Penny For Your Thoughts: Ava DuVernay Can’t Stand The Word “Diversity,” And Neither Can I

October 23, 2015  |  

I didn’t think it was possible to love Ava DuVernay more, but then she said this during her acceptance speech at the 22nd Annual ELLE Women in Hollywood awards:

“I really hate the word ‘diversity.’ Oh, I just don’t like it. It feels like medicine. Diversity is like, ‘Ugh. I have to do diversity.’ I recognize and celebrate what it is but that word, to me, is a disconnect. There’s an emotional disconnect. Inclusion feels close; belonging is even closer.”

DuVernay took the words right out of my mouth (that is if my mouth were as capable as hers of saying words so impressively and succinctly). I, like DuVernay, am not shy when it comes to talking about words that I can’t stand to hear. Hot-button words that singe my nose hairs with the stench of their roaring misuse (or overuse) and misappropriation. And I, like DuVernay, hate the word “diversity.” Although, I should say, diversity isn’t at the top of my “Words I hate” list. No, that dubious distinction belongs to the innocuous word “errands.” (So, when I text you on a Saturday morning and ask what you’re doing, please, please don’t say, “Just running some errands.” Because then, in my head, I’m like, WTF does errands mean? What kind of errands, exactly?  Are you at the dry cleaner? At the post office? In the drive-thru line for the Walgreens pharmacy? Are you at Goodwill dropping off your old clothes in garbage bags? What, pray tell, are these elusive errands of which you speak? 

But I digress. 

When someone says “diversity” it triggers an inner outrage and I think, What, exactly, are you talking about when you say “diversity”? Is there a formula, a prescription, a quantitative measurement you’re using to achieve this “diversity”?  Are you employing this word because you’re truly invested in employing inclusive hiring practices or are you just using the word because you think it makes you sound like you give a sh-t? But do you really, actually give a sh-t? And, if you do give a sh-t, are you ready to pay more than lip service to really, actually giving a sh-t?

I love that DuVernay, who is the royal arbiter of everything brilliant, wonderful, and Black Girl Holy these days, hates the word “diversity,” and that she even used the word “ugh” to describe it.  The best part, though, is DuVernay tore down the word diversity and replaced it with the word “belonging” and “inclusion.” She did so in front of a group of high-powered women who are at the top of their game and who probably need to a much better job of including Black women in their work.

I’d bet that most of those women in the audience were a who’s who of media, arts and entertainment. I’d bet that most of those women know what it feels like to be in a professional setting, and to look around the room and wish there was at least one other woman there besides her. And I’d bet that most of those women have at some point in their careers patted themselves on the back for having brought a woman or two along with her as she rose the ranks. So, I’d bet that most of the women in that room were nodding along in agreement to what DuVernay was saying. But I’d also bet that many of those women don’t know how promoting diversity applies to them, too.

So, while DuVernay might’ve been giving the women in the room a “No Woman Left Behind” pep talk, she was also igniting a “No Woman Off the Hook” call to action. And I hope that those women didn’t walk away from hearing DuVernay talk about “inclusion” and “belonging” while still saying to themselves, Great, I will include more diverse women. Yeah, I’m sure there are a lot of diverse women out there who get my jokes and who use the word “inchoate” and “vituperate” in casual conversation and who vacation in the same parts of the world that I visit and who listen to the same music that I like and who read that article in that magazine that nobody reads but me and everyone else I know who’s like me. Because that’s what inclusion means, right? Someone who might not look like me but who basically sees the world as I do and therefore belongs? If not, that sure would suck and make my life more difficult if I had to actually hire someone who was, you know, truly different than me.

“There’s more to do particularly in Hollywood, so we have to be vigilant,” announced DuVernay, who said that she felt “no joy” about being one of only two women who directed a top-grossing film in 2014 (the other woman was Angelina Jolie). As it turns out, when DuVernay said “vigilant,” she was uttering one of my favorite words, a word that I can’t get enough of, a word that I absolutely love. If you’re vigilant, to me, you’re watchful for a purpose.

I suspect that DuVernay’s idea of vigilance is exactly what Hollywood  (and, perhaps, the rest of the country) needs. 

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