Category Archives: people of color

The centre cannot hold: on diversity and inclusion in tech

Does the language of diversity and inclusion in tech serve us?

In her autobiography, Assata Shakur warns of the slippery nature of “liberal,” both the word and the political concept:

I have never really understood exactly what a ‘liberal’ is, since I have heard ‘liberals’ express every conceivable opinion on every conceivable subject…As far as I’m concerned, ‘liberal’ is the most meaningless word in the dictionary.

Similarly, “diversity” and “inclusion” feel like liberal words; like the concept of liberalism itself, they can be rendered devoid of meaning and therefore dangerously susceptible to appropriation, perversion and reversal.

In genuine efforts towards diversity and inclusion in tech, the words are meant to denote  efforts to combat the racist, sexist and otherwise oppressive and discriminatory systems and practices that keep tech such a white, cis male space (i.e. diversity); and, when those marginalized folks actually do make it into tech spaces, ensure that they are not driven away by hostile environments that demand them to conform to that largely white, cis male culture (i.e. inclusion).

However, opportunists are glad to take the words diversity and inclusion and skew them to their own designs. Diversity becomes about “diversity of thought,” a phrase used to rail against communities that make it clear that discriminatory and oppressive words, beliefs and actions are not welcome. Inclusion becomes about ensuring that white supremacists, sexual harassers, active misogynists, transphobes and other similar vectors of oppression are never excluded from the community, no matter how many marginalized people they drive away in the process.

Rather than tech diversity and inclusion, we should instead seek tech equity and justice: explicitly political, less politically empty and mutable language. This is, of course, a far broader and more challenging goal. The explicit political, anti-oppressive nature of tech equity and justice will undoubtedly draw more fire from those committed to maintaining the existing hierarchies and inequities in tech. Additionally, tech equity and justice would need to address a far wider range of inequities and injustices connected to tech, from the racist gentrification of San Francisco and the East Bay, to exploitative labor practices required for the abundance of cheap electronics and devices we consume as techies, to the environmental and human destruction wreaked in order to obtain the basic materials for creating those devices.

Yes, tech equity and justice is a much more challenging road for us to walk, but that is because it gets to the roots of the systems that have made tech diversity and inclusion efforts necessary in the first place. And when you get at the roots of a problem, you’re far more likely to get rid of the problem for good.

(Originally drafted on May 15, 2017; edited and published in the wake of the release of the Google anti-diversity screed.)

An uncomfortable inclusion, rejected

This morning I found myself sitting in my favorite neighborhood spot, Akat Cafe Kalli, where the politics are as palpable and potent as the coffee. I sat here, eating my breakfast sandwich, drinking my café de olla, reading my book , nodding my head along to the music, which I was growing increasingly aware of and was increasingly digging, but also increasingly scared to trust it. As I listened to the explicitly political lyrics on police violence, racism, sexism and homophobia that seemed to speak directly to me as a queer, leftist, womanish person of color, my suspicion grew that I might feel significantly less in tune with other, yet unnamed politics of the artists whose album was playing. The feeling increased as the words, now in Spanish as well as English, continued to resonate as much as the music to which they were set.

A few more tracks in, and I was digging the music too much to not know whose it was. I searched online for a snippet of the lyrics–“i’m a bird who sings in the springtime”–and found that it was indeed Climbing PoeTree, and that I was indeed right to feel betrayed. (In short, Climbing PoeTree performed at Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival despite a longstanding call for a boycott because of their exclusion of trans women; the duo’s public response, the only one I know of, was weak, as was their response to me in real life after I yelled for them to stop selling out trans women while they were on stage at an organizational event I attended.

Despite feeling so seen, heard, included and even centered by this music and these words, I couldn’t stop thinking of those who are not included in the circle of these artists’ politics, those whose exclusion these artists have endorsed and even embraced–trans women. I couldn’t let myself go with this music, as much as my ears and body wanted to, because I cannot leave my sisters and siblings behind in order to enjoy my own inclusion.


TFW your tech work needs a trigger warning

It happens sometimes. I do web work and other kinds of tech support for community organizations, some of whom I work with outside of paid work. Working at this intersection of technology, my activism and my communities means I get shaken up at unexpected times.

Today I was working on a plan for a new website for the Audre Lorde Project, an organization I’ve worked with both professionally and politically for more than a decade now. I was checking out their site analytics to get a sense of what their site traffic might indicate about who’s coming to the site, and for what.

I pulled up a report of their site traffic over the past year and saw two huge spikes. I started looking into the first one. I got real nerdy excited over the rapid increase in traffic, jotting down some notes:

March 30 – 127 visits
March 31 – 340
April 1 – 1167
April 2 – 1586
April 3 – 634
April 4 – 244
tapers off from there

Next, of course, I had to see what was generating all that traffic, what was getting hit and why.

At the top of list of pages sorted by unique page views, I saw this URL:

I felt physically jolted, a little winded. I suddenly realized what I was seeing: the massive flood of people to Breaking Isolation: Self Care and Community Care Tools for our People, a resource that ALP posted after Taueret Davis, a community member I’d known of for years, a dear friend to many dear friends, committed suicide. So many of my friends, fellow queers, community members were amongst the unique visitors generating all of those page views. I was responsible for at least one of those page views.

I alt-tabbed to the work timer I had running and stopped the clock. I couldn’t just work past this. It brought up a barrage of memories and feelings, not only about Taueret’s death but about the other suicides we survivors have lived through this past year.

As I’m wont to do, I turned outward. Talked to my coworkers about it, a few of whom were similarly impacted by Taueret’s death. Tweeted about it. Wrote this.

After I’d expressed the contents of my head and my heart enough to keep going, I returned to work, now with even stronger inspiration for the work, plus a suddenly deepened understanding of why it’s so important to make sure that URLs don’t break when sites are upgraded. can never, ever break.

For Aubrey

After a webinar on blogging for social change earlier today, I found myself on the home page of my old blog, AngryBrownButch. Scrolling down the page, I was jarred to read these words from November 18, 2008:

Since writing about Duanna on Friday, I’ve learned about the killings of two more trans women of color in recent months. Ebony Whitaker was murdered in July, also in Memphis. In August, Nakhia Williams was killed in Louisville, Kentucky. GLAAD and the Kentucky Fairness Alliance report that not only was there minimal news coverage of Williams’ murder, but the coverage that did happen was transphobic and disrespectful. And just this past Friday, Teish Cannon, a young Black trans woman living in Syracuse, NY, had her life cut short at the age of 22 because she was trans. Again, the media coverage has been both sparse and disrespectful, identifying Cannon as a man who was killed for being gay, not a woman who was killed for being trans.

(It took me maybe ten minutes to type that last paragraph. It made me feel nauseous. I’m not sure how I’m managing not to cry at this point.)

Those words, written just over six years ago, are a terrible echo of words I’ve heard, read and helped write in recent weeks. Not even two months into 2015, at least nine queer or trans people of color have been killed, the majority of them trans women of color. We mourned those nine people on February 14 at a Valentine’s Day Action for Murdered Trans and Queer People of Color in downtown Oakland. Since then, the heartbreaking list of murdered trans women of color has continued to grow at a horrifying rate.

This epidemic of violence against trans women of color does a tremendous amount of collateral damage, beyond the devastating losses of the victims themselves. The toll this violence takes on communities of trans women of color and their allies is immense, immeasurable, and too often as severe as the murders themselves.

Hours after the dismay I felt at reading such similar words on my blog from all those years back, I received a text message from one of my housemates. He asked whether I knew Aubrey. I responded that I did; I’d met her and had gotten to know her through weekly hack nights at the POC-led, gender-diverse makerspace I’m involved in. I asked my roommate why he asked.

As I waited for his reply, I felt my stomach sinking. Aubrey was a young trans woman of color. I knew that with those overlapping oppressions and the other challenges she faced, she didn’t have an easy life. I’d seen my roommate post a question about suicide on Facebook earlier in the day. I knew what he would tell me before I received his next message: Aubrey had taken her own life.

The internet has created some strange new rituals of mourning and coping. After more texts consoling each other and planning how to share the awful news with others who knew Aubrey, I looked for her on Facebook, feeling odd about it but not knowing what else to do. We weren’t “friends,” so I could only see her public posts.

Towards the top of Aubrey’s wall, posted the day before she died, is an article about Sumaya Dalmar, a young trans woman of color found dead in Toronto on February 22. Below that, an article about how some trans women had created a now-defunct Facebook event declaring the last week of February “Worldwide Don’t Kill a Trans Woman Week.”

Aubrey’s comment on the article about Sumaya Dalmar: a crying emoticon, and the terrible question I’ve heard far too often from trans women of color in recent weeks: “me next?”

My heart is broken tonight, again, this time for Aubrey. I fear the next heartbreak. I feel like my community keeps bracing itself for the next heartbreak. It takes a terrible toll.

Three things keep going through my head:

The words of Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” I will.

The words of Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” With all of the loss that we experience, it’s important to remember that it’s not the fight that creates that loss; the fight keeps us alive, gives us strength, brings us hope in the face of these heartbreaks. And, oh yes, we must love each other and protect each other. We must protect each other. We must love each other.

Finally, the memory of Aubrey the last time I saw her. I can’t say I remember exactly what we talked about that last time she came to hack night; I won’t pretend that I have more than a vague memory, most likely an amalgamation of that and all the other times I’d seen her in the space. We were only acquaintances, not close. But we were still kin. We were still community. I remember her smile, her laugh, her awkwardness, her earnest enthusiasm. I remember looking forward to seeing her again.

I’ll fight like hell for the living, and for you, Aubrey.

Thoughts on transmisogyny

What do you mean trans women are women? (Meme from
Meme courtesy of Radically Queer

Transmisogyny–transphobia directed specifically and often exclusively at trans women–has felt continually rampant in many of my communities for an entire decade now.

I frequently witness transphobia against trans women expressed by people who do not similarly target trans men, thus rendering this particular expression of transphobia sexist in a somewhat traditional sense.

I witness transmisogyny practiced most often by cisgendered (i.e. non-trans, female-assigned at birth) women.

I see transmisogyny excused most often by other cis women or other folks who were female-assigned at birth, including trans men, genderqueers, and gender non-conforming women.

As a genderqueer butch, female-assigned at birth person of color, transmisogyny personally upsets me most when practiced by women and gender non-conforming people of color; especially when their transmisogyny ends up being directed explicitly at trans women of color; and most of all when said transmisogyny is practiced by individuals and groups who possess and articulate clear analyses of how feminist and women’s movements have frequently marginalized certain classes of women, including women of color, queer women, and gender non-conforming folks who were female-assigned at birth.

And I dare say that I see folks who claim to be allies to trans women, people of color and white folks alike, excusing or explaining away transmisogyny committed by cis women way more often than those same people would ever excuse acts of racism, sexism, or even transphobia against trans men or gender non-conforming folks who are female-assigned at birth.

These are simply my observations, from my particular perspective, with all of my privileges and lacks thereof. What do you think? What have you seen or experienced?

Editorial note: Facebook comments and shares are nice, but comments and discussion here are even nicer! That way folks who aren’t on Facebook can both read and participate.

Anaheim youth speak out

It’s heartbreaking and awful that these kids had to experience and witness police brutality in Anaheim. But it’s also amazing to hear this group of young Latin@s of many genders speak about their experience. They were scared by what happened to them — the girl in the preview frame was hit in the leg by a rubber bullet — but they’re not scared to speak up, to come up with their own opinions about the situation, and to demand justice. It might sound corny or trite but youth like these give me hope for our future.

Compiled: mostly mainstream media coverage of recent police violence in Anaheim and Brooklyn

I really did mean to go to sleep early tonight. But I didn’t, and at around 1am I started seeing hints of what’s going down in Anaheim via my Twitter stream. I’d actually seen — and even retweeted — some very specific and worrisome info on Anaheim earlier today, but it was while I was working and trying to stay as focused as possible. Yes, I’ll admit, I sometimes retweet even big deal things without getting to peruse them thoroughly. Probably not the best idea.

Anyhow, this tweet from Liz Henry tipped me off again:

RT @: "@: Reports from @ and @ of more police mobilizing in #Anaheim"
Liz Henry

I started doing some more research and was shocked by what I saw. First, the video I’d actually retweeted about earlier but never fully processed or watched (which I’m somewhat ashamed and appalled to admit):

My reaction on Facebook: “What the HELL. This is on the regular old channel 9 news. Earlier in the day in Anaheim the police shot a guy who was one of three men who ran away from the police. Not drew on the police, not NOTHING, just ran. Then the community dared to meet about it, dared to demand ACCOUNTABILITY from the cops, and they opened FIRE with rubber bullets. They let a K-9 loose and it went at a woman CARRYING HER BABY and then brought down a man, a cop trying and failing to control this dog. Towards the end there is a heartrending, enraging image of children carrying a seemingly unconscious child — un nene, carajo, un chiquito — away from the mayhem. Everyone there under fire is brown, so many Latinos, apparently no one armed at all. “Dozens of people had their cell phones and at least four different people told me that police officers offered to buy their videos from them with no explanation,” the reporter on the scene says. This is terrifying and real.”

Next: this article from the Washington Post that describes the event that sparked the community outrage: the Anaheim police’s killing of an unarmed man who had fallen to his knees as tried to run away from the police. They shot him in the back of his head.

The 16-year-old niece of the man who was shot and killed, Manuel Diaz, said her uncle likely ran away from officers when they approached him because of his past experience with law enforcement.

“He (doesn’t) like cops. He never liked them because all they do is harass and arrest anyone,” Gonzalez told the newspaper after lighting a candle for her uncle. She cursed at officers who were nearby and a police helicopter that hovered overhead.

As I posted on Facebook: “Again, this is what the plain old mainstream media is reporting about what’s going down in Anaheim. Usually I assume that the mainstream media version is the watered down version. In this case, that’s just frightening.”

After that, a friend provided this article published Sunday by the Orange County Register. It’s very long and detailed; included is some background on the long history of police violence and misconduct in Anaheim:

Saturday’s shooting was the latest by the Anaheim Police Department, which is under scrutiny for several recent officer-involved shootings.

For nearly two years, families of others who have been fatally shot by Anaheim police in recent years have been holding protests at Anaheim police headquarters each Sunday.

Those protests led city officials last month to order an independent investigation of “major police incidents,” several of which resulted in suspects being killed.”

Also notable from this article: the Anaheim Police seem to love the label “documented gang member,” as demonstrated by how often they threw it around, as if to justify their acts of extreme violence both during the shootings and the severe crackdown on unarmed community members. I’ve never seen the word “documented” being used to refer to Latin@s so much outside of the context of immigration. To what agency does one go to get their gang papers, one might wonder.

UPDATED: 9:36am ET, 7/23/12

A few things to add since I signed off last night:

Gustavo Arellano of the OC Weekly posted a video of the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Manuel Diaz. The video is graphic. It shows Diaz laying on the ground, still moving, with no one attending to him; the police on the scene are milling around, then focus on pushing the crowd back away from the scene. You hear people telling the cops that Diaz is still moving, asking why no one is helping him. At around minute 3:13 of the video the cops pull him over roughly, his face a mask of blood. The video cuts off immediately thereafter.

Earlier this morning, Arellano sent out this tweet:

2nd man killed this weekend by #anaheim police ID'd as Joel Acevedo, Mother had Facebook premonition of his death

Yes, this is a report of another Latino being shot and killed by the Anaheim police department just last night.

While reading through all of this, I couldn’t help but think of another recent incident of police officers violently and indiscriminately cracking down on unarmed people of color. As I shared on Facebook: “Take what’s happening in Anaheim, then connect it to this account of NYPD cops’ violent response to what amounts to standard swimming pool horseplay at McCarren Pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Pepper spray was involved; a kid got maced.” Chavisa Woods’ accountaccount begins:

It was one of the hottest days of the year. I went to McCarren Pool at six oclock. I’d always imagined what it would look like as an actual pool. This was beyond my expectation. It looked like a paradise (although there was a heavily imbedded police presence). I didn’t know I was about to witness people wearing nothing but swimming suites getting brutally arrested, slammed on their stomachs, shoved aside and to the cement, children and adults being haplessly maced and rushed by very large, enraged police officers, all because some people, most of whom were kids, decided to do a few flips into the water.

Aside from this account, which I only saw thanks to a few friends who shared it online, there has been very little coverage of this incident. What little is out there leaves out much if not all of the detail and analysis that Woods’ account contains. I did find and appreciate “The Politics of McCarren Park Pool,” a lengthy and detailed history of the pool, the surrounding neighborhoods, and the race and class tensions therein. One quote shocked me:

One Parks worker even floated the idea of charging for pool use. “There will be fights and problems throughout the summer—because it’s free,” he said. “They need to charge a little money to keep the riff raff out.”

Because being broke, even in this decrepit economy, automatically qualifies you as “riff raff” who doesn’t deserve to access the public city pool on a boiling hot summer day.

(Autobiographical aside: my mom spent some of her early years in the states living in south Williamsburg. I often wonder how shocked she’d be by what the neighborhood has become.)

Now it’s 2:39am ET, and I’ve really got to get to sleep. I’ll sum up by saying that as shocking and upsetting and frightening as all of this police violence leveled at unarmed people of color is, this is nothing new. This heightened policing, automatic suspicion, and violence is an everyday fact of life for people of color, especially low-income and poor people of color, in this country. That’s the sad, sick truth. But that’s why we’ve got to keep working so that solidarity, struggle, community and justice are also our everyday facts of life, as hard as we need to work to get it.

A must see (to me): rapper Murs’ new video for “Animal Style”

This is Murs’ new video for “Animal Style,” a track off his 2011 album Love & Rockets Volume 1: The Transformation. A small portion of the accompanying explanation from rapper Murs, who plays Roderick in this video:

…I just felt it was crucial for some of us in the hip hop community to speak up on the issues of teen suicide, bullying, and the overall anti-homosexual sentiment that exist within hip hop culture. I felt so strongly about these issues and this song that I had to do a video that would command some attention, even if it makes some viewers uncomfortable. Even if it came at the cost of my own comfort.

Warning: depictions of extreme homophobia-fueled intimate partner violence (a murder-suicide) between two young men of color are included.

Edited to add: I’m really grateful to my partner M. for pointing out my initial blind spot: this video depicts intimate partner violence driven by homophobia. She added that “it’s important to note that all oppressions [including homophobia, racism, and classism/poverty] are ‘outside stressors’ in relationships.” Very, very true.

I am generally feeling more emotional than usual today; that said, this made me cry, because it was very moving, beautifully done, heartbreaking and very difficult to watch, and because I was glad to know that this exists. I know the video is probably worth a closer look and deeper analysis, but for now, this is what I’ve got.

PS: Murs’ album is called Love and Rockets, which rocks. Murs was at Comic Con, according to his Twitter feed. I gotta check him out more!