Erica Joy wrote this very important blog post, the other side of diversity, here’s the intro:
“The prevailing narrative surrounding minorities in tech relates to how beneficial employing minorities can be for a company and/or how detrimental the lack of diverse perspectives can be. I’ve searched for, and have been disappointed to find that few studies have been done on the psychological effects of being a minority in a mostly homogeneous workplace for an extended period of time.”
This is how she feels about it and I can relate pretty much a 100% (14 years in game development):
- I feel alone every day I come to work, despite being surrounded by people, which results in feelings of isolation.
- I feel like I stick out like sore thumb every day.
- I am constantly making micro-evaluations about whether or not my actions will be attributed to my being "different."
- I feel like my presence makes others uncomfortable so I try to make them feel comfortable.
- I feel like there isn’t anyone who can identify with my story, so I don’t tell it.
- I feel like I have to walk a tightrope to avoid reinforcing stereotypes while still being heard.
- I have to navigate the expectation of stereotypical behavior and disappointment when it doesn’t happen (e.g. my not being the "sassy black woman").
- I frequently wonder how my race and gender are coloring perceptions of me.
- I wonder if and when I’ve encountered racists (the numbers say it’s almost guaranteed that I have) and whether or not they’ve had an effect on my career.
- I feel a constant low level of stress every day, just by virtue of existing in my environment.
- I feel like I’ve lost my entire cultural identity in effort to be part of the culture I’ve spent the majority of the last decade in.
Adding twists for more fun: first I’m a black male, feminist basically the opposite of black male stereotypes. The thing with casual racism/sexism in a dudebro setting –in France, but tech culture is the same everywhere- is that you can take it forever, you understand where everything comes from (mostly ignorance), you’re at work, jokes, professionalism, etc. No problem. But then it wears you out. Part of the pros of going freelance was that this problem was now solved. There is no shield or shelter nor hiding for black dudes, only taking it or running away. I still think I can take it despite the fact that it does wear me out. Oh, I can remember some painful moments but I tend not to. It’s a running thing.
Second I grew up with white people thus making me absolutely bad with race boundaries, especially at work. I don’t fit the box people put my black ass in, it’s funny for them for a while you’re different! but then they put me in the white box and I don’t fit there either. Aliens, hybrids freak people out. I do have perspective they don’t or even ever had thought of. Of course I’ve learned to shut up. Well I write, that’s true.
Lastly, game development is tech but also culture. On the tech side as a designer who knows his technical stuff, relationships with programmers always have been great thanks to being a bro too. With other designers, though… It’s been more complex. Remember we’re talking about a 2-2.5% black community. Black culture influence simply doesn’t exist in game development but is all over the place for the rest of our entertainment. I’ve always had to ponder if my aesthetic choices were too “urban” for games or design decision too black for white people. So much psychology and subtlety in the choice of sounds melodies, beats with race in mind, it’s pretty fascinating. But such a crazy overhead. Post-racial…Ha!
Back to the bullet points loop. Add the outside world like Ferguson and all the black men dead or shot by people supposed to protect us this summer and you can understand why I feel like a mix of:
sometimes. I just don’t know what to do or what people expect from me. There’s pressure from every corner and I try to cope with it. Like Erica I try to connect, reach out, meet up. It’s moving on, it’s slow. It feels like an escape plan and that doesn’t feel right.
I just try to do my best, all the time. Do what I’m good at. Be nice. Try out. There will be more Larry David moments. It’s OK.
I have been the only black person my entire life, token or not. I wrote a couple of days ago how working here in LA with black folks after 35 years on earth felt like… Really good? For the first time I understand what white people have been living all along and it hurts how much it would have changed me. At the same time it would have made me stay in France, probably. I now live by one of the most beautiful black neighborhood in the world. I’m an international OG 80s black nerd and more, I feel great I feel like I belong in everything I do. I hope to find more peace doing what I do with great people here in LA. Adventure time.
And now I found myself falling in love with modern architecture! That thing is so white even white people are like nope. But I’m just a designer who loves minimalist, efficient things and I can’t help but want to learn more regardless of who’s making up the majority in that field. When you think about it, wondering about race this way is some medieval line of thoughts.
Don’t give up. Don’t be afraid. And don’t forget to be You. You’ll cry. You’ll be mad. You’ll wonder. But nothing changes without you.
Thank you, Erica.