A couple years ago, a friend shared with me the difficulty of finding birthday party invitations for her daughter that featured brown-skinned girls, and asked if I would make her a custom set of invitations. I immediately said yes, but it got me thinking about the bigger issue she’d named.
There is some public discourse about the underrepresentation of minority groups across the mainstream media, including movies, TV shows, commercials, books, magazines, video games, and billboards, etc. The lack of diversity in these images and storylines that we’ve created is jarringly at odds with our increasingly inclusive and open society. It is absolutely crucial that we correct this.
Whether we’re conscious of it or not, the media shapes our identities and interactions in powerful ways; outside of our own narrow set of lived experiences, it’s how we learn what falling in love looks and feels like, what it means to be beautiful, the ways that different genders dress and act around each other, how to get what we want, and what is it that we should be wanting. It tells us whose lives, insights, and stories matter to us as a society, and what types of individuals, families, and communities are considered “normal” and valued.
The media is powerful because it enables us to insert our real selves into its constructed stories – we get to become the explorers, the lovers, the dreamers, and the heroes. But what happens when there’s no place for some of us in these narratives? What signal does it send to our children who don’t see anyone who looks, feels, and acts like they do?
What does it signal to our children who only see those who look, feel, and act as they do? The media influences how we perceive others and what we think we know about them before we even meet. When only some of our identities and life experiences are represented in meaningful and authentic ways, it means that the rest of us are reduced to flat, sometimes harmful characterizations, or worse, sentenced to non-existence.
So why does diversity matter in the card aisle? For the very same reasons. I’ll concede that these other media outlets likely have a greater influence on societal norms and the public consciousness, but the tradition of giving cards is still very ingrained in American culture despite the advent of email, social media, and texting: 9 out of 10 American households buy cards every year, and collectively buy ~7 billion greeting cards annually.
Cards are sold in virtually all convenience stores, big-box retailers, and gift shops, and much like TV commercials or magazines at the checkout counter, you can’t help but notice and internalize the headlines even when you aren’t really looking for them.
Having cards that reflect the experiences of people of different races, ethnicities, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds matters not just because it’s frustrating to have to color over your daughter’s birthday card with brown and black crayons, or to resort to buying wedding cards with anthropomorphic animals because they’re the closest depiction of a same-sex couple that you can find. It matters because we send cards when something we deem significant has happened, when an occasion is important enough to demand more than the customary email.
Therefore, the occasions for which there are greeting cards sends a clear message about which we think are the milestones and people that are important enough for us to be commemorating, and conversely, which are not. The mission of Kwohtations Cards is to challenge those assumptions, to spread joy and bring people closer together by making cards that recognize, embrace, and celebrate the diversity and absurdity of life.
For Pride Month this June, I worked with my friend Dillan DiGiovanni to design cards that acknowledge and celebrate the experiences of some who identify as LGBTQ individuals. As a heterosexual, cisgender person, I freely admit that I don’t know what it’s like to go through life otherwise. But I know enough to know that it’s full of ups and downs, no matter who you are. I know that as much progress has been made, it can be a pretty narrow-minded, bigoted world out there.
I know that it takes incredible courage to be yourself when a lot of people don’t want you to. And I know that change can be hard and scary, even when you know you’re doing the right thing. So I’m continuing to talk and learn and listen, but in the meantime I’m trying to cope with how much further we have to go to become a fully equal and open society by making something. Something small just to say, quite simply, I see you. I see you and I celebrate you, and I’m glad you’re you. I hope it helps a little.