Posted on May 12, 2010 // Short URL

Jack Aponte on Diversity, Power and Privilege in Open Source Communities

Jack Aponte is a Drupal Site builder who primarily works with non-profits, and talks about the issue of diversity within the Drupal community and how it relates to identity, power and privilege. Jack identifies as a gender queer person of color and talks a bit about the culture shock felt by minorities when attending DrupalCon, which is largely white, largely male and largely cisgendered.

The social aspect is a huge aspect of Drupal, and Jack talks about whether or not Drupal can be considered a pure doacracy when the people that make up the Drupal community are bringing in a wide range of power and privilege from their everyday lives. Jack's desire is to not just to think about diversity in terms of statistics, but how to practically create a more open and welcoming community that is aware of how the dynamics of power and privilege play out in social interactions and process of building Drupal karma and credibility.

Jack also previews the Birds of a Feather on Diversity which was prompted by a drupal.org issue on expanding the "Gender" profile field options. One of the issues that came up is how to deal with issues of diversity when there is no one centralized authority in Drupal since it is composed of a distributed group of individuals. Because of this, it becomes paramount that issues of diversity and awareness of power dynamics becomes the personal responsibility of each individual.

Jack talks about an example of how the power dynamics play out by talking about the discussions at DrupalCon about sexism on the package design of Drupal the Card Game that was being distributed.

Finally, Jack talks about some practical advice for how to deal with diversity in the Drupal Community, and encourages each individual within the Drupal community to become empathetic and to try to see this issue through the eyes of other people if you happen to be within the majority where diversity may not be at the front of your mind.

UPDATE: Be sure to also check out Benjamin Doherty's write-up on the Diversity BoF that he just posted today.

Comments

Anonymous

well said, Jack

great stuff, Jack! thanks for giving an eloquent voice to these issues within our community.

cheers,

-- andy

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Anonymous

Great interview. And some

Great interview. And some very great points by Jack that I've always struggled with wording properly.

The girls bathroom thing reminded me, as well. At Drupalcon I actually had an instance at an after party where the men were asking to use the women's rest room because of the long lines they were having to deal with. It was a fun joke, I was telling them all there's simply no way, this is one of the very few situations where us (as women) don't need to wait in lines and they could certainly deal with one night of the same.

It quickly got out of hand when one of the men said, "We're only arguing with you because we want to have sex with you."

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Anonymous

Is this person for real? Were

Is this person for real? Were there really people writhing in their chairs at DrupalCon sessions, totally unable to focus on the material being presented, because they were too preoccupied over the fact that the other people in the room were different from them?

Fostering diversity is a good thing, but too often people like this come around, demonizing people who happen to be straight and/or white and/or male without a hint of irony and spouting out truly insulting lines like "you need to consider your privileges." Ugh, this episode left a truly bad taste in my mouth.

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eaton

Sometimes, yes.

Were there really people writhing in their chairs at DrupalCon sessions, totally unable to focus on the material being presented, because they were too preoccupied over the fact that the other people in the room were different from them?

I saw some of it on Twitter -- male attendees who complained about all the female presenters at this year's Drupalcon, and who complained about the low quality of the "ladies' content." Of course, that isn't to say that straight white males are bad (I am one! Invisible knapsack represent, yo!). It just means that subtle out-of-the-loop Othering is part of the day to day reality of working in a largely homogeneous group.

Fostering diversity is a good thing, but too often people like this come around, demonizing people who happen to be straight and/or white and/or male without a hint of irony and spouting out truly insulting lines like "you need to consider your privileges."

I didn't hear any demonizing or anti-majority flavor in the interview, just an accurate discussion of the issues that need to be grappled with by minority members of the community. The unstated 'starting point' advantages that let some of us achieve more in the community faster than others have been able to are real. It doesn't mean we need to wear hair shirts and guilt-trip -- life is too short, IMO -- but as we look to help the community and the project grow, it's important to consider these things!

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Anonymous

The unstated 'starting point'

The unstated 'starting point' advantages that let some of us achieve more in the community faster than others have been able to are real.

There will naturally be disparities in skill. But when people try to imply that I've gotten where I am in life not because of my hard work, dedication, studiousness, ethics, or generosity, but merely because of the uncontrollable, immutable circumstances of my birth… Well, that doesn't go over well with me, and definitely so when the person has never met me and probably doesn't even want to meet me.

Furthermore, this sort of attitude is destructive to the concept of equality. Namely: When people who aren't "privileged" do not achieve to the same level of the "privileged" for any reason, they are encouraged to think that it's merely because they are not privileged and just give up. Those watching from the outside see the failure of the non-privileged as another example of how only the privileged can achieve. The cycle continues. So the privileged are able to go on to do things like become web developers and attend Drupalcon, while the non-privileged become mini-mart workers at best - they can't help it, it's just the circumstances of their birth. Give me a break! How is that constructive to… well, anything?!

This is Drupal. Don't obsess over your pigmentation or wear your "sexual identity" on your sleeve. Just show us your code, please.

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merlinofchaos

You seem to be willfully misinterpreting

But when people try to imply that I've gotten where I am in life not because of my hard work, dedication, studiousness, ethics, or generosity, but merely because of the uncontrollable, immutable circumstances of my birth…

Are you so certain that there is equality that you're willing to both rule out your race and/or gender as a factor and, at the same time, accuse anyone of suggesting that it is a factor is automatically dismissing all of the other factors? Of course hard work, dedication, studiousness, etc, play a role in how far you get. But there are many factors in play, and one of them is absolutely acceptance.

The essential point being made here is correct: Some people have barriers to contend with that others do not. Pretending those barriers does not exist not only does not make them go away, it strengthens those barriers. Those barriers are real, but people who do not encounter them personally also have a hard time seeing them. And it is important for those who do NOT encounter those barriers be sensitive to them for those who do, because it is the only way to remove those barriers.

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Anonymous

This perceived majority doesn't exist

Wow, what a really interesting interview. Some really interesting ideas and I am happy its out in the open where it can be discussed, pondered, and dissected because hopefully it will lead to more individual respect within the community.

However, Jack isn't alone, just by being different. And I kinda wonder if Jack has considered my point of view? Drupalcon can be a very intimidating to anyone that has difficulty identifying themselves with the group as a whole. period. I'm a white male. According to this interview, I'm in the majority. I fit in. ... but if only it was that easy.

I'm not sure Jack understands how many "geeks" in the majority have difficulty "fitting in." Jack identifies with a group. I'm not sure that's necessarily the norm within geekdom. and I'm not convinced Jack's perceived majority really exists.

nonetheless, it is a do-ocracy. best ideas that are cultivated win. the community will help you, but no-one is going to do it for you.

--mike

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eaton

I kinda wonder if Jack has

I kinda wonder if Jack has considered my point of view? Drupalcon can be a very intimidating to anyone that has difficulty identifying themselves with the group as a whole. period. I'm a white male. According to this interview, I'm in the majority. I fit in. ... but if only it was that easy.

I'm not sure Jack understands how many "geeks" in the majority have difficulty "fitting in." Jack identifies with a group. I'm not sure that's necessarily the norm within geekdom. and I'm not convinced Jack's perceived majority really exists.

I don't think that Jack implied that people who are technically 'part of the majority' automatically fit in -- just that there is a particular set of barriers that they never encounter when trying to figure out how to connect and participate. For better or worse, people tend to be more (initially) accepting of people that they perceive as similar to themselves. That's a pretty low-level behavior for most humans, no matter what kind of openness we model at a high level. That means that people who are different in very noticeable ways often have more barriers to overcome when 'clicking.'

To use RPG terminology, these issues tend to 'stack' like audience-specific charisma penalties: someone with Aspergers' will have a particular set of challenges when connecting with a group, but a black transgendered person with Asperger's will be in worse shape because of the additional "differences" they need to overcome when connecting with new people in a community.

It's a bit like David Wallace Foster's anecdote about two young fish swimming along. An old fish encounters them and asks, "How's the water?" They share a confused fish-look, then ask, "What the heck is water?" For those of us who only carry around fewer obvious "differences" it's easy to forget that they exist: like fish in water, we're rarely reminded of them unless someone calls them out!

The idea (at least in my opinion, and I'm an odd one to talk about it given my poster-child-for-the-majority identity) is not to dismiss or disparage the challenges that anyone in the community has. Rather, it's to ensure that the community as a whole remains aware of the less obvious barriers to participation. That applies to all of us, even when we advocate do-ocracy and work in the pseudonymous world of CVS, UIDs, and issue queues.

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JoopSJ

Good to hear

Hello Jack,
good to hear you bringing-up these important things. It's always very difficult for minorities to explain there position. You are doing this in an excellent manner.
Regards Joop

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