SNL’s current predicament is a perfect example of why our national conversation about diversity spins in place and never actually goes anywhere. For years now, from our television screens to our corporate boardrooms, we’ve been watching a tug of war take place: racial-justice advocates demanding more and more diversity and exasperated hiring managers exclaiming, We can’t find any diversity! We’re looking hard, we promise!
One reason these two factions keep talking past each other is that they’re talking about two completely different things. When racial-justice advocates call for more diversity, what they’re saying is that the hiring pipelines into America’s majority-white industries need to be expanded to include a truly multicultural array of voices and talents from all ethnic corners of America; they want equal opportunity for minorities who don’t necessarily conform to the social norms of the White majority.
When exasperated hiring managers use the word diversity, what they really mean is that they’re looking for assimilated diversity. Faces and voices that are Black but nonetheless reflect a cultural bearing that White people understand and feel comfortable with.
Odd as it may sound, assimilation is a prerequisite for diversity—for sustainable diversity, anyway. So maybe we don’t need a national conversation about diversity. Maybe it’s time for a national conversation about assimilation, which is a very, very different conversation than the one most of SNL’s critics have been engaged in over the past few weeks. Because the question of assimilation is a lot more complicated than the overly simplistic “Lorne Michaels is racist” angle. To talk about assimilation takes the onus off of NBC’s human resources department and puts it squarely on the shoulders of the rest of us.
In other words, it’s not just SNL that needs more racial integration. Comedians do, in their personal lives.