B.D. Wong discusses America’s struggle with diversity

November 18th, 2010

B.D. Wong’s credentials include: Dr. George Huang on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit;” Father Ray Mukada on HBO’s “Oz;” his Tony-winning role as Song Liling in the Broadway production of “M. Butterfly;” and since 1992 a collegiate speaker about issues of diversity, race and sexual orientation.

Wong’s speaking career became permanent after one engagement.

“It happened quite naturally, I had spoken somewhere, and someone approached me and asked me if I would like to do it more regularly in an organized way, and I said I would like to try that. It worked out so well that I enjoyed it that I kept doing it,” Wong said.

Wong’s lecture entitled, “All the World’s a Stage: From Exclusion to Inclusion,” took place Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. in Donahue Audiorium, Dolan Science Center as part of the Shirley S. Seaton Cultural Awareness Series. His talk detailed not only his own struggles but also America’s struggle with diversity.

“I think [America] is kind of struggling with diversity. I elected a president [Barack Obama] that represents, by his very presence, a different sensibility about diversity. Yet we see all around us there is struggle, discomfort, and a lack of understanding that continues,” Wong said.

Discussing the issue of diversity to college students becomes more pressing Wong said because students are defining the world around them, and more importantly, defining themselves.

“All these things are happening. You are deciding what you want to do with your life, deciding who you are, learning about who you are, sharing that, and you don’t do that as freely when you are under your parents’ roof,” Wong said.

These issues face people individually, but understanding issues of diversity, Wong said, will also help individuals relate to others too, which is what he tries to do. Wong strives to be an example that others can relate to who struggle with race or sexual orientation. Something he didn’t have growing up.

“The motivation [in Hollywood] is to create products. This can be dangerous if the ‘products’ in Hollywood don’t reflect the reality of the world. Not only by the proportions of people of color to non-people of color, or gay people to non-gay people, but the way they are portrayed. Those two things make it very difficult for people trying to find their own identity,” Wong said.

Diversity extends not only to race, but also to gay rights. The question of the moment, Wong said, is if gay rights and equality will be the next big civil rights struggle. While the gay civil rights struggle might not be equated to the fight African Americans had in the 1960s, the gay community can equate the same feeling that they do not share the same rights as everyone.

“It is one of the big things we need to check off the list in this country in order to have a healthy living environment. If we are all going to live together we need to figure out how to make gay people feel accepted in our society, and live a life without any compromise, which is a big problem for us,” Wong said.

Wong’s personal struggle between experiencing racism and sexual prejudice is also a struggle between race being more objective while his sexual orientation is subjective discrimination.

“The thing about being Asian American is that it is always on your face, so there is no way to down play it. It is right on your sleeve, therefore it is the more objectifying label rather than the other,” Wong said.

The overall message of Wong’s story is being comfortable in your own skin. Being a healthy person with a healthy outlook on life is how Wong came to accept himself, and maintains that others can reach that optimistic view as well.

“The specific message is a self-esteem message. A part of my journey is how to overcome low self-esteem, there was a time I didn’t want to be a lot of things, but I was. Then I realized I was great at the end of the day [no matter what], and if I can encourage people to find that positive feeling about themselves earlier rather than later that is a great thing,” said Wong.