Tag Archives: society

What is society for?

Humans, nearly universally, live in societies. We get together and live cooperatively and interdependently. Humans are profoundly social animals; it’s our primary survival strategy. There are a number of benefits this confers such as skill specialization, resource sharing, and cooperative breeding, but I really want to focus on the disabled aspect of this. What is society for in terms of disabled people?

I think that people have two wildly differing ideas regarding what society is for, and that is where a lot of conflict comes in around how to care for disabled people (or, and this is terrible even to say, whether to care for disabled people at all). Personally, I call these ideas the goose model and the wolf model.

So ages and ages ago, I lived on a sheep farm for around a year. That sheep farm happened to have a flock of geese that lived there too. Those geese had pretty easy lives. Food and water was plentiful, shelter was close at hand, and the dogs made sure that they didn’t really have to contend with predators. Nonetheless, geese will always be geese. Geese are also social animals, preferring to hang out together in a flock (with the exception of breeding season, but anyway). However, they do not in any way take care of each other while they are in this flock. I got to witness one goose get sick (not terribly sick. Like a goose cold or something) and the rest of the flock turned out that goose absolutely viciously. They drove it out, wouldn’t let it get close, and closed ranks against it. That poor goose tried incredibly hard to be as close to the flock as they would let it get, and otherwise just tried to spend it’s time hiding since it was alone and didn’t have the safety of its flock.

To the geese, the group is about protection from predators and a hostile world. Even if the world they live in isn’t actually hostile, that’s still what the group is for. A weak member of the group drags everyone down, and thus is undesirable. This is what I call the “goose model.” This idea of society is fear-based, constantly worried about attack from outside threats, and considers it best to get rid of anything that might be seen as “weakness.” 

(Disclaimer: I don’t know if all geese act like that or just the breed that I was around, which I believe was a particularly vicious kind of goose. Regardless, it’s still where I got my metaphor for this part of my model)

Then there’s the wolf model. Wolves also live in groups, but their treatment of the sick or injured or weak is wildly different from what I saw in those geese. Wolves actually care for their weaker pack members. The weak, the injured, the sick, the elderly, the disabled – the rest of the pack takes care of them. I’ve seen this behavior in cats as well. Cats are not as aggressively social as wolves or humans are, but they still can form bonds with each other and I’m sure we’ve all seen stories about a cat taking care of an injured friend or refusing to leave an injured cat’s side. 

In this model, a society is for taking care of each other. The strength of the group comes from the assurance that the members will always take care of each other. There is no need to judge anyone’s individual contribution – we’re a family, and family takes care of family. 

It probably goes without saying that I am in the wolf model camp. Humans are cooperative and interdependent, and I strongly believe that our strength comes from taking care of each other. It’s about the entire group lifting each other up, and everyone being better off because of it. It’s about recognizing that everyone deserves to live and thrive regardless of what they may struggle with.

As far as I can tell, human societies have been all over the board in regards to how they treated the sick or disabled. Since I’m not actually trying to write a term paper here, I chose to not dive into that mire. I did, however, find some interesting articles about prehistoric societies. Apparently there is a growing body of evidence that prehistoric societies also took care of their sick, injured, etc. Here is an article going over a few cases of archaeological finds showing disabled individuals thousands of years ago, living far longer than they would have been able to on their own. They absolutely had to have been taken care of – meaning the people around them did exactly that. It seems that at least some ancient humans viewed the role of society as being for taking care of each other. 

Personally, I think that’s pretty cool.

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Filed under ramble

“Nice” Rejection

This is not a topic that has a strong or direct link to my usual topics, but it’s something I want to write about anyway. It possible that my status as “woman who is on the spectrum” has influenced the way I view this particular issue, so I suppose there’s a weak tie-in.

I want to talk about rejection. Specifically, how we reject people, and how people raised as women in particular (the group generally expected to have to do the rejecting) are taught to reject people. A while back I was reading a thread online that started with one person telling her story about someone asking her out on a date and her rejecting him. In this particular instance it was someone she liked as a friend, but was not attracted to in any way. So in her rejection, she wanted to be “nice.”

Her method of doing so was to instead be indirect. Instead of telling him, straightforward, that she wasn’t interested in that way, she said “I appreciate the offer, but that after the last guy it will be a loooong time before I would date anyone.” Which, apparently, was technically true. It just wasn’t the whole truth, or even really the most direct and relevant truth (that she’s just not into him like that). However, the thread was really quite full of people (also self-identified women) agreeing with her that it was the nicest possible way she could have rejected him. SO nice. TOTALLY nice.

It echoed a previous instance of rejection I had read about (this time in someone’s livejournal post). A man asked a woman out, she wanted to reject him nicely, so said (essentially) “oh, sorry, I’m not dating right now.” And described that as “so nice.”

In both of those cases I wound up with my eyeballs popping out and my jaw on the floor, wondering how being indirect (or outright lying) could possibly ever count as “nice.”

Honestly, I suspect the answer is somewhat gendered. We live in a society where people raised as women are taught to be indirect, often in a nasty combination of penalizing women for being direct or assertive, and teaching women that they are never to give a man sadfeels no matter what. It’s true that it’s not fun to be rejected (and despite my gender, I know this personally. women get rejected too, sometimes in really nasty ways), so what’s a woman to do if she’s not allowed to be direct or give a man sadfeels? Apparently, the answer is to say things like “oh, I just don’t want to date right now.” It even goes to the point that if a guy doesn’t “get the hint” THEN it’s ok to be more direct. Which was referred to as “being cold” in the aforementioned discussion. I do find it interesting that being truthful is cold, but being not-so-truthful is, I guess, warm.

In both cases I turned to men I knew and asked them if they would consider that form of rejection nice. Man-types, by and large, seemed to disagree. I asked two basic questions: If someone wanted to reject you in a “nice” way, how would you like them to do it? and If you wanted to reject someone, and wanted to do it “nicely,” how would you go about doing so?

Both questions got fairly consistent answers. The guys I talked to would prefer the message be plain and direct. That it isn’t mean for someone to say that they just aren’t into you that way, even if it isn’t fun to hear.

Of course, I am biased. Indirect communication tends to range from confusing to ragey for me, and I often resent it. I see conversations (again, usually amongst woman-types) online about getting their needs met, and the totally casual discussion of passive-aggressive ways to communicate, and it gets so frustrating. It’s always termed “being nice about it” or “dropping hints” or such, and if someone doesn’t understand those hints, it consistently means that something is wrong with them. From my perspective, that’s absolutely horrible. The fact that it appears to be ubiquitous just makes it worse.

I would say this is something where gender issues intersect with autism issues. Being female (read: having boobs), I am expected to conform to the typical standards women are held to. As someone who cares about gender issues, I don’t want women to be held up to those unreasonable standards designed to keep our boundaries mushy. As someone on the spectrum, I am barely capable of meeting those expectations or understanding the indirect communication of other people anyway. Can we please change things and acknowledge the value in being direct?


Filed under opinion

Boundaries (again)

creative commons image by amiruddin on flickr

I want to talk about boundaries again. Boundaries are important. Finding ways to express boundaries is important. Responding properly when someone has expressed a boundary – VERY important.

So here is a thing about me – I have trouble explicitly stating my boundaries. I think there are a couple reasons why.

I was raised as a female. In my experience, people who were raised with the expectation that they would become women are raised (at least in the US) to not be clear about their boundaries. Women (or people perceived as women) are typically punished for defending their own boundaries, which leads women (or people perceived or raised as women) to finding other ways to state their needs or desires or boundaries. It leads to being indirect, to phrasing requests as offers, to saying “hey, why don’t you do x?” when they mean “you are doing y and it’s causing me discomfort or worse, please do something else” and expecting the listener to understand that a thing phrased as an offer or a suggestion was actually a request. As I’ve written about before I have an intensely huge problem with this sort of behavior. I find it rude, though for some reason many people seem to believe that it qualifies as “nice” or “polite.” Anyway, regardless of how I view that sort of behavior, I was raised as a woman. I was taught that it’s wrong for me to explicitly state my boundaries.

On top of that, I was on the autism spectrum but undiagnosed. No one knew. There were things that caused me pain that people could not understand how it did, so they did not believe me. I was expected to do the things everyone else did, regardless of the impact it had on me. Sensory overload and can’t cope? Doesn’t matter, I still need to go along with everyone else, smile as though I’m having fun, act the way I’m expected to act. Failure to do so would result in scolding, judgement, and/or punishment, and this continued well into my adult life. Actually, it still continues, though far less so and mostly from people who are convinced that if I just try harder, I could be like them. Happily, I am now at a point in my life where I can mostly ignore those people.

The end result of these two things is that I really have a hard time simply stating my boundaries. However, it’s something I’m working really hard on as I want to be able to do so, and I think it’s wrong to expect people perceived as women to always be passive and indirect about their own needs. Also, I really want people to be direct with me about their boundaries. I HATE having to constantly reinterpret what people say and figure out what they really mean because they’re being indirect. I have actually been actively working on ways to deal with that that don’t leave me angry or resentful for indefinite periods of time (potential script I have yet to use but think might work: “That was phrased as an offer/suggestion. Was it actually an offer/suggestion, or was it really a request?”) Anyway, because I want people to be courteous enough to be direct with me, I’m trying to learn to be direct as well.

So. Let’s say I actually manage to direct state a boundary. Or really, let’s say anyone directly states a boundary. Or even indirectly (arg) states a boundary but you’re lucky enough to know what they mean. What do you do next?

Happily, the thing to do next is the same in ALL instances! It’s a lovely area that does not force me to have a lot of different answers based on small differences in context. The thing to do next is respect the boundary.

So simple! Someone says “here is my boundary.” Then you say “ok! I respect that boundary!” And then, you know, you don’t cross that line, whatever it happens to be. Now, maybe you don’t understand why that’s a boundary. Maybe it seems weird and pointless to you. The right answer is still to respect the boundary. DO NOT demand that the boundary be explained to you first. DO NOT choose to reject the boundary just because you don’t get it. DO NOT say that the boundary is wrong or should be changed.

Sometimes there will be a tricky situation is two people’s boundaries/needs/whatever conflict with each other. I don’t have a pat answer for that situation. All I can say is to negotiate. Respect each other’s needs, believe each other when they express their needs and/or boundaries, and try to work out the best way to accommodate both of you.

It should not be hard to just accept and respect the boundaries people state, but so often it seems that people don’t do that. It’s hard enough for me to just directly say “here is my boundary.” Coming back with “no, your boundary should be something else” is rude, entitled, and personally painful. Don’t do that crap, seriously.


Filed under issue

What should be vs. what is

creative commons image by linniekin on flickr

standing on both sides

This is something I’ve talked a little bit about before, but I’m wanting to talk about it again, a bit more broadly. When I write, there are a number of lines I try to straddle, one of them being between what should be and what is. These can be two very different areas, and it’s really important to me to acknowledge and validate them both, though it probably sometimes comes out a bit awkwardly.

It actually came to mind over a very different topic. I was reading some forums and one thread was discussing clothes for teenage girls, and how to teach teenage girls about the social consequences of dressing certain ways. It was full of practicality and was, entirely, a discussion about navigating the world as it is. Yet as I was reading I got more and more twitchy, hoping for someone to say, however briefly, that the world SHOULDN’T be like that. That yes, we live in a world where people will judge you by what you wear and wearing the “wrong” thing can lead to social judgement (and worse), but the world shouldn’t be like that. And when I thought about it, I realized I get twitchy when it’s the other way as well. When people are talking about what should be, and we should make our choices based on what should be as a way of changing the world, with no acknowledgement of how the world IS, and that maybe those “should” choices are, in fact, a privilege.

I highly value both sides of this. I think they are both extremely important, and that it is harmful to focus on one to the exclusion of the other.

I focus a lot on what should be. I want the world to be better than it is (for everyone, though I’m focusing on autism, mental illness, and disability in particular), so I write about how I want things to be, and how I don’t like the way many things actually are. I write about how I wish we didn’t have to hide ourselves or spend so much energy blending in that we don’t have any energy left for anything else. It’s how I want things to be.

But I don’t want to be harmful. I don’t want to focus on what should be to the exclusion of what is, so I really try to include at least a few lines acknowledging and validating what is, and the choices people will make because not everyone is so privileged as to be able to make all their choices around what should be.

This also is closely related to the fact that I am a very strong believer in multiple right answers. That it isn’t about finding “The” answer, but about finding the answer that’s right for you, along with pushing to make the world more accepting of answers that I wish were easier to pick. So, for instance, stimming. Flapping and spinning in the grocery store should not be bad. As long as I’m not hurting anyone, it should be ok for me to stim if I need to in order to deal with the lights or smells or crowds. However, the world is not what it should be. Maybe I feel strong enough to deal with stares or glares. Maybe I don’t have a dire need for food so I can handle it if a manager kicks me out because my disability was showing. Or, maybe I don’t. Maybe I’m vulnerable and just can’t deal with that kind of thing. Maybe I really need what the store is selling. Maybe the consequences would be too great for me to handle.

Everyone needs to make their own choices based on how much cope they have left, how much they can handle, and how much they want to help change the world at any given moment.

Which is not to say that there aren’t wrong answers. Of course there are wrong answers. Some of them include kicking people out of stores because they are autistic. Or whispering “what’s wrong with her?” behind your hand (always bad, but especially bad when done within earshot of who you’re talking about). Or saying “quiet hands!” because I’m twitching. Those answers are entirely wrong. But when it comes to things like choosing whether or not to let myself stim in public in a way that people will notice – either answer I choose is right. People need to make their own decisions.

So I try my best to straddle that line. I write about what I want the world to be like and I do my best to live it, while recognizing and validating that it isn’t always like that, and we can’t always make those kinds of choices. I certainly can’t all the time.

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Finding the Boundaries

creative commons image by ank0ku on flickr

Explicit boundary markers are fabulous.

This is yet another hugemassive topic that goes far beyond anything I’m capable of fitting into a single blog post. So, yet again, I’m going to be going for a more general overview, with the idea that I can do more specific blog posts in the future.

In my post about politeness, I briefly listed a few areas of polite behavior, including finding and respecting people’s boundaries. As a matter of fact, most of what I listed could be considered a form of knowing/respecting boundaries, as this is a really huge deal. In some cases, it could be considered about being polite or otherwise, and in other cases it’s about a whole lot more. There are all sorts of types of boundaries.

When I first started thinking about this blog topic, I was thinking about a version of boundaries that fits rather neatly as a politeness thing – that is, knowing when to talk to people and when not to. Knowing how often to talk to or contact people. How much is too much, how much is not enough, that sort of thing. I am terrible at finding a balance on this one, and after many failures in relationships I’ve become somewhat obsessive and stressed about it all. Too little contact with a person and I find myself unable to continue to feel a connection with them. Too much contact with a person and they tend to run away. Trying to balance what I need and want with what the other person needs and wants is something I find terribly complicated and difficult, and I only occasionally bother to try. On this one, if anyone has any magical secrets on how to figure this out, I’d certainly love it hear them. ^_^

There are also other sorts of boundaries. Many of them are very serious sorts of boundaries, with serious consequences for getting them wrong. One of those areas is sexual boundaries. Interestingly, I don’t find sexual boundaries to be all that difficult to navigate. The big thing is that for it to work as easy as possible, there are two things each person needs to bring to the table.

1. a willingness to talk about where your boundaries are. It can be hard to directly talk about sexual things, especially since we have a lot of learned shame around it all, but it’s honestly fairly important to be able to do so. That said, it’s ok if it’s uncomfortable or challenging or embarrassing. It’s just important to do it.
2. Practice explicit consent. I am a huge proponent of explicit consent just in general for everyone (unless you have an established relationship and have worked out other ways to do it), but ESPECIALLY LOTS for anyone on the spectrum. Where it goes beyond “no means no” and into “yes means yes.” Do not assume that things are ok – ask first. It does not have to be terribly awkward and robotic, either. Enthusiastic consent is pretty hot. ^_^

Then there are more general boundaries. Some are fairly obvious (don’t punch people except in certain, very limited, contexts), and others are more about any given individual’s lines (like how I don’t want people to touch my upper arms). In the case of the latter, I strongly prefer (and very much appreciate) people who are willing to be explicit. I have a very hard time with non-verbal communication, and I miss boundaries all too often when they are expressed with gestures or facial expressions rather than with words. This is a difficult area for me – technically speaking, socially speaking, it’s up to me to detect where everyone’s boundaries are. Realistically speaking, while I do try very hard, sometimes I just can’t. I need words. So I tend to be more drawn to people who use words, or who are at least willing to use words with me. Which also means that when I person does use words to express a boundary, I make a point to respect it without making them work or fight for it.

Sometimes I find when I express boundaries to other people, their response is to immediately ask me why I need that boundary, or couldn’t I use this other boundary instead, etc. This both bothers me on a personal level and is a behavior that I find generally problematic, so I make a point to not do it (with the possible exception of if respecting that person’s boundary carries a risk of crossing a boundary of mine. then negotiation needs to happen). If, for whatever reason, I want more information I make a point to agree to the boundary first, and then express my desire for said information.

Overall, I find boundaries are things worth a lot of my energy and attention. I know I sometimes have trouble, but I really do care about getting it right, so I try. I try a lot. And I love it when people are explicit about their own boundaries. It’s fantastic.


Filed under issue

autism and race

This nifty graphic from NIMH shows some of the differences in rates of autism across a few different races.

I have been wanting to start talking about intersectionality for a while now. From the geekfeminism wiki: “Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.”

Personally, I find this to be a worthwhile thing to think about. An intersection that I am seeing gain increasing attention in the autism community is the intersection of autism and gender. It’s widely known that there is a significant disparity between the rates of autism in males and females, and people are wondering why. Is there something different about the genders that makes autism more common in males? Is autism harder to see in females? Are we just not good at knowing what female autism looks like? Is there bias among clinicians who do the diagnosing? It is a topic that people are talking about, pushing for, and is gaining attention with various articles and books being written on the topic. Being more or less female, I rather assumed that when I talked about intersections, this would be the first thing I talked about.

But instead, I want to talk about autism and race. Or rather, I want to talk about how it’s not getting talked about, and that’s weird. Along with being overwhelmingly male, the autism community appears to be overwhelmingly white. While people are talking about the gender thing, I see very little about the race thing.

I often do homework as a part of putting together blog posts. I look for articles and books and statistics and other resources to help me better understand what I’m writing about, as well as provide support for what I’m saying. I have never before experienced the utter dearth of resources as I did for this post. There is very, very little out there talking about this.

There are all sorts of books on amazon – many of them scholarly, or at least non-fiction – about autism and girls. I found NOTHING on autism and race. Eventually I managed to track down a few books of fiction that deal with both autism and racism, but by and large they are about white male autistic people, who learn about racism by seeing it happen to someone else. There was one book with an autistic character which also dealt with racism and I was just not able to tell via the description or reviews if said character was white or a person of color.

So, for some reason, this is not getting much attention. Not enough to warrant even a single book. I also tracked down a few statistics. Even that was a bit tricky, with surprisingly few resources out there. However, the CDC, when doing their research, also did some looking into autism rates across races. The famed “1 in 88” study also found “When data from all sites were combined, the estimated prevalence among non-Hispanic white children (12.0 per 1,000) was significantly greater than that among non-Hispanic black children (10.2 per 1,000) and Hispanic children (7.9 per 1,000).” Yet while people talk about the 1 in 88 statistic, and the differences in statistics between genders, I found extremely little talking about the difference in race. All the questions that people are asking about autism and gender seem that they would apply to autism and race (and probably quite a few more besides), but people don’t seem to be asking those questions.

Why not?

Well, one of the catalysts for writing this post was learning that not only is there an absence of discussion, there is active resistance to said discussion. People, apparently, just don’t want to talk about it. ThAutcast posted a video talking about white privilege as a way to introduce both the topic of privilege in general, and the topic of racial privilege and how it relates to autism, given how overwhelmingly white the communities seem to be. There were some interesting responses to the facebook post.

I don’t understand this post. We are a community of people who our strongest message is that everyone is different and unique in their own way and not to judge one from another. How in the world would someone in said community even think about color? I just don’t get that??

Well that’s interesting. It’s true that diversity and the strength of diversity is an increasing theme in autism discussions. However, this person’s logic seems flawed to me. We don’t make a community diverse by simply saying that it is. We make it diverse by taking a good, hard look at it, seeing if we are succeeding, recognizing when we aren’t, and figuring out how to fix this. Ignoring privilege just makes it stronger.

Another person said, “race should not be a factor in anyones lives….autism sees no color…” Well… maybe it should and maybe it shouldn’t. Race should not be a problematic factor, anyway. Nonetheless, it is a factor. It does have an impact, and it does cause problems. Ignoring that impact does not make it go away.

So why are people resisting talking about this? Well, I don’t know, but I have a guess. I need to confess something. Until that post by TheAutcast, it had never occurred to me to think much about autism and race. I am white and I sat comfortably in my white privilege, seeing white faces reflected back at me, and it did not occur to me to question this. I think about gender because I need to – I do not have the privilege of ignoring it. But race privilege? I have that. It’s really uncomfortable to admit this. It is not fun to sit with that discomfort, to see where I’ve failed, to notice that I totally failed to connect my awareness of feminism and race to autism and race. It’s embarrassing. So I can sort of see how a person might prefer to declare that there simply is not a problem worth thinking about rather than sit with and accept that discomfort.

Nonetheless, I think we should. I think we need to. I have no idea how one’s race affects autism, but I should not go assuming that it does not, or that it is not worth talking about.

Now, there definitely are people of color on the autism spectrum. A particularly famous example is Stephen Wiltshire, the artist. So why is there a discrepancy? Well, one possible reason is bias on the part of those giving the diagnoses. One article I managed to find on the subject talked about an African American family trying to get their son diagnosed. He showed all the classic signs of autism, yet “doctors and other professionals would pin a wide array of labels on Ronnie – including developmental delay, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity and a social and emotional disorder. Even obsessive-compulsive disorder and oppositional defiant disorder were mentioned.” It took years for him to get the correct diagnosis and the help he needed. On top of that, it looks like there is a distinct difference in the ages of white children and african american children in getting diagnosed (“white kids were diagnosed at 6.3 years old, compared with 7.9 years for African American kids”). Why does this happen? How can we fix it? I don’t know, but we are never going to find out until we start to talk about it and make room for that conversation to happen.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a whole lot of room for that conversation to happen. As I mentioned, there are people who are pushing back on the idea of talking about this at all. I also took a look at a couple of autism forums and found some additional problems. The Autism Women’s Network (AWN) appears to be trying very hard to be inclusive. They have an absolutely lovely Statement on Gender on their About Us page, and their forums include sections dedicated to talking about gender, sexuality, and orientation as well as sections for parents, for school-related talk, for NT’s to talk to each other, for autistics and NT’s to talk to each other and more. Yet there was not a single forum for talking about autism and race. Nothing.

I found something similar on the wrongplanet forums. There is a section for adults, a section for teens, a section for LGBT, and more, but not a single section for talking about race or for people of color.

I do not believe that either of these two groups are trying to be discriminatory. In fact, given all their other sections, I would say that they are trying to be inclusive, but for some reason explicitly including race just did not occur to them. (I really hope it is not that it did occur to them, and they chose to not include that. For now, I am going to assume that they are not trying to exclude anyone) So I think that one thing I, at least, can do to try to change the landscape is write to both the AWN and wrongplanet, and ask/suggest they include a forum specifically for race/people of color. I have no idea if they will listen, but it seems like a good idea to try. I think I’m going to send something like the following:

To the creators of the AWN/wrongplanet forums;

I really appreciate that you have created forums and space for autism community. It’s nice to know that there is somewhere I can go to talk about various specific issues. I believe that you are interested in being inclusive and welcoming to diversity, which is demonstrated by the existence of forums specific to the needs of LGBT, adults, relationships, women, etc. By doing so you demonstrate that you are interested in what various minority groups have to say, and create an environment in which various people feel invited to participate and talk about issues that may be specific to one group or another.

However, I have noticed that no forum exists for people of color, or to explicitly talk about issues that have to do with autism and race. I am confident that this is not because you do not wish to welcome people of various races, but because it perhaps had simply not occurred to you yet to create a place to invite and welcome that kind of conversation. As such, I wish to suggest that you create such a place. We know that things like gender, age, and sexuality can all impact autism, and autism can impact our experience of those things. We cannot pretend that race is somehow exempt from that.

Thank you

If you want to email either or both of them as well, you are welcome to use my email as a template.

Now I want to end with a positive example of change. This is about a completely different context – academic conferences. Presenters at academic conferences also happen to almost always be white males. “Conference hosts, VC’s, and others often attribute this to a “pipeline problem,” the idea that there simply aren’t enough qualified white women or people of color who wanted to or were qualified to participate.” Eventually the creators of a conference decided that they did not believe this, and wanted to find a way to change it. So they took a good, hard look at what was going on, and came up with a strategy to change it.

Their solution was to eliminate networking as a way to get presenters, and go exclusively by meritocracy, using a combination of transparency, blind selection, outreach, and enlisting help. The result? They wound up with a significantly more diverse selection of speakers than most conferences have, because people felt they actually had a chance against the more well-known (white male) speakers, so people who normally did not bother to apply to conferences did to this one.

While the situation was different and, obviously, so was the solution, I want to include it anyway as a demonstration that we CAN do better. And that maybe we are unintentionally perpetuating a problem, and to fix it we need to recognize that and find ways to change.

And we can. It may be uncomfortable to admit we’ve made mistakes, but it is possible and it is worth the discomfort.


Filed under issue, ponder