Every year, Time magazine publishes its “100 Most Influential People” issue, and every year the Internet’s loudest tweeters whine at the magazine for leaving their favorite celebrities off the list. This year, however, Time managed to anger communities more under-recognized than Whovians or Red Sox fans. It left off one of the stars of Orange is the New Black: Laverne Cox, winner of the Stephen F. Kolzak Award, who is a trans woman of color.
Normally, this is a non-issue, fit only to be tweeted and Tumbld about by rabid fans. Normally, most people trust that other public figures received more votes on the polls, or that the slighted celebrity did not have much influence in the previous year (although, come on—the pope over Tina Fey?). But such is not the case when it comes to Laverne Cox: She was in the top-10 range for most of the voting, and yet, by some sorcery, she did not make it into the final draft of the 100 list. Highly suspect.
This points to three major issues with Time’s list. First, it tips off readers to how undemocratic the selection process is. Ninety-one percent of people voting said that Cox deserved a spot on the list—she was seventh a few hours before the list was finalized. Somehow, she still wasn’t chosen, rendering the polls pointless.
Secondly, this implies that people who are much less deserving (and much more white and cisgender) do get on the list. This includes such influential individuals as Matthew McConaughey, Carrie Underwood, Seth Meyers, and Amy Adams. It’s worth noting that Lupita Nyong’o—who, unlike Adams, actually won an Oscar—did not make the list, though her co-star Benedict Cumberbatch did.
Third, it speaks to a persistent prejudice in the press: At best, Laverne Cox’s being left out is accidental erasure, the product of her being looked over in favor of paler, more mainstream pastures. At worst, it reveals pointed discrimination towards trans women—especially those of color. But the outcry over her exclusion exemplifies that darker desire that seemingly all oppressed peoples have to be validated by their oppressors.
I doubt anyone is surprised that Laverne Cox was not included on a list that has traditionally been packed with political figures and CEOs, celebrities who are socially acceptable to like and socially acceptable to hate—because Laverne Cox isn’t any of those things.
She is not usual magazine fodder, bland white bread that “may or may not be prego” or “heading for Splitsville” or “caught in a love triangle” at a time that conveniently coincides with the release of a new project. She is important because the people she represents are finally breaking through to mainstream media. Time Magazine’s “Influential People” issue is practically blinding me with the glare of its intolerance—or that might be the glare off Benedict Cumberbatch’s face. Either way, I’m logging off and saving myself the headache of seeing yet another issue of yet another magazine that takes a bottle of Wite-Out to the stray marks of progress that it sees as error.