Kim is taking some much needed time off, so enjoy this presentation from the 2019 Cream City Code conference.
Announcer: She’s the founder of the #CauseAScene movement. And the #CauseAScene movement has four guiding principles that we should follow: tech is not neutral, prioritize the most vulnerable, lack of inclusion is a risk management issue, and intention without strategy is chaos. And I feel very privileged to welcome Kim Crayton to the stage.
[Crowd cheers as Kim makes her way to the stage with music playing]
Kim Crayton: Welcome, good morning.
Audience: Good morning.
Kim: Good morning!
Audience: GOOD MORNING!
Kim: If you will not learn anything else, I was a high school teacher, [laughter from audience] I had great classroom management skills, so when I say somethin’, I need you to follow directions. [Inaudible] Alright, what we’re gonna talk about is, “Hey, what about me? How to manage heterogeneous…” can you turn this mic down a little bit? “heterogeneous groups while minimizing harm.” I am Kim Crayton, my pronouns are she/her, my handle on Twitter is @kimcrayton1, my hashtag is #CauseAScene, and the website is hashtagcauseascene.com.
I am not a inclusion and diversity specialist, what I am is a business strategist; but because we act like we’re babies, I can’t get any work done, because you guys wanna start at square one every time about inclusion and diversity. I go to these companies and they’re like, “We can’t hire, we can’t find this diversity,” because your processes suck! So now I gotta go back and do the work of “let’s figure out how to bring inclusive processes and strategies that allow inclusion and diversity to happen.” So #CauseAScene is the strategic disruption of the status quo in technical organizations, communities and events.
I have a podcast, #CauseAScene podcast; it’s just over a year. It airs on Wednesdays, and now on Sundays we’re doing an antiracist podcast, it’s a book club, we’re reading the book “How to be an Antiracist,” and those episodes come out on Sunday.
Alright. Content warning. [Laughter] I see a lot of white folks out here, so I’m just letting you know, my job is to make you uncomfortable. And I’m really good at my job. Because until you become uncomfortable, people like me can never be comfortable. So I’m no longer concerned about or managing your feelings; if you have issues with your feelings, therapy is where you need to go. Do not burden people of color with your issues. We’re all adults, let’s act like it.
So—oh, lemme also say this—because at some point, one of you great white people are gonna get really offended and you’re gonna report me for a code of conduct violation—which I never do—and your reason is always, “that was inappropriate,” or “she made me uncomfortable”. So just remember, you had a warning, alright?
The guiding principles: “tech is not neutral,” this is how I see everything I do, every action I take, and every talk I write, and every podcast interview I do, I see it through this lens. So “tech is not neutral,” “intention without strategy is chaos,” “lack of inclusion is a risk management issue,” and we must “prioritize the most vulnerable.”
So let’s define terms. I told you I was an educator, to my heart. I’m also special needs certified. So I understood that all my students had to get to a certain place by the end of the year. They weren’t all gonna get there at the same time in the same way, but I was accountable for getting them to that point. So, I always have to start everybody on that whatever your idea of what these definitions are, suspend them; because I said, my classroom, my definitions, alright?
“Privilege.” People get really hyped and really upset about this word. Privilege is simply about access and whether you have a right, you have the ability to use access or not, leverage that access, that’s it. It’s simple. Some spaces, white men have all the access; some spaces I have all the access, like this classroom! I am the most privileged in this space right now.
Oh, and I like to show this image because—raise your hand if you’ve seen these monkeys. They’re always in National Geographic and you’re like, “oh they’re so cute!” Well, it’s not as cute as you think it is. [Kim chuckles] Because the ones in the water, in the hot springs, is a maternal group and only the members of this group get to go into the hot springs. All the other monkeys are outside just like, “Please. I wanna mate, I wanna do whatever you need me to do so I can get into this thing ’cause it’s warm”. So this happens in nature, there’s privilege in nature.
“Underrepresented” is simply about numbers. You have a whole bunch of white guys, the Black dudes head’s cut off, then you got a white woman. The Black dude’s head cut off, he is underrepresented, and the woman is underrepresented. I have five oranges, I have twenty pineapples, the oranges are underrepresented. It’s that simple.
“Marginalized” is about treatment. And it’s not about individuals, it is about groups of people. So when I say someone is marginalized, from a marginalized community, that means a community which systems of oppression as a community have impacted and they individually have to deal with those issues. So, white women, in tech, are underrepresented, many are not marginalized, they are not diversity. If that’s what you checkin’ your box off, you have an epic fail. [Laughter]
“Diversity,” this is about variety. So, when I talk about—we’re all in the US here, so, Crayola crayons—some of us got the four pack. I’m not that creative; if all I got was the four pack, it was gonna be an ugly, four-color picture. If I got the sixty-four pack though, it was gonna be an ugly very colorful picture. [Laughter] With that sixty-four I can create colors that weren’t even in the sixty-four. That’s what variety is; it’s when things come together, we can create something together that we could not create on our own.
“Inclusion,” people; it’s just about experience, it’s about people’s lived experience. And this is the caveat: diversity is about how you recruit, inclusion is about retention. You don’t get to say if your environment or your event or your community is inclusive; I as the individual tell you whether I feel included or not. [To audience member] Oh yeah, you can clap baby. Mhm. [Laughter] So, inclusion is not—that’s a strong not [laughter]—about equality. I don’t believe in equality when it comes to this.
If you listen to the podcast about “How to be an Antiracist,” he talks about selective discrimination. There is no way in hell I am ever gonna catch up to a white man in tech unless somebody chop off his arms, puts him in a coma for a few years, and I get a head start—and when he wakes up, he only crawls. Because with no arms and bein’ in a coma for a few years he still has systems behind him that will put him ahead of me after all that.
So you can say what you want to about affirmative action, but people have a misunderstanding of affirmative action. Do you know how hard a person of color has to work to even get in a position to benefit from affirmative action? Y’all think we lazy, we go ahead and work 20 times harder than y’all because we know we got this affirmative action label over our head.
Also I don’t believe in terms like “fair” and “nice” and all that because the people in power can define those terms. What’s fair for a white dude is not fair for me. So I don’t even listen to that. It’s not about quotas. So it’s not about finding a nonbinary, Indigenous individual who is on the autism spectrum with a club foot and you think you got four disabilities or four beings in one person—unless you givin’ them four salaries. It is about variety. And it’s about my experience only.
“Racism.” I’m throwin’ this in here because we keep having these elementary school conversations about what racism is and what racism isn’t. So I’m gonna tell you how I define it after I show you what the social scientist views as racism. We do not use the definition that’s in the dictionary. So racism is about race prejudice plus a social and institutional power. It has to be both things. Racism is a system that advantages based on race. Racism is a system that oppresses based on race.
So you see I’m talking about systems; I’m not talking about individuals, ’cause white folx don’t like to be talked about in groups. Y’all love being individuals but like to group us together. Racism equals a white supremacist system, which means people believe whiteness—in whatever form that is—is the default and is superior to everything else.
So racism is different than just simple race prejudice. Black people can hate y’all; that doesn’t make them racist. There’s no such thing as reverse racism. They do not have the power of the system to do anything about it, because the first time they say, “I hate white people,” you call the police. What’s gonna happen? You use the system to your advantage. They can’t say, “I hate white people,” and you say, “I hate black people,” they call the police. Then they wanna debate, “Well, is this a civil rights crime? is this hate crime? Oh no”.
So, let’s talk about whiteness. I use the term “whiteness” because people use the term Black. Nobody has ever asked me, “What are you?” Well, I take that back. Because my hair doesn’t look like what people think, they just swear I’m not Black, there’s something else going on in there. Yeah, I have some Indigenous blood, but also some ancestors got raped by some white folks. So, yes there is some mixed stuff in there.
But when I put—because we talk about Blackness, the opposite of Blackness based on a white supremacist system, is whiteness. And so I really like—personally—to do it because white people don’t like to be thought of as a group, so it’s just like my little inside… [laughter] You’re gonna be thought of as a group whether you like it or not, because you do it to me.
So, when you center whiteness it causes unimaginable emotional labor. I love when people tell me on Twitter, “You’re just doing this for the tweets and the followers.” Do you know how much emotional labor it takes? ‘Cause most of my community are white people. Because I can’t scale workin’ with others who oppress people; I need to work with y’all.
So, I am the educator, have to educate the oppressor while being oppressed. That is a line… thing. That’s why I have to have a strategy, because if I was just out here dealing with y’all on an everyday basis, wooo! I would be in trouble. So, don’t go into peoples’ DMs askin’ them questions. We are in tech, google it!
When whiteness is centered, it does just enough good to cause people of color to question their own instincts when behaviors demonstrate a lack of concern for privilege. Just like this: I understand that its Saturday morning, but I bet if it was something you really wanted to do, if it was the artist tonight, this room would be packed. I don’t care what time it is. What this demonstrates to me is Wisconsin ain’t ready. Y’all say y’all ready, but y’all ain’t really ready. Because what I need Wisconsin white folx to do is be uncomfortable so that I’m comfortable. If you’re not willing to do that, you not ready. And what you’re doin’ is causin’ harm.
When whiteness is there, it stays in the shallow end of inclusion and diversity. It does these little shell game things—and you close enough to Chicago to know the shell game, you know, on the train—it does this bait and switch thing. It doesn’t go deeper. So you have these people who will quote out of the “White Fragility” book, talk about “So You Want To Talk About Race.” Until I say, “You just said something and that was deeply racist.” [Kim imitates crying] “You can’t even… I just…” “OK.”
When whiteness is centered its [inaudible] and opportunities, as if—I don’t want those speakin’ engagements. I love these people on Twitter, these white guys who have these followers of 100k and whatnot, and they think they’re doing something, “Oh when someone asks me to speak at a conference, I have a list of Black and brown people I give them.” That didn’t do anything, what did you give? What pain did you experience by givin’ that away? Absolutely nothin’.
Until white people can understand just a little bit of discomfort, nothing gets done. And we see that right now with our current political environment. All of a sudden white folx done woke up and realized, “Ohhh, this world is not equitable.” And I don’t know if you seen the Saturday Night Live skit right after the 19—oh, 1960 [laughs]—2016 election with Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock, and all the white people were runnin’ around like, “Ahhh!” and they like, “Yeah, we knew this was gonna happen.”
So I’m gonna let you know this right now, seein’ this from this stage, if this president is re-elected, yes it’ll be a little harder on us, but we’re used to it. We gonna survive. But y’all gonna have a problem, because for the first time white supremacy is a parasite that’s eatin’ on its host. For the first time, you’re experiencing things and seeing things that you have been able to step away from, ignore; because you’re privileged, you get to walk away.
When whiteness centered, it’s always talking about being an ally. You do not get to claim the [in a singsong voice] title of ally. Ally is a verb, and you demonstrate it through consistent antiracist behavior, and only the group that you’re advocating for, if they approve of what you’re doing, will say you’re an ally. And it can be taken away at any moment. It’s not like an Emmy that you keep on the shelf.
Also, whiteness is in the way. It’s in your way, it’s in my way. We can’t get through with anything until we deal with this. So, I like to talk about, give people my definition of what racist is—and this is where people get kinda [inaudible]—all white people are racist by design and can’t be trusted by default without consistent demonstrated antiracist behavior.
I have five white friends and I’m very loose about the word friend. They will go to bat for me for anything I ask for—and they’re in tech—but they understand, and I understand, because of how the school system is, how the criminal justice system is, how our economic systems are, how our healthcare systems are, at any moment they can do or say something that causes me harm. It’s not intention, but they also know that I could give a fuck about intention, it’s about impact.
So I need you to hear that. I know it’s bristlin’ for some of you, but you’re gonna be OK, ’cause if you feelin’ any discomfort it’s about this much to what allll, allll the people of color in here are feeling. Particularly Black people from the United States.
So, I’m gonna give you an example. I can always give a great example; this why I don’t do my talks until the morning of, ’cause something always happens within the 24 hours of me giving the talk. So, yesterday we’re in this space, there was a group of women, they’re having a conversation. We’re talkin’ about this very thing. There were two white guys standing over here, we’re over here mindin’ our own damn business. Right? Two white guys standing over here. One white guy says to one of the women of color who is talkin’ to them, he feels underrepresented. So the woman of color comes over and says, “Hey! he feels underrepresented!” I in turn says, “I don’t give a damn!” and I keep going on wi’ my conversation.
So let me explain to you why this is problematic in so many ways, ’cause you do it all the time, you don’t see it. So I’m gonna dissect this for you as an educator. So, when you see a group of people of color together, people from the same group together, leave them the hell alone. They created a safe space for themselves, they don’t need y’all dippin’ y’all toes into it. Because what happens is… so, the woman of color over here, because we’re trained—I’m sure it wasn’t even intentional, I’m sure it wasn’t even a cognizant thought—because we’re trained, when a white person says, “Hey, I’m uncomfortable,” we go into action. So now I’m doin’ something, I’m doin’ something. So now you have to come over and interrupt us because a white person feels left out. Think about how you do that at your jobs.
Now let me tell you how we do things. If there’s a group of white people standin’ around talkin’, we have been trained [laughs] by this system, and this is why I say—I don’t know if this is a code of conduct violation, but I’m gonna say it anyway—fuck civility. I have a shirt that says that. Because civility is optional for white people and it’s expected behavior for people of color, because it’s how we manage ourselves so you don’t have to deal with it. So if there’s a group of white people standing there, what we do is eavesdrop a little bit to see if it’s a conversation we wanna be involved in, and then we tiptoe over, because we haven’t been invited in, and we say, “Hey,” and wait for somebody to give us eye contact. And then if they allow us into that circle we come in.
It happened this morning, we were havin’ a conversation—I know there’s business to be taken care of—while the white children would just drop in. No, we are taught to say, “excuse me” at all turns. “Excuse me excuse me I’m sorry I’m sorry.” Yeah, I’m not doin’ that anymore. Also I should have told you as part of the content warning, I say I don’t speak for other people but I speak on behalf of other people, because I’ve set my life up that you can not, I don’t have an employer that you can try to get me fired from; I don’t have ways for you to mess up my money; I have all my stuff two step authenticated and all kinds of other stuff, because I know y’all crazy, y’all would go out and try to doxx me and all kinds of stuff.
So I have myself covered, because there are Black and brown people who cannot say what I’m saying, but they think it every single day. And it’s not safe for them to say, so I’m speakin’ on their behalf.
So, the closer an individual is to the default, the greater—so I want you to think about default—the greater their access to privilege, their ability to determine and set the status quo, their chances of being extended the god almighty benefit of the doubt. Their feelings are prioritized, the impact of their behavior is evaluated from an assumed positive intent perspective, and the expectation of being treated with compassion and empathy. I’ve heard too much about that in tech, currently. I’m not falling for that. Compassion and empathy are social skills that take years of self reflection and development to develop, and I’m not gonna stand there and let you berate me and treat me like crap [inaudible] compassion and empathy, because you workin’ on this thing. That’s not what’s gonna happen, but that’s what you’re askin’ people to do.
The further an individual is from the default, the greater their level of vulnerability related to decisions and behaviors of others, the instances of being impacted by unintended harm, the chances of never being extended the benefit of the doubt. Their feelings are minimized, the impact of their words and behaviors will be evaluated through an assumed negative intent perspective and the expectation of extending compassion and empathy to others while they’re being actively harmed.
So, I want you to keep this in mind. Actually, take out your phone and I need you to take a picture of this. C’mon, let’s go! Let’s go! Get out your phone if you want to kill Twitter. Let’s go! [Laughter and applause] Alright. Yeah, I’m waiting on you; you slow, dude. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon. Got it? Got it? Got it? There ya go. Take a picture of this! Oops, what happened? Oh, I turned that off. Take a picture of this. [Laughter] I got a extra button on this thing. [Laughter]
I want you to think about this: when you’re in situations, I need you to have something, this is homework.
So, we’re gonna talk about feminism today. What is feminism? Advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of equality of the sexes. Once you leave here, I want you to go—your other homework is to go look at my pinned tweet on my Twitter page—because I did a line about feminism that I want you to read.
So that’s the definition of feminism, default of feminism. ‘Cause we just talked about defaults, right? And we talked about the closer you are to the default, the privileges you have, and the further away you are from the default, the privileges you have. So now I’m gonna use this in the framework of feminism. Now saying this is in the framework of feminism, because as an educator, I like to tell stories, it helps people, but this, you can drop your dev team here, you can drop your religion here, you can drop your frat behavior here, your cultural fit here. All these things are here.
But feminism is a huge thing ’cause it encompasses so many people, ’cause so many people are [inaudible]. So, what are the defaults of feminism? White, cisgender, heterosexual, able bodied, western, Christian, English speaking, educated, mother, married, focuses on white males, and it’s a binary. Ran out of space. Et cetera.
So what does that mean to you? HA! [laughs] Boy, white feminism. [Laughter] Phew. So, examples of white feminism: Bette Midler. I tell you, social media has really ruined some people for me. I used to looove Bette Midler. Now, she can go fall in a hole. She, her most recent—I don’t even know what to call these things—was when she said on Twitter to her millions of followers, “Beyonce has so many millions of followers; why doesn’t she these women to vote for…”
Mmmm. She got called out pretty quickly, since 98% of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton. It’s not our issue we have the president that we have, it’s white women. And she got called out because there are at least eight other white artists who have bigger platforms and more followers than Beyonce who she could have tweeted at, like Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift. But again white women are considered the muse for y’all. You expect us—like slavery—to put you on our teat all the time. I’m tired of y’all sucking.
Read about it. We not havin’ it anymore. We’re no longer your mammies. We’re not here to save your problems. We do it, not for you, we do it because if we don’t do it, we feel the brunt of it. You just benefit from it. Yes, of course. Don’t get mistaken as if we do this for you. As is for the trial that just happened, with the police officer. The son forgave the woman and everybody’s all, “Oh, the [inaudible].” No! This family wants to move on, they want to heal, it was not about this racist cop. It was about this family who believes in, “We need to heal from this.” But again, whiteness centered itself on this.
Oh Alyssa Milano. [Chuckles] When Alabama and other states—it specifically happened in Alabama—no, it happened in Georgia, that’s where it was ’cause it’s my home state. Yeah, mhm, yeah. So when they passed that draconian anti-abortion law, her answer was a sex strike. This is problematic on so many issues because first of all, as a feminist, my sexuality is mine, you make it seem like I am sexual for men. I have a problem with that. Women enjoy sex. So why would I go on a sex strike if I wanna have sex?
Alright the other problem is these abortion laws that are happening are not about our babies, because if they’re about Black and brown babies, our mothers and our children will be dying in childbirth. And before, and after. You’re hearing stories with Serena—and it’s not about the money, ’cause Serena, Beyonce, all these women—the systems in our healthcare are so racist that you believe that Black women don’t feel pain, we’re animals to you. We’re not even human. [Murmuring] This is why white feminism don’t work for me.
White feminism doesn’t work for me is because it says, “Oh let’s treat everybody the same, we’re only gonna talk about the thing we all have in common, which is being a woman.” However you choose to identify as a woman. But they don’t even do that, ’cause—OK, that’s a whole ‘nother track, OK. But, bein’ a woman. I’m Black, my vagina is not the issue everyday. This, walkin’ out the house, is what might cause me to not come back home.
So you’s tellin’ me, we’re gonna talk about the thing that, again, benefits white women, ’cause you only have the one thing, that right there; we have other things to contend with. That’s problematic. And, I had a conversation on the podcast recently—this woman blew my mind—the systems of white supremacy don’t even see me as a woman. They see me as animalistic, as an animal. Think of how many times you’ve see Serena depicted as an ape. And you don’t say—you say you’re not OK with it—but you don’t say anything to push back on it. You do not see me as a woman, so again, feminism—so my color, my race, and my gender don’t matter, so why would I participate in feminism? That’s y’all crap; that’s not me.
Lena Dunham. [Laughs] I never been a fan of hers, but this woman and supportin’ the patriarchy is… woo! Quite interestin’ for a show called “Girls.” Did you know that she got that show with only a page and a half treatment, she had no story line, all she had was characters, and she had no ending. If that’s not benefit of the doubt and privilege? If it was a Black person, I gotta come in with a full treatment, I gotta have actors already signed up, I gotta have a budget already, all this stuff, just to walk in the door and say, “Please, is it my turn?”
White trans women in Black and brown spaces. This is a sensitive one for me because Black trans women are being decimated by Black men in this country. So lesbian women, non-binary Black women, Black and brown women, have created spaces that they feel safe in. And because trans women need safe spaces, these Black and brown women welcome them into that space. But what happens is, by default they start prioritizin’ whiteness, which means at this point their trans-ness goes out the door. Because now you’re having conversations that for me, for them as women who do have uteruses, they can’t talk about their periods, they can’t talk about havin’ babies, they can’t talk about anything that’s not about, “Oh, what we all have in common.”
Now, they created this safe space because these people, these individuals, lesbians are raped at numbers higher than anybody else; Black trans women are killed and raped compared to their community size at rates higher than anybody else; and you want to come in and say, “Well, I don’t have a uterus, so we don’t get to talk about that.” That is not how that happens. So what happens is, they challenge you, and the first thing you do is call them TERFs. That is unacceptable, because that term puts a label on people who are already marginalized and vulnerable. You can’t do that. You can’t drop that term and try ta walk out the door.
White passin’ Jews are another one. Again, you white, you white to me. I’m not going around asking you, “Are you Jewish? Are you Italian?” Because you don’t ask me. So, what happens is—as an example of the women’s march—there’s white Jews who were part of it this past year, and who are boycotting because one of the Black founders has a relationship with Louis Farrakhan. OK, let me be honest, he’s problematic in our community. But what I’m gonna tell you is, for all the years that Jesse Jackson was kissing y’all butt, all the years and all this other stuff was happening, all our Black leaders was kissin’ up to white people, Farrakhan spoke with our community was thinkin’. He didn’t care.
Yes, he’s prejudiced as hell, but what you can’t say is he’s ignorant, because he knows the Quran, the Bible, and he knows the Torah back and forth. But you wanna just dismiss him for that. Granted, there are things he should not be sayin’, but to expect Black women to discard another member of our community because of you, it’s not gon’ happen. Because he’s had our back.
We’ve learned, there’re problematic people in our community. I can have a Uncle Billy who get drunk at every family reunion, and he is just belligerent, but do you think I’m gon’ call the cops on him? We gonna sit his butt in that room and tell him to shut the hell up until he sobers up, because we know if we call the cops on him, Uncle Billy could be killed. We take care of our own in our community. We’ve always had to. So when you come here from the outside demanding things from us, it shows your privilege, it shows that you disrespect us, and it centers whiteness and it pisses us off.
I will never let Twitter, I will never put white people above Black women, ever. Because who has my back when I have tears? Not y’all. Who has my back when my rent needs to be paid? Not y’all. So I got their back, because we’re a community. We’re Black; we’re lumped together.
So, now we’re talkin’ about, how do you, when you get all these different individuals in this feminist group together, how do you manage that? Because this is what I’m seeing, it’s classist, because what’s happening is you’ve got all these affinity groups who’ve been all by themselves and now you’re saying, “Come on in.” So they have never engaged with each other, so everybody’s jockeying for… I wanna be… you know, everybody has to—because we’ve been taught through white supremacy, there’s a hierarchy—so everybody’s trying to figure out where they fit in the hierarchy. Because you wanna be as close to white as possible, because that’s where all the privilege is.
So, this is how I engage in the communities I built. So this is a non-starter, this stops everything; if you’re questioning somebody’s right, their humanity or right to exist, I’m not havin’ that conversation. Period. And that’s on the community level. I’m not discussing whether trans women are women, I’m not discussing whether Black women are women, I’m not discussing whether someone can talk about their menstrual cycle, I’m not discussing anything about somebody and who they are as a human being. We’re not jokin’ about it, none of this.
So, what I’m gonna tell you fits in this category that keeps poppin’ up, I need really for you white people to go through your high school yearbooks and stuff and figure out how many Blackfaces did y’all got? ‘Cause y’all got a lot of these. When you do Blackface, brownface, yellowface, redface, whatever you wanna call it, what you’re sayin’ is, you’re questioning my humanity. And I’m gonna be honest, I’m gonna say this here, this is my problem with Elizabeth Warren. She can have all the great policies she wants, I cannot get past the fact that for years, she benefitted from what she considers having Indigenous background. I’m sure I have more Indigenous DNA than she does, and nobody in my family would have ever thought to do that.
But what whiteness does—because it’s a system that always takes and never gives back—it doesn’t respect Indigenous communities, it doesn’t respect Black communities, but when it can benefit from it, oh you be damned if they not gonna take it. Fully. I can’t get past that. And so people try to gloss over it, but I can’t, that’s my humanity, I can’t get past that.
So this is the little grey area, this is where you have the yellow traffic light: lived experience. So we wanna evaluate, who has the position of privilege, the ability to be an oppressor, and the ability to cause harm. And so the dialogue is focusing on understanding, not proving experience. So in this room of feminist women, we’re gonna sit down and I’m gonna look around and see who is the most vulnerable in this group, and that’s who I’m gonna focus my attention on.
Unless it’s a trans white woman—cause trans women are more vulnerable than me, all of them—so unless there’s a trans woman in the room, just a cis hetero white woman, you’re not gonna get any attention from me. I’ve gotten to the point, I’m gonna be honest, I don’t need to acknowledge your presence because you’re so used to people going out of their way to speak to you, if you don’t speak to me first, I don’t ever have to talk to another white person in my life. ‘Cause that says more about you than it says about me.
Also—this is a caveat—I’m takin’ up space, and I’m encouraging other brown and Black women and men to take up space. So if I’m on a plane, and you’re in the middle seat—well, first of all, if you’re in the middle seat, I’m gonna give you some caveat on that arm thing; I’m gonna let you have that arm thing—but what you not gonna do is spread your legs like this. You’re not gonna do that. Your penis is not that big, [laughter] so you’re gonna need to close your legs up. You see that line? That’s the line. And I’m very vocal about that.
We’re walking. I want you to—white people, think about this—how often when you’re walking down the sidewalk do you move out of other people’s way or do you expect people to move out of your way? Especially when you have these freakin’ strollers and stuff, you just take up the whole thing, people have to stop, they have to do all this other kinda other stuff; I don’t care anymore. You and your baby will be in the street if it’s about me moving and you in my way. ‘Cause I’m tired. Why do I have to endanger myself? Why do I have to make myself uncomfortable ’cause you can’t figure out that there are other people who occupy this space.
So just understand that this is a movement right now; you’re gonna be seeing more of this, so I need you to be very mindful.
Another example—Black people, raise your hand. Black people from the US, raise your hand. This is very specific to Black people from the US. When you go to a restaurant, what are Black kids doin’? C’mon. What are Black kids doin’?
Audience member: Sittin’ there.
Kim: Sittin’ there. They might be on their mobile devices, but they sittin’ there. What are white kids doin’? Runnin’ around! Because they know that that space belongs to them, they can go in the kitchen and everythin’ and everybody goin’, “Oh thats so cute!” Oh no, we’re told, before you get out out the car, “Don’t touch nuttin’, don’t say nuttin’, don’t…” Because you know that’s to keep us safe. From you.
This is why when a white woman comes up missin’ on the news, it’s on the news ’cause y’all think everything’s safe for y’all, so when y’all pop up missing everybody’s all, “Oh my god what happened?!” Black women disappear everyday; that doesn’t dominate the news cycle.
So, my lived experience—I don’t have to give you proof—is my lived experience. I get so sick of white people, “Well that’s not what…” It’s not your lived experience; I don’t know what it’s like to be a white person, so I’m not gonna educate you on that. This is my lived experience. And you eva have that question in yo’ head, to say, when someone says somethin’ and you’re like, “Oh I don’t have that,” and you want to open your mouth, I need you to pull them words right back, and shut up.
This is open season: ideologies and beliefs; they can change at any moment. So this is where we’re gonna have this conversation, this is on the individual level. So this is where we’re gonna take whiteness who likes to be individuals, and we gonna actually make brown and Black people individuals. [Gasps] “Holy…” Look at ’em like individuals; if we’re gonna have a dialogue so I can understand what’s goin’ on, this is the only way we make better products and services.
What?! [Laughter] You make a product or service for somebody from Silicon Valley for somebody in Columbia, you don’t have any clue what they do, but you just think you know it all. And I’m really pissed off that Google has gone to Atlanta, giving homeless people $5 to give their pictures, to help with they AI. That is exploiting a vulnerable community, because these individuals don’t know how biased AI is, and the value of giving up the images for this. Again, tech has never been neutral and has never been apolitical.
So strategies. Basics: you gotta have a code of conduct. In your organizations, in your communities, and at your events. You have to have a code of conduct and you have to have a code of conduct that has definitions in it, because what Chad thinks sexual harassment is and what Mary thinks sexual harassment is could be two different things. And if you have not defined it, you cannot hold somebody accountable for it. You can’t measure it, it’s subjective. They cause harm.
You need to have an execution plan and be able to enforce it. So I’m speakin’ at a conference in Cologne, Germany next year, and part of my new speaker rider is I need them to make sure they’ve thought about my physical safety, ’cause I say some things that y’all white people don’t like. I right now will not be going into any open carry states unless the conference organizers make sure that they have metal detectors and all kinds of stuff, ’cause all I need is to say what I say and some angry white person stands up and shoots me. I’m not tryin’ to be a martyr for this. This is my business. I’m not trying to die for this.
These are things that you don’t think about because you’re safe everywhere. You don’t think about me. So it’s great to bring Kim to the stage and shake things up and cause a scene, but what have you done to—again—make yourself uncomfortable so that I can be comfortable and safe?
And you have to know how to apologize and make amends because we’re trying to create an experience that was never meant to exist. If the Constitution—if we had not changed anything about the Constitution till right now—my Black ass would be a slave. We are tryin’ to create an experience for people that was not meant to exist. We will make mistakes. So this… oh great, take pictures. Let’s go! Cameras up! Y’all need to move faster than this. This is… I’m giving you a… sir, your phone is in your hand, can you take a picture? Yeah, OK. See, this is what I’m talkin’ about. That’s what I’m talkin’ about, right there: if it was a white person up there, they’d take the picture.
Alright, so, this is how you do an apology. You acknowledge your actions. We don’t need to know why; it’s not important, because when you say why now, you’re centering yourself. It’s not about you. You wanna have a discussion, discussing my understanding of why—you wanna say you understand why this caused harm. Again it’s not about you; you’re saying your actions, you understand why they cause harm—because this is what happens: people do these little blanket apologies, they have no idea what they’re apologizin’ for. This is why when I was a teacher, parents were like, “Apologize to her.” I’m like, “Why? He’s not ready to apologize to me. He’s only gonna apologize when he realizes he’s done something and there are gonna be consequences from me and he doesn’t wanna deal with those consequences and then he’s gonna apologize.”
So what happens is, whiteness doesn’t have the consequence to it’s behavior. So apologizing means I need you to articulate to me why you are apologizing. Say how you’re gonna do better. Ask what else can you do. And then repeat. But make sure you do 3 and 4.
He also explains when you are doing harm, the most important thing is to stop the harm. Stop what you’re doin’. If I’m tellin’ you this thing, if you’re standing on my neck and it’s harmful, don’t say, “Well your neck shouldn’t be there.” Get off my neck. Fix it so you don’t stand on my neck again, and fix the behavior that caused the harm. Again sorry, and I never say sorry because as a Black woman I just—because again, you don’t see me as a woman—when we say sorry, you like, “Yeah, I know you’re sorry.” Like a sorry person, so I don’t say that. I’ll apologize. Think about how much emotional labor it took me to figure out just that thing: what words to use so that I can maintain my dignity when talking to you.
The other issue we don’t cover, it harms you. It harms the person who caused the harm. This is what I’m saying: white supremacy is the parasite that’s finally eatin’ on its host. You’ve been throwin’ canaries down in the mine for years and we’ve been tellin’ you, “This is bad.” You didn’t recognize it until it hit you. So there is a person in a group that I’m a part of who is all up in arms because Trump with a small “t” said there’s a possibility of civil war.
I said when he was elected and saw that stuff that he’s not gonna leave office willfully. And she’s like, “Ahhhh!” I was like, “Did you not know this country has waged civil war on Black and brown people since y’all got here?” But now it’s affecting whiteness and it’s, “Ahhhhh!” I have been at civil war with my government since I was born.
So why am I puttin’ these things into action? We Pivot. [Cheers from audience] We Pivot is an organization that came out of—who’s heard of Girl Develop It? Raise your hand. I hope every last one of you is not involved in Girl Develop It anymore. I’ve done five or six episodes on the harm that Girl Develop It caused the Black community, and they have done absolutely nothing to make amends for that. And they’re actually moving forward as if it didn’t happen. Again, we’re not women, why should I apologize to you? We’re not women.
But they will say the rhetoric of, “We’ve learned,” but they’ve demonstrated no behavior of learning. So out of that, again, I’m an educator, I believe in, “Let me demonstrate how this is done.” So out of that, a group of women—I wasn’t a part of that group—but a group of women, we founded We Pivot. I am the board chair. And we are intentionally focusing on the most vulnerable in our communities. So we’re not focused on women. White men can show up, with the understanding that you will not be the priority here, you will not be the focus. If someone steps on your toe and you wanna cry, you deal with that, we don’t care. You’re here because, you know what, we’re welcoming, but that’s all you get from us.
We Pivot is about changing the direction. You know, “pivot” is to change. This is another thing I don’t understand: we are a culture of iteration. We always doin’ two week sprints and all kinds of stuff, but when I say somethin’ about change, everybody freaks out, or making mistakes, everybody freaks out. We’re a culture of people who make mistakes everyday. We’ve crashed systems everyday in production.
We believe in providing opportunities, support, and education to traditionally underserved populations in the tech industry. This is one reason I’m so pissed at Girl Develop It—and Grace Hopper; I need to throw that one in there—is because groups that were designed for women are not only upholding white supremacy and oppression, but they’re creating barriers to the very women that they’re saying they are trying to get into. So these women see the tagline and think, “Oh, this is a safe space for me.” They go in and get harmed. I got a problem with that.
We believe that making impactful change towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive tech center requires intentional strategies that are rooted in social justice principles. You cannot do this just on intention, you have to have a strategy, you have to say, “This is where we’re goin’, how are we gonna strategize to get there?” You can’t do this work if you’re dealin’ with people already vulnerable and already been hurt, and say, “Oh let’s see what we’re gonna do today.” That’s not how this works.
So our core value is to create the conditions where the most marginalized individuals are included, or feel empowered, resulting in a more diverse tech industry. And what is diversity? Variety. So one of our tenets is that we believe in education as a human right. This is my instrument, these new bootcamp models, these Income Sharing Agreements, that are targeting the most vulnerable with things that look just like subprime mortgages, loans; it’s gonna blow up, oh it’s gonna be bad. These bootcamps that are treating—and they have bad curriculums, too. There’s one that costs $85,000 learning to code; are you out yo freakin’ mind?
What? I can get freecodecamp with a group of friends at a coffee shop, we can figure this out. I’m not paying $85,000. And you saddling me with debt, on an income sharing agreement that… it comes from my paycheck from my employer. I don’t get to… even school loans don’t do that! Unless you default. I get to pay them. You don’t go to my employer and say, “Deduct it from my doggone paycheck, before taxes, before I pay my benefits.”
Justice: we believe in interruptin’ oppression, this is what I am, an oppression interrupter. That’s what all this is.
We believe in our communities, we believe that the most vulnerable—this is where we make a mistake: we default to whiteness—I believe the people closest to the problem have the solutions. We can make better products and services if we have teams of people who are closest to the problems we’re solving. If I say see one more freakin’ scooter company… Atlanta ain’t got that much scootin’ space. We have very few sidewalks. Why would we have these things… if not just on college campuses? What problem is that solvin’ for us? Absolutely nothin’. Atlanta has atrocious public transportation. Can we do something about mass transportation? Me goin’ to school without a helmet, up a street, is not doin’ anything.
And we believe in real talk. That’s me. And collaboration will lead, that we’re stronger together. We get there together, people, or we don’t get there at all. Again we’re tryin’ to create something that was never meant to happen, to exist.
So, how are we doin’ this? We have a community needs assessment. So unlike these other groups, who think they know what the communities need, no we don’t. We have no clue. Because what Atlanta needs, and what Rochester needs, and what Milwaukee needs is not the same thing. So we don’t wanna go out here and make assumptions from our places of privilege and tell these marginalized people what they need. No wonder they don’t come to your stuff, you don’t provide anything that they want.
This speaks to Stack Overflow and their 2018 survey; why are you sayin’ that marginalized people aren’t completing your survey because it’s too long? What data do you have to prove that? They’re not completin’ your survey because first of all 95% of people on Stack Overflow are white males between the ages of 18 and 34, that’s the only people that feel safe on that platform. You have done absolutely no outreach to those communities, so they don’t trust you, and your survey has questions that are not valid for them, so why would I spend my 30 minutes fillin’ out something for you for free?But instead of sayin’ all that, they say it’s too long. And what does white supremacy say about when Black people say something is too long? We’re just lazy. We’re just too lazy to fill out that doggone survey. You’re not gonna continue to tell the narrative of my laziness anymore.
So we’re doing a survey and actually we have a university—which one?
Audience member: Milwaukee School of Engineering.
Kim: Milwaukee School of Engineering is actually making a digital platform for us to be able to scale our needs assessment across our communities. So when our chapter leads go into their communities, they need to ask, “What’s there already? What’s not there? Who’s there? Who’s not there? What do they need?” And each community chapter will look very different. The only thing they all have in common is a board that helps them on the national level for how to make sure we coordinate resources. That’s it. We don’t want to be barriers, we don’t want to get in the way, as GDI often did. That was an organization whose individual chapters—chapter leaders—would do whatever they needed to because National was in the way, so they’d do it and apologize later.
So, this is also something I’m creating. It’s called The Alliance, the Antiracist Tech Agenda; that will be out next year. Because if you don’t want to talk about antiracism, we’re not doin’ the work. And I can’t have these conversations effectively on Twitter, because there’s always someone who wants to interject some bull, and now I gotta be distracted, ’cause now I gotta stop and go upside they head and make a comeback.
Also creating, next year, #CauseAScene Jobs. I get DMs all the time, “Hey can you Tweet…” No I can’t. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know if you’re safe for people following me. No. So you want me to… you have to go through a certification process. You think you better? No. I need to know. I have done this emotional labor to create this trust in my community, in the work that I do, so I need to know where you are, what’s your plan for moving forward—’cause nobody’s perfect, we’re all stuck in this together—but I need to see a plan before I ever endorse anybody.
So if you are really serious about having marginalized people in your company, particularly brown, Black—and again I told y’all I’m certified special needs, so I’m talkin’ about people with invisible and visible disabilities—if you’re serious about that, then this is what this is.
And I also have #ReportAScene. Because I’m sick of whisper networks, because only the privileged individuals who are part of those networks know who was causing harm. I hate it—and I understand why they exist, because there is so much retribution when someone says something about a person, particularly if it’s a man in tech. And your jobs and your careers are at risk. So I started this, so I don’t have a problem with callin’ it out.
So what can you do to help? ‘Cause this is always the issue: I got 7,000 followers and I’m gonna tell you, about 100 of them are worth something; the rest of them are just… [Scoffs] I don’t see how any of these influencers get anything from these followers, ’cause y’all some lazy, voyeuristic, parasitic individuals. You get free education and you do absolutely nothing to give back. So if you want to participate in supporting that community, go to hashtagcauseascene.com and commit to giving $100 a month to this movement. If you cannot afford $100 a month, this is not for you, there are more than enough people in tech who can give $100 a month.
And this is why I tell you you’re a parasite. This has been going on since my birthday in May, I launched it on my birthday in May. I have 20 sponsors. How many followers did I say I had? Yeah, over 7,000. What kinda percentage is that? Now I know all of ’em can’t afford it. There are a lot of people in my community who are learning, but I got a lot of followers who have 20k, 100k, 2,000k followers; they makin’ money.
But again, whiteness, it takes, that’s what it does. It’s not original, it steals. There is nothing original about whiteness. I’m gonna be honest: I actually think white supremacy was designed because white men would be extinct if it wasn’t. Y’all have no capacity to do anything, have all the privilege and talk about how afraid you are to use it. “I don’t wanna.” And then when you use it, “Oh, they didn’t do it.” Of course they didn’t do it, the system was designed for you! If I can put myself up here everyday with the small amount of privilege I have, you doing nothing? I’m not impressed.
Bonus: words you must stop using now to describe women of color, particularly Black women. ‘Cause we about to start snappin’ on y’all. “Aggressive.” Don’t call me aggressive, look at the definition. I have not attacked you, yo feelings are your responsibility not mine; instead I’m assertive. We don’t ever get called assertive. No, we’re aggressive. I’m not intimidating, look at the definition. I had someone tell me at another conference, “I came up to you and you were intimidating.” Because I didn’t acknowledge you because you mean absolutely nothing to me, I’m intimidating? Think about the psychology, the pathology behind that. Because I didn’t acknowledge you, I’m intimidating. Nope, I’m sure and confident, and it took a lot of work to get here ’cause white supremacy really did a number on me.
I tell people—this is for my people of color—we have internalized white supremacy and anti-Blackness and we have to deal with it. We have to deal with this. And particularly when we’re talkin’—and this is why I’m very specific when I say, “women of color and Black women,” ’cause that’s a totally different experience—and people of color and Black people. Because people in the model minority, the closer you are to white, the better you are. When you’re in your countries, they tell you, “If you’re goin’ to America, be anybody but Black! Do anything but be Black!”
I’m not defensive. Again, look at the term. I’m committed. I’m not emotional—and this is what gets me all the time, people’re like, “Oh you’re just angry with us!” So this is how I run my strategy on Twitter: someone sends me something or I recognize something on Twitter, and I—again—got a strategy, so I evaluate it. Are they in tech? I stay in tech because tech has the potential to change the world. We as a small community touch everything, and when we get it right here, other industries are gonna have to change. So I stay—I feel, I’m very optimistic, very positive, because I have power to influence an industry that makes change.
So, are they in tech? If they’re some rando Nazi, I’m a Black woman, I’m not gonna sit there and make myself a target for them. I’m not doing that. So are they in tech? Alright, is what they’re saying something that the people who follow me can learn something from? Check that box. Ok, I’m ready to engage. What I do not do, is respond to them, they—I’m a classroom teacher right? They’re a part of the lesson. Why would I talk to the lesson? That’s stupid. So I’m gonna comment retweet. I’m gonna say what I have to say, I’m gonna put what I have to say there, and I’m gonna let it go. My community has been trained, when I do that, it’s time to ask things. So now everybody’s like comin’ in and bringing—because this has to scale, this is why I’m recording this, they don’t record this. Me speakin’ to y’all means absolutely nothing to me; that’s a waste of my energy. I need to scale this.
So, people don’t know how to engage. If they’re sayin’ something I don’t like, I DM them, “You need to take that back.” ‘Cause I don’t want—’cause what happens is they’ll start getting praise and whatever to the white person’s talkin’ to them, and I’m like, “No no no, you need to fix that statement, they need to know you learned this from Kim.”
Know that none of you have the lived experience of us. Everything you learned about racism is because someone of color has taught you about racism. I need you to understand that. So then that’s when we engage and then they’ll say, they’ll troll, “You just angry,” and then I’m like, “Whoop, there it is! That didn’t take long.” ‘Cause with enough pressure and enough time, racism shows itself, because it’s there. But I didn’t bring it out because people don’t believe it’s there so it’s like, “OK, do this again, do this again, do this again.” So a few more people, OK it is there, it is there.
There was one recent experience where this white woman started followin’ me, and this dude literally said—I was promoting the Antiracist podcast—he came into the DMs… “OK, so back off. You came to me.” So he came into the thread and said, something to the effect of, “This will never solve racism, what we need to do is mix the races, people have babies.” So his answer to racism was breeding. So when I said that, he got offended. “I didn’t say that!” Dude, you just said “make babies.” So then you’ve got people who are mixed race like, “That doesn’t solve my problems.” So then he keeps going, he’s going, and I’m just comment retweeting; I’m not responding. And then this woman finally said, “Hey dude, do you realize that she’s not talkin’ to you? That she’s talkin’ to us?” And then she says “I just started following Kim, and I thought her methods were just over the top, until I see this, now I know why she does what she does.”
I am an educated person, I have a masters degree in trainin’ and development, and only stopped my doctoral degree after—I was working on my doctoral studies, ’cause I was gettin’ a degree in technology and entrepreneurship, Doctorate of Business Administration in technology and entrepreneurship—when I realized I’m sick of tryin’ to prove myself to white people. That’s all I need, I’m goin’ in a ditch tryin’ to prove myself to y’all; y’all don’t see me as human anyway. So I’m just gonna do what I do.
But it took her to see that engagement to realize, “Oh, I don’t know what I’m talkin’ about. That Kim—oh my gosh—she might have a strategy here.” Again, I don’t get the benefit of the doubt. I gotta prove myself. I’m passionate, I’m not angry. I’m usually soakin’ in the tub. This is fun for me, and as soon as they say what I need them to say, I’m like, “Thank you, have a great day.” And I’m done. And they’re like, “But…” The lesson is over, the class is done. Night night, see you tomorrow.
I’m not angry, I’m determined. I’m not overreactive, I’m justified. I’m justified in how I act; I do this because if I’m not in your face like this you ignore me. If I come to you, and it doesn’t matter—if you knew how much energy people of color have to expend to write an email to y’all? So that you don’t get an attitude? We gotta put emojis in it so that you know we’re laughing and all kinds of… I’m not doin’ that, I’m rescheduling. That’s all I got. None of your damn business why. [Laughter]
Thank you. [Cheering and applause from audience]