My Open Source

Takes one to know one: your privilege blinds you

This growing up stuff, yeah, it’s um.


So what I want to talk about is this nagging feeling I’ve picked up today — today and maybe the last two weeks. The one that tells me that I’m not in kindergarten anymore; where it’s not just each other’s shovels and Tonka trucks that we’re fighting over, but where you’ll get kicked out of the sandbox for being something that everyone else is not, or, more inanely, for standing up for someone else who has been or cumulatively feels kicked out of the sandbox (whether deliberately or through implicit crowding to the edges) by the so-called predominants.

And yes, that perennial topic‘s been on my mind lately, and I’m not going to kid myself by thinking that I have any kind of solutions for the exclusivity politics of technology and engineering (specifically as it relates to minority genders in open source, or in general), but this gender exclusivity shit really bugs the hell out of me and I’ll tell you why. Or just ramble about something else. I dunno, you figure it out.

Not so long ago, I had a dream. Nay, a vision; a vision for what this work — my work — was supposed to all be about. Fill me up with enough Martin Luther King Jr and Amelia Earhart and pre-Bush Colin Powell and Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman and on and on and what do you expect? American education is pathologically filled with stories that champion the plight of the underenabled individual, that offers that inspire hope and optimism, and above all, regurgitate the parable of the scamp and his fits of hard work, of courage, of raw determination — finally landing tremendous success and making it big; being popular, celebrated, probably with a blonde trophy as a thanks-for-coming award. This story illustrates our most dear and unquestionable ; it is the foundation on which we’ve substantiated our participation in wars; it contributes to our desire and perceived righteousness in democracy around the world; it is the belief that all peoples deserve a chance to be great — to share in the greatest of opportunities that life has to offer — to attain what one might never believe possible solely leveraging his wits and sweat-stained perseverance.

Somehow, in the American Dream, everyone’s a winner — yes, even you Timmy!

This is what I grew up on, like Cocoa Puffs or Lucky Charms or Golden Grahams for breakfast every morning with skim milk from robot cows. This was part of the routine, what was given, told, lectured. Consumed. Kachug kachug. Strikes me: it’s funny how the kids who broke the rules were kept after for detention.

Yep, the American Dream is shared — is attainable — by everyone. Ho ho ho.

It’s funny how the kid, trusting and determined, well-meaning and ready to take on the world (right after he finished his homework) was the one who nearly didn’t graduate because of an overly politically-minded principal couldn’t stand for tolerance in his high school.

· · ·

“No pinball! Sit down! Don’t contradict me. Pinball pinball pinball!

· · ·

It’s funny that you never knew what to do with those kids who couldn’t get along in math, or who didn’t show up for class on time, or didn’t speak or sit up just right, for whom homework competed with their after-school job that paid for tomorrow’s school lunch, who wore all black, who didn’t play your games, who listened to loud music, who threatened your reputation… s’funny how they were the ones who were punished and held back; the ones you stuck in remedial lessons in the basement of Building 2 with the rats and the rest of the dredges of society.

It’s funny that they were still spoon-fed the same American Dream docudrama ballfield pat-your-ass wholesomeness when you stuck them in English class so they would know, yes, they would comprehend, that there was still hope for them. Even if you didn’t hold it out for them.

And yeah, I’m dwelling a bit, taking this all back to high school and all — but I can see the dichotomy so clearly now, nothing’s changed — but hey, that’s not just what this is all about. Nor need it be about anyone in particular this day in history, right this second (and if you think this is about you, you’re either thinking too hard or need to take a long look in the mirror, because what I’m saying pertains to me .. go find your own blog on which to ruminate).

· · ·

The question is posed to you, Mr Joe, sitting in row five, third seat in, squarely in the middle of class: “What kind of society do you want to be a part of, Mr Joe?”

You look up from your doodles, hoping that you were invisible, that you were cloaked in an impenetrable shield that had just enough oxygen for you so everyone else would just faint away.

“Well, Mr Joe? The class is waiting; what kind of society do you want to be a part of?

· · ·

And oh I know where I’ve been, and from where I’ve come. Suburbia. Middle class & white: suburbia. I know I’ve grown up with a great deal of privilege — without pain, sickness; without death, without tragedy. The worst I’ve had was 7 stitches from a freak accident at boy scout camp. For fuck’s sake, I’m a white male — moderately attractive, educated. Living in the United States. No dear readers, it doesn’t get much easier for us. Hell, when I’m vice president, I hope I can get away with shooting a man too, just to say that I did it in front of the whole world and got away with it. Because, well, that’s what we’re growing up with — that what the kids are being fed.

“You are what you eat” — remember that one? Real jewel there. You think I’m full of shit? You think I’m full of lies? You think that I see all the privileges that I take for granted? Oh wait, that’s a contradiction.

You think this is the society that I wanted? You think that this is the society that I want? That I continue to want when I wake up every morning? That I really want to keep building out, reinforcing and extending the existing hegemony, keeping the power all locked up in the privileged kids’ parents’ lockboxes and shotgun cabinets?

Going clean seems to have lead to the discovery of contamination deep deep in the coils of our collective psyche. I’m full of lies, false truths, blasphemy, misogyny, ignorance, intolerance, greed, distrust, hatred — pure venom, man, a pure vile toxin. And I’m sick sick sick of it. Sick sick sick by it. I gotta get it out. Gotta get it out, but it’s not just me. It’s gotta be sucked out of our culture like a lethal venom. Sucked out from the marrow of our society.

If it doesn’t start changing here, if it doesn’t start changing now — now as we’re building out the most powerful, interconnected communications network the human species has ever known, there is no god, ungod or interworldly savior that will be able to help us. So it’s gotta start here.

· · ·

“Well? We’re all waiting for you: what kind of society do you want to be a part of? Hmm?”

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

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