What does DEI mean in the world of non-fungible tokens? Can NFTs lead the way to a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future?
As NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens) gain popularity as a way of owning digital assets and joining tokenized communities, it’s becoming clear that this use of the blockchain could drive more than just innovation in technology and ownership structures. There are signs that this new way of creating and collecting art could also drive advances in diversity, equity and inclusion in historically inequitable spaces.
The NonFungible team is a diverse one. We bring together a variety of cultures, languages, gender and sexual identities, among other groups and statuses. We believe in equity, which means acknowledging our differences personal and historical, including disadvantages. Our team’s composition and how we work with one another prompted this article. So did our desire to foster inclusion of the wide-range of folks who have contributed to the amazing proliferation of NFTs in such a short time. All of us have a lot to offer via NFTs, and NFTs can catalyze the innovation we bring. Yet there is a long way to go in the realm of non-fungible tokens more generally when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), especially for disabled artists who create non-fungible tokens to represent themselves and their culture.
As another of our authors pointed out in her article on the history of NFTs on ethereum, 2021 was a year of representation. NFT projects by women, LGBTQ+ creators, among other marginalized groups. For the realm of NFTs, DEI means ethical representation and supportive platforming for marginalized groups. It’s a framework that counterbalances white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, and white narratives and power structures. And the NFT world, as much as the world we eat and sleep in, needs balance if we’re to avoid making the same mistakes that have excluded the full richness of human experience.
We all benefit. While younger generations like Gen Z support increased diversity, equity, and inclusion, that seems to be skewing upward as older generations realize DEI applies to age as well. At the same time, the youth-oriented NFT market continues to gain coverage and legitimacy in places as unexpected as golf and fine wine that have been traditionally associated with older, more affluent groups. The culture of disabled artists may be the next field non-fungible tokens will spotlight.
ARTXV is a community that serves neurodiverse NFT artists and celebrates their culture. Neurodiversity covers a broad scope of individual experiences that includes Autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more. These conditions are common and natural, yet not so common that it’s easy to create community around them in the real-world. The flexibility of NFTs, their openness to carry the experience of very different individuals and communities, also creates common digital ground. The wide range of neurodiverse experiences can be valued and made visible for the community as well as those outside it.
Visual art speaks emotional truths that words often fail to do, especially in neurodiverse discourses. Seeing is believing and believing can yield understanding. Once visible, disabled experiences are harder to deny. Communities like ARTXV, the NFTs they’ll soon mint, and the conversations they promote extend beyond a small, often excluded community. When disabled artists can show their art without passing a credential check for a Master of Fine Arts, or for their connections to high-profile galleries, or agents and influencers’ gatherings that require neurotypical tact, boundaries dissolve and possibilities arise for individual expression and community. The art demands of the viewer: “Could you exclude me now?”
Perhaps for disabled artists the flow of inclusion will pour into the real world from their art. Or from able-bodied allies who transfer their appreciation from the NFT gallery back to the person in the wheelchair. Or the young lady flapping her arms happily at the cafe. When disabled folks can build thriving communities online that elevate individual and cultural dignity, both individuals and culture become that much harder to tear down. Part of that individual dignity is financial stability. This is key for Autistic folks in particular as the unemployment rate in that population may be nearly 40% in the United States.
Can NFTs facilitate DEI practices in the metaverse? We hope so. The metaverse and marginalized groups like Autistic folks have everything to gain from diversity, equity, and inclusion. We encourage you to continue this conversation while the NFT market is young and the ethics that guide it are in flux.
As part of Web3, NFTs can be a lever we use to push and innovate real-world discussions. NFTs, thanks to their horizontal and transparent nature, can give exposure to anyone who wants to build the next web and a better world. So far, the next web looks more diverse and inclusive thanks to NFTs and their creators.
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