Kim Crayton: Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s episode of #CauseAScene podcast. I have a very good friend of mine, Melanie Crutchfield, with me and I’m not gonna say anything else. I’m gonna let her introduce herself and then we’re gonna talk about why it’s important to cause a scene, how it’s important, how she’s causing a scene. And then we’re gonna get into some really interesting conversation. So, Melanie take it away.
Melanie Crutchfield: [Laughs] That’s a great intro. And yes, we will get into interesting conversation, like we always do. So yes, Melanie Crutchfield is my name. I am a Django developer. I’ve been working in tech for about three or four years or so, involved organizing my local PyLadies. I’m a co-organizer of the San Diego Python User Group.
This last year I’ve had awesome opportunities to speak at DjangoCon and North Bay Python and PyTennessee. And I just taught at PyCon US. So there’s all this fun stuff.
I’m also a huge mental health advocate as I have a major depressive disorder and epilepsy and migraine. Those last two aren’t related to mental health disorders [Kim chuckles]. But they are a ton of fun, so I’ve got that going. I spend a lot of time trying to demystify and normalize mental health issues because we like to be afraid of them and shame people and then people don’t get treatments—a real mess.
So there’s that; I’m also an antiracism activist [both laugh] and I think that that’s where a lot of our interesting conversations are going to end up. I am a white woman [both still laughing], [if you] cannot tell [from] my very white-sounding self. So if you want me to talk about any of my other weird white stuff [Kim laughs], I’m happy to. I know myself, it’s fine.
Kim: All right. So tell the audience why it’s important to cause a scene.
Melanie: Ah. This is a good question. [Pauses]
Kim: And before you say that, I want to say, you along with another friend was—so, some context for the audience to understand that you helped me form the idea around being disruptive in 2018 and causing a scene. So there we go. So you wanna blame, she’s partly to blame.
Melanie: [Laughs] I’ll take it. That’s good. I think the easiest way for me to talk about why we cause a scene, why we’re mouthy, why I speak up, and you know, I try to do respectfully and I try to meet people where they’re at. But the easiest way to understand it in my mind is through protest, through what protest looks like.
Because when you protest, there’s the one way where we organize it ahead of time and we have a march in that sort of thing. We stay on the sidewalk. There are other times where we blocked the street [Kim laughs]. And the difference is now I’m annoying to you, now you’re looking at my son, who is this person out here inconveniencing me as I go to get my Starbucks for goodness’ sakes, right? And that’s just different; and then there’s always the pushback of, “Protest, but not like that,” right?
Kim: [Laughs] Yes. Yes.
Melanie: “Use your voice, but not in the street. Thank you very much. As I mentioned, I have a mocha latte waiting for me.” You know, “Protest, but not like Kaep [Colin Kaepernick], not like that, not in the middle of my football game please.” You know, there’s all this stuff, but that’s when people pay attention.
Unfortunately, because in the context of racial justice, it does not cost me anything to ignore the problem. I will go on with my day, I will not be directly affected, and everyone else in my position is gonna have the same thing. And if you don’t stop and say, “Look, I know I’m in your way, I know this is uncomfortable, but really do we want to continue our legacy of violence? Is that what you wanna give to your kids? Is that what you want to participate in? Because that’s where we’re at.”
The other thing that we talk about a lot in white antiracism—
Kim: I’m gonna stop you right there ’cause—hmm.
Melanie: You’re gonna push back! I’m in trouble!
Kim: No, no, no, no, no, I’m not pushing back. I’m actually taking a moment to breathe ’cause that affected me and I wasn’t expecting that to affect me. [Pauses, then continues slowly and deliberately, clearly affected]
The fact that you can just go on with your day. For you,standing up for these things are a choice.
Melanie: [Solemnly] Yes.
Kim: [Sighs] Go ahead. It’s just there, yeah, that just—huh. [Makes tutting noise] Yeah. All right.
Melanie: Yep. And I didn’t understand that before, right?
Kim: Exactly, you don’t realize that—that’s the part. It’s—that was just so powerful. Just because if you—just having that realization will tell you for yourself whether your environment, you’ll be continued to be defined by your environment, or you will change the narrative; because at that point when you have that realization, as I always say, you can’t go back once you know, and now you’re making a conscious choice whether to continue moving forward, whether—mmh, wow. Hmm. It just resonated with me, the fact that you have a choice. [Kim is audibly upset]
Melanie: I know. And again— [pauses]
Kim: [Crying] Go ahead. I don’t want to mute myself because I want people to understand that this stuff is real. Go ahead.
Melanie: You know, you’ve been talking a lot about how privilege is access, right?
Melanie: And I know that privilege is hard for people to talk about, especially if they’ve had hard times and injuries and they look around and they think, “Huh, I’ve had hard things, how am I privileged?” One thing that I have access to is my safety when I walk out my door, my white skin protects me. My skin has never been a liability. That is privilege, I have access to safety, for me, for my family.
Melanie: That’s privilege.
Kim: Your skin tone has never been a liability. Wow. All right, so [laughs] keep going. I’m just taking it all in.
Melanie: Where do you wanna to go next?
Kim: So—how are you causing a scene?
Melanie: Mm. [Sighs deeply] So, we talked a little bit about Showing Up for Racial Justice [SURJ]. It’s a national organization. It’s a chapter-based organization. So there is SURJ National, but then there are certain chapters all around the country.
I got involved with my local SURJ chapter here in San Diego. I was one of the founding members. I’m pretty sure this was right after Michael Brown. And it was just one of those things, I think I heard it on NPR, here’s this other group, if you don’t know where to start, maybe check them out sort of thing; or maybe it was just an article on the fact that they exist, but I just went.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I can contribute the vast majority of my understanding, and knowledge, and shift of being more uncomfortable, or being more comfortable being uncomfortable, being humble in these spaces—SURJ did all that for me. I remember one of the first things that—
Kim: Have we said exactly what the acronym stands for yet?
Melanie: Yes, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and Showing Up for Racial Justice is an organization, it’s an antiracism organization that focuses on educating and mobilizing white people for racial justice, which I laugh because it’s a weird space to occupy and I get this.
But I can say what it’s done for me, and the work that we’ve done here in San Diego, we focus on education. One of the first things that was said to me when I started showing up at SURJ meetings—that are mostly educational workshops, that sort of thing—was that it is not my fault that I’m a racist. I was born white in a racist country. It is the air that I breathe, it is our legacy as a country. I did not—there wasn’t a day in like 5th grade where they were like, “White kids, would you like to be racist now?” and everyone went, “Totally! I do!”
Instead—again, this is our legacy. This is our country was built on the backs of Black people, that happened. We took forever to recognize Black people as a whole and valuable, that happened. And still there’s this narrative, there’s this—people argue that about subconscious bias. What is a thing? I don’t know what to tell you. We absorb the narratives of our communities, and as soon as you can recognize that and let go of the guilt and shame and the reactionary, “No, of course I’m not a racist because I’m not a bad person,” Now you can make some progress.
Kim: How—’cause this is something that comes up a lot. It doesn’t happen often in my feed because again, I stick, I’m just stepping into this race thing ’cause I’ve been so focused on business and economics internationally, but I recognize every time it’s—in the United States and that’s what I can speak to, I know what’s happening in other countries. But in the United States, I cannot talk about improving inclusion and diversity and businesses and communities and events without talking about race. And I recognize that now.
And that was something I did not want to do as a Black person from the South. I was like, damn, I’ve been dealing with race my whole life. But this is where I am, and this is where the conversations devolve into—well, they no longer conversations when someone of color, particularly a brown woman, it’s usually a brown woman, who is challenging privilege in the status quo and some good white person decides to interject their thoughts that, “Not all white people. Not all white women. That’s racist, they call us racist, they call us—”
And what I’m getting at here is, I want you to tell me or to tell the audience what it was like to recognize that due to factors that you had no control over you’re a racist and how that was to come to terms with that in such a way that you said it’s not acceptable but not only not acceptable, you chose to cause a scene about it.
And take your time ’cause— [Kim sounds upset again] Wow. Hmm. So guys, this is a hard one for both of us ’cause now Melanie is feeling what she’s feeling, and I’m not gonna edit any of this, I edit nothing because I want to be as transparent as possible. These are very hard conversations to have, and I’m gonna—while Melanie comes to terms with what she’s gonna say, I’m gonna say I can have this conversation with Melanie because she has proven to me time and time again, through the demonstration of her actions and words, that she is willing to be uncomfortable so that I can be comfortable; and if you’re not willing to do that, you are absolutely of no service to me or these movements.
And we’re going to get into more of the SURJ thing and the DiDi Delgado article in a minute where she takes white privilege and these white antiracist groups to task.
But I want to sit with this for a moment because friend to friend, this is a conversation that most people aren’t having and you are privileged in the way—again, using the word “access”—you’re having first-hand access to a conversation of a Black woman and a white woman talking about these very challenging subjects, and not being disrespectful of each other, honoring each other’s space, respecting that we are multidimensional individuals.
So, neither one of us, when we agreed to have this conversation, knew that we would be crying. But that’s what it is, and I feel safe with her and I think I can speak for her that she feels safe with me?
Kim: And because of that, you guys are getting a picture into a conversation that most people will not ever have. So I need you to honor this conversation. And know the power and what we’re doing and what I’m providing you with. Because these are not easy subjects to talk about. There is no one-size, fits-all answer; these things are gonna take time. So I just really want you to talk about what it’s like to recognize and to own that you are a racist.
Melanie: [Pauses] OK. So, I would not have said that I was racist when I came into antiracism work. And again, that’s because of guilt and shame and the, “No, no, no, I’m not a bad person,” right? And I would—man, there’s so much to talk about in and around this—I was raised to be color blind, that was a thing, right? [Laughs as Kim agrees] Which now is laughable, but because you’re essentially saying, “I’m gonna look at you and pretend that a major part of your life, your personality, your identity, your culture just doesn’t exist.”
Kim: And not only that, I think the more troubling part of it and the more detrimental part of it is when we teach both brown and white kids that these young kids don’t understand that there is a difference, and when they start experiencing it, it really fucks with the psyche, as you’ve been told your whole life as a brown person that we’re the same. But then you see that things are different and then what you do is internalize that because you start thinking something’s wrong with me, what have I done?
Kim: And it’s not you, it’s the system and then for the white kids, they start seeing these differences, and there are some because they’re young, they start standing up for like, “What is going on?” but very shortly they recognize that there is a payoff in keeping quiet and being a part of privilege.
Melanie: Yeah, I didn’t—when I grew up there was like a Black person at my school. I lived in the self-proclaimed cowboy capital of the world. There were—we had a lot of white people so I didn’t, I just—what a racist looked like to me in my mind is somebody that uses racial slurs. Somebody that says, “You’re not as good because of your skin color,” says that out loud, right? What I didn’t understand is that racism—and to speak to white people calling people of color racist because they say, “Hey look white people as a group, you have this problem, right?” and then white people go, “Oh, that’s racist because you’re talking about my skin,”—racism is a system of oppression and I am racist because I was raised in that system.
Kim: Thank you. And that’s why, you know me, that’s why I love defining terms. And that is, it’s not about racism, is not about skin color. I remember growing up, my mom told me that Black people couldn’t be racist and I didn’t understand that until now we’re not a part of, we don’t have privileged access to the system of oppression. We are the oppressed, we’re not the oppressor.
Melanie: Right. Right. And in my life I’ve definitely had some experiences of people looking at me and being like, “I don’t think I like you or trust you, I see your skin.” I don’t see that as racism. I see that as there are probably reasons behind that narrative.
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think about—I lived in Hawaii for a time, we straight up stole that land, right? And we dismantled a beautiful culture. Of course, that makes me the face of the oppressor, of course. And of course, my face that has protected me, my face that— [pauses] I was told that my face was better. My skin was better. We don’t say that out loud now.
Kim: And you don’t have to say it out loud. It’s about demonstration of behavior.
Melanie: Right. Right. So, we don’t say it out loud, so we’re not racist, right? But we do have these internalized narratives that are hard to recognize, and I think what is more costly is when those narratives cause us to write off violence against people of color as a one-off situation.
Kim: Mmhm. Mmhm. Yeah, they did something, they should have followed the rules, they should have done something, there’s something they’ve done that deserves this kind of treatment.
Kim: Not the fact that you need to look at a system of policing that is based on a foundation of racism, and oppression, and not respecting these people as human beings.
Melanie: Right. I think that those internalized narratives—and some of this is like, “Oh, look at these Black neighborhoods, they have higher crime,”—if you look at all of the television commercials for robberies, and they’re like, “You need a home security system”—
Kim: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Melanie: —what color is [laughs incredulously] that guy that’s breaking in? And are we afraid of people doing white collar crimes? You know, these white collar crimes where they wipe out people’s retirement, they literally ruin lives. Are we afraid of those people? Do we demonize those people? No. Why? I mean, the same thing, there are so, so, so many examples—
Kim: I mean, you look at the banking scandal in 2008 that brought the whole damn economy to its knees, there was no one ever prosecuted for any of that housing crisis, but every day we see some white woman or something calling the police on people from barbecuing in the park, or some Black person at a Waffle House getting their ass kicked, or—
Kim: And then I am loving, loving the conversations—loving meaning, I’m not [both laugh]—the conversations of, particularly around these mass shootings at these schools, not one of these white individuals have been killed, and they are armed and killing people, and not, and when the narrative comes out, their parents or whomever, no one says that they’ve been radicalized. No one says that they’re—it’s always some misunderstood young white person who has been treated poorly by a female or by somebody, it’s always this thing that you can explain around, but they’re still living.
But someone who steals a—oh my god, I just read somewhere, these shoplift or something and these two women took off in the car and they shot into the fuckin’ car! But this was shoplifting, whatever they were, they caused no one any harm that I can remember.
There wasn’t a robbery, it was shoplifting. And yet these young men not only have access to guns—which is a whole ‘nother thing, ’cause that’s why I don’t talk about politics, but I have to talk about it in this context based on what you just said. Because they have the intention to harm.
Kim: And a strategy to harm.
Kim: And they can walk away alive.
Melanie: Right. And I think this is again where these are internalized narratives, where you even look at how the—when we talk about police violence, lots of these scenarios, the officers say that they were afraid for their lives.
Kim: But you’re not afraid of a person who just killed 10 or more people that are at a school. You come across them, you’re not afraid of them, because you have an affinity for them.
Melanie: Right. But Tamir Rice? A baby. You know?
Kim: Mhm. Yeah.
Melanie: If y’all haven’t heard that story, please, look it up and read it. That little baby sitting out there playing with a toy gun and you come up in fear for your life.
There’s a—it has to be an internalized narrative that says, “People of color if your skin is dark, you are inherently more dangerous, threatening, et cetera.” And it starts with—I mean, we can look at it in micro events like this, I mean I know that you experience it, “This Black woman disagrees with me. That’s scary.”
Kim: Mhmm. Oh my god bless. OK. Yes, now we’re talking about, “She’s aggressive, she’s angry, she’s defiant, she’s intimidating… ” All these words that you put attached to us when we don’t agree with you.
And then, I don’t know, what just popped in my head was the Serena Williams story when she gave birth and people don’t understand, and she talks about because she was Black, as famous and as wealthy as she is, her health care was not—and again the unconscious bias, ’cause I’m sure those medical professionals would argue that she got the same level of treatment as a white woman—but she says she did not and it almost cost her her life. And the statistics show that Black women or women of color who give birth are at higher risk of having post birth complications due to these factors.
And this is the thing that gets me. So I had a interview [with] someone yesterday. Didn’t even, had never heard this woman, in another part of the country, and she and I are saying the identical thing. And so it’s like all these people—how can this not be true? All of us can’t be lying! All of us can’t be exaggerating. We don’t even know each other, we’re only comin’ across each other when we say something on Twitter, it’s like, “Oh shit, I know that. That’s my story too.”
So how, why is it—so it’s a challenge for white individuals to say, “You know what?”—even just look, just to question, “Hey, there may be some validity in what’s going on.”
Melanie: Right. And so I can address what that was like for me. First of all, and this might sound crazy to you, I didn’t realize that people of color overall have a different experience with law enforcement than I do and did growing up. I did not really—
Kim: What changed that for you?
Melanie: What you’re describing, that I heard more than one story from a person of color saying, “Here’s what it’s like for me.”
One thing that blew my mind is that I have heard many, many stories of families of color, if you’re raising a brown kid, that at some point and typically at a pretty young age, most families sit down and say, “Look, here’s how you interact with law enforcement and it is important that you adhere to this script, because if you don’t, it’ll cost you your life.”
Melanie: “…it’ll cost you your life.” Now that—yeah, it was mind blowing, a, first of all, and I think the reason why white folx have a hard time seeing that as systemic, as something that people—like you said—people that don’t know each other having the same experience throughout the country is because it’s so wildly different than my own experience. It’s like you’re living on a planet that I don’t know about, but in reality you’re a block from my house, or you’re nextdoor—
Kim: I was gonna say, you could be next door.
Melanie: Yeah, you’re my neighbor in my same apartment complex, you know?
Kim: Or, you could be your significant other.
Melanie: Right. Right. And I talked to a woman once—she’s a white woman, husband’s Black—we started talking about some of this stuff and even though they were married, there was still a knowledge gap there, and now she’s raisin’—her daughter represents Black. And so that’s how she is gonna be treated. So now there’s a whole different set of parenting skills that you need. And yet—
Kim: It’s so funny—
Melanie: It’s mind blowing, mind blowing
Kim: It’s so funny because I said this at a very early age; now I know—and this is not arrogance—I know I was an attractive kid based on what society says is attractive. I know I was a attractive teenager and you know, attractive young person, a young woman and people were mind blown by the fact that white men have never approached me, because they don’t—to them, I’m not their kind of pretty.
Kim: That’s the first thing. And also, even growing up, I knew—and I couldn’t articulate why—but I knew when I saw interracial relationships, ’cause my my mom had an interracial, she married a white guy, and I knew just watching that that I never wanted to be in that kind of situation for the fact that I didn’t even know this word at the time, the emotional labor of being in a relationship with a white person in the United States.
Now maybe a white person from another country, I wouldn’t because they don’t have the same issues. But if they come from a country that has oppressed people of color, we’re gonna have the same problems because the emotion, the fact that if I would have children and have to explain to them, “Hey, if you come to, if you’re in this situation, this is what you need to do to keep you safe,” and my husband or significant other has no way to identify with that?
That would have been disheartening for me, because then that’s all the emotional labor I have to take on as a Black woman and Black women have enough shit to bear. I wouldn’t have wanted to bear that in my relationship as well when we’re supposed to be partners.
Melanie: Right. Right. And again, it’s just, it’s so different from my lived experience that it took a long time for it to register, for the concept of not—when I get pulled over by an officer, my thought, because I’m a very rule-following obedient white lady, my thought is, “I’m going to get a scolding right now and I’m not OK with that.” You know, like—
Kim: Or—I mean at least you have that. What about the videos we’ve seen with people: [imitates an entitled, angry white woman] “I—fuck you, I’m not doin’…” I mean just total white privilege. Oh my god! And the body camera, the cop, and no one’s getting shot. [laughs]
Melanie: Right. Right? Yeah.
Kim: “What’s your fuckin’ badge number? Da de da de da, I’m gonna report you, and…“
Melanie: Right. Access to safety.
Kim: Yep. Access to safety. Thank you so much. And that leads me into [sighs] this SURJ conversation. [Melanie laughs] So I’m gonna—
Melanie: It’s a good one.
Kim: Yeah, because I so identified with a lot of things she put in there because it’s something, a conversation I’ve been having of privilege not being the right people to lead this movement. And there’s a reason why I have a league of white men. Their jobs are to protect me and to support me, but not getting my fucking way; to to clear the space, to make the space safe, and all these things—but they are not to speak for #CauseAScene on my behalf.
I’m gonna read you some things that—because I want these to be on record, then we can talk about this. So this article is from DiDi Delgado, and the name of it is, it was in the Huffington post, April 4th 2017, “Whites Only: SURG [sic]”—which is SURJ—”and the Caucasian Invasion of Racial Justice Spaces.” So I’m just gonna read. So she says, “If there’s one thing white people don’t need, it’s more spaces reserved for their comfort at the expense and exclusion of people of color.”
She also says, “By creating bubbles within white supremacy where it’s safe to practice antiracism, we’re implying that there are places where racism can remain unchallenged. In many ways, white antiracism spaces serve as safety nets, protecting allies from their own uncertainty and the fear of failure, while simultaneously keeping people of color at a distance.”
She also says, “I believe a big reason many organizers are reluctant to criticize white antiracism groups is because white-led groups have significant financial resources at their disposal. Reparations cannot buy our silence. Reparations do not warrant civic amenity and even thanks. That might be hard to digest, but reparations are just money owed. I’m not suggesting that good works hasn’t been done by white folx in the fight against white supremacy (it has) or that it should stop (it shouldn’t), but we cannot ignore the ways approaching antiracism work with a white lens is inherently flawed.”
And then she says, “But there is no quick fix to this problem, and if you’re doing this work so that you can sleep better at night, I’d ask you to remove yourself from this fight. You’re not ready; if you were you’d be sleeping worse. Isolating yourself from parts of white supremacy that make you feel icky, surrounding yourself with like-minded white people and blocking racist Facebook friends is primarily done to ensure your own comfort. What I’m asking is that you make yourselves uncomfortable at every opportunity, because unlike your discomfort, mine is not optional.”
And then she says, “If white-led organizations insist on having a seat at the table, they better get used to being held accountable by people of color.”
[Sighs] So you—I just want your opinion, and this is not, you’re not speaking for SURJ National and this is not even you speaking for SURJ San Diego. But as a person who was working on these issues and that article came out, how did you feel? And what did you take from it?
Melanie: Erm [laughs] How I felt and what I took from it are two different things.
Melanie: Because feelings are tricky little bastards. My first instinct, of course, of course was, “That’s—what? [laughs] Me? I can’t believe you’re criticizing the work that I’m doing, I’m trying so hard, de de de,” and I didn’t say most of those things out loud because that’s what I took. But what I took from it is when you stop and play pause, let’s pause on these reactionary feelings, it doesn’t feel good to be criticized. And this is vulnerable work, but let’s dig in. So what I took from it, it’s good stuff; basically, she’s right and we, locally, have adjusted the way that we work over time.
It’s been difficult to find our way, but what SURJ in San Diego sees as their place, and what I see as my place also, is not in leadership in the antiracism movement. My job is to have hard conversations, with white people specifically, because I understand that experience, that was my experience.
We do have a little bit of a feeling of like, “Come get your people, whaaat are your white people doin’?” I mean, I’m white, those are my people, and that’s where I belong, is education there. Someone took the time to educate me and to reach back to do that. We also get a lot of feedback saying, “As people of color, we do not want to educate you people, go do your own work.” So I feel like that’s correct.
I feel like it’s not the job of people of color to inform me on my own racism and the racism of our country, and how that affects people of color and how I’m contributing. I’m perpetuating a system of oppression and violence. That is not your job, Kim, to say, “Melanie, let’s sit down and talk about all the shit I have to deal with and how you, my friend, are contributing to that.”
Melanie: It is my job to go read a book. It is my job when people start saying stuff that’s racist—even out of their best intentions—it’s my job to step in and say, “Let’s think about this for a second.”
If they’re popping in on your feed, then it is my job to pop in [Kim chuckles] and say, “Hey, this is an interesting conversation I’m happy to talk about with you.” And then if pushing happens, especially toward you or other people of color that’re out there talking, I feel like it’s my job to be like, “Look, this is—no. You don’t need to be attacking this person.” I need to be uncomfortable, and if he comes at me, that’s great. If that conversation comes with me and the conversations are awkward, sometimes heated, that’s OK. That’s my job.
Kim: It’s so funny that you said this because—and I’m just loving the access to safety—because the more I speak and the fact that you—the more I speak up, the more content I create, the more I share; first I have this thing in my head, people just don’t understand that this is not easy work for even us to do because we, there’s a safety calculation that we—ooh, it’s some damn, it’s some algebraic equations going on in our heads.
Kim: I feel safe, so let me to you what it’s like to make a video for #CauseAScene. I do it with Periscope intentionally because I know that’s where my fans are, my group of people are, who have told me because they follow me that this is something that they want to hear. So I’ll create that video and then I upload it to YouTube channel. And then I make a calculation of—well before I upload to YouTube channel, I ask myself, is this a conversation that needs to stay in Twitter where I feel safe?
And then when I choose, then I make a decision to upload it to YouTube channel, to share it on LinkedIn or Facebook, there’s a calculation there of—particularly Facebook because I have, there’re white friends on Facebook, how would they engage with this? Do I have to have a—I mean there’s a whooole thing that I have, the calculation I have to think about.
And then what’s been interesting is puttin’ it on LinkedIn, because I will inevitably get a call from a Black follower or a Black connection, whatever, who’s asking me, “Kim are you OK? Have you taken care of yourself? Are you changing how you get back and forth to your engagements so that people don’t follow you? Have you doubled, have you—what’s it called when you double authenticate your apps and whatever so that no one can hack into your stuff?”
When I wrote I did the video—I can’t remember the title exactly, but it was like, “Have White Women Lost Their Minds?”—someone literally asked me, he said, “Kim, you know I have a security background, do I need to go to events with you?”
Kim: This is crazy. This is—and so that’s another reason I don’t put stuff on Facebook, ’cause I don’t want my family to be concerned about me, because thankfully I can say I’m in the tech space where people are stepping up and having these conversations, it for no other reason that we have to for business sense, we have to because you can’t create products and services for a global market from one perspective. And to be innovative and competitive in this market, you need diversity of thought.
So thankfully, I’m in the tech space, but my family and friends don’t understand that, so they just think I’m just out here putting myself at risk. And so that’s a calculation I have to make when I go beyond Twitter or go beyond tech; what will some person who does not like what I’m saying, how would they react?
Kim: ‘Cause they get a pass. If they decided to do something to me, they get a pass. Twitter just by—and now Twitter is not going to be as safe—by the new guidelines they have of muting people’s content. If so many people have reported you, then you won’t be seen or all these—even though I’m not muted, even though my people who follow me are looking for this content, if someone who disagrees with me has reported me, then I will be muted. And it’s their way of silencing us.
Kim: And I’m so happy that we just had this conversation. This has been—because you just hit on, I never—it’s access to safety.
Kim: Because there are white people who talk about these very same things, and I’m sure they didn’t have to do the mental mathematical acrobatics that I have to do.
Melanie: Yeah, yeah. I mean, [pauses] I just had this conversation with a group of people and I remember asking, there were a lot of white men in the room, and I remember asking as a content creator for speaking to the underrepresented and marginalized people in the room, I know as you create content if you’re a white man, some of the pushback might be, “I don’t agree with how you wrote this code or you’re stupid.” Maybe that’ll happen.
If you are underrepresented and marginalized, i’s a little bit more like, “I’m going to rape you and your family.”
Melanie: Right? And so like you said, there’s a different calculation there. And it’s the same thing as a conversation before, I cannot imagine that in the apartment next to me, they’re having a discussion about how to be safe when they get pulled over by a police officer. And as professionals, it’s hard to believe that other people are calculating their safety. How do I post this and engage with people without having threats on my life, or being concerned about walking outside, or losing job opportunities because I’m too noisy, you know?
Kim: And that’s one extreme. But what happens normally—and people laugh at this—is every person of color, when we walk into the room, particularly in tech, we start counting how many other people of color are there.
Kim: Because again, access to safety. So I don’t even have to be outspoken, it could be my intention never to raise my head above water, but if there are no other people of color there, I will be a target.
Melanie: Right. Yeah. I do that as a woman. Part of my work as a feminist also is understanding the magnitude of the experience of women of color compared to my experience as a white woman. It’s just, you know, it’s a process understanding what it’s like for me to be white and how that compares, and as a woman, as a feminist, I started out—I don’t know if other people had this experience—but as a feminist, I started out, “We’re ladies, we’re all the same, we’re all in this together, we all have the same challenges, etcetera, etcetera.” But I’m learning.
Kim: Which speaks also to the “there’s no color” thing that you’re taught as a child, “I don’t see color”, because the data is showing that white women are the only women who are making gains in tech, and it’s because they have access to safety and access to privilege that that women of color do not and our numbers are decreasing because—well, one of the things is for the first time we all do have access to the same technologies and so I can amplify my voice without your permission wherein before you had access to all the channels of communication. And this is my issue with Stack Overflow. And again, it’s not personal.
Kim: But it’s—you have demonstrated a level of disrespect to me as a woman of color when you choose, when I’m having, when I’m actually tag-teaming with a white woman on these issues and we’re having these conversations, and yet you choose to only elevate her message. You change something, you change the verbage or the understanding of something you’ve done based on my telling you it’s incorrect, but you don’t credit me for it.
Kim: And the idea that the very people who are excluded from that population are expected to work for free to help you fix their population, that platform. There are a lot of challenges I have and the reason they are for—nah, I don’t wanna use that term. They are where I’m focusing my energy, is because they are the biggest player in the field that touches every developer out there, every language, every framework, whatever.
This is the one place that everybody goes and to have a population that engages that is predominantly white males between the ages of 18 and 34, and also that you are approaching businesses to use your platform for hiring purposes, when now these businesses are looking at Stack Overflow scores that underrepresented and marginalized individuals won’t have because they choose not to engage.
Kim: Now you’re affecting them economically ’cause they don’t have—that’s a barrier.
Kim: So there’s a lot of issues and it’s not about personal, but what it is for me is what Stack Overflow is the example for me. I have limited resources, I’m only one person, and if we can get Stack Overflow moving in the right direction, they could be an example for how others can do it.
Kim: Because they have so many touch points.
Melanie: Right. And it’s really interesting that, I think what’s happening at Stack Overflow is what happens very frequently, which is like I said, you know my “ah-ha” moment of saying, “Whoa! My experience really is not Kim’s experience.” We didn’t grow up the same and a lot of that has to do with my skin color. If I was working on the assumption that our experiences were the same, then I’m not going to be, I’m going to be like, “Why does it matter?”
Kim: “Why are you picking on me?”
Melanie: We—well, I mean, why does it matter if we have equal representation? Why does it matter if we have diversity? We all have the same experience anyway.
Kim: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And that’s why I challenged the whole “equal” thing because there is no way in hell you and I could be equal. For me to even get to the level of privilege you have, you need to sit down and let me get a head start, a real head start, before—and that’s what people don’t understand what affirmative action was. No one was letting somebody; when those people of color got into those jobs, they worked their asses off. It was just, I mean, there was no, “You need to give ’em a head start,” you just opened the door.
Kim: And that’s what people—”Oh, you’re taking from me.” No! Hell, we’re not. What you’re recognizing though is, that Black excellence or Brown excellence, and what it’s showing is that you’re just mediocre. How well you think you are is so based on privilege and your position, and once we get in, you can’t really compete with many of us because we are so resilient. We’re so used to being adaptive and changing based on whatever that it’s just second nature to us; and this is for the first time in your lives ever you’ve had to play this game.
Melanie: Mhm. Yeah, and you know, the interesting thing is that people say that— [pauses] there was this narrative for a while that with feminism, right? When we talk about women making gains in the workplace, that men feel like they’re losing something; same thing with racism, if we feel that people of color are making gains then as white people, we feel like we’re losing something.
And there was a narrative for a while that that was just a feeling. But it isn’t, it’s a real thing as I lose my privilege, that’s loss, it’s a real loss. But the choice is, again, as a person, just as a human, is do I want my legacy to be continuing oppression?
Melanie: I really don’t, I really don’t. I don’t want my kids to have to come to adulthood and have this same surprise. What’s the surprise? Oh shit, I’m a racist, or shit, I have been, my ignorance has let oppression, danger fall on other people. That’s not OK. It’s not OK.
Kim: And then it’s not a zero sum game, it’s not a pie that we evenly split up. There are infinite opportunities. Letting me in does not compete with you. Letting Kim in does not compete with Melanie because of Kim and Melanie don’t want the same damn things.
Melanie: Mhm. Mhm.
Kim: And that’s what people need to understand. And what I bring to the table, even if we have the same job, my perspective only enhances—if my perspective is allowed to be acted on and validated—it only enhances all of us ’cause we create better with that.
Melanie: Right. Right. And I think the one—if I had to boil down one thing to try to convince another white person to start on a journey of knowledge that hopefully will also push them to action, the thing I would say is, “All I wanna do with my life is love better.” And I know that people share that. I know it. And you cannot love better while ignoring the cost of race, racism in the United States. You just can’t.
Kim: So with that I’m going to say thank you for being here, for trusting me, for being safe, for being vulnerable, for being transparent, and allowing this conversation to take place. I’m honored and humbled by your ability to continually allow me to push you outside your comfort zone. [laughs] And I love you.
Melanie: I love you too, Kim. Thank you.
Kim: Thank you.