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Being An Ally

I have considered myself "an ally" in the past.  Being helpful, listening to others, advocating for the right opportunities.  It would be easy to make a list of the things I deserve credit for, but instead I will list some things I have done wrong in the last few weeks:

  • Participated in a joke about domestic abuse
  • Laughed at jokes that were derogatory in nature
  • Remained silent when I knew something was wrong

The key thing about these three behaviours is not that I did them because I thought they were funny, or because I thought it was OK.  I did them because I wanted to fit in.  I needed something from someone, or I was attempting to build a better working relationship with someone, or I simply complied since I feel awkward about things.  I participated because I felt that there was no one present who was harmed by it.

Before I talk about anything else, I recently learned how to better apologize; there is a great post here, and it has the advantage of being the first in my browser history.

I am sorry I didn't speak up to prevent the jokes or challenge the situations.  This was wrong because it made the behaviour "acceptable", and it wasn't.  In the future I will challenge anyone I work with to be better, and work to change their behaviour or bring it to the attention of those who can direct a change in their behaviour.  While no one else was present to be harmed by the jokes and activity, I still feel like I owe people an apology.  The people that I owe the apology to are the people who I have reached out to.  There are at least six people that I have told that I aim to be a better ally.  They would never have known but I let them down.  I can't continue trying to be a better ally to marginalized people until I take responsibility for the role I play in that.  For this I am sorry, and I would like to reaffirm my commitment to being better.  I can't ask for forgiveness until I have proven that I will do better.

That said, I also ignored something:

I was harmed by those jokes.  Domestic abuse is a thorny issue, but it's one that affects me closely.  I was a victim of abuse when I was a child.  I was a victim of abuse when I was a teenager.  I have been a victim of abuse as an adult (although not physical, I grew a bit as a teen, and not many would try to hurt me physically these days).

The words physical abuse or domestic ciolence don't always paint the right picture:

  • once I was thrown through a wall. Not at it.  Through it.
  • once I felt so threatened by an abuser that I pulled a big knife from a kitchen drawer and threatened him.  In response I was thrown at a wall so hard the wall was damaged on the other side.
  • once I felt so threatened by an abuser that I pointed a rifle at him.  I didn't know at the time that the firing pin had been removed.  I was too young to know about firing pins.

I will not going into details, but I was also sexually assaulted three times when I was a child.  I had the opportunity to testify against one of the abusers, but the individual had the nerve to take a plea once he realized that I would.  I was six.  I didn't realize that the opportunity to confront my abusers had been stolen from my until I was much older.

All of the physical abuse in my life stopped when I was 16; I looked at my dad and said "Hit the kid, go to jail.".  No one has even tried to be physically abusive to me since.  That said, abuse doesn't stop being abuse because no one is laying hands on you:

  • I had an employer terminate my employment and attempt to destroy my credibility at the outset of my career because I inadvertently revealed that he had misled someone about my skill level.
  • I had a family member post a picture of me and my siblings on Facebook that is, for the most part, a great picture.  What wasn't so great is that in the picture I have a pretty bad black eye from being punched in the face.  It felt super awesome when my family started posting about what a beautiful picture it was.
  • I had a coworker make an oblique joke about the need for anonymity in womens shelters.  I felt so challenged by the somewhat difficult working relationship that I felt I should just participate when in reality I wanted to tell him to fuck off.

The thing is, I can share all of these things, and there will be some people who will say things like "Jeez, get off the pity pot", or "He's just making stuff up." but for each person who says that, there will be someone who says "He is so brave that he spoke up about this stuff.".  You know what there won't be?  People who email me with sexual harassment.  There might be people who consider this post at a job interview but they will likely think "Hey, he should be a good hire, he is an advocate for equality.".  There won't be anyone who will say I might be a bad hire because I have baggage.  No one will post pictures of me in an app designed to simulate violence against women.  No one will tweet about fapping to my story (unless they do, thinking it is funny because I mentioned it here).  I haven't even mentioned the fact that I only made it through grade 10 because I couch surfed at friends houses after I was thrown out of both of my parents home for being difficult.  You know what food security means?  It means not having to beg or steal food to survive.  You know what homelessness is?  It's wondering wether you will have to sleep outside because you can't find a safe place overnight.

It's easy for me now.  I am a happily married, highly successful white male.  I work in a field that has a desperate need for talented people and I am well respected by my peers, so short of an ethical violation, there is not much that could be done to harm my career.   That is what 'they' mean when white privilege comes up.  That is what 'they' mean when male privilege comes up.  All I really have to do is be ok at my job, change jobs when I get bored, and I can easily have a career that will allow me to retire comfortably, raise my family and be a good role model to my children.

Except that I don't feel that I am a good role model.  I never confronted the colleagues who were involved.  That changes with this post.  I will point them at this post, and let them know that such jokes and commentary is not acceptable by me, and should never be permitted in the workplace.

Except I don't feel like I am a good role model.  My wife is a black woman working in a male dominated industry.  My children are mixed, and they will some day face some of the same challenges their mother does.  The problem with all of this is that despite everything I have been through, my life is the "Safe Space" that marginalized people strive for.  Every day I see people writing and advocating on behalf of women and minorities, and I write about security issues or politicians.  I know several outspoken people who work for better rights for marginalized groups (be they gay, queer, women, minorities, disabled, etc), and I am focused on creating tech events.  

It's not enough.  Going forward I proposed, and the other board members of Mainland Advanced Research Society have agreed, that we will create two new board roles.  Both are reserved for women in technology (preferably security), and both roles will be vetted by a panel of women, not the existing white male board.  Among other things, once we find the right people to fill out the board, we will add diversity and inclusiveness as part of MARS core values.

I will personally continue to try to get the Allies Workshop off the ground here in Vancouver (btw, the Ada Initiative is having difficulties sourcing a Vancouver or Canadian instructor, so if you know someone, get in touch with me, or them!).  I also commit to challenging people in all of the communities that I participate in to be better and more inclusive.  This means making contributions to their causes (both financially, and as a volunteer), and being a trustworthy person that they can rely on to come to if they feel challenged.

I feel "Safe", and I have an obligation to help others to feel and live the same way; if I can help you, please let me know.

Some of the articles that I have read that have helped me to shape my opinions on what I can and should be doing differently can be found here:

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