I’ve Got So Much Trouble On My Mind

I’m going to say some things that will make some of you angry. But you know what? I don’t give a fuck.

A few days ago, a Missouri police officer was told he didn’t have to go on trial for shooting an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. This was hardly surprising, but greatly disappointing.

The reaction from the black community nationwide was predictable. Many white people understood exactly why Ferguson, Missouri once again erupted into riots, but some white people did not.

Some of these people were respected members of the web community.

These white web professionals pointed at the looting and burning of local businesses with a sneer. See, those awful people are burning down storefronts. How dare they do this to their neighborhood?

Meanwhile, not a word of sympathy about the teenager who had been shot dead. Not a word of condolence about the family who just lost their son.

Not a word of sympathy at all about the actual human being who lost his life. Just concern about property and of course, the white officer who shot an unarmed 18 year old dead.

Author Tim Wise says it much better than I can.

If your concerns about violence are limited to property damage and looting, and you have never shed two tears for the history of institutional violence, murder, colonialism, segregation, lynching, genocide and police brutality against peoples of color, your words mean nothing; they mean less than nothing. Your outrage, in such a case is grotesque, an inversion of morality so putrescent as to call into question your capacity for real feeling at all. So long as violence from below is condemned while violence from above is ignored, you can bet that the former will continue — and however unfortunate that may be, it is surely predictable. If you’d like the former to cease, put an end to the latter, and then I promise you, it will.

And from the Tressiemc blog:

When the accusation is that looting and riots constitute unacceptable violence, the rest of the statement goes thusly: every life has a price and these lives are cheaper than any property damaged.

Let’s be honest, no matter what you believe about the Mike Brown killing, I’m not going to change your mind. You’re not going to change mine. We’ve each drawn our own conclusions.

But what bothers me is when these intelligent people have this utter lack of emotional intelligence for anyone outside of their comfort zone.

It’s troublesome that we treat a three month occupation of an American city as completely justified. Even though the cops shot first in each case.

It’s sickening that it is so normal that another unarmed black man loses his life to a white officer, that we make jokes about it.

It’s repulsive when people hijack hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and twist them into derivative, offensive hashtags — as if to say that black lives don’t matter to them. Like it’s all some sort of fucking joke. Or worse, justification for stacking up black corpses like cordwood across the country.

It’s indicitive of us when we worry more about the officer with a boo-boo on his cheek than the unarmed black men being killed without fair trial or consequence.

It’s dehumanizing to point at “the evidence given” by the prosecutor with family members on the police force and a officer whose story is full of holes big enough to drive an aircraft carrier through.

And these things are worrisome, because with all the game we talk about our industry and our profession becomes this big freaking lie.

We talk big, about how we have to “have empathy for the user”, but we can’t even muster empathy for human beings right in front of us, who have to worry about getting shot for the color of their skin.

We talk about how our industry and technology is “changing the world” and “empowering other people”, but it’s becoming clear to me that isn’t really what we mean at all. What too many people mean is, “empower the people we feel comfortable empowering.”

We think it’s hilarious to post statements about like “don’t burn my house down” or “I’m going to go teach my family to make the world a better place. Hashtag, Ferguson.”

What these posts make clear is that you look at people who aren’t like you as threats and criminals, not people who have their own sets of problems to overcome. So, you snark about it from the safety of distance, both in location and culture. You sneer from a place of judgement, not understanding.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t better than anyone else. You’re not better than the people who have been putting up with harassment for their entire lives. You’re just a person who got lucky in the birth lottery with a middle class family living in the the right neighborhood, the right skin pigment, and you had the good fortune to have access to computers and lots of free time.

But too few of us ever take the time to ponder, What if?

What if I had been born in another part of the country, with a different set of parents? In a different set of circumstances? Would I be the same person I am today?

I’ve had multiple chances to get things right. Many people aren’t that lucky. Some people have to worry each day about not getting shot. I’ll bet you never worried about that. But did you ever stop to wonder why?

When I was eighteen, I had run-ins with the law. Did I ever once think I was going to get shot? Hell no. And I was much worse than Michael Brown.

I have a son who is sixteen and a half. Not much younger than Mike Brown. Not much smaller in stature than Mike Brown. If he has a run-in with a police officer, do I fear he will get shot? Again, the answer is No.

Why? The answer is obvious.

This is the reality. Not everyone is judged fairly. Racism exists. Prejudice exists. Corruption exists. I’m grateful each day that I’ve had opportunities to succeed. But I’m not pretending that those opportunities are equal for everyone. I know better than that.

In the web community, we need to stop believing our own bullshit about how awesome we are. The numbers don’t lie. Our culture is predominantly white. And most of our development heroes are men. But that won’t always be the case. How will you handle it when the web industry workforce is significantly more than 5% Black and Latino? And you have to talk to them at industry events, and work with them as colleagues? I’m sure you won’t be posting some of the ignorant shit I’ve seen this week. I wonder if you’ll still be thinking it? (Rhetorical question).

But hey, it’s a free country. You have the right to say whatever you want. But no one has to pretend they didn’t hear you.

They have the right to not shake your hand at a web conference. They have the right to not share any of your content or help promote you in any way. They have the right to not purchase any of your products or endorse you for any of your services.

See, this is the part that messes with my head. It’s not just no-name douchebags that are saying this racially insensitive crap. If it were just lowlifes from the internet, I𔆍d be mentally prepared for that. But of course it’s not just the usual trolls. It’s people that are notable, that produce quality workmanship. People who have big followings. And when other people see what they say, those people adopt those mindsets as well.

It doesn’t matter where you came from culturally before, today you’re adults with your own reasoning systems. And that means examining your cultural upbringing, your associations, and the media messages you choose to embrace and believe. If the mountain of evidence in the Ferguson case hasn’t swayed you, you’re probably never going to be swayed.

But if you can’t put yourself in the shoes of Mike Brown’s family, or the community under police and military occupation for a hundred days and counting, quit telling us you’re in a people-centric business. Don’t tell us you design for the needs of people. Because there are whole sections of people you won’t even attempt to understand.

If you lack the ability to connect to people —all people— how can you design for them? People that you openly disdain? That you mock when they are dealt blow after blow? It doesn’t make sense to me. It makes all our talk of design being about people seem like bullshit. (Spoiler alert: It is.)

Silence is acceptance. Either we are this people-first industry that we claim to be, or we aren’t. What’s it going to be?

Author: John Locke

SEO consultant for manufacturing and industrial companies.