Sexism, Racism, and Heteronormativity as Insider Threats

So there’s this. I frankly didn’t know what to say about it – and I guess no one else did either, because all Andy Baio heard was silence. I’d recommend digging into all the responses to that tweet, because there’s good stuff there from smart people and leaders in the Portland tech community and beyond.

What is perhaps most worrying to me is that Scott and his friend and fellow accused Nitin Khanna hosted the OEN Awards last October. On that night, at least, they were the poster boys for Portland’s entrepreneurial spirit, for tech startups, for the entire life that the industry represents. I don’t know the Truth About These Incidents. I don’t have all the facts. But you have to admit that the implications are gross and unsettling, and that they are cause enough for some people to feel unsafe. There have been other stories recently that have exposed Portland’s default response – “we’re not clueless, we’re just homogenous and awkward” – as a fraud.

In a moment of Twitter serendipity, this big-ass manual on mitigating insider threats came across the transom just after my conversation with Selena, Andy, Cabel (we haven’t met, by the way – hi), and others. An insider threat is an employee or soon-to-be-former employee who, through malice or incompetence, breaks your infrastructure. It seemed like such an apt metaphor that I knew I was writing this tonight.

Abusers are insider threats to the culture that we’re trying to build. Stories like the above-linked stories foreclose whole sets of opportunities for women, for minorities, for folks with different approaches to identity and gender. But here (I think) is Andy’s point – enablers, excuses, and silent shrugs are insider threats as well:

I don’t care if people comment at all. But not acknowledging it feels like covering up the dark side of our tech community.

That was in response to someone who was – legitimately – stating that he didn’t feel like he had the knowledge to “comment” on the situation. I do get that – you read a salacious, detail-laden piece, cobbled together from police blotters and strategically leaked emails, and it’s easy to think “dang, that seems like something I would hate to have dragged through the streets if it were my life.” Who are we to throw stones? But each time this happens, are we really going to pretend that it’s an outlier? After all the high profile shitstorms we’ve had? After all of the old, repetitive, so common as to be boring stories about the female coder at OSCON who gets asked if she’s a “real” programmer, or just there to marvel at the studly geek men? The whole thing reeks of the broader, uglier implications of what Carlos Bueno recently (and brilliantly) termed “the Mirrortocracy.”

We’re rotting from the inside, but because everyone seems essentially like us, we assume that the bad apples are just “wigged out.” Guess what, assholes – we’re wrong. Every time we don’t take these opportunities to talk about inclusion, we’re condoning behavior that excludes. Every time we make any sort of assumption about how our culture supports those who are different, and don’t actually ask, we’re failing. Executive, middle manager, team lead, minion, all of us must attend, at all times, to the horrible, reactionary truth that the culture is poisoned. The funny thing about privilege is that it’s not funny at all.

Listen, the last feminist writer I really dug into was bell hooks, so I’m behind the times. And I’m a predominantly straight white guy, so there’s that. But I’m sincere in the belief that we (by which I mean straight white guys) have to do better. We are, individually, on balance, better than this (I hope).

PS – I include myself in the “assholes” comment, above. I have to smash my own screwed-up justifications for the behavior of others just as much as anyone else. Ok, I love y’all, &c.

One Response to “Sexism, Racism, and Heteronormativity as Insider Threats”

  1. Kate Ertmann July 7, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    Thanks for writing this. As a rather large tech community here in PDX, this – sexism, racism, and heteronormativity — needs to be acknowledged and talked about — in some way, online or offline or both, let’s have this discussion and not be afraid to be wrong, or right, or be conflicted or passionate with what we all should be talking about.

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