I am not one to hide from a birthday. My philosophy is “hey, I’m still here everyone – yahoo!” I have had birthdays last a week or 10 days. Once on a birthday ending in “0,” the celebration went 22 days. I may not be fond of the changes on my face, but I love the glow of a lot of candles.
So, when I tell you that I didn’t even acknowledge my birthday yesterday, it’s the God’s-honest truth. Instead, already self-quarantined (for safety) and made anxious by COVID-19, I found myself depressed and angry at the state of the world on May 31, 2020.
There is cruelty in this world – the things humans can find to do to one another is hard to absorb. But I have often said – and will always say – there is far more good than evil in the world.
Yet here we all are, six days after the needless death of George Floyd, and I was thrown back more than 25 years earlier to the days of the Rodney King riots, when I was caught on the 405 Freeway with my city on fire. Looking further back to the bussing of the 1970s and the violent television news I recall from the late 1960s.
Looking back further than that … all the way back to this country’s founding. As I work on my novel, a part of which is set in the early 1600s, I am reminded daily we are four hundred years into all kinds of hatred and cruelty on this continent.
And I must stop here and say that I have cops and cops-to-be – good ones, caring ones, careful ones – in my close family. I am proud of them and the work they do. That is not what this post is about.
Here is what it is about.
Advertising and programming are often aspirational. They show “perfect.” A perfect family, in a perfect home in a perfect world. In the last five years there has been an explosion of ads and shows featuring LGBTQ+ people and families; mixed race people and families; religious diversity. I thought the world was looking better.
However, I still sit in meetings saying to clients, coworkers and community partners, “Hey, we need to make sure to include people who don’t look or speak or practice religion like us.” In fact, I do it so much that recently I have been sheepish about it, starting the sentence with, “Hey, I know you all know what I am going to say but …”
And I get a lot of head nodding and thumbs up. And sometimes it reflects in the work, and sometimes it is pushed aside, or worse, thwarted.
This weekend reminded me of something I should have known better than most: advertising is not real. What is aspirational is important because it shows us what we can be. But it can stop us from seeing what really is. It can mask the sadness, the pain and the hatred that seeps from our world.
A friend just said to me, “someone owes you a birthday.” Nope. No way. I have made it another year, when others have not – maybe so I can continue to say in meetings, “Hey, we must include, it’s critical to include.” And I will never, ever be sheepish about it again.
Because it is not enough to make the picture perfect, although that helps people see what could be. Now now we need to show reality in order to stop the hatred that is.