Look at HBO: How amazingly diverse you are!

I came across a cool new writing opportunity being sponsored by HBO. In an effort to find diverse new voices, they are putting together a writing fellowship where a lucky winner will get to spend 8 months in LA working with and being mentored by some well-known HBO insiders. The culmination of the fellowship might lead to other professional writing opportunities.

It’s a great idea and some lucky writer will probably have a blast being challenged by the environment.

I curiously got onto the website just wanting to see what it was all about, and then it hit home: they are truly going for diversity and in doing so are excluding people from the mix.

Perhaps that last line seems contradictory, but not to HBO. It turns out that I would not even be eligible to apply. Reason? I’m white and I’m male.

Wait, I don’t need a lecture on affirmative action, I’ve seen plenty of its teeth living for years in Malaysia where it is ingrained into the very fabric of society. Ask the Malaysian Chinese and Indians what they think about affirmative action. You’re sure to get a mouth full.

And no, we don’t need to go into Dred Scott or Plessy v. Ferguson or Brown v Board or “I have a dream” to get a good take on what HBO is doing. They are excluding people because of their gender and color.

So how do you like that for diversity?

They don’t even have the common decency to bring the educational rules into their program – that being that race can play a FACTOR when determining who to accept into university. That sounds reasonable. We all need to encourage diversity in our schools and especially in our lives. Building understanding and learning from others is a foundational model of how to grow well-rounded kids who don’t view the world through race and color. That’s one of the reasons I’m raising my family overseas. The benefits are tangible. So using race as a factor is fine, just not the deciding factor.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m all about diversity. Living in Vietnam and Malaysia – learning language and culture over a twenty year period will do that to you. But, in my opinion, we should move beyond color of skin and gender of person when deciding who to choose for whatever. How about (in this case) who has the most interesting story to tell? After all, they want a writer, right?

Now if HBO wanted to go out of their way to find diverse voices and unique story-telling, that is totally fine, but allow white males to apply also. Let them make their case as to why their voice and their background is diverse as well. If they don’t have the stories or backgrounds that interests HBO, so be it, but let them be a part of the process. Don’t block someone simply because of the color of their skin. That’s called judging a book by its cover.

If you were to see me walking down the street in America, one would assume that I am just like a “typical” white male American. I look like them after all. But once I start speaking Vietnamese or cooking Thai Padprik Chicken, HBO would suddenly realize that I’m a little more diverse than I look.

I look at my oldest daughter. She gets this all the time. She’s white, by the way, like her mother and father. But on the inside, she’s Asian. Her formative years were spent in Asia – she speaks Vietnamese, married a Korean, and desires nothing more than to go “home” to Asia someday.

Diversity comes in all shapes and colors.

One more example. Just today I saw an elderly white man sitting amongst a group of Nepalese workers. But just one glance showed me there was something different about him. He was sitting and acting culturally Nepalese – speaking their language, having their gestures, clearly being one of them. A pale-faced brother, perhaps. Change his clothes, put him in a Parisian restaurant and he would look right at home, but would undoubtedly feel very uncomfortable.

Okay, just one more. I have another acquaintance – an elderly Irishman who married a Hindu woman and has worked his life with the Thai and Malay. The only thing not diverse about him is his skin color, and he can’t change that.

I hope we can look beyond skin color and treat everyone the same. And we need to understand that diversity is even more diverse than we ever thought.

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