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Dare to ask. 4 lessons in diversity&inclusion for the Authors' Association

Diversity is a fact, inclusion an act. Simple statement, if you come upon it, and Jenny Mijnhijmer, actress and writer, came upon it. She was asked during the pandemic to chair a committee for the Authors' Union to figure out how that advocacy group for writers could become more inclusive and diverse.

In fact, she did not feel like it at all. After all, we have been talking for so long, she said when asked on the afternoon when her manifesto was presented to members after two years of meetings, "Isn't it time we did something?"

That it is time, most (mostly older and white) attendees agreed. But what that something is that we should start doing: tricky. Funny enough, there were some great examples at this symposium of how complicated inclusion as an act is.

Lesson 1: Don't wait passively, but start looking hard.

These included filmed interviews with young people who could serve as representatives of the groups not currently reached by the authors' union.

To the shock of many, including Jenny Mijnhijmer, all five interviewees were young women: very white students of (screenwriting).

Not very diverse, then, although chairman of the day Chris Keulemans hastened to say they were "mentally diverse". But in a video like this, you do a poor job of revealing whether a white and privileged-looking person has difficulty learning, lives somewhere on the autism spectrum or otherwise deviates from the white Amsterdam-South heteronorm.

For inclusive action, this is a good lesson. The Authors' Union office had put out the question to students, whether they wanted to participate in the video, and the students shown were the only ones who had responded. There was no time to search further for people who more closely matched the desired profile.

Regrettable, then, but it just goes to show that diversity and inclusion are easy to profess with words, but it takes time and effort to actually seek them out and apply them.

Lesson 2: Watch your words a bit

Another example concerns an incident involving a 30-year-old 'young' reporter who, after the opening remarks, asked where the debate was staying, and received a little too coquettish a licking from moderator Keulemans ("You have the microphone, so go ahead."). Taunted, the man who also works as a diversity expert left the room. Keulemans belatedly apologised; the harm was done.

The question of whether the angry man is too 'eager' responded, and perhaps should have waited until the discussion was scheduled, is irrelevant. From the podium, you can take sensitivities into account. Problem may be, though, that that 'walking on eggshells' actually leads to awkward statements.

Lesson 3: Keep it concrete.

Poet and writer Gustaaf Peek had the honour of presenting the day's keynote to deliver. This speech should set tongues wagging with some firm statements and thought-provoking ideas. Unfortunately, Peek is more someone of beautiful sentences and poetic phrasing, which meant that afterwards, the audience could utter little more than: 'beautifully said'.

Lesson 4: dare to ask.

So in the end, the runaway diversity expert was right: a debate did not get going, partly because there were no controversial statements. In this case, however, those pithy statements should have been ready, so that questions could have been actively thrown into the group about them. For it is clear that within the older and rather white supporters of the Authors' Union there is at least as much scepticism about diversity & inclusion as among representatives of the visual arts establishment. The reactions in serious media like NRC to Stedelijk Museum's diversity drive, give every reason to do so.


The manifesto is only available via a private link on the Authors' Union website to read. Therefore, read the manifesto on our site below.

Manifesto_Diversity_Author Association_def

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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