Stephen Colbert and the Diversity Problem at The Late Show

So, here's the thing. Stephen Colbert's writing staff consists of 19 people: all are white, and only two are women. I posted about this on my Facebook wall recently, simply linking to this article from The Atlantic without initially adding any commentary of my own. Let me preface this by saying that I like Colbert, too, but that doesn't mean that he (or his show) is above reproach. I think we are all so inclined to protect our faves that we become overly protective when they come under criticism for certain behaviors or decisions. We can entertain both conversations: we can talk about how we like the work, and we can talk about what can be better. Posting this on my wall sparked a discussion about disparity between gender and race in the workplace, and whether or not white people (mostly men) are getting more of these jobs because of their gender and race or because of their willingness to apply and their talent. It's a complicated conversation, and the answer is not simple.

Source: Comedy Central

Source: Comedy Central


If white men are doing the hiring, don't you think they're going to find greater appeal in the writing, observations, and perspectives of those who walk through life in a similar way?


Arguments have been made that, perhaps not enough women or people of color applied. Or perhaps none of their work was good enough, and thus the best people got the jobs, regardless of gender or race. I see the appeal in these hypotheses; there is a great need to believe the world is fair, especially the realms of the world occupied by people we admire. However, I do not believe either of these theories, at least not to the extent they're being entertained. It is easy to say that maybe they hired a representative sample of those with talent who applied, but if we break down the statistical and proportional probability of that statement, that is to say that NO qualified people of color applied, and that only 10% of those qualified who applied were (white) women. Does that sound likely? I think it's ludicrous to suppose that the hiring decisions are an accurate sample of talented people who wanted the job (at least as it relates to publishing, VIDA addresses many of the tenets this argument rests on in their FAQ).


I get wanting to believe in fairness and rightness and that hard work is the primary factor in these decisions — but I just don't believe it is. 


As far as the argument that the show hired based on qualifications, it gets a little trickier. If white men are doing the hiring, don't you think they're going to find greater appeal in the writing, observations, and perspectives of those who walk through life in a similar way? So, further, don't you think that the people hiring will believe the "most qualified" are people with whom they identify, regardless of whether the combined perspectives of those people represents an accurate reflection of viewers? And that's assuming women/any people of color actually get beyond the first step in the hiring process (read this and watch this). So, the problem doesn't just lie in the diversity of those hired; it's also problematic when there is lack of diversity among those doing the hiring. 

Now, I get wanting to believe that there are good people out there producing this stuff. I get wanting to believe that my hard work and your hard work have the same value, and that any difference between how we're perceived in the workplace is purely subjective, or purely a matter of taste. I get wanting to believe in fairness and rightness and that hard work is the primary factor in these decisions — but I just don't believe it is. There are so many other things at play, and these things start even before we have the opportunity to apply for a job. Hard work is a thing, yes, but so are skin color and gender and sexual preference and whether or not one has a healthy physical body, and the combination of certain identities under these umbrellas can often prevent people from opportunities and access. At every level, the underrepresentation of people who are not white, straight, cis, and male, is a problem, and that problem needs to be addressed with a swiftness. 


If platforms that aim to cover news and current events do not do so with consideration of a range of perspectives (read: non-white, non-male, etc.), it is a disservice to viewers/readers and honestly, to their own credibility.


It is a responsibility inherent in being part of the media that the content offerings take into account the varied perspectives of viewers and consumers. If platforms that aim to cover news and current events do not do so with consideration of a range of perspectives (read again: non-white, non-male, etc.), it is a disservice to viewers/readers and honestly, to their own credibility. We need to ask harder questions of those with public visibility (why are men supposedly most qualified to report on women's issues? why are we asking so many white people for their perspectives on whether racism is still a problem?), and not let them get by these criticisms because they "generally do good work. " Women and people of color certainly wouldn't be given that same pass. 

The Thoughts One Has When Building a Magazine*

*not an exhaustive list

  • I have so much to do. I have so much to do. I have so much to do. 
  • All these wonderful people want to be involved with what I'm doing? Are they dumb, or am I smart? 
  • Okay, they're definitely not dumb. This work is out of control, it's so good. 
  • The guts of this website are crazy. I hope all the links work correctly.
  • Ew, website guts.
  • Can I take a nap? Can I take ten naps?
  • I would have so many papercuts right now if this was a print publication. 
  • OH MY STARS WHERE DID THAT PAGE GO WHAT DID I DO WRONG
  • Breathe. Breathe. Oh, there it is!
  • Just one more tweak, and then I'll eat something. 
  • Chocolate? 
  • Okay, this is looking pretty good.
  • Is there enough coffee in the world? 
  • If I just decide run away and never finish this, will anyone find me? 
  • They definitely will because I'll probably still post pictures on Instagram. 
  • Seriously, will someone bring me a Snickers?
  • Actually — wait — am I almost done? 
  • MORE COFFEE MORE COFFEE MORE COFFEE
  • Who is that rumpled woman in the mirror?
  • Oh... I guess this is who I am, now.

 

Stay tuned. Should these thoughts resolve in a favorable way, Issue 02 of Lumen will be coming your way on Tuesday, September 1. 

Lily, being helpful.

Lily, being helpful.