Diversity = Power and Money

Following American news for two weeks showed numerous examples how diversity is changing the way we live from Disney princesses to Donald Trump.

The main Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat wrote on 17 December 2015 that the Finnish capital is expecting ”a rush of immigrants”. According to Helsinki Urban Facts, the percentage of people not having Finnish or Swedish as their mother tongue would grow in the next fifteen years from 13,5 % to 23 %. Most of this is due to asylum seekers, which explains why the languages on the rise are Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages.

I was reading the article in Irvine (California) during a visit at my mother-in-law’s. Of Irvine’s 248 000 residents 44,8 % do not speak English at home. The affluent suburb of Los Angeles has nearly an even amount of white Americans (excluding Latinos and Hispanic 45,1%) and Asian-Americans (39,2%) and a significantly smaller Latino and Hispanic population (9,2%). More than every fifth company in Irvine is owned by an Asian-American. Irvine has several town centres hosting primarily Japanese and Chinese restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries and dry cleaners.

Irvine is not alone with its multicultural reality. The United States is going through a massive demographic change over the next decades. The big story is the growth of the Latino and Hispanic population from current 17,8% up to 28% by 2050. Simultaneously the percentage of whites will drop from the current 61,8% for the first time under 50% (46,6 %).

The United States and Finland have drastically different histories with diversity and immigration. That shows in the perspective on the matter. Finnish debate on diversity is still very much stuck on an emotional level on whether you are for or against a multicultural society. Cultural and religious diversity is commonly perceived as an outside force, the debate upholding an image of the Finnish population as one with homogeneous values and lifestyles.

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In many ways one cam draw parallels between the climate change discussion some ten years back and the Finnish diversity talk. In sustainability the big wheels started rolling and investment moving only when climate change started influencing consumer behavior, politics and people’s everyday lives. Same can be seen in the United States – and maybe in an increasing extent also in Finland. Following American news for two weeks gave several examples of what this could mean.

Flickr / DonkeyHotey (cc)

Flickr / DonkeyHotey (cc)

Politics

The country is preparing for 2016 presidential elections. According to The Atlantic and many other publications, the Republicans are in deep trouble. Most analysts conclude that the Republicans lost the presidency both in 2008 and 2012 to the Democrats due to an inability to gain support from Latinos. The party is caught in crossfire between angry white men longing for a ”simpler era” and Latinos wanting better health and education services. Donald Trump is harvesting the white sense of entitlement and pushing the other candidates to the right – and simultaneously growing the distance between the Republican party and ethnic minorities.

According to The New York Times, the situation is most difficult for Cuban-American candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – and Jeb Bush who is fluent in Spanish and married to a Mexican woman. Rubio was one of the sponsors of a more liberal reform proposal but has retracted his support. Cruz takes a hit for changing his name from Rafael to Ted in his early adulthood as he felt it rhymed too much with all the potato chip brands. Bush is balancing between big donors who wish for more liberal immigration reform and gaining popular support from patriotic voters.

Flickr / Beverly Yuen Thompson

Flickr / Beverly Yuen Thompson (cc)

Civic Movements

In 2013 a jury acquitted George Zimmerman for shooting an unarmed, African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. In 2014 two white police officers shooting two African-American men were respectively found innocent by juries. The list goes on. This combined with higher incarceration rates of African-Americans and the experience of many black men of being frisked without reason has generated political activism in ways unseen since the 1960s. The debate around police brutality has given birth to Black Lives Matter, a grassroots movement with numerous local fractions and no clear leaders. Black Lives Matter  advocates for justice and equality but the local fractions pick their own specific issues. The movement has closed highways with sit-down demonstrations, successfully pressured Hillary Clinton to take a firmer stand on changing the prison system and heckled rallies of presidential candidates.

The movement has mobilised especially the Millennials who feel disillusioned by Barack Obama’s centrist policies. But what has changed since the 1990s race riots and their aftermath is that the movement has popular support. According to Pew Research, 59% of Americans agree with the statement that ”our country needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites”.

According to The Atlantic, millennials have radically different values than their parents – and they want action. They are taking American politics largely towards the left – and possibly distancing themselves to traditional politics. Millennials are significantly more favourable to higher taxation leading to lesser inequality, they are far more critical towards traditional institutions like the police and they have a much more favourable view on Islam than their parents or grandparents. The social justice movements are largely the reason why Hillary Clinton is competing against an old Socialist and why Hillary Clinton is taking distance to the tough criminal policies of Bill Clinton’s presidential era.

Flickr / lil'_wiz (cc)

Flickr / lil’_wiz (cc)

Toys

The biggest news of the toy industry in years has been Disney’s decision to transfer its princess doll production from Mattel (the makers of Barbie) to Hasbro (the makers of Transformers). The move changes the game completely. According to Bloomberg, the princess dolls have been one Disney’s fastest growing business areas with 1 billion dollars in sales over the last three years,

There were numerous reasons behind Disney’s decision, as described in Bloomberg’s superb piece of journalism. But in terms of diversity Disney’s move sends a clear signal to many in the consumer market: do not underestimate your audience. Hasbro won the deal due to its efficient consumer insight work demonstrating that young girls don’t actually just want to be passive and look pretty, they are looking for aspirational figures. And when the dolls are symbols of heroism, they cannot all be white. As Hasbro and Disney will be rolling out their new products, we will be seeing more ethnic diversity in the princess dolls. Disney and Hasbro will make sure that next to Elsa (Frozen) and Cinderella, we will be seeing more of Mulan, Pocahontas and Tiana (Princess and The Frog) on toy store shelves.

Taraji P. Henson

Taraji P. Henson

Entertainment

Mainstream American TV networks have for decades struggled with reaching minority audiences. According to NPR, the standard procedure has been to copy-paste formats for different minority groups (gay sitcom, Latino sitcom etc.) with small or moderate success. This has often meant pooling together close-by minority groups in order to reach larger audiences, which has led to strengthening stereotypes and watered-down storytelling.

FOX’s incredibly successful Empire, a drama series following the twists and turns of a hiphop record label carrying the same name, demonstrates that there are alternative routes to take. Empire is a series with an all black cast and yet it gains mass audiences both inside and outside the African-American community. The series is followed by over 11 million people with 62 % of its audience being African-American.

Having watched the first two seasons, I fully understand the support both from critics and audiences. The series combines current issues like racism and crime with exceptional characters, award-winning cast and top class original score produced by Timbaland. According to NPR, Empire is one of the first series to bring black and white audiences together in such numbers after The Cosby Show. But where The Cosby Show was seen by many as depicting the white bourgoisie lifestyle but with a black cast, Empire demonstrates how mostly black hiphop and r&b culture is actually a widely shared contemporary American experience.

Flickr / Ian D. Keating (cc)

Flickr / Ian D. Keating (cc)

Parenting

There is no one way to parent in the United States. Parents have highly different expectations for their kids. There is a lot of discussion around Asian parenting with high demands and top results. The most well-known depiction is Amy Chua’s bestselling Battlehymn of The Tiger Mother, which created the term tiger parenting, defined by American Psychology Association as ”practising positive and negative parenting strategies simultaneously. Tiger parents are engaging in some positive parenting behaviors; however, unlike supportive parents, tiger parents also scored high on negative parenting dimensions. This means that their positive parenting strategies co-exist with negative parenting strategies.” The public discussion focuses strongly on the negative aspects, highlighting discipline.

Asian-American kids outperform other children in such manner, that child development psychology professor Laurence Steinberg quotes in his book The Age of Opportunity a study stating that the most efficient way to guarantee success for your child is having them sit next to an Asian-American student in class. In the public discussion tiger parenting is often portrayed as excessively tough and creating unnecessary pressure and anxiety for the children.

The discussion around Asian parenting flamed up again in 2015 following a series of suicides in Palo Alto’s high schools. More than four out of ten of high schoolers in the Silicon Valley community are Asian-Americans. Hanna Rosin writes in the Atlantic that she was told stories of parents kicking a child out of the home for not getting into Stanford or for getting a B. According to Professor Suniya Luthar, there is some truth in tough Asian parenting style – an issue worth discussing. She also points out in Rosin’s article that there is a stigma towards getting help for mental health issues in many Asian-American communities. Yet Luthar is quick to point out that white parents easily to put the blame on someone else than themselves. Actually a majority of the students committing suicide were not Asian.

Flickr / Lauren Javier (cc)

Flickr / Lauren Javier (cc)

Corporate Social Responsibility

It is impossible for a large corporation not to take a stand on diversity. It is a message to consumers but more importantly crucial in fighting for top talent. Most large corporations have understood that actively tearing down discriminative practices creates efficiency by boosting innovation, identifying brand risks and fixing services. Disneyland’s diversity statement is a good example. It lays out how Disney recognizes that diversity brings diverse views and experiences and the company wants to harness these through business resource groups. On its website Disneyland gives concrete examples of their function:

”In developing two new eateries at Disney California Adventure park – Cocina Cucamonga and Lucky Fortune Cookery – two diversity resource groups, Hispanic Organization for Leadership Advancement (HOLA) and Community of Pacific Islanders, Asians and Allies (COMPASS) – were able to provide the Resort insight into specific menu items before they were finalized. ”

Disneyland also describes how it has performed in third party rankings for instance on LGBT issues.

And what’s best, you see the diversity commitment in practice when you visit the park. Disneyland is practically bilingual (English and Spanish). They also announced that they will be replacing the Wild West themed Frontierland with Star Wars. Next to Star Wars’s attractiveness, one of the reasons to take down cowboys and indians is that according to NPR it is considered to be too white, too male and racially problematic

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