Grin and Bear It?: On Staying in the Picture

Once upon a time I had the privilege of co-working out of the well-appointed offices of a mid-sized Manhattan tech non-profit. From the moment I walked in I was taken aback by two things: first, the breathtaking views from the penthouse level office and second, how shockingly white and male the office was. Women were few and far between and on first (and second and third!) glance I didn’t see a single person of color. This non-profit was a far cry from the sort I was used to, but I was there to co-work and I was glad to keep my head down and be able to do it in such a lovely place.

Well, one day word got around to me that a photographer was coming that afternoon to take pictures in and around the office. And, I tell you, you’ve never seen someone gather their things and hustle out of a place quicker than I did. As grateful as I was for the hospitality there (the free desk and the free wi-fi and all), I simply did not want to volunteer my likeness to the cause. I did not work for this non-profit and didn’t want anyone assuming I worked there and photographing me to present me as someone who worked there.

Now for those of you who are confused at this, it may come as a shock for you to hear that this is only one of many many times where I have either been asked to be photographed or just outright photographed in order to provide some “local color”. The truth is lots of young progressive or innovative organizations want their public facing image to be more like this

Photo by Elisabeth Fall/

but when it comes to hiring, recruitment and retention, they can’t or don’t want to do the actual work  and/or they just want to hire their friends. This often results in a staff that looks more like this.

Picture from The Atlantic

As a black woman in free software/free culture (what I guess could be called a Double Unicorn?), I find that I am often The Only One In The Room and — as one can imagine — there is a certain amount of discomfort/unwanted attention that comes with that. So when it comes to pictures, if the group is truly progressive/diverse or has it’s heart t in the right place and seems to be making strides towards inclusiveness then I am mostly fine for my image to be used to signal to the world that “Hey, this is an inclusive bunch” and further to signal to other black women like me “Come on in, the water is warm (or at least not icy cold!)”. However, if the group is less than hospitable and/or does not seem like something I’d want anyone I care about putting time into to, then I do my best to dodge the lens. And so time and time again in different meetups and gatherings, at work and at play,  I’ve literally had to take a moment to determine whether I should “Give a grin or get going”.

For this and so many reasons, I am grateful to The Ada Initiative. From one of my earliest encounters with The Ada Initiative (the 2012 AdaCamp in DC), I was impressed that they had a clear photo policy where they asked your permission before photographing you and sharing your image and also were very gracious about getting your permission before using your likeness for promotional purposes. Treating people with respect…what a refreshing revelation! For this and so many more reasons, I am glad to support The Ada Initiative in the ongoing and  crucial work of supporting, recruiting, developing, and retaining women in all areas of open source, open culture and all around geekiness.

Me with fellow TAI advisor, the fabulous MarinaZ!

If you (and I hope you do!) believe in this work and their mission, please get in the picture and give to The Ada Initiative during the month-long campaign.

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