Experimental Person in Charge, Google Creative Lab.
Tea Uglow is a founding member of Google’s Creative Lab. She works on a range of projects with cultural organisations and practitioners to enable artists, writers and performers to use digital tools to amplify or augment their artistic, theatrical or musical practice. She has 3 books including : A Universe Explodes and A Curiosity of Doubts and was awarded a Peabody for digital storytelling in 2018. Her 2016 TEDx talk has more than 1.6m views. She mentors queer, BAME, female and other intersectional creators and coders worldwide. She likes pop-physics, behavioural psychology, and shopping.
What does diversity mean to you?
I don’t like the word diversity particularly – because it implies diversion from a norm, and the uniqueness of humans is a state of multiplicity. Not one of normal and otherwise. Instead of normal, we could use common. Instead of unusual, we could use uncommon. Things that are uncommon are often rare and valuable – that would be nice.
Instead of seeking diversity and amplifying difference, we could seek inclusion. And in understanding that we begin to understand that any position that excludes others, or embraces views that exclude others is toxic. That a hierarchy of ‘otherness’ is not OK, is not inclusive. Inclusion is at the core of so much that we object to as progressives in civilised society. We are all implicit in excluding others – that is OK, we are allowed to make decisions and have opinions of people. But we should not explicitly be active or condone systematic exclusion.
Diversity, if we want to reclaim it as a process not a label, is about embracing otherness and making space for every viewpoint, even when the space seems finite. It is about allowing each of us to be included and considered, both as humans and as thinkers. Through inclusion we can make informed decisions at any level. Without it we are shallow, tribal and blinkered.
Why do you care about diversity?
I care because it is in everyone’s long-term interests to care. But at a more personal level I am trans, queer, neurodiverse, and have to manage my mental health carefully. I am also a parent. And I am getting old. We all have our intersections – making them more visible and better represented is the only way forward.
What inspired you to start your current journey?
I have known I was queer since I was three. I was afraid to start my journey until I received a BBQ as a birthday present in my late thirties. I realised I couldn’t play that role any more. I don’t think I was inspired at all. I was, by any standard, a reluctant traveller.
Who is your role model?
I was never a great one for role models. Mainly my mum and my god-mother and their circle. Nowadays, in the design world, we have people like Laura Jordan-Bambach, Debbie Millman, Tina Roth Eisenberg, Maria Popova, Kate Moross, Beattie Wolf, Lucy McCrae, Lily Cole, actually this list is endless. I have met so many women and non-binary folk that I like and admire. More traditionally there are people like Nancy Spector of the Guggenheim or Cindy Gallop who I think are just awesome. But I am also a bit confused by what a role model is meant to be.
There is a great generation of young trans voices in the UK: like Paris Lees, Shon Faye, Charlie Craggs, Lily Madigan, CN Lester – I’m in awe of them all. It’s extraordinary to get that kind of intelligence and range in a generation, especially given the toxicity of today’s media. They are all role models to me despite me being old enough to be their mother (and in some cases playing that role).
What is one thing you wish you knew five years ago?
That it would all be OK one day, and that it would be worth the journey.
What is your advice to a young person?
That it will all be OK one day and it will be worth the journey. Don’t hold back.