Neil Harbisson is a Spanish-born artist and musician living with a condition called achromatopsia, which has rendered him completely colorblind.
He’s also a cyborg with an amazing gift: the device he wears, his “electronic eye”, enables him to hear color.
You should watch him explain it all in his own words in this video. But Vodaphone recently worked with Neil to help him achieve a first, and his dream was to conduct a concert using only color. I highly recommend you watch the whole piece, but if you don’t have time, here’s a quote from Neil:
I’ve been living in my own world hearing color. And when you hear a group of children sing color, it feels like we are sharing the same world.
There’s been a handy #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag floating around the Twitters, and I was going to chime in, but then I realized I’m not clever enough to do it in only 140 characters (or fewer, since I’d have to include that hashtag gah I’m terrible at this stuff!), so I’m cheating and using this space to join in.
There’s already a lot of great stuff being talked about out there around diversity, but one thing I think people sometimes miss is the fact that diversity for the sake of diversity isn’t the point. Just sprinkling in a few “different” characters into your work doesn’t address the underlying issue that people are longing to resolve. If the perspective isn’t authentic, it can even be more harmful … “That’s how they see me?”
I believe the cry is for a culture that says: We see you. You matter. You are not alone.
Like Neil, we all long for connection. We long to have companions who share our world. And books have long been the portal through which we can escape our own personal worlds and enter into some other magical realm.
When you take that leap into someone else’s world and you find that there, too, even there, there appears to be no room for people like you, it can be a crushing emotional blow.
One of my favorite artists, Makoto Fujimura, recently said:
Culture is not a territory to be won; it is instead a resource we are called to steward.
Authors contribute so much to culture, and the more we can do to broaden the experiences and perspectives available to the world, the better off we all are. It’s not a zero-sum game. Adding your voice to the mix doesn’t silence mine. In the best of worlds, it strengthens them both.
And for the audience out there, it increases the chances that they, like Neil, can capture that moment when they feel like someone shares their world.
By joining forces with writers of different ethnicities and genders and political leanings and abilities and sports affiliations, we’re all helping to shape a culture that recognizes that significance, that dignifies the individual, and that sends an important message.
We see you. You matter. You are not alone.