You must be so proud of your boyfriend Riz Ahmed, the outspoken rapper and Golden Globe-nominated actor who appears to constantly seeking ways to make the world a slightly bearable place for the marginalized. Ahmed has spent the last couple months campaigning for his fans (and their friends) to support his CrowdRise fundraiser for Syrian refugees. He’s consistently talked about the various forms of racism he’s faced as a Muslim citizen and actor. And yesterday, the self-described “British Muslim socialist creative type” addressed the UK’s House of Commons, delivering Channel 4’s annual speech about diversity. And boy, did he deliver.
In the speech, he addressed the need for people of color to feel represented:
As a lot of the politicians in the room know, the most fantastical and unrealistic stories make the biggest impact. But even in those stories, what people are looking for is a message that they belong. That they’re part of something. That they are seen and heard and that despite or perhaps because of the uniqueness of their experience, they are valued. They want to feel represented.
He explained that while diversity seems noble, the term also makes the idea of including the reality of people and their stories optional, a perk:
It’s an added extra, it’s a frill, it’s a luxury. That’s what diversity can sound like. The very phrase actually turns me off a little bit. it sounds like there’s a benchmark against which everything is measured, and then there’s a little bit of something you can sprinkle on top. Little bit of salt. Little bit of spice. It’s something you can live with, but you can also live without. And to me that doesn’t really put into focus how crucial what we’re talking bout really is
We’re talking about representation, not diversity. Representation is not an added extra, it’s not a frill. It’s absolutely fundamental to what people expect from culture and from politics.
Ahmed went on to say that lack of representation can lead to extremism, and that the disrespect of being neglected in screen and pop culture could even drive young people to find answers in groups like ISIS. He also discussed how, by not including diverse voices and stories, creative industries aren’t just missing out on a chance to humanize and unite people—they’re also missing out on huge economic profits.
We shouldn’t have to use financial gain to entice the establishment to embrace the reality of their population, but the point remains. And diversity shouldn’t have to be a humanitarian act of inclusion. As Riz says, it’s “giving people their due.”