Columnists

Satirical website brings all the bigots to the yard

Pontsho Pilane

Arwa Mahdawi started Rent-A-Minority to bring attention to diversity issues in the workplace, but she never thought she'd get actual requests.

A screenshot from the Rent-A-Minority website.

Rentaminority.com is a game-changing new service poised to disrupt the diversity industry. Tackling institutional inequality is incredibly inconvenient for businesses and distracts them from their primary duty of maximising profits in order to deliver shareholder value,” wrote the founder and creator of the website Arwa Mahdawi.

Mahdawi, a partner at a New York-based advertising agency, attended the  New York hackathon for “stupid ideas” where she started the Rent-A-Minority website. Rent-A-Minority, which is intended to be satirical, pokes fun at the tokenism rife in tech and media industries. A week after the website had launched and 91 000 clicks later, Mahdawi realised that what she may have intended to be a joke was being seriously considered by companies who were interested in renting minorities, and also by people applying to be minority available for renting. 

“I created the site because I felt frustrated with the surface-level manner in which diversity issues are often dealt with,” said Mahdawi.

 While the idea behind Rent-A-Minority seems laughable, the fact that there were people, particularly companies, genuinely interested in renting out a minority shows the gaping void in dealing with transformation and equity in many industries.  

Research co-ordinator at the Wits Centre of Diversity Studies Haley McEwen says that the problem lies with the way that companies approach diversity management. “Company leaders would rather often include the cost of not having diversity management rather than properly addressing diversity issues within their companies.” Management doesn’t see itself as part of the transformation process, McEwen added, and therefore do it for the sake of avoiding a fine. 

Some of the featured minorities on the website include the Cheerful Woman of Color who won’t embarrass you by being “an angry black woman”, the Smiling Muslim Woman who “is certified not to support ISIS (or your money back)” and the Intellectual Black Guy who will “stand next to you while you say racist things at parties”.

Using stereotypes and microaggressions that people in minority groups face in reality, Mahwadi brilliantly ridicules the way in which companies approach diversity – as more of a window dressing campaign instead of a genuine effort for redress and justice for those that have suffered institutional oppression. 

“We need to talk about how we talk about diversity. We need to get rid of that ‘faint air of menace’ that the Economist references and make diversity a topic that people don’t dread discussing. Anyway, that’s what I think. But it may be a minority opinion,” Mahwadi concluded.


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