So, thanks to the types of stories I’m interested in telling and the types of conversations I’m interested in being a part of, I often find myself either part of or hosting diversity or representation panels. For instance, at this year’s Awesome Con I suggested a panel on representation in comics which I titled “Representation is Important”.
To my pleasure, I arrived a minute late to the panel and almost didn’t get in because the panel was overflowing. On the panel with me were Alex Simmons (long time black comic book writer/actor/editor/amazing guy who has worked on everything), Amy Chu (Asian American female comic book writer and all around great person), Alitha Martinez (long time black female comics pro who has worked for both of the big two), and Laura Lee Gulledge (white female indie cartoonist and writer).
Now, I’ve seen panels with similar make ups where the white guy takes it on himself to explain how the comic book industry “really works” to the others on the panel. That’s not really my style. Also, both Alitha and Alex have substantially more history and cred in the industry than I do and Amy and Laura Lee are on pretty well equal footing. So, what do you do? When this is the topic in play, being the white guy on the panel makes you stand out. Also, it can lead to awkward transitions where somebody has just finished talking about the tough time they’ve had dealing with white editors/writers/artists/executives.
Here’s my answer: the first thing everyone did was introduce themselves and how they got into comics. Everybody’s story is pretty different and complex, as they are in any panel where you discuss how you got in. So, I’m at the end of the line and it rolls around to my turn. I take the microphone, smile at the full audience of interested and attentive people and say:
"My name is Jeremy Whitley and I got into comics the old fashioned way: by being a white man."
I have never seen a room full of people melt so easily. I had to stop talking for a solid minute to let everyone finish laughing. It was amazing. Just throw that elephant up on the stage and let everyone have a good look. Then I explained what I was doing there and why I had an interest in this subject. And for my encore, I decided to take it on my shoulders to be the person who complained about some of the really awful stuff that’s going on in the comics community right now. Not only do I not feel the need to explain the actions of other men (white and otherwise), but I’m not going to make the people who have to face that junk bring it up and make them feel like they’re whining.
Also, and I see this far too often, don’t talk over women/girls. Whether they are on the panel or in the audience, you can generally tell when someone wants to talk and here’s the thing: as a white man there are no shortage or places or resources through which you can express your opinion and while it’s perfectly within reason to take your turn, when the subject is hot and somebody has something they want to say, don’t step on them. It’s the first rule of being an ally and no matter how strongly you FEEL about representation, diversity, or rape threats - these are still issues that only concern you indirectly and you should ALWAYS defer to those for whom it is a day to day issue.
TL:DR - Recognize your privilage. Expose it. Facilitate the conversation. Step back and be an ally rather than attempting to run the panel.