As more funders and broadcasters are trying to collect data on the various communities and identities that they support so that they can identify gaps, they have encountered a number of challenges and one of them is self-identification. I think it would help to talk through these challenges to give people (particularly those within funders and broadcasters, and those submitting applications) an idea of those challenges.
The first question is whether it truly is self-identification if it is the producer submitting the form. A producer self-identifies themselves of course but when they are ticking off boxes for their team, they are either making assumptions or asking their team members how they would like to identify. There is no verification process and I’m hard pressed to imagine what kind of verification process there could be. I would however encourage producers to not make assumptions.
A person may be asked to identify on a form, for example, as an employee of a broadcaster as the broadcasters have to report on Visible Minorities, Indigenous, Persons with Disabilities and Gender under Employment Equity legislation. Again, there is no independent verification of that identification.
Why is verification an issue? People from traditionally marginalized communities will not always identify because they question what will be done with the data and how they might be disadvantaged by it. This is a historically and factually-based reaction. For generations Indigenous have underreported because when they identified they were often oppressed. As well, a person may not want to identify because they do not want to be perceived as succeeding because of their identity alone.
On the other hand, there are now funds for underrepresented communities and evaluation points or priority given to creators or teams with representation from these communities. Producers and creators who previously were not known for having an underrepresented identity are now identifying. This could be completely legitimate as people with less visible identities did not announce them in the past, as the identity was not seen as relevant or possibly even detrimental to careers. My own sense of identity as evolved from ‘not fully white’, which is how I grew up thinking of myself, to the more recent ‘multiracial’ term that I’m now embracing.
However, there are people who are reaching back into their family tree to pull out identities that they have not associated themselves with previously. For example, a friend once told me that half of Manitoba probably has Métis ancestors (including herself) but that doesn’t mean that they are all Métis. I have also read (and I can’t remember where – sorry) that for Indigenous it isn’t about which community you claim to belong to, but which community claims you.
So, what is a well-meaning evaluator, funder, broadcaster to do with this? Sorry, but I have no easy answers for you. Identification for the purposes of data collection or project evaluation is a bit of a mine field. We need to encourage people to honestly identify and assure them that there will be no negative consequences. We should assume people are who they say they are but keep an eye out for potential bad faith. Where possible, we can engage communities to conduct their own reviews, such as having Indigenous juries for Indigenous content but that is not a solution that can be replicated for the full diversity of Canadian society. It’s tricky but we are all better off if we know where the mines are in the mine field.