The website Rent-A-Minority promises to provide a “minority for every occasion.” It offers “diversity on demand” for all-white conference panels, award shows or brochures.
by ARI SHAPIRO, NPR, All Things Considered, February 18, 2016
The site is of course satire. Arwa Mahdawi talks about the tokenism that inspired her to start the site.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A new website offers to solve a problem that has plagued businesses for years – their lack of diversity. Rentaminority.com features categories like intellectual black guy and cheerful woman of color. Arwa Mahdawi created the site.
ARWA MAHDAWI: There’s nothing worse than an angry ethnic person or an angry feminist. You really want, you know, people to just look a little bit exotic but not cause you too many problems.
SHAPIRO: Do you think, at this point, we even need to tell people that this site is a satire?
MAHDAWI: You know, at the beginning, I got a few emails where people were asking me, is this available in Singapore yet – from, like, big banks.
SHAPIRO: You’re kidding – really?
MAHDAWI: I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but there are definitely a few people who, I think, thought it was a genuine business. And then there was one person I saw on Twitter who was like, don’t join this rent-a-minority site; it’s a scam. You won’t make any money.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter). What kind of feedback have you had from people who appreciate that this is satire aside from the ones calling to actually ask if they can rent a minority?
MAHDAWI: I’ve been amazed at how much of a positive reaction this has had. I’ve got a lot of people saying thank you for talking about this in a way that kind of says what I’ve been feeling in a humorous way. And some people are like, I can show this to white people (laughter).
SHAPIRO: I can show this to white people – wow. Well, what does that tell you about satire or about the state of the conversation on race in America right now?
MAHDAWI: I think that these subjects are so emotive, and you can get so upset about it for good reason. But I think when you make these points in a humorous manner, people understand it, and it’s a lot more effective.
SHAPIRO: Tell us a little bit more about yourself. You’re half Palestinian, half English. You’ve said you often feel like the token minority at the table.
MAHDAWI: Well, I started life as a lawyer, and then I moved into advertising, both of which are quite dominated by white men at the top. One of the things that sort of prompted this site was this really intelligent guy who I respect quite a lot. He said, is it an advantage being brown and female in advertising, and then sort of trailed off. And I was like – what? – do you mean because of positive discrimination or something? And he was like, yeah, yeah, that’s sort of what I was getting at.
SHAPIRO: Affirmative action.
MAHDAWI: Yeah. And I was like, wow, you must be living on a different planet. But the fact that he thought that, someone who I think is really intelligent, made me just think a lot of the initiatives we’re doing around diversity are almost making discrimination worse. The real problems of racism, sexism, et cetera, institutional inequality are not being really solved. But at the same time, all your successes are pinned down to affirmative action by people.
SHAPIRO: You obviously thought about these issues a lot before you created this website just about a week ago. Has your experience with the website brought you any insights that you didn’t have before?
MAHDAWI: I’ve had lots of emails by people who are like, you know, why didn’t you call out trans people? Why didn’t you call out gay people? Why didn’t you call out disabled people? And so I feel like…
SHAPIRO: I want to be a token. Make me a token.
MAHDAWI: Pretty much. I feel like everyone has their issues where they feel like a minority. One really cool thing that happened was that on the homepage of the website, the hero image is this smiling intellectual black guy. And I just used a stock photo. And then I started to think, as the website got really popular, gosh, I wonder what – who this guy is, and I wonder, you know, whether he’s seen that he’s the face of Rent A Minority and what he thinks.
SHAPIRO: The intellectual black guy.
MAHDAWI: Yeah. And so I asked on Twitter if he was out there, and he got back to me. He’s in South Africa.
MAHDAWI: (Unintelligible). And he says he loves the website, and it got him brownie points with his missus.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter). Arwa Mahdawi is the creator of rentaminority.com, the satirical website to improve diversity in your conference panel or awards show. Thanks for talking with us.
MAHDAWI: Thank you very much.
Listen to the story: ‘Rent-A-Minority’ Promises A Satirical Solution To Diversity Problems