have a Christian last name, and there are maybe eleven Christians in all of India. They all know each other and are very proud of their very long and persecuted existence. We are a minority in India and just confusing in the United States. I'm a neither-dot-nor-feather Indian. (It's confusing to be a racial minority but in the religious majority.)

And to make it even worse, I can't speak either of my parents' two languages. My mother wanted to teach me, my father thought it'd impede my English acquisition. This means that on the occasions I get together with my parents' family, they are careful to speak English. Unless they want to tell secrets. So that sucks.

It also means that growing up, I've been extra sensitive to how I sound and how people react to my voice and accent. I grew up having to translate my parents' English for people, the way you might translate your toddlers' words for your adult friends. I use that analogy purposefully; I know it was frustrating, especially for my mom, to not be understood and to be treated like a child. So I guarantee if you heard me on the phone but couldn't see me, you might be able to guess I'm from California but would not be able to guess my race. Unless I decided to tone down my California accent and turn up something else. (Yes, Californians, we have an accent!)

I could put on a sari and look the part of an Indian woman perfectly until I opened my mouth. And I could get on the phone and sound the part of a (possibly white) American woman perfectly until someone saw me. When I've traveled abroad, people have laughed when I said I'm from California and then asked where I'm really from. But I feel Californian more than anything else. I am Californian. Though I can sometimes fake it, I don't really know how to be anything else.

I do have a lifetime of learning to make people feel comfortable by fading into what's familiar to them. Like an octopus or cuttlefish. (I really just wanted to work the word "cuttlefish" and this video into my blog.)

That's how we survive, those of us who don't look like everyone else. We use clever techniques to make you comfortable. We fake it a bit.

But now that I've survived this long, I'm less likely to fake it. I'm less likely to labor so hard and so carefully to make others comfortable. I'm more likely to simply be comfortable without apology (but with, as you can see, explanation). This means many things, but among them, it means knowing that what my face says isn't everything there is to know about me. I am American; I'm grateful I was born here and grateful for everything my parents did and gave up so I could be. I am American and I am Californian and I'm identified by many things including but also beyond place, race and appearance. I'm so many things.

And so, I'm not a fake at all.