Important Guests — So Far.

Quinn Emmett
September 10, 2021
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Originally posted September 2021

With 92% of our guests having self-reported how they identify, here’s the TLDR so far:

• 58% of our guests identify as women

• 45% identify as a person of color

• 75% identify as a woman and/or a person of color

• 80% are from the United States

• 41% are scientists

You can find more info on demographics and our topic coverage here (updated as we publish and guests self-report): https://www.importantnotimportant.com/stats

Why am I sharing this info?

I’m proud of how inclusive our show’s guests are, but I know we can do so much better. And I hope that by sharing our journey, and any progress we make along the way, more shows, especially shows hosted by white men, will work to be more transparent, and more diverse.

Some necessary background if you’re new here: I’m a person of great privilege who has never wanted for shelter, healthy food, clean water, or clean air.

To date, I have not been specifically impacted by the climate crisis, not by heat or flood.

I can afford to go to doctors when I am sick. And I am sick way less often because I breathe clean air, I drink clean water, and I eat healthy food.

I received a perfectly fine public grade school education and an elite liberal arts bachelor’s.

My wife and I have been able to keep ourselves and our children safe from COVID.

Policymakers (at least pretend to) give a shit about my opinions not only because of INI, but because I am able to contribute to their campaigns.

But these circumstances do not reflect the lives of millions of Americans, or billions more across the world. 

So if my goal here is to move the needle of progress, I need to have a hell of a better perspective on what progress is required.

With every conversation that I host, and as the climate crisis and pandemics touch more lives in increasingly manifold ways, I am made more aware that -- if I want to help to build a vastly cleaner, safer, and more equitable future -- it is essential to open my ears, heart, microphone, platform, and often, checkbook, to the huge variety of lived experiences outside my own.

To seek out, welcome, and share the mic with incredible, diverse humans working on the frontlines of the future.

To support community projects I could never have imagined.

To support nonprofits and legislation that do not benefit me directly.

And so, over 122 published conversations to date, and 10x more offline, I have increasingly sought to build a “deep-ish” generalism (yes, these are contradictory, thank you) not just across scientific disciplines and their anthropological and sociological impacts, but across a broader swath of human voices.

But our numbers aren’t perfect. Not even close. See above.

This is still a show hosted by one, and sometimes two, straight white guys. I’m working diligently to make sure the majority of our guests are people of color. We’re not there yet. I’m working to include more indigenous voices, and international voices. We have a long (long) way to go.

Of course, diversity goes deeper than percentages and labels.

There’s a data science term called “redundant encoding” whereby (again, I’m a generalist, so I’m going to straight butcher this) an organization utilizes an algorithm (for example) to source and curate potential candidates for hire.

And to prevent algorithmic biases, a “protected attribute”, like race or gender, is removed from the data, making the algorithm blind to these. Sounds great!

The issue is, of course, that racism and sexism are systemic issues that run far deeper and wider than the labels we give them. They are correlated with and embedded into every part of our science and our societies.

We (I) cannot focus on the problems and opportunities of the 21st century without acknowledging that, because of the power systems designed over the past four centuries (systems that I have benefited from), the folks most affected by the seismic, transformative changes underway today don’t look like me; their lived experiences are often fundamentally different, and often far more challenging, than my own.

Isabel Wilkerson said:

“A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste, whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranks apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.”

America has worked diligently to uphold this system, and the receipts are in.

Black and Brown and Indigenous Americans have been infected, hospitalized, and killed by COVID at rates 2-4x white Americans. 

Historically redlined city blocks have long been the canary in the coal mine for global warming. 

Marginalized Americans have increased rates of asthma, diabetes, cancers, pregnancy-related deaths, and post-surgery deaths, and less access to shelter, healthy food, and health care, and have lower life expectancies across the board. 

Black babies are twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday. 

Race (and gender) are artificial labels, not monoliths. Black and Brown people are scientists, journalists, voters, Congresswomen, designers, NGO directors, doctors, and teachers, mothers and fathers, farmers and Brooklynites, progressives and preachers, and countless other things, in infinite combination.

I know what I am, where I’m from, and what I stand for, but I’m newly challenged every week to listen, to try and better understand how and why I interpret different lived experiences, ideas, and missions the way I do. 

So I can Do Better Better, for myself, for INI, and for you.

Our show is verrrrrrry much a work in progress, certainly not without its faults, nor without its detractors. The same can very obviously apply to me. Just ask my kids. 

But I hope that by sharing more about the show, and my intentions, the more I can not only improve on those (many) weaknesses (live, and in public), but also help push more men that look like me to do the same.

I have been incredibly lucky, and I’m forever thankful, to have learned so much from these guests, and I look forward to many more years of these conversations, to growing our community, and to putting a small dent in the universe.

And of course: If you know a remarkable human working across climate or public health, food or water, biotech or epidemiology, please, please send them my way. My door is always open, the mic is always on.

Thanks for reading, and as always, thanks for giving a shit.

Quinn

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