”Intersectionality (or intersectional theory) is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.” –From Wikipedia
Have you ever heard statements like, Black women are so angry or “sassy”, Asian women are smart and submissive, Latina women are promiscuous and exotic or Arab women are oppressed?
All of these are stereotypes and hateful communication that are meant to depreciate WOC (Women of Color), you cannot classify this as just racist or sexist because they’re both.
Intersectionality and tech
This is where intersectionality comes in; WOC have overlapping struggles to fight against. Today I will focus on race and gender in the tech ecosystem, but as all WOC know there could be a number of other issues at play such as classism, but let’s stay focused.
As a black woman I have experienced this discrimination on many occasions weather it’s subtle or direct it is a disgusting practice that most are oblivious to.
The problem with “picking a struggle”
There are people who will say, “Pick a struggle.” You can’t have both and if you try and have both you will be devaluing the other. So when a Woman of Color stands up for gender and racial equality, her allegiances get pitted against each other.
For example In a feminist space, a WOC is dismissed or talked over when she tries to discuss issues that specifically affect Black women, due to the combined influences of racism, sexism, and classism.
Why the discomfort?
Why are people so uncomfortable about real issues that exist?
Is it because they lack the knowledge or understanding to actually have an intelligent conversation about the issues, or that they may practice these hateful tactics.
Whatever their issue we need to address the issue of intersectionality in technology. As we know there is a large movement for women in technology, but everyone seems to forget the fact that racism also plays a part in the lack of representation of women in technology.
As a WOC in technology I am determined to shed light on this issue and if necessary make others uncomfortable.
The consequences of ignoring intersexuality?
If you only focus on “gender” without including “race,” WOC experiences of discrimination are rendered invisible by these ways of categorizing discriminatory practices.
As women we know that it is hard being in a male dominated industry, the technology eco system is very much a “taker of faces.”
What I mean by this is that most people (even in the technology space) think that “techies” are men who sit at a computer and code all day with a tee-shirt/sweat shirt and jeans. They have the idea that they are introverts and lack personality with no sense of humor. When they see someone that does not fit their profile or idea of what a technical person should look like they immediately assume or draw inaccurate conclusions.
Those of you who know me will totally understand when I say I am far from this stereotype. Obviously I am not a man, I love fashion and I am not afraid to speak to anyone. You have no idea how many times I have gotten the side eye (confused look) when I tell people I am in the tech field. Then the questions come that will either undervalue me as a women, POC (Person of Color) or both (POC and Woman = WOC).
I separate those two here because of the questions I get from the oblivious. Some will just be specific to women, while others will be specific to that fact that I am a minority, and then there is the whammy that will highlight me being a WOC.
Because this industry is such a “taker of faces,” WOC will inevitably be discriminated against and will need to work twice as hard to prove their value and we all know value equates to money. This can be largely due to unconscious bias.
This places WOC at a disadvantage from the moment they enter the workforce; creating major structural barriers to entering top-earning professional fields. Additionally at every point in the hiring process hidden bias trickles in. Some enter at the stage of reviewing names on résumés. Yet more at the stage of different gender and race styles of presentation during interviews. And a steady stream comes in to play when it comes time to negotiate for salaries.
With WOC making upwards of 30 fewer cents for every dollar than a white man earns, we cannot have a one size fits all approach, as all WOC experiences make her unique. No one should be pigeonholed into a single category. FACT: racism and sexism can’t be isolated and treated as separate issues. For WOC, they intersect. So let’s change the narrative on how those in tech view WOC!
But what can we do?
- Demand equality and respect. Never allow a “privileged” person to insult your intelligence or your experience.
- Speak up and Reach out. You have a voice, make sure that it is heard (closed mouths don’t get fed), Reach out for advancement and look for every opportunity possible.
- Use your uniqueness. You are beautifully unique, your experiences allow you to “see” things from a point of view and this makes you valuable.
- Love yourself. This should need no explanation; I love my color do you?
- Reach Back. All of us should be looking for opportunities to help the next generation of WOC. Mentorship/volunteering should not be optional.
Allies of WOC need to…
- Promote an atmosphere of inclusion. Stop the “boys club” mentality.
- Speak up and Reach out. You are in a prime position to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. Reach out of your comfort zone and look for opportunities to assist WOC.
- Use your privileged position to your advantage. Whether you realize it or not, you have power … power to change the narrative and you can find your own unique way to do this.
- Show love. Never forget this is a powerful uniting tool that can tear down any barrier.
- Reach back, forward, and to the side. Wherever you can find an opportunity to mentor/volunteer to help WOC….do it!
We all have a responsibility, whether it’s as a WOC or as allies, to promote the fact that intersectionality is real. As a WOC I don’t get to take my race hat off and put my gender hat on or vice versa. It’s a package deal. Change is coming. Will you choose knowledge over ignorance, love over hate. Join the movement and be a change agent!
By: Shonnah Hughes