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Looking for the elephant in the wall: diversity in tech talk update & a nude beach

Last updated on February 1, 2020

So I am writing a series of posts on diversity in the technology field. And, as usual, my gaze is fixed on the bigger picture which sort of makes me look like I put on giant saucer-shaped glasses leaving me with big black pupil filled eyes. It’s all about the effort of trying to take everything into my brain all at once while attempting to sort it all out and discover some thesis along the way. This post is about said situation.

Tough topic. I went into it thinking that hey I’m a gay guy, open-minded, experienced with all sorts of cultures, backgrounds, religions and gender identities, this will be a snap! So far? Not at all. I mean yeah, I have some good research and a skeleton of what I want as far as outlines, sketches and even talk abstracts, but when it comes to delving into the issue at hand? Well, it’s like some sort of rodent that you can’t see but you can hear inside the kitchen wall. You know it’s there, and an idea of the size and weight of the thing, but you just can’t truly identify it as it won’t present itself.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

I mean, yeah, I’ve worked with women, lot’s of women of all ages, colors, nationalities. Transgender men and women and non-binaries, among all the other letters of the Queer alphabet. Straight men of all ages and I have to say, while I love my fathers and my generation and all that we stand for, the mistakes we’ve made and the good we are still trying to do, I am very impressed with how straight/gay masculinity is evolving into from what I see in the younger (than myself) generations. Men like my coworkers who just, day after day, continue to floor me in how far we’ve come in shedding backward, isolationist and patriarchal ideals that hurt ourselves, each other and so many others as we’ve seen now for generations. The same goes for, from what I can see, in the female identity within the scope for things like the #MeToo movement and the continued push for equality everywhere for women in general.

So I’ve decided to take a detour back to my own roots. I went home to visit my folks. Well, that and to call one of my aunts on the phone afterward whom I cite as the person who ended up being the main reason why I didn’t turn out to be a total and complete asshole in life. The folks are in good health, aging yes, but sharp, alert and active as much as they can be. My brother is well and doing what he enjoys with his life. All in all, a good visit.

And then, from the recount perspective from my aunt, there were stories of relatives who descended upon my parent’s house at Thanksgiving, in full-on Trump talking points, firearms at the ready, “maga” hats, with FaceBook profiles where they were proudly displaying white supremacist messaging. This is all stuff I missed as I took my husband out to the woods where we spent the holiday away together all by ourselves and the fireplace. On his side, to be fair, he has relatives who state that, even while taking work within these districts, think less of African American children and families but that “at least they aren’t Muslim.” Let’s unpack that. First thing, in an era post segregation, we still have African-American school districts? That these places are rife with the imbalance of opportunities where the scale is lighter on that side than, say, the more affluent white school districts from whence these particular relatives hail from. And, finally, that “at least they aren’t Muslim?!”

Again, I can clearly hear the mouse in the wall here, only it now sounds like an unruly elephant trumpeting and stomping wildly upon the very foundations of the house.

Photo by Inbetween Architects on Unsplash

It’s funny, I recently had dinner with a young couple, last Friday actually. The young woman is a talented developer who, having been taken advantage of one too many times by the tech industry, dropped out and now works part-time in a craft retail endeavor. She’s doing something we should all do a lot more of in my opinion. Retreat and then search. Then her husband, also young from my perspective here at the doorstep of 50, who is one of those evolved straight guys who is just simply comfortable in his own skin and does not feel the need to prescribe to the hyper-macho ways of my fathers-fathers. Well, it’s kind of hopeful to see this kind of dynamic in a relationship from the vantage point of good friends. That’s change in the world in action. He respects her, she’s a strong woman, they both love one another and they are finding a path forward together.

Again, however, here’s a moment where we have to zoom back out and then back in. She left the tech industry because she was taken advantage of and, in the process, undervalued. That’s ground zero right there for one aspect of the imbalance in my chosen field.

I’ve heard that it’s a world of extremes. But I have to question that too. Is it that we have extremes or that no one is the same and that diversity is the very fabric of what humanity is. Jill Lepore, author of “These Truths” states very clearly that America is no more divided today than at its inception. My aunt taught me that we have no control over anything in life. Really, the only thing we can do is to get to know and, ideally, befriend our neighbors.

I read an article this morning by Matt Knight on the New York Times, which had been bookmarked all week in my browser to do area, “On a nude beach with my parents, almost baring all.” Blew my mind in how simple, but pertinent, it was too, well, everything about the track I am plodding through right now.

Seeing my brother reminded me of the deep divisions that existed between us in our 20’s & 30’s. I was gay, he wasn’t. He is Christian, I’m not. It devolved from there to the point where another family member told me that it felt like I had died when I finally came out in my early 20’s. I have to admit, my earlier intolerance of conservative ideologies was indicative of the larger problem. Today, I think this has become the fulcrum that I now see the possibility of change in the larger sense. It’s a two-way exchange that starts with empathy, listening, strength and courage to be yourself but also to treat people, like my family, as neighbors. They are going to believe what they believe. But as a neighbor, or co-worker townsperson, we can guide and show that the world is not a place to fear, it’s a place to explore and celebrate unknowns with a more civil tone and open way of thinking.

Back to Matt Knight’s article as an example, he talks about sharing a nude beach experience with his parents. Yeah, that sounded potentially awkward to me too. But his intent was different. He was closeted at the time. He went through a pretty blockbuster disillusionment life experience when one of his primary relationships broke off and was probably feeling disconnected from his folks. I get it. The nude beach was a place of liberation, freedom and positive experiences that put wind in his sails. So he suggested they all go together and, while none of them got naked, he chose to share something real with them. This, of course, led to his eventual coming out and allowing his folks to accept him for who he is.

It’s like that with children. We learn these behaviors. We learn masculinity. We learn to fear and to hate. We learn shame. Sometimes, if we fit the right mold, we are awarded privilege. As opposed to having to achieve things against all odds with a deck so stacked against others of us in the case of African-Americans, Muslim, transgendered, Indigenous peoples and women in tech for example. From that perspective, learning to trust people and expect fair treatment is a luxury awarded to far few people.

Photo by Oliver Sjöström on Unsplash

I have a feeling that the device I am looking for is in here somewhere. The mysterious Big Bang moment where everything changes inside of a person while changing nothing at all except for understanding and empathy for others and our place in relation to the larger world around us. To resist the temptation to make the world smaller less “other.” The latter can be seen clearly with part of the American culture who wants to build a border wall between us and the Hispanic world citing “murderers and rapists.” The task at hand, however, again, is what my aunt talked about in relation to not having control over anything except for our own possibilities of thought, empathy, and heart. The neighbor paradigm who, no matter how different these folks are, we choose to listen and share instead of shutting them out. Just as my short trip back to my roots has shown me this week. I don’t judge my family for the choices they have made, if anything, I’d like to understand them better and, in the process, show them that the world is not, in fact, a place to fear or divisiveness. Or to my friend who left the tech industry because she was undervalued and basically left with little choice but to leave out of pure frustration. When that happens, the tech community suffers as a whole from the pure loss of talent and perspectives that are different from the majority.

That’s zooming in at the personal level on the issue. Zooming back out? Well, I am nowhere near closer to identifying the mouse in the wall, I feel like I am getting better at framing the affected areas at least where the animal is making so many problems for those around it. I suppose that’s the point of what I want this exploration to become. Identifying the issues, understanding the motivations, looking at the impacts and then proposing a transition set of steps toward actual interpersonal change that any person can use to make a positive change or at the very east drive this conversation forward.

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