Diversity, Our Photoshopped-In Strength
Torontoist has been acquired by Daily Hive Toronto - Your City. Now. Click here to learn more.




Diversity, Our Photoshopped-In Strength

At left: the cover of the City’s FUN Guide, from its website. At right: the original stock photo, as used on Look4me.

Well, this is awkward.
For the cover of their Spring & Summer FUN Guide (a “Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation booklet filled with programs and services for people of all ages” distributed to “community centres, civic centres, libraries and City Hall after February 22, 2009”), the City of Toronto digitally altered a stock photo of a family to replace the tan-skinned father with a darker-skinned one, according to the National Post.

John Gosgnach, the communications director for the City’s social development division, admitted to the Post that the “African-Canadian person” was “superimposed…onto the family cluster in the original photo….the goal was to depict the diversity of Toronto and its residents.” Kevin Sack, the City’s director of strategic communications, agreed with the goal, citing a directive to accurately represent Toronto’s diversity in its publications. “[T]he policy says ‘show diversity’ and that’s of course what we try and do because we want all of our publications to reflect the community that we serve….That’s only fair. People should see themselves reflected in city services because it’s everyone who uses them.”

The North York edition of the guide, at the North Toronto Memorial Community Centre. Photos by Ayngelina Brogan/Torontoist.

It’d be an embarrassing enough mistake to be caught forcibly editing a token Black guy into a photo that didn’t originally include him, all for the sake of “diversity” (and it’s amazing that it took this long to spot such an obvious photo manipulation), but what’s probably most embarrassing for a City whose motto is “Diversity Our Strength” is that there doesn’t seem to be, at least in this case, a clear sense of what the definition of “diversity” actually is—or, worse, that the definition extends mostly or only to visible ethnicity. According to the Post, “there are no criteria for what constitutes diversity, [Kevin Sack] acknowledged when asked how the policy is implemented in practice and why the family in the initial image didn’t seem to fit the bill.”
Diversity, though, just means difference, and difference doesn’t exist by itself: there has to be something to be different from, and you have to enunciate that difference to make it real. The new blacker dad does make the cover of the FUN Guide more diverse than the one with the original family on it would have been, but that’s only if you consider skin colour to be such an important and notable marker of difference that someone with darker skin must be sloppily edited into a photo of a lighter-skinned family to make it more accurately “depict the diversity of Toronto and its residents.” (The black man is otherwise the same as the lighter-skinned man: he looks to be about the same age, gender, and have roughly the same relationship with the other people in the photo as the original man did.) It’s one thing for a city to be mindful of and to embrace all of the differences between its citizens and to tailor its decisions and its actions with all of their best interests in mind; it’s another thing to force it.