You know the drill. Before the month is out, I just want to take a moment to give thanks for a few things that have been giving me (sorely-needed) life this month.
1) Drake’s “Nice for What?”
I’ve been having a tough month and this song and video came right on time. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history, folks.
2) BBCAmerica’s Killing Eve
I have had a big crush on Sandra Oh ever since I saw her in the 1995 short film Preywith (the also swoon-worthy) Adam Beach. I unfortunately didn’t really dig Grey’s Anatomy so I was waiting for her next thing and am excited to be able to watch her as the lead every week in BBC America’s fantastic new crime thriller Killing Eve. Creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who is also the star and writer of the excellent Fleabag on Amazon Prime) is genius and the villain played by Jodie Comer is creepy and brilliant. Three cheers for a thoroughly female-driven thriller!
3) Autonomy Institute’s “Keynes, Foucault and the ‘Disciplinary Complex’: a Contribution to the Analysis of Work”
The Autonomy Institute is devoted to rigorous study of work. I am a big fan of everything they are doing to question the meaning of work and beginning to envision a post-work world. This article delves deep into work’s role as a means of creating and enforcing social order. I encourage you to read it and then peruse the rest of their site as they are putting out a lot of great scholarship and commentary.
In the beginning, there was the pure, innocent love of the craft. Hands on a motherboard, fingers on a keyboard, you marveled at your budding power of creation. Your ability to conjure something that seemingly wasn’t there before.
Then the harder part, earning your stripes, whether it was enrolling in formal education or joining an open source project. You felt uneasy, but maybe that was just nerves or imposter syndrome. It’d shake off in time, you thought, surely you’d grow more confident.
So you moved onwards into the hallowed halls of the tech industry — the Googles, the Apples, the Ubers, and the nameless-but-hopeful upstarts. And that uneasiness couldn’t shake. In fact, it oftentimes got worse. Bad Things happened. You tried to talk to your coworkers about it, but most shook their heads and laughed it off.
You tried to talk to HR about it and they transferred you to another side of the compound. You thought to yourself maybe something *was* truly wrong with you.But then you looked down at your hands, those same magical hands that found pure joy in the craft and then you looked up at your screen. There you saw a dreary spreadsheet or code for some pointless widget or the interface for yet. another. food. delivery. app.
It’s not you that changed; your magic did not fade. Our magic has not faded. We all still have immense power and capacity to harness our time and creativity to bring about solutions for the world’s ills and also enchant our own lives.
So the question is: why don’t we feel it? What is it we are doing that so disenchants us and who/what are we doing it for? What and whose vision are we servicing?
At this point we can’t talk about the Bad Things that go on in this industry as mere isolated events. How many women and people of color and others have whistle blown? How many of us see what happens to them and become too paralyzed to speak up or acknowledge anything—even to ourselves?
And even if we decide to speak up, to whom (and on what platforms), would/do we even make such appeals?
The Bad Things are not anomaly or abnormality. This is capital working towards its own ends. For all its talk about “thinking different” and manufacturing some sort of utopian future, the work we are doing , the people we work for, the VCs, and the banks funding them are doing what they have ALWAYS done. They remain in hot pursuit of ever more capital for capital’s sake, rolling over anyone or anything that gets in their way.
Furthermore, while neoliberal capitalism has evidenced great plasticity in terms of what it can tolerate on the surface while still keeping the gears in motion, any racism, sexism, classism, trans/homophobia etc. that we might encounter or suspect is endemic and essential.
Thus, in their never-ending pursuit of this manifest destiny, the people behind these cutting-edge platforms that many of us have so come to trust — the places where most of us upload our most private information and connect with our nearest and dearest — must deputize vigilantes to police the borders of their new frontiers. These vigilantes often go by the names of “online bullies” or “internet trolls”, but they are merely the low-paid mercenaries at the front, pushing forward the message and the mission of the monied and powerful.
This is not new. We can’t talk about the rise of new formations of internet-based hate groups without at the same time talking about the platforms where they gather and organize and the training grounds like unmoderated community forums, tech conferences that refuse to uphold Codes of Conduct, and HR departments that sweep accusations under the rug. Nearly every time one of those platforms and the execs who run them came to a crossroads where they could draw a line in the sand and create a policy with real teeth, they consciously chose not to.
So while the formidable work of groups like Project Include, Code 2040, Black Girls Code, and Girl Develop It is laudable, I don’t think that integration work alone will transform this industry. In fact, I’d argue that the people and organizations that fund these efforts do so precisely so that they can preemptively neutralize elements that have the potential to be truly disruptive and dangerous. With their money and seats on the board, they control the terms such that nothing ever really changes. The ship will still keep boldly going on the course that was charted long ago.
My goal is not necessarily for anyone to flip a table and walk out. I can’t do that myself, and I know we all have rent to pay and mouths to feed. What I do ask is that you:
Embrace your discomfort. Bad Things are happening. Unfortunately, the Bad Things are the system functioning as intended. While certain people claim to be regretful that this happened and others are playing the blame game, this is mere a diversion while the elites quietly re-establish order. A few whistleblowers will become prominent, fall guys will fall, deck chairs will be shuffled on the Titanic and nothing will truly change.
Understand that technology/innovation is not the proprietary domain of the so-called Tech Industry. Much technology and innovation is publicly-funded and open source and accessible to all of us. Even when privately funded, innovation represents the fruits of our labor and we should be able to leverage it all.
Connect with likeminded folks for mutual support and to start actively thinking about alternatives. Let’s challenge ourselves to build and nurture new, independent projects and spaces to unleash our creativity (I am working on something like this, reach out if you are interested).
Be not dismayed! Working together, we have limitless power to harness and direct our passions, courage, and skills to reanimate, reinvigorate, and liberate.
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” – Audre Lorde
Believe it or not, I only just sat down and listened to the Hamilton soundtrack this month. It is so adorable and catchy! Lin-Manuel Miranda kept reiterating in interviews that the soundtrack is the whole show but it only clicked for me when I heard him say it again in this chat with Damien Chazelle, Donald Glover, and Issa Rae.
I bingewatched season 1 of Chewing Gum and I am officially obsessed with Michaela Coel. Issa Rae is cute and all, but I am LIVING for Michaela Coel right now. She is my cool younger cousin in my head and since her family is also from Ghana, I am hoping it turns out that we are somehow related. Not likely, but I can dream. Oh, also no Season 2 spoilers please.
The Women’s March was controversial and problematic (this interview really resonated with me) but it still felt huge and important and I was glad that I went. This is a sociopolitical moment I have been waiting for, and if it were anything less than messy then we’d surely be doing it wrong.
When asked by host Kara Swisher what would be [her] message to Silicon Valley, Erica Joy’s said “Care, just care.”
This absolutely and totally breaks my heart. No offense toEricaJoy(I ADORE that woman); I just think we shouldn’t be put in the position to have to provide the answers, to de-marginalize ourselves. Ta-Nehisi Coates has it right
If they didn’t care when theyownedus, when we lived and worked in their homes and raised their children, when will they care? If they didn’t care as we were waterhosed and chased by dogs in the street, why would they care now? They feel like they’ve already done the caring. We’re better off now and where’s their thanks, right? They think they’ve ceded the ground that they had to cede. What ever we get or don’t get now is up to us.What else do you want? is clearly the thinking and as such it seems they’ll get to us when they’re feeling particularly charitable. It is not a responsibility, it is not how they define themselves. Shaming them in the press only means they need to bail a little water and that’s when we’ll get a little something to drink…and is that what we want? Because, I can tell you. That’s not what I am out for.
Getting more excluded people into exclusive organizations can’t be the actual discussion. The goal isn’t really justinclusion, is it? Because it feels like it is and, yeah, that is not something I *really* care about. I am interested in TRANSFORMATION. So just let it be known that from now on ,I don’t want to talk about increasing inclusion in tech without talking about social and economic justice.Diversity efforts without a truly transformative vision are just ego play.
“So we are fighting our pc battles for the rights of ethnic minorities, of gays and lesbians, of different life-styles, and so on, while capitalism pursues its triumphant march…” — Slavoj Žižek, Multiculturalism or the cultural logic of multinational capitalism?
Michael Skolnik is an amazing person who does incredible antiracist ally work. Today he published his White Ally Playbook. In addition to being a great primer that I can send to others, it also hipped me to the universally applicable Ally Commandments by the (equally fantastic) journalist and scholar Professor Melissa Harris-Perry. They are as follows:
Don’t demand that those you are supporting produce proof of the inequality they are working to resist.
Do recognize that the shield of your privilege may blind you to the experience of others of injustice.
Don’t offer up your relationship with a member of the marginalized group as evidence of your understanding.
Do be open to learning and expanding your consciousness by listening more and talking less.
Don’t see yourself as the Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves. Or Tom Cruise in The Last Samari. You are not the savior riding to the rescue on a white horse. Do notice that you are joining a group of people who are already working to save themselves.
Do realize the only requirement you need to enter ally-ship is a commitment to justice and human equality.
Can someone etch these onto a large stone tablet for me?
I recently spoke with a friend who told me that they were interviewing a potential developer with other members of her team. After the interview, the friend sat with her teammates and discussed the candidate. Some moments later, their boss walked into the room and informed them that they needed to interview a different person for the position because he wanted this position to be a “diversity hire.”
My friend and her teammates were confused. This is the first she and her colleagues had heard about this position being a “diversity hire”; in fact, it was the first time she or any one of them had heard about any sort of diversity efforts at the company at all. So naturally their response was, “WTF?!” They weren’t at all opposed to the idea of diversity, in fact they were strongly committed to it, but the approach seemed entirely out of left field and altogether questionable.
When my friend related the story to me the conclusions I drew were manifold, here are a few:
If your company has a diversity policy that no one has ever seen or heard of, then your company does not have a diversity policy.
If you don’t have a professional HR department and structures in place for employees to be educated about and report discrimination that occurs on the job site, you do not have “plan for diversity”.
If you are trying to hire “for diversity” and you have no clear plan, then you are not “hiring for diversity”. You are hiring to assuage guilt or stroke your ego. Or (most likely) hiring to create some stock image of diversity that you can gaze your eyes upon and pat your back about.
Just because you have hired (or feel strongly that you’d like to hire) a person from an underrepresented group in tech doesn’t mean you have any commitment to diversity.
Using the word “diversity” a lot does not mean you care about diversity.
Save time this year (and always) with Betteridge’s Law – Betteridge’s law of headlines is an adage that states: “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” It is named after Ian Betteridge, a British technology journalist, although the general concept is much older. The observation has also been called “Davis’ law or just the “journalistic principle”. (Thanks, Gunnar!)
Location Based Messaging? My family recently got back from vacation in California. It would have been really helpful to send out a note of some sort or an email or a text to everyone I know who lives there or happened to be there at the time so I could let them know I was there and then perhaps coordinate to meet. Does anyone know of any sort of location based friend-messaging service? Maybe from Google?
Open Source Finishing School – I just mentioned to dear friend Karl Fogel that I think there is a valid market out there for organizations who want to use open source but are afraid and people who want to sell open source but are uncertain of how to assuage aforementioned fears. In my experience, most lawyers dealing with tech are either fervent cheerleaders for traditional IP approaches, clueless and/or wary of open source. More guidance is needed! The work Karl is doing at Open Tech Strategies is surely one organization doing this sort of thing, but they are a small shop. Does anyone know of any other such organizations? Also, Karl, when can we expect some case studies and customer testimonials?
“So, lean in, but do so while nursing your baby, or while your son sleeps on the couch in your office because he’s feeling sick — and don’t apologize for it. Pursue your goals, take risks, and go above and beyond, but don’t give up your role as a mother, wife (or husband, for that matter), and community member to do so. We can do better.”