“[Venture capitalists] are people who by definition have said: my only goal is to make money for myself. But what we’ve done is allowed those people and that mentality to become pervasive; to become the dominant culture.”
Marco Rogers is a senior engineer and technical leader with 15+ years of experience building innovative products for the web. He is dedicated to building healthy and high performing engineering organizations. That work has seen him in leadership roles growing diverse teams at companies such Yammer, Microsoft, Clover Health and Lever. He is currently a Senior Engineer at Mode. He often shares his expertise and experience openly on topics such as effective technical recruiting and building career ladders for engineers. Marco also enjoys being part of the community on twitter where he uses his voice to tackle difficult topics in and outside of the tech space.
Kim: Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s episode of the #CauseAScene Podcast. Today I have someone who I have been—for a while, I was secretly, I wouldn’t say stalking, but I was just—he wasn’t following me. I was following him. And he definitely causes a scene. [Laughs] And so I was like, “I got to get to know this guy.” So I want to introduce everybody to Marco Rogers. Marco, please introduce yourself to the audience.
Marco Rogers: How you doing? Thanks for having me. I’m Marco Rogers. I am an engineer and an engineering manager. I’ve been doing this for about 15 plus years. I’ve been here in the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, since 2011. And I’ve seen everything from you know, small startups to high growth startups to big companies and really kind of run the gamut. So you know, happy to kind of dig into whatever you want to talk about. Thanks for having me.
Kim: Alright, so we start the show with two questions. Why is it important to cause a scene? And how are you causin’ a scene?
Marco: Yeah, for sure. I love those questions. I was listenin’ to some of the old episodes.
So, why is it important to cause a scene? My take on this is that when it comes to trying to create change and trying to create the kind of cultural change that you need to see in people, they won’t come to the table unless they’re forced. You don’t bring people to the table by appealing to altruism. You don’t bring people to the table by appealing to their better selves. Because that kind of thing is easy to ignore. Especially if they’re getting benefits from the status quo. And so causing a scene is about disrupting that status quo and causing that level of pain and discomfort that’s gonna bring them to the table and say, “Well, whatever you’re talking about, gotta be better than this.” Right? [Laughs] Causing a scene is about creating that disruption that creates a catalyst for change, in my mind.
How would I say I cause a scene? You kind of mentioned—most people, I think, who may be listening or who may look me up, you’ll find me on Twitter. And Twitter is the place where I initially found my voice to be able to cause a scene. To start calling people out, to start shining a light on all the ways in which we are not living up to the promises that we make to people. By “we” I mean tech, and also kind of a wider indictment on American culture. So there [Twitter], you’ll find me being very vocal and very strident on a lot of these topics.
But also, what I took away from my journey towards causing a scene is like, what does it look like for me to do my part? Because I exist within this ecosystem. And in fact, I’m one of the people who has experienced a lot of success in Silicon Valley. So am I also causing a scene within these companies? And when I asked myself that, my career trajectory also started to change a lot. So, like I said, I’ve also been an engineering manager, engineering leader, director of engineering, head of engineering at several companies. And caused a scene within these companies by saying, “You know, these messages that we’re giving to people externally—are we actually living up to that?” Right? I’ve got lots of stories around what happens when you do that inside these companies as well. [Both laugh] So I hope that’s a good enough answer. But I love that question.
Kim: Ok, so I’m going to start with something that happened today. We, here in the community, we have a lot of people who want to be quote unquote “allies”. They take on this brand for themselves. It’s like a ‘A’ on their chest. The liberals, progressives, or so they think. And every once in a while, we’ll get—you and I, or people like us—to get into this conversations and somebody will quote, throw out a, “I have a dream.” Some very, what they consider, “kumbaya” MLK quote. So today I share the quote that I know many will not share. And this is how I want to start this conversation because I thought, this is gonna be great for Marco.
Marco: Go for it. Do it.
Kim: So the quote is, “It is the aspect of their sense of superiority that white people of America believe that they have so little to learn.”
Marco: [Laughs] I know that quote.
Kim: MLK, Jr. And this is what I find in tech. And this is where the rub and the absolute horror comes, is the fact that—in a space that claims to be so innovative, in a space that claims to be so disruptive, in a space that claims to be so, “We’re creating good for the world, we’re gonna connect the world”—how hardline these individuals become when it comes to pointing out their lack of knowledge.
Kim: And how their lack of knowledge is negatively impacting other people. It’s like they don’t even—I know that I have my perspective. I can only speak for Kim Crayton’s perspective in all the different ways that I am who I am. And you can, too. But for some reason, the leadership in tech, and it’s coming out of Silicon Valley—that’s another conversation I wanna have, as a Black man—how are you doin’ that? [Marco laughs]
Because I would be taking one of them scooters and knockin’ the hell outta them on a daily basis. How is this space so… the reason I bring that quote up because that’s what I find you do often. You see someone who makes what they think is a benign comment, and you will quote retweet and create a whole thread educating why that is not a benign comment.
Kim: And it happens over and over and over and over again. So I wanted you to talk about that.
Marco: Yeah, absolutely.
Kim: You have been dealing with the people at the top, so just talk about that.
Marco: Yeah, so I wanna answer your question, because I could go on a couple of tangents. You’ll notice that I go on tangents?
Kim: Oh, we—yeah. Mm-hmm. [Laughs]
Marco: Happens on Twitter also, but I want to answer your question about this quote. Why is it that people present themselves like they know what they’re talking about when they clearly do not?
I believe it comes from a couple different places. First and foremost when we talk about whiteness, I talk about whiteness a lot as a construct, not just white people. But I think whiteness as a construct also comes with a lot of these defense mechanisms. I talk about the fact that whiteness as a construct has to protect itself in order to maintain the status quo.
Marco: And I think part of that is the way that it educates people, right? There is a miseducation that happens on a very wide scale. And part of that is telling white people—or not just white people, but everybody else—that this is how racism is supposed to look.
Marco: And if you hear it anywhere else, that’s not correct. And that’s the fight that you end up having with people all the time. It’s like, “That’s not racism. That’s not what it looks like. That’s not what we’re doing.” And it makes me just as frustrated and infuriated because there’s no conversation about why they feel equipped to say that. [Both laugh] There’s no conversation about — it’s just like, “Well my mama told me!” [Kim laughs]
And I’m like, Your mama was watching on TV while they hit us with dogs and fire hoses and being like, “Oh, that’s OK.” And so listenin’ to her about what racism means may not be an unbiased view. [Both laughing]
Kim: Sittin’ on the couch listenin’ to Bull Connor.
Marco: Right! It’s amazin’ to me. Because it’s not just kind of presenting themselves with that knowledge that they don’t have. But also, like you said, this idea that there’s nothing for them to learn. It’s not a conversation where we are tryin’ to come to the table. But them going, “No, I have the monopoly on what reality is. Your job is to convince me otherwise.” And they frame the whole conversation around that like, “I cannot be moved. And if you haven’t convinced me, it’s because you’re not good enough.”
Marco: And so I hate that, right? There’s another part of this, though—and I think that’s a wider thing, but in Silicon Valley in particular—it comes along with this other really insidious thing where a lot of the dysfunction that we talk about in tech in particular is predicated on them setting themselves up as the smartest people in the room. And in any room.
Marco: And the only way that they can push forward the things that they do is because they have taken this stance that they have the knowledge and the perspective and the genius and other people can’t see it. [Kim laughs uproariously] You see this rhetoric from VCs all the time. Like, “Oh, the best founders, everybody told them their idea was terrible, and it’s only because they didn’t listen to anybody ever that they created this thing.” And I’m like [sighs] “Oh, man.” So for every person like that where you can create that narrative—it’s not a true narrative—but for every person where you can retroactively create that narrative, there’s like 100 people who have bad ideas that were just bad ideas. And you could take a lot of bad ideas and put $100 million behind it…
Kim: Oh my god!
Marco: …and somethin’ will happen! [Laughs] Even bad ideas! You give people a lot of money and something can happen. [Kim laughs] And so that whole narrative where these people are being lionized as geniuses I think, is also part of the dysfunction of tech. It’s what allows them to do what they do.
Kim: It is so funny you mention that because once I really started deep diving into this—so I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bend. I’ve always been studying entrepreneurs. But amazingly, the ones that are put out as the geniuses are all white. And as I dive into their backgrounds, I’m just like, “Dude, this is so mediocre.” Of course! Look at what you had! The wind’s in your sails. I mean, Elon Musk. Come on, dude, you had apartheid as something to stand on. Both of your parents are professors. You had a computer that you got to take apart and figure out how it worked.
There’s so many things that led to that, and they want to make it seem like these people just woke up, and they came out the womb and they were—people start shit in their garage every day! But if you don’t have the network of a Steve Jobs, it’s not gonna change.
Kim: And I look at—when you just talkin’ about the dysfunction of Silicon Valley—look at Elizabeth Holmes. When you look at the WeWork thing that’s happenin’ right now. When you look at the fact that Uber has been allowed to lose billions of dollars every year and never been profitable.
Marco: Never. Not even approaching profitable.
Kim: Never been profitable.
Marco: It’s funny that you mention Uber and WeWork because at the beginning of this year we started to hear all of these whispers about the next round of tech IPOs. And towards the end of this year, it’s like, “Oh. [Laughs] Things aren’t goin’ well.” And WeWork is in that place where they didn’t quite get it fast enough before people started to wake up and be like, “What is happening right now?”
Kim: And I wanna stop you right there, because it’s not even that they didn’t get it fast enough. It’s that people start—maybe it’s because they didn’t get fast enough—but you start seeing all this stuff underneath that just like, “What the hell is going on here?! [Laughs] This was not a business! What the hell is this?”
Marco: Right. And my feeling is that people in the know have been aware of this with businesses like Uber from the beginning. And I feel like I knew less about WeWork, but I’ve kind of gotten up to speed. But there are a lot of these tech businesses that are kind of trying to exit right now that do not have viable business models.
Kim: Mm-hm. Exactly.
Marco: They do not have it; they never did.
Kim: Never, never did. Like all these freakin’ scooter companies! They do not have a viable business model. They just had VC money.
Marco: They don’t. This is a thing that I think you’ll see a lot where we have shifted from, you’re creating a business and you need this venture capital in order to grow it really fast and get it to a point where it has a huge market share because that will allow you to outstrip your competitors. That was the narrative. And I think there’s some problems with it, but I think it’s reasonable. It’s a reasonable narrative. But that has actually shifted to something else, which is like: venture capital is cheap money.
Marco: And what winning looks like is convincing people to give you this venture capital. That is success. Raising money is the success point.
Kim: So that’s like the business model now. [Laughs]
Marco: Mm-hm, that is the model. Nobody’s planning for what comes after that.
Marco: And I think the problem that I have with the way that is going down right now is a lot of people are gonna get hurt. But it won’t be the people who invested, right?
Kim: Oh, no.
Marco: When a company like Uber does an IPO they get their money back.
Marco: They’ve been paid.
Marco: It’s the public market that has to deal with this garbage that they put out there.
Kim: That they did not know was not successful. [Both laugh]
Marco: Right? They took their money and ran.
Marco: And we’re not really gonna be talking about the people who got hurt, because this was actually never a viable business. It’s weird that we end up talking about how they lose billions of dollars. And it ends up being kinda a thing that’s easy to say—but that’s astounding.
Kim: [emphatic] Yes!
Marco: That’s astounding! They’re losing billions of dollars.
Kim: Multiple billions every—yes.
Marco: And the fact that that’s allowed to happen—and in fact, we start to talk about it casually—that tells you everything you need to know about [Laughs] what’s happening in tech and in Silicon Valley.
Kim: I mean, I think about the—again, going back to Elizabeth Holmes. I watched that documentary. And all these influential white dudes she had on a board brought in—they helped her bring in money. She never had a product! She never had anything that works, and she sold it to a drugstore. A pharmacy. And they didn’t say, “Hey, we bought into equipment that you’re not sendin’ to the facility, but yet we have to send this stuff to… we have to take the blood, and send… well, that’s not… hold up, I thought the whole process was to make it easier.”
Kim: But you’ve added steps in here. And nobody’s like, wavin’ a red flag?
Marco: [Laughs] Well, so the people who did wave a red flag — they get penalized.
Marco: And I think that’ll bring us back to a lot of the stuff that you and I end up talking about — about who makes it and who doesn’t. Silicon Valley — they really like to have this narrative. Like, All you have to do is work hard and be smart and you’ll make it. But there’s so much grime underneath. Where it’s like, anybody who does what you said — like, I’m lookin’ around, [Kim laughs] I’m listenin’ to what you’re saying, and like, it don’t look like that. Right? Those people get systematically shut down and discredited and pushed out. Until the only people that are left are…
Kim: Are those—yeah.
Marco: …who are, (A) ignorant enough that they’re getting duped, or (B) they have decided to go along.
Kim. They’re complicit, yes.
Marco: Exactly. They’ve decided to go along. And that’s the question I’m askin’ about WeWork. I’m like, “Who looked at these numbers and was like, ‘This looks good.'”
Kim: OK, so let’s talk about WeWork. Because not only the numbers aren’t right, but the former CEO is actually buyin’ properties personally, putting WeWorks in his properties, and charging rent.
Marco: M-hm! M-hm.
Kim: To his… how? what? How in the fuck can my Black ass do that?! [Laughs]
Marco: Right? I’m like, if that’s the scam—right? [Kim laughs]
Kim: Lemme go buy some houses!
Marco: This is kind of what I mean, though, right? Because you ask yourself—you’re like, there was a moment where somebody had to sit down and sign some contracts about this.
Marco: And somebody across the table is thinking to themselves, “Wait, we’re just about to pay him for these buildings?” [Kim laughs] You know that there’s an opportunity for someone to say something.
Marco: Like, “I don’t think this is how it’s supposed to work.”
Marco: And either they got pushed into silence, or they became complicit at that moment.
Kim: Yeah, because everybody couldn’t be in at the beginning.
Marco: Right. I mean, there’s paperwork. There’s gotta be a paper trail. [Kim laughs] Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually really hard for millions and millions of dollars to change hands without paperwork. So it’s on paper where multiple people had to be like, “Yeah, I looked at this. It’s fine.”
Kim: Because these aren’t people who are like drug cartels, with money and suitcases and under mattresses and stuff. This is going through legal channels. [Laughs]
Marco: It’s hard to say to what extent this is actually fraud versus just some really creative bookkeeping. But at the end of the day, what you could say unequivocally is it’s not good business. So why do these people continually get held up as these geniuses?
Marco: They’re not creating good businesses.
Kim: And then the thing is—and this is what pisses me off about whisper networks—because they will push out the people who are raising the alarm, and they get held up as as heroes, until it all comes crashing down and everybody wants to look all innocent. But we can’t get assholes to not keep gettin’ allowed to speak at conferences when they have a history of being transphobic. And I’m like, when?! At some point, something has to give.
Marco: When is it reasonable to hold people accountable? I feel like that’s the question we just ask every day. Right? Every day.
Kim: Yes, yes. Because people will say you and I are bullying. They’ll say, “Oh, you’re bullying people.” What? At what point would my Black ass get that kind of benefit of doubt?
Marco: Right? Exactly.
Kim: I get called out if I had a “i” missing on somethin’. I don’t even get that much leeway.
Kim: But we continue to see conferences bookin’ people and not even doing the cursory—hell, I ain’t been in tech but five years, and I can Google. I can go to the #CauseAScene network. I can tweet somethin’, and the next thing I know somebody done found a thread, a link, or somethin’ that gives me all the information I need. There is no excuse today in 2019 to continue to bring people, uphold people and only thing they have to offer is they coded something back in the day. [Laughs]
Marco: Yeah. So there’s a lot of things that we could get into. But I think one of the most important aspects of tech culture that enables this is this idea that: tech is separate from politics. And I love that you have that in the things that you outline for people about what it means to change tech culture.
Kim: Because it’s not apolitical, people. Tech is not neutral, and it’s not apolitical. Yes.
Marco: Never neutral. The excuse that we get all the time when these really problematic people keep getting brought to these conferences is (A) People wanna hear them. Like, no, not really. They don’t become important until we make them important.
Marco: And we can trade those people out for people who are just as smart, just as accomplished, but who are not problematic. It’s easy. It’s actually really easy to do that.
Kim: And there’s more of us than there are of them. So it’s very easy to do it.
Marco: Absolutely. But (B), they also are like, “Well, this person has done these really amazing things, and that’s separate from whatever they might have done in their quote unquote ‘personal life’.” And I think that is where I really started to get burned up. Because it really underscores the fact that we’re not havin’ the same conversation about what diversity and equity and inclusion means.
Kim: M-hm. Yeah.
Marco: What we’re tryna do is create the environment where people can come into this space and be themselves and understand that they’re going to be welcomed instead of saying, “This is a place where you literally have to separate your identity and only talk about code, or only care about the things that have to do with technical issues.” That you cannot bring your Blackness in here. You cannot bring your gender in here. That’s the opposite of what we’re tryna do. So every time I hear that, it makes me so angry. Because it’s so clear that all of this is—most of this is lip service, right? It’s an intellectual exercise for them. Like, “Oh, yeah. I totally care about diversity. Oh, wait, what do you mean, you want to talk about politics? That’s not what we’re doing.” I’m like, [laughs] what do you think it is that we’re doing?
Kim: Even bringing it out further, it’s humans. What you’re expecting people to do is leave their humanness at the door. Because, “Oh my god, we don’t wanna do anything with humans, we just wanna talk about this code base, this thing and anything that has to do with humans is off limits.”
Kim: And this is why so many—and I get it: when this space first started, it was a bunch of people who didn’t like human beings, and they got to sit and do what they wanted to do, say how they wanted to do, and make stuff how they wanted to do. That was a great start. That was infancy. That is what babies do when they shit on themselves. We need to grow up, and take off the diapers, [Marco laughs] and act like toddlers, and then adolescents. We can’t continue to be shittin’-on-ourselves babies. We can’t continue to do that.
And I really don’t care about the person who created something because people create shit all the time. It’s how people use that thing, and that’s where the innovation comes from. Especially when you talk about, “Oh, that’s not how it was designed.” I don’t give a shit how you designed it, if that’s how people are using it, then you need to get up to how people are using it. Because your design, it’s now causing a problem with the way some people are usin’ it.
Kim: I mean, things shift. They don’t stay. “We wanna be this cool, innovative, yeah! But we want to stay in this little—we’re back here. Let’s go back 15 years.” No, we can’t do that.
Marco: I agree with you. People don’t really think about what the term “venture capitalist” means. At the end of the day, these were people who by definition have said, “My only goal is to make money for myself. And I’m gonna do that by taking the capital that I have and injecting it into these different ventures that I hope blow up.”
Marco: And you know what? If that’s the way that they want to conduct themselves, I think that that’s fine. And it has enabled people to start businesses. But what we’ve done is allowed those people and that mentality to become pervasive. To become dominant.
Kim: And the default. It’s the default.
Marco: Right. Yeah, the dominant culture. And when that happens, everybody else also starts to do ridiculous things. [laughing] Right? Everybody else also starts to do ridiculous things, because that’s the incentive that they’re responding to.
Kim: M-hm. Even if they don’t have venture money. It’s like, what are you doing? [Laughing]
Marco: When we look at where we are in this moment with Facebook, where Facebook has used technology that should be—everybody is like, “But the technology is not at fault, it’s agnostic, whatever.” That is the actual problem.
Marco: Facebook didn’t just build a giant surveillance machine. They built that surveillance machine, and then they gave it to anyone who would paid money for it. It’s not just Facebook that has this power. They will sell it to anybody who has the money.
Marco: And they don’t ask questions about what it’s being used for.
Kim: Yep. M-hm.
Marco: So my problem is, this mentality that tech is agnostic is exactly the thing that enables this harm. The American elections and other people’s elections are being impacted today because any person that wants to pay Facebook money can get access to this apparatus, this technology that allows them—a small group of people—to impact the thoughts and the understanding and the increased ignorance and ultimately the actions…
Kim: And the actions!
Marco: …of millions and millions of people.
Kim: And that’s another thing. That’s why the whole lack of inclusion is a risk management issue. At what point do you take responsibility for the things you create? And this is where tech has had this long tail of not having any issues. If I am in a car and the airbags don’t work, the manufacturer is responsible—is liable—for that. There is a issue for that. Tech has not been held accountable in the same way. And we’ve taken advantage of that.
Kim: So not only have we had these individuals who think they know everything—runnin’ everything, not listenin’ to people—you have that aspect. Then you have this venture money in there wit’ people whose—I mean, I know entrepreneurs who—they can’t tell you what their product is. [Marco chuckles] But they can tell you that out the door, they’re looking for VC money. And then you have companies who have never had to account for anything. They’ve never had to—they go to Capitol Hill, and these congressmen are asking questions, and we’re sittin’… I remember the day on Twitter. Everybody’s like, “What the fuck?! They could have asked me to get him a list of questions to ask these people!”
Marco: [Sighs] Our government is so unprepared to deal with this moment. They’re so unprepared. And it’s so obvious when you watch these hearings and things. And I’m like, you don’t even really know what Facebook does. You know?
Kim: [Laughs] Yes.
Marco: No. I don’t even think they understand how Facebook makes money. The fact that these folks are the ones that we’re depending on to try to arbitrate, and to regulate, and to put limits on these people. That’s never gonna work, right? And so we come back to the place where we’re just like, all these people need to get called out. [Kim laughs] All of them!
Kim: I so love you, Marco. Because I’m just like, “I need a list!” [Laughs]
Marco: I’m like, “You think you’re doing something, but you’re not. Right? And let me tell you why.” The thing that I feel like I end up over explaining on Twitter a lot is, I’m not special. I’m just some guy. Some asshole. But I know how to read. Right? [Laughs] I know how to read. And I’m smart enough to know when what you’re saying is not…
Kim: Is a bunch of bullshit! [Laughs]
Marco: …what we see happenin’, right? [Laughs] So I try to go out there, and I’m not trying to use fancy language. I’m not trying to use academic language.
Kim: No, you really break it down.
Marco: I’m really bad at citing my sources too. I stay that way on purpose. I’m like, “Naw, I’m not.” I do read. I read a lot!
Kim: I ain’t about to prove this shit to you!
Marco: I don’t keep a notepad ready with a link every time you ask me for something. No. I educate myself, I expect you to do the same.
Marco: I educate myself. I expect you to do the same, right? But at the end of the day. Even before we do that, we gotta agree on some basic reality.
Kim: And some basic terms. Some basic definitions. That’s why I start every talk with “OK, let’s define this shit right now.” Let’s get this out in the open. So we don’t have to be having this conversation 30 minutes later when you talking about something I’m like, “No, that’s not how we defined it.” So one thing I wanted to do—because when I told people you were coming on the show, they’re like, “Ohhh, Marco!” [Marco laughs]
First of all, I really do want you to talk to me about what it’s like to be a Black man who is successful in Silicon Valley. Because when people talk about unicorns, you a freakin’ unicorn. And then I want you to talk about what is the most common—with all the tweets and stuff you’re doing—what is the most common thread or theme? Let’s talk about that. Let’s debunk that here.
So two things: talk about what it’s like, how you’ve been successful in Silicon Valley as a Black man, and what is one of the common themes you have to address over and over on Twitter? So let’s talk about it here.
Marco: Yeah, yeah, for sure. The first question we could spend a little bit of time on because the first thing I want to say, to you and to anybody else who’s kind of been wondering, is it took me a long time to understand that what was happening with me was atypical.
Marco: It took a long time for me to understand that. And when I did understand that, I started to try to piece together the answer for myself. So I’ve done a lot of talking about this, but the short version is: I realized at some point that my whole trajectory—even from when I was really young—was about helping me understand how to move in white spaces.
My wife and I talk about this a lot. And it’s something that I think some Black parents learn how to do, try to impart that onto their children. Find any way for them to try to pick up those skills. But there’s a whole narrative about being taken out of your general schooling and being put into these gifted classes, right? These quote unquote “gifted” classes.
And that all happened to me. It happened to me really young, and—we had to go to another school, right? Like once a week, I had to get on a bus. Me and a couple of people had to get on the bus. And get tooken into another school where the special teachers were where we got, you know, gifted this and that. Different classes. Even into high school, there was regular English and gifted English.
And it was very, very much a completely different track to be on that propelled you into these other spaces—and those spaces, almost all the time, were primarily white. And I grew up in Atlanta. [Kim laughs] A lot of Black people around.
Kim: My chocolate city!
Marco: But the more I went on this other track, it was less and less Black people.
Kim: And I’m gonna stop you there because that’s hard to fucking do in Atlanta.
Marco. Yeah. It’s very hard.
Kim: Exactly. And so I have that same experience, ’cause I wasn’t in school-wise, but my mom was always putting me into some extracurricular that was always with other people, white people. It’s hard as hell to do in Atlanta—to be in a place where there ain’t a whole bunch of Black folx.
Marco: It’s very hard. I went to Georgia Tech, which is in Atlanta. It’s in downtown Atlanta, it’s in the very middle of this very, very Black city. And I remember—this is almost 20 years ago now—but I remember when I first set foot on that campus. And it was literally like this oasis in the middle of Atlanta. I’m like, “Where the hell are all the Black people?” [Kim laughs]
I go into this school, and—one of things I think is important is, I went to Georgia Tech and I got a degree in computer science. So in that way I’ve taken what people consider to be a more traditional route. That is also something that I feel like I was atypical. When I’m talkin’ to a lot of people today, they’re taking alternative routes into tech.
But, you know, so I went to Georgia Tech, and I was in computer science, and I could tell you, there’s no Black people. There was no Black people in computer science 20 years ago. None. I graduated high school in ’99, I went to college, and this was when the first dot com bust happened.
And so in college, what I experienced was people goin’, “Oh, you’re doing that computer thing. I don’t think it’s gonna work out. I think that’s kind of over, like they tried that. [Both laughing] It’s going downhill.” But thankfully, by the time I was graduating, that had started to rebound. Mid to late 2000s, it was basically starting to come back. And so I got my career started in D.C. I don’t wanna go through my whole history, but I wanna come back to focusing on your question, which is like, how did I get here?
The other thing that I tell people is that I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not gotten invited by whiteness. I got invited. I had all the credentials and I had all the skills, but I didn’t have the right connections. I didn’t know how to make those connections. When I first graduated from college, I was having a hard time. But I had some good friends in college and one of my good buddies—we roomed together for several years, and he had kind of went in a different direction—but when I graduated, he called me. He was just like, “I’m out here in D.C., and my job is hiring some people, and they asked me if I knew anybody. And so I thought about you immediately, and I called you.” Like, just that.
And so, this is one of those things where you talk to a lot of people and they don’t want to admit that they had any help. I’m like, “I worked my ass off, and I still had a lot of help.” I needed to be fortunate enough to know the right white person at the right time to call me and put his credibility behind me and be like, “No, you should hire this person.”
And that was just for me to get the call, right? I had to make it through the interview. It’s not that I wasn’t qualified, but I would have never gotten the call. And that’s what I hear a lot of times with people out here who are trying to make it is they never get the call. And so I’ve been fortunate in a lot of ways. But then after that, we go back to me learning how to move in white spaces. Me trying to figure out well, what are the things you need to do? What are the things you can’t do?
And I think, to my credit, I had to learn that very, very quickly. I had to learn what to wear to work. I had to learn how to talk to people internally versus how to talk to customers. In my early companies, I would get sent to customers. I remember one formative moment for me. The first time that my boss was like, “I want you to go out this customer site and talk to them.” They didn’t give me any—[laughs] very little—input into what that meant. I knew it was a serious thing, but I was like, I don’t know what that means. So I put on what I hoped was the right clothing to go out there. And we could get really deep, Kim; my dad was not around. Didn’t nobody tell me how to dress at work.
Kim: Exactly. We can get deep because what I really want you to show here is, people need to understand we’re not having the same lived experience.
Marco: So I came in, I put on what I hoped was the right thing, and I was also really worried about my hair, right? People who’ve seen me, they know I have long locs and I’ve had those since college. And I remember having this conversation with my grandma. She was like, “Boy, you know you gonna need to cut them things out yo’ head. They ain’t gonna let you go out there lookin’…” I’m like, “Grandma, I could do a lot. But I’m not cutting these off. [Both laughing] I could do a lot, but I’m gonna have to figure it out because I’m not cutting my hair off. It is what it is.”
And so I’m out here, and I was worried about my hair, I was worried about my clothes. And I literally—like my boss, this white guy. He looked me up and down and he was just like, “I don’t know, do you mind tuckin’ in your shirt? And, you know, do you have one of those things? One of those things like where you tie your hair up?” [Both laughing] And I was like, “Yeah, OK.” So you know, I tucked in my shirt and I pulled my hair up or whatever. And he’s like, “Yeah, OK, you know, just do your best, right?” But like in that moment, he could make a choice about whether I was going to take this next step in my career or not.
Kim: Yeah. Mm-hm.
Marco: Based on how I look. Literally.
Marco: Visually. He had a moment.
Kim: He could have easily said, “No, That’s alright. Let me send somebody else out there.”
Marco: Right. And I remember—because I’ve always been this person, Kim—and I remember I was bold at that time, just like I am now. And so afterwards, I went back to him, and I was like, “Well, what woulda happened if I said no?” [Both laughing] Right? And, you know, he didn’t miss a beat. He was just like, “Well, I might say that maybe it’s not a good idea for you to go to client sites.”
And so just in that, I learned these lessons. I learned these lessons over and over, Kim, where it’s like you either do what you need to do to conform enough for them to recommend you. Or you don’t. Or you get pushed down. You get left out. Your career stagnates.
Kim: Yep, it’s that assimilation. It’s assimilation to kill you.
Marco: Right? Exactly. So you know, I took the risk that I felt like I had to take. Because my hair, even at that time, had become part of my identity. I’m like, “I’m doin’ it.” So if my barrier at that company was you have to have neat hair, I’da been out. You wouldn’t be talkin’ to me. No one woulda heard of me. [Kim chuckles] Do you feel what I’m saying?
Marco: Like it’s just that easy.
Kim: Yeah, exactly. And that arbitrary.
Marco: Absolutely. So I feel like learning those lessons about how to move in white spaces—I was just easier at picking them up. I picked them up much more quickly than everybody else. Occasionally Black people would come into my sphere, and I’d be so excited, and before too long they’d be gone because they did the wrong thing.
Kim: Yep. Mm-hm. Yeah.
Marco: I watched that happen. At first I didn’t really understand it. And then when I did understand it, I was pissed about it, but I didn’t know what to do about it. And it wasn’t until I had moved myself to the point of having so much experience and so much credibility that they couldn’t keep me out anymore.
Marco: I could not be denied. I’ve said this in a number of cases. It’s very hard to do this before you have positioned yourself as someone who can’t be denied. You know what I’m saying?
Kim: Oh, that’s the only reason I can do this podcast because I’ve positioned myself that you can’t fire me. I don’t have corporate sponsors to the podcast and whatnot because I don’t want you tellin’ me what I can and cannot say. So that’s why I do community sponsorship. Several times there have been people want me to keynote, and they’re not… so the decision is made, and then when the person with the money realizes—they watched the video or something of mine—and they’re like, “Heeey, we have some questions.” And these people are like, “Well, I’m not gonna be the one to tell her she can’t say what she wants to say. Are you going to do that?” [Laughs]
Marco: You gotta take ’em all the way to the conversation, Kim. “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. Can you explain to me what the problem is?”
Kim: [Laughing] Exactly. And that’s what they did. In one instance, they were like, “So are you saying”—because I’ll definitely get code of conduct violations for no reason just because I’ve hurt some white person’s feelings. And I’m like, “Did you read the code of conduct? Cause I don’t think feelings is in there, but OK.” And then this conference, the organizers always gave me a platform; these are my girls. They always like, “Hey, Kim is gonna bring it.” And then the national organization was like—I don’t know what it was, but it was minutes before my closing keynote and they were like, “There’s this thing that happened.” And they’re like, “What do you want us to do? Are you saying she can’t?” “No, we’re not saying she can’t.” “Well then what do you want us to do?”
Marco: Yeah, they’ll leave it blank.
Kim: Yeah, exactly. What do you want us to do? No, if you’re the national, what do you want? Tell us what you want to do. And this is the stuff that gets—because if you wanna play on that line, you want to say, “Oh, it’s inclusive, we’re inclusive.” Until you get your feelings hurt or somebody else is there that you care about gets their feeling hurt—just because I’m speaking my truth? I can’t do nothing about—that’s my truth.
Marco: Yeah. Absolutely.
Kim: And I’m no longer taking care of your feelings. [Marco laughs] So it’s my truth, and I’m not responsible for your feelings anymore.
Marco: I think that’s the hard part. When I talk to a lot of people, it always comes back to feelings, right? It always comes back to feelings and people…
Kim: It’s like, how are feelings more important than action? [Laughs]
Marco: Right. And impact, right? So the thing is I was educated on this, Kim. And I came to the point of understanding how to use Twitter as a platform for education by listening.
Marco: Not by talking. [Laughs] By listening. But I came around to this understanding of intent versus impact. And I was just like, that’s really powerful. But once I understood it, I started to see it everywhere. I started to see it everywhere.
Kim: Yes! Yes. And you realize—that’s why I say fuck civility—because you realize how much of being civil is about prioritizing people’s intent over the impact of their actions and words.
Marco: Absolutely. The single piece of feedback that I get the most as I’ve been movin’ through these companies is, “It’s not what you said, it’s the way you said it.” [Laughs] That’s what I get the most. And you know, I’m equal opportunity, Kim. I want to meet people where they’re at. So I’m like, “OK, if we’re talking about that, if we can turn these conversations on how you’re making people feel, I got some choice feedback for you on that.”
Kim: [Laughing] Yeah, exactly!
Marco: What do you think this conversation is about inclusion? Where Black people come into your organization and they feel invisible, they feel passed over, they deal with daily micro aggressions. Let’s talk about feelings! If you want to talk about feelings, we could talk about feelings.
Kim: But it’s not everybody’s feelings that are important. And then that’s when they back off, because then they realize, “Oh, shit, I done step my foot in this.” Because now I’m not talking—it’s not blanket feelings, it’s certain people’s feelings. [Laughs]
Marco: Exactly, it’s the feelings of people who are in power. That’s what it is. The people in power demand their feelings be respected while they don’t have to respect other people’s feelings. And that just leads us directly into the other conversation about power dynamics. Because this is the one I think everybody is having a hard time with. And it’s real fundamental—and I think it starts to also sound academic in the way that I was talking about earlier—but it does make a difference who has power and leverage and who does not in these discussions.
And the thing that changed for me is I went from a person who just had a voice but had to figure out how to navigate because I didn’t have any power to a person who was on the leadership team, a person who was identified as a person who sets policy for the company. And so I got to set policy in the way that I knew that it should be, and then had people come to me like, “Well, I’m not sure if this is the right thing.” I’m like, “Tell me about it.” “Well, it’s making people feel bad.” And I’m like, “Which people?” [Both laughing] Let’s talk about which people. I found myself clashing with people, but on a more equal footing, and I learned a lot.
Marco: I learned a lot about where this stuff actually comes from. Where this stuff actually comes from, because people don’t really want to—at the end of the day—people stop short of dealing with the actual underlying harm that’s being done, and instead they spend a lot of time and energy trying to make nice. They spend a lot of time and energy trying to make nice, and you get in way more trouble for making white people feel bad than you do for…
Kim: Yes! Actual harm! [Laughs]
Marco: [Laughs] …for not meeting your publicly stated diversity goals. Nobody gets in trouble for that. I’ve never seen anybody get in trouble for that.
Kim: Yes! Yes, yes. [Laughs]
Marco: And yet, if you make white people feel bad, there’s a problem.
Kim: Oh yeah, oh yeah. That’s going on your HR record! [Laughs]
Marco: Somebody’s gonna be coming to your desk. You’re gonna get some choice emails. Somebody’s gonna come to your desk. It’s gonna be a thing.
I end up making a nuisance of myself. You probably know by now—I’m a very difficult person to argue with. I’m a difficult person to argue with because I don’t forget. I don’t forget nothing. [Laughs] Right? I remember what we said was important. I remember what we said was not important. I remember the things that we said we were gonna prioritize. I remember when you said you were gonna stay out of it. I remember all that stuff. [Kim laughs]
And you know, you dropping these subtle hints is not gonna do it. I need you to put it on the table. Be like, “Look, if we don’t care about this then say that. But I need you to say it at the next all-hands company meeting.”
Kim: Yes! Yes, yes.
Marco: I need you to go out there and be like, “We said this was important and now it’s not.”
Kim: Exactly! Exactly. [Laughing and clapping] We realized this shit was too hard. And we like, no, we done. [Laughs]
Marco: I’ve never gotten anybody to take me up on that offer, Kim. We could speculate on why that is, but it doesn’t work out that way. As long as I’m in these positions where I do have the authority, I’ma make things go the right way. And I think I’ve been able to do a lot of good work, but it has a cost.
Kim: And that’s what people don’t realize: it does cost us.
Marco: It costs a lot. The more I push, the more I spend my social capital in order to make these things happen—it limits my career. It limits my growth.
Kim: Oh! M-hm.
Marco: Limits my ability to be successful. Even if I win. Even if I win. And so at the end of the day, I feel like I’m kinda constantly doing this dance where I have to build and maintain my own credibility and social capital. But it’s so I can spend it. I remember having this conversation with a previous boss where he really wanted to understand, and he really wanted to be helpful. But he always stopped short of doing the hard thing. You know what I mean? And he would come to me, and he’s like, “Well, I’m trying really hard to stand behind you, but you’re doin’ too much.” You know what I mean? [Laughs]
Kim: [Laughing] Dude, you don’t even know what too much is yet!
Marco: Exactly. I’m like, “I’m not doin’ too much. What I’m actually doin’ is what we said we were going to do. That’s the only thing that I’m doin’ is what we talked about and agreed to. I just think you didn’t realize how hard it was gonna be.”
Kim: [Laughing] Yup, yup. M-hm.
Marco: And now you’re trying to—the conversation that we’re having is: Can you find a way to make it look like that without actually doing it?
Kim: Yes! Yes! Oh, my god.
Marco: That’s the conversation we’re having, right?
Kim: I don’t know why that just made me think of like a set, on a movie set where it looks like a real wall or whatever. And it’s not. It’s just the façade.
Marco: Right. Yeah. Just paint it.
Kim: Lean on that wall if you want to! [Both laughing]
Marco: Right. So I ended up having that conversation with him, but it ended up being a conversation about social capital. Because there was a moment where he was trying to be real with me, right? Like maybe you get to a moment where white people try to have real talk with you and they’re just like, “Well, you’re just like, you know, you’re hurting your relationships here, right?” And I’m like, “You know, I think I understand that. And the question I wanna ask you is like, why are you not doing that?” [Laughing] Right? Why are you not doing that? If you and I sat down and talked about how we both thought that this was important, right? Why do I have to be out here by myself? That’s the question I wanna ask.
Kim: And that’s why I created that white men in tech ain’t shit video that these fragile ass motherfuckers got taken down. But it’s still on YouTube, assholes, because I recorded it before it got taken down on Periscope. And all this was, the title was “White Men in Tech Ain’t Shit.” And it talked about this very thing. You have so much privilege. You have so much power. Why are you not using it right?
Marco: Right. Right.
Kim: Nothing ever happens to y’all! Nothing! [Both laughing]
Marco: I was talkin’ to this other guy. He used to be a friend of mine. He’s not anymore. And I was having this real talk with him. And I was like, “I need you to stand. I need you to show up and say the thing that I’m saying. Because the difference between me and you is they never get mad at you. [Kim laughs] They feel really OK pushing back on me. They feel really OK characterizing me as somebody who’s causing trouble.”
Kim: Angry and aggressive.
Marco: “For some reason, they don’t do that with you, even when you’re really wrong.” [Kim laughs]
Marco: “For some reason they don’t do that with you even when you’re really wrong. [Both laughing] Even when you’re extra wrong. Nobody is like—for some reason, people can’t get mad at you. You have what everything…”
Kim: And it’s so funny because I do that on Twitter. I’ll have one of the white people who engages with other white people, and I’m in their DMs telling them what to say.
Kim: [Laughs] I’m like, Because they’re not—I done said it. They not—”OK, say that. And drop this.” And then people like, [gasp] “Ohhh. OK. M-hm.”
Kim: If it comes better from that then fine, I don’t care.
Kim: So tell me, so give me what is the most—yeah, like that second question in mind: what is the most pushback or the thing that you think that you have to keep telling over and over and over again on Twitter?
Marco: [Sighs] I think that’s a hard question to answer. [Both laugh] I feel like we keep going over these things a lot.
Kim: For me, one of the things is the definition—we can’t get past the baby steps—what is defined as racism for me.
Kim: That’s the big one. The dictionary version versus the social science version. [Laughs]
Marco: Yeah. Yeah. So here’s my thing. And this may be a place where you can kind of see, I grew up having these really pedantic fights with tech nerds, right? I’m well versed in how they operate. And so when I hear this thing where it’s like, “That’s not the definition of racism.” And people want to send you a screenshot of a dictionary. I’m like, “If you don’t get outta [here]…” [Both laughing] Because we know that it is just a diversionary tactic. Right?
Marco: But if you move past that—I’m in this place where I don’t care what you call it. Honestly. Like the fact on the ground doesn’t change just because you want to use a different word. I’m not talking about your feelings. I’m not talking about the n-word. I’m talking about real, pervasive, systemic oppression and discrimination. Call it whatever you want. Well, let’s talk about it. And you know it’s a diversionary tactic when they won’t do that.
Marco: They won’t do that. I’m like, “Pick a word. If you pick a word. I will use that word during this conversation, and yet we’re still going to talk about the thing that we need to talk about.” And at the end of the day, it always comes back to that idea of the only real racism is the—like you said—the Bull Connor, white sheets, burning crosses racism. [Laughs] And that doesn’t exist anymore.
Kim: M-hm. Exactly.
Marco: And so I think, for me, the thing I have to contend with the most is—and it’s really a rhetorical trap, and I use it. I use it unashamedly. I’m like, “OK, so if racism doesn’t exist, then we need to talk about why it’s so uncommon to see real equality. You know, Black people in these spaces. Why is it not happening? If it’s not discrimination…”
Kim: Then what is the cause?
Marco: You are gonna back yourself right into, “There’s something wrong with Black people.”
Marco: And you don’t wanna be there. You don’t wanna be there!
Kim: Yes! You about to paint yourself into a corner. Yes!
Marco: That’s not where you want to go. But I’m gonna follow you there if that’s where you want to go.
Kim: [Laughing] And that’s what’s so funny. Because they don’t see that embracing that term of racism—because now it puts it on a systemic level—helps them. [Laughing]
Marco: Right! I’m giving you the way out. I’m giving you the way out. [Laughs] You know what I mean? I’m meeting you in this place.
Kim: But if you want to burn this house while you in it, let’s go for it.
Marco: I’m meeting you in this place where we can start from the premise that it’s not overt intentional racism.
Marco: And it’s gotta be systemic.
Marco: And maybe it’s not your fault!
Kim: Yes! Yes. [Laughs]
Marco: I’m giving you the way out. [Laughs] Maybe it’s not your fault. But if you don’t want to use that definition, you still have to answer for what we see today.
Marco: What I tell people is that, what happens on Twitter is I’m giving you my thought process. In real time, almost. I’m thinking about these things, and I’m trying to put these pieces together. And then I share it. I’m trying to find ways to put the words together, because I find that it helps other people. If you can come along with me on my journey, and that’s helpful for you, that’s great. And I’m putting this out there while I’m working through it. But there was a point when I realized that we have allowed ourselves to be put into this conversation where we’re trying to prove that discrimination happens. And I’m like, No, no, no. It was happening. You have to prove that it’s not anymore.
Kim: There you go. Yup.
Marco: We all agree what history says.
Kim: That’s why I have my defaults. And people can sit there and say they’re harsh or whatever, but I come to the table: all whiteness is racist by design, can’t be trusted by default. Now, if you don’t want to take that on, then there’s no conversation we gon’ have. Now If you accept that? Then we can engage. And I wanted to get back to your point about painting yourself into a corner. Because at some point—’cause I tell people all it takes is a little bit of time and a little bit of pressure and that statement comes out. And then they like, “But I didn’t mean!” “But you said…” “But…” Whoa, I didn’t make you write that. I don’t have your phone.
Marco: “Let me shut up. You could say it as many times as you want. [Kim laughs] You can find a way to be more articulate about it. I’ll wait. I’ll be quiet. But I want to stay on this topic and I don’t think you’re gonna like where it’s gonna go.”
Kim: And at that point it’s like changin’ the subject, then it’s your fault, you—oh, it is so funny. And then they want to call you angry. And I’m sure you’re like me; you’re just sittin’ there just chillin’. I’m not—I just got some hours to burn right now. I’m good. How about you over there? You good? Because you lookin’ a little sweaty. You looking a little upset there. You OK?
Marco: M-hm. Yeah. You know, I’ve been on this thing—I don’t know if you noticed—but I’ve been on this thing for a little while now where I’m just like, how do we even get white people to talk about whiteness? Because even if they’re using these diversionary tactics and deflecting and stuff, they’re real comfortable talking about racism. They won’t talk about whiteness. They won’t talk about their part in the dynamic that we are discussing.
Kim: And this is the pushback that’s happening right now with whiteness studies. And why I—’cause I used to share “White Fragility”, and I will not share that anymore—because now people have the language of antiracism and it’s always, like you said, projected out.
Kim: They don’t want to look at the whiteness, the white supremacy part. There’s a reason there’s an antiracism. Because there’s racism!
Marco: Word. Yeah. And I tried to move my language away from racism towards white supremacy for that exact reason.
Kim: Yes. M-hm. Yes.
Marco: Because a conversation about racism is a conversation about Black people, people of color. A conversation about white supremacy is a conversation about whiteness. And I wanna talk about that. I wanna talk about that. And more so, I wanna know why you don’t want to talk about that. [Laughs] You know what I mean?
Kim: Yep. And that’s the very reason I say I use whiteness as the opposite of Blackness. Because when they say, “Oh, but I’m not…” No one ever came to me and say, “What kind of Black you are, Kim?” They just call me Black. So I’m not gonna sit up and ask you what kind of white you are. You just white to me. So now that we meetin’ at the same damn place, let’s have a conversation.
Marco: Everybody knows what box to check on that demographic form. [Kim laughs] Ain’t nobody… [laughs] not white people. They’re not confused about that.
Marco: A lot of people of color might have a hard time with it, but white people ain’t confused.
Kim: Yeah! Yeah.
Marco: They don’t check any of these other boxes.
Kim: Exactly! So even like, you have your white passing Jews. I didn’t see you complain that there is no Jewish box.
Marco: M-hm. They don’t agitate for that.
Marco: They don’t have to take the break down of whiteness when it comes time to count. [Both laughing] Right? When it’s time to count. But they’re real quick to shed that moniker and that legacy when it’s time to talk about whiteness. “Oh, I’m German.”
Kim: Yes. [Laughing]
Marco: “My family is Irish.” I’m like, “Yeah. They all white.”
Kim: When I look at you, I see white. I don’t see nuttin’ else. That’s it. I don’t even care at this point. Because what you see for me is Blackness. So we gonna make this equal. Yeah.
Marco: M-hm. Yeah. I think it’s real hard to solve these problems and we kind of come at it from different angles, but I don’t see us making any progress with white people unless they learn how to talk about themselves.
Marco: Instead of everybody else. Instead of everybody else.
Kim: And that’s the requirement in #CauseAScene. I’m not gonna have a conversation with you about Blackness. All I’m talking about is, this is what white supremacy look like. Now you see that? Cause it ain’t with the swastika. That ain’t what that look like. This is what this look like over here. So I need you to see all of that, and all of that you complicit in, and you need to own that. And if you can’t do that, then you are not only not helpful to me, but I know that you can harm me. So nope. Deuces. Nope.
Marco: Right. We go back to this idea of makin’ white people uncomfortable. And the fact that they are harmful to us, that makes them the most uncomfortable. “I didn’t do anything. That’s not my intention.” Like, I don’t know what to tell you! [Both laughing] Because you can look at the outcomes.
Marco: We don’t even have to talk about your intent. You can look at the outcomes.
Kim: And we don’t even talk about those invisible scars and traumas. Just look at the visible recorded things that are happening today.
Marco: Yeah. Absolutely.
Kim: I don’t even have to talk to you about the fact that how much emotional labor it takes me to damn write your email so your feelings don’t get hurt.
Marco: [Laughs] Yeah. There’s a lot of study to be done about what it means to move in white spaces. Because what I’ve noticed is that the people who kind of end up being more central to this movement really pick up the ideas behind it and the perspective around why we use these words and really try to internalize what they mean. But a lot of other people just kind of hear this language over and over, and they’re tryna pick it up, but they don’t really understand it, right? But you know, when we use a phrase like “move in white spaces,” it doesn’t mean anything to them. Because to them it’s just like—you know how that thing where it’s just like, fishes don’t understand water.
Kim: Oh, yeah, exactly. ‘Cause they’re the default, whiteness is never examined. And that’s why I do those videos. Like I did the video about white gaze. I’m gonna explain to you what this means, so you can’t say you didn’t know, here’s a video right here. Because yeah, you’re right, they don’t. It’s never examined. Yeah, it’s the default. But what’s so interesting is that they can see Blackness, and we’re—people who deal with technology, they’re—I mean, there are a lot of things that aren’t binary, but there’s some things that are binary. So even if it’s not binary, that means there may be multiple choices. There’s very, very few singularity in what we do. So if you can see and examine Blackness, why can’t you also see and examine whiteness?
Marco: They do, though, right? And I think you know it’s not everybody, but I think that they do and it just manifests differently. And the way that it manifests is that they just avoid it. They know how to avoid it. We can have that conversation, right?
Kim: [Laughs] But that’s a part of the design of white supremacy though.
Kim: It is baked into the system, they don’t take a class in this, but for some reason, some kind of way, they all speak from the same damn book. They say the same words. I’m like, “Did y’all take a class in deflection?” Because it sounds exactly the same.
Marco: So a lot of Black people—especially people who are trying to be upwardly mobile and be successful—they will find themselves in rooms that have a majority of white people in them. But if you ask white people, When was the last time they were in a room full of Black people?
Kim: Oh, yes.
Marco: It’s just it’s hard to convey the disparity there. Black people exist. There’s a lot of us.
Kim: Yes. M-hm, m-hm. Yes.
Marco: How do you move through the whole world without ever being in a room with us?
Kim: So we’re doing the “How to be an Antiracist” book club on Sundays, and that was one of the assignments: write about an experience where you were the only, or few of you in the room. And I bet you many of them can’t even—that was one problem they couldn’t do because they’re rarely in spaces where they’re not the majority. And when they are, they center themselves and it becomes about them.
Marco: Right. They don’t—what’s I think really important is that they don’t move in the same way. They know instantly that they’re not in their environment. And they choose to deal with it in different ways. Some of them get louder. [Laughs] Some of them get more quiet. But either way, they understand what it means to be out of your element. Don’t ever let them try to convince you that they don’t understand. They do. They just don’t have to deal with it.
Kim: M-hm. Exactly. And they can get up and leave.
Kim: Their privilege gives them the ability to choose to stay in that environment, or center themselves, make themselves an ass or whatever. And they disrupt and they leave, or they just leave quietly, or whatever. They have so much privilege in how they will interact, how they will function and move in those spaces. And this is the exhaustion. This is what they’re havin’ a problem wit’ right now, because they’ve done—so they talked about inclusion and diversity. And even without their full backing, this shit’s happening. And they don’t know what the hell to do now. Because we are in these spaces and we don’t give a shit about their feelings. And they’re like, “I don’t know.” And you can’t run, because we coming, we coming in droves. You got LGBTQ people. You have people with disabilities, visible and invisible. You have folx they ain’t never had to deal with in their lives. And it is so funny to see because they’re just like, I don’t know what to do.
Marco: They’re learning in real time…
Marco: …the difference between an environment that is completely tailored around them and one that has to tailor to other people with different needs.
Kim: Yes. Yes.
Marco: They’re learning.
Marco: And so it’s hard to even have this conversation where they say, I don’t understand.
Marco: Right? Like you do understand, because you uncomfortable now. You do understand.
Kim: And they don’t have the skills to deal with that, though. So we’ve had centuries of coping, learning like our parents. I use this example all the time. I did it when I was in Milwaukee this weekend. “Black people in the room: what are Black kids doin’ at a restaurant?” And somebody would meekly say—’cause they don’t know the right—”They sittin’.” Damn right, they sittin’ down with their parents. They might have a device, but they sittin’ at the table. “What are white kids doing?” Everybody says, “Running around.” That’s right. Because they know that that space is theirs. They get to run around, they get to do all—they know they gonna be safe. They don’t have the skills. They don’t have the skills of our parents saying, “OK, we ’bout to get out this car. Don’t touch nothing. Don’t ask for nothing.” [Laughs] They don’t have those skills.
Marco: Yeah, and that’s true. This is where I feel like…
Kim: Like you said, you had to learn how to manage and maneuver in white spaces. They don’t have the skills of maneuvering outside of white spaces.
Marco: Yeah. I mean, I’ve seen this so much [laughs] since I had my daughter, right? And living in Silicon Valley, we go out and a lot of—most of the kids that she’s gonna be around are white kids.
Marco: And I feel like I have to be real careful here, because I don’t really want to judge in the way that a lot of people like to judge parents. That’s not my intention. But I do see the difference between what they expect from their children.
Marco: Versus what I expect from mine. [Both laugh] Like, you’re gonna learn how to behave, right? Bein’ out here and doing the things that we’re doing is a privilege that we earn when we behave. And I’m in that place where I’m like, if she’s acting up? I’m not having that. We’re gonna leave. We’re gonna get up and leave. Or, I’m ’bout to pull you over into this corner. We’re gonna have a conversation.
And it’s about discipline. And I end up talking to so many other people that feel frustrated because they’re like, “Oh, they won’t listen,” or whatever. And I’m like, “You’re not doin’ it! [Laughing] They know you’re not serious! I’m watchin’ it. They know you’re not serious.” Like, “You think my daughter don’t do that? Yes, she does.” But there’s a point when she knows that I’m going from like, “Oh, maybe you could get away with this” to like, “No.”
And I think—and this is where we could get really real, Kim, because I’m askin’ myself, I’m like, is it because they have been conditioned that you can’t discipline white people? Like even they know! They’re not supposed to do that to each other. Even they know. Especially these little white boys. Like, oh my god. Oh my god! They won’t tell ’em nothin’. And I’m like, [frustrated sigh]. It starts real early. And by the time they grow up, ain’t nobody ever tried to tell them that they couldn’t do whatever the hell they wanted to do.
Kim: I could tell you now, I know there are people—’cause this is not about whoopin’ or beatin’ or whatever—but I could tell you, ain’t no way in hell a Black son’s mama was gonna be scared of they ass. And these white parents, these kids runnin’ their—I just look at that like, “Damn. You want me to handle that for you? [Laughs] You want me to get that for ya? Because he cussin’ yo ass out.” [Laughs]
Marco: M-hm. M-hm. That’s wild.
Marco: I’m just laying back. I’m just like, “That’s how you want to do it?”
Marco: [Laughs] OK. But they’re not gonna come around my child actin’ like that, I could tell you that.
Kim: And I wanna—before we close it up, because I really wanna address that because this is coming from the educator’s perspective—children need boundaries. Period. That’s how we all feel safe. If you went to your job and you got hired to make $100,000 as a Black person— I ain’t gonna say as a white person—as a Black person, and no one told you what you were gonna be evaluated on, but you knew you was gonna be evaluated on somethin’, that would bring a lot of damn anxiety. Because you’re like, “What the hell is this?”
Kim: Children do the same thing. They thrive with knowing where they safe, what the safe boundaries are—they’re gonna push ’em, because that’s about development—but they need boundaries.
Kim: And I’m happy I said that, because that’s how I handle #CauseAScene. I treat it as classroom management. [Claps] Stop. We’re not gonna do that. This is why we’re not gonna do that. And this is what we’re gonna do instead.
Marco: Do you feel, do you find that they—how do they respond when those kind of things go down?
Kim: OK, so let me break it down to you, because I already told you what my baseline is. So if you can’t get wit’ what I just said, you can get the hell out.
Marco: Right. You can go. [Laughs]
Kim: It’s my classroom. It’s my classroom. You don’t get to say what happens in this classroom. You have your classroom, you can do whatever the hell you want to. That’s like, on my timeline is my timeline. You came to me. You came here with this bullshit.
Marco: They love to say that. They love to say, “Well, tell me how I could do better. Tell me how…” I’m like, “You here! I’m telling you. [Laughs] I’m telling you!”
Kim: Or they wanna say something, some asshole shit. And then when I go off on they ass, I’m angry. Bitch you came here! I didn’t come to you! You decided that your whiteness allowed you to say whatever the hell you want to. And you used to nobody clapping back at your ass. Well, you obviously did not read my timeline, you didn’t do shit, ’cause I’m the one that’s gonna clap back on yo ass.
Marco: It’s what you said, which is that they want to move the conversation back to, “You convince me.”
Marco: No, I’m not gonna—no. No. Bye. [Laughs]
Kim: Nope. Ain’t my job. [Laughs]
Marco: People are like, “Oh, you don’t wanna convince people.” I’m like, “I convinced a lot of people without dealing with belligerent bullshit.”
Kim: And I’m not going to debate my existence with you. That’s not what’s gonna happen. That’s where we draw the line.
Marco: Right. That’s my favorite thing now. ’cause Twitter is a wild place, right? And people really, really think you’re gonna spend all of your time in a one on one debate with them? [Kim laughs] I’m like, “No. Eight billion other assholes in the world.”
Kim: [Laughing] Exactly. Then they’ll say, “So you not gonna answer.” And I’m just like…
Marco: Bye! [Both laugh]
Kim: And that also gets the—because they’re used to demanding. And when we say, “No”? And no explanation? “No” as a complete sentence? Blows their fucking minds. They’re like, “What? You’re not gonna… ?” I’m eatin’ dinner now. I’m done! I don’t owe you my time. I didn’t actually do this for you in the first place. I did this for the people who follow me. It has nothin’ to do with you.
Marco: People get the most angry when I say, “No, I don’t need to convince you of anything. We’re gonna do it anyway. It’s gonna happen regardless of you. [Kim laughs] And you’re gonna get more upset. [Laughs] So I don’t feel obligated to spend my time on this at all, to be honest.”
Kim: [Laughing] Exactly! Oh my god, this has been great, Marco. Do you have any parting words? [Both laughing] Any last things you wanna say?
Marco: I don’t know if I have any parting words. Well, maybe I do. For me, my journey on Twitter has really, really been one about self reflection, and I think people don’t really understand that because I spend so much time being strident and calling out so many other things that I see around me, but it’s been one of self reflection. And I think that’s the thing that is becoming more and more difficult these days is for people to stop worrying about what everybody else is going to do and how everybody else is going to see them—if they start to make these changes.
I really want people to start listening to that inner voice that tells them that something’s wrong, that something needs to change. And it’s not really about you. You get to decide what kind of impact you’re gonna have in this movement, but it’s not really about you and your personal feelin’s. You deal with that. You do whatever you need to do—like go to therapy, I don’t know—but this movement is not about making you feel better or feel a certain way or absolving you of your part in whatever is goin’ on. It’s about you deciding to be a part of moving things forward.
I think we’ve talked a lot, you and me, today about this tension between people trying to engage but wantin’ it to go a certain way. You know what I mean? And I think my only parting words is that you have to let go of that. It’s not going to go a certain way. [Laughs] It’s not going to go a certain way. It won’t be the way that I say, it won’t be the way that you say. We’re gonna forge this path together, but it starts with us dealing in reality about where we are.
Marco: And you can’t bring all of this baggage into that conversation. It’s just not gonna be helpful. I don’t know if that’s cogent enough for people to really take something away from, but it really just explains what you’re going to get if you talk to me on Twitter. I just can’t—I’m not going to spend all my time trying to educate you. I just can’t. There’s too much work to do.
Kim: Yeah, and I’ll end with, this is a call out for all you people who have these large platforms, who get fragile when you do some bullshit and you get called out and you want to go away ’cause you just can’t take it. Because it’s just too hard. Well then shut the fuck up, and only talk about what you’re an expert is in is in technology. Because this human shit y’all ain’t doing too well.
Marco: I say that all the time. Shuttin’ up is free. You can always choose that. You can always choose saying nothing.
Kim: [Laughs] Ahh! Oh my god, is that a novel idea? Just to shut the fuck up. Thank you so much. I knew this was gonna be a great conversation.
Marco: Thanks so much for having me on, Kim. I had a great time.
Kim: Have a great day.