What follows is the full text of a message Stewart Butterfield sent to all Slack employees on Sunday, January 17, 2016. I asked him if I could share it externally, not only because it touched my heart, but because I think it’s an important message for everyone to read and absorb, not only Slack employees.

“Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day​ and the SF office will be closed in observance. Nationwide it is still, frustratingly, not an uncontroversial holiday. Only about a third of private businesses make it a paid holiday while several states mix the observance of Dr. King’s birthday with that of the confederate general Robert E. Lee.
We are not, as a company (and I am not, as an individual) going to get into the habit of editorializing about the significance of different holidays or make recommendations on how to observe them. However, I will take​ this opportunity to encourage taking a bit of time for reflection.
Dr. King was unquestionably an important figure and his legacy is worthy of recognition and celebration. He is also part of an historical movement that has included people such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X. It has also included thousands of other less well-known activists and champions, and millions of individual people across many decades and many generations. This movement continues to this very day in Ferguson and Cleveland and Baltimore and Chicago and all across the country.
These are people who have been beaten, and burned, and raped, and shot, and hanged because they stood up for their own ​basic​ dignity. Not people asking to take something from someone else. Not people threatening harm. People asking for an equal right to vote, to have freedom from violence, access to education and housing, and the right to make a living.
Think about that. Think about how profoundly shameful it is that there even ever had to be a ‘civil rights movement’. There aren’t two ways to look at that. It may make you sad or disgusted or furious, but there is no question on which side justice resides. Dr. King accomplished much individually, but it is fitting to think not only of him, but also of the millions of others, and of the movement which still goes on.
Despite the fact there have been areas of progress great and small, it is still, shamefully, far from finished. And it is on all of us to see it through. There is only us, the people. And if we truly value solidarity at this company it is a good time to recognize, and remember, and recommit to standing with the people who lost their livelihoods, their limbs, and even their lives, merely asking for something as simple and basic and obvious as equal rights and equal protections under the law.” — Stewart Butterfield, 2016
Next Story — Thank you, Amélie.
Currently Reading - Thank you, Amélie.

Thank you, Amélie.

I’d like to share with you another black woman’s experience in tech: https://modelviewculture.com/news/interview-with-amelie-lamont. Please read it, share it, comment on it, and most of all, thank Amélie and Model View Culture for bringing it to us.

I personally thank Amélie for reliving the pain of her experiences and dealing with emotional aftercare required, so that people in tech can get a better understanding of what it’s like to be a black woman in this industry.

“I unfollowed you because you talk so much about race stuff.” — White Dude

People get annoyed with me because I talk so much about how important diversity and inclusion is. Some even go so far as to tell me about their annoyance. Those people fail to understand that the reason I keep talking about it is that the same problems I wrote about in 2014 are still happening. When I wrote my piece, I was overwhelmed by the number of black and brown women and men who came to me and said “Yup. Exactly. Me too.” Those folks weren’t in positions to speak out, as so many of us are struggling to overcome the biases everyone has around us has, while trying to pay the bills and maybe, hopefully if we’re lucky, advance in our careers. And so I thank Amélie for taking that risk and stepping forward to give folks another glimpse of what life is like for a black woman in the tech industry.

But why does it keep happening?

Trusting a system that hasn’t ever worked for us is a huge and unfair request to make of people of color.

I’ve had countless “discussions” with folks for calling things out, imploring me to stick to the processes, let “leadership” handle issues, let things work through the system. The reality is that the system in tech doesn’t work for a lot of us. The only way anyone ever hears about that is because some of us are willing to call things out in a way that doesn’t allow our voices to be silenced or filtered through the lens of corporate spin. And so I thank Amélie for raising her voice.

The fact of the matter is, the “talk to a manager” or “talk to HR” thing rarely, if ever, works out for us. Same with the “just do the right things and you’ll succeed” beliefs. So too for “being assertive and going after what you want.” (Aside: People grate at how “aggressive” black women are, but then blame our lack of advancement on the idea that we don’t aggressively go after advancement. How sway?) There is nothing in this system that works to the advantage of black women. Not pay (which is 63¢ on the dollar compared to white men), not support, not promotion, not sponsorship, not mentorship, not funding, not anything.

Amélie is singing our lives with her words.
“Why would I want to end racism when it benefits me?” — White Dude

You don’t see our stories on Hacker News. You don’t see VCs having heated Twitter debates about these issues. Most VCs are white dudes. Though I’m not privy to their Google Analytics data, I’m betting most readers of Hacker News are white dudes. This is a system that works very well for white dudes. Their experience tells them that everything is hunky dory, and so very few speak out about it. In fact, quite a few will argue that this broken system is just fine and it needs no change. And because the story of Silicon Valley, the story of this tech industry, is the one they’re telling, you wouldn’t know what the rest of us were experiencing unless I was telling you, or Adria was telling you, or Angie was telling you, or Julie was telling you, or Amélie was telling you. So, I’m super grateful to Amélie and every other woman of color who takes immense personal risk to add some fine details (:poop: :skull: :mask:) to the pretty pictures so many paint of Silicon Valley.

Thank you Amélie. Thank you Angie. Thank you Julie. Thank you Adria. Thank you to all the women of color who come forward next.


P.S.

Don’t ask me how to fix it. Ask yourself how to fix it. Ask yourself how you can stop being complicit in this system. Ask yourself how many women of color you’ve sponsored. Ask yourself why you don’t take the same chances on women of color that you do on white dudes. Ask yourself why you’re not mentoring a woman of color. Ask yourself why your network doesn’t include any women of color. Ask yourself why you’re not following any women of color on Twitter. Ask yourself when the last time was that you talked to that one woman of color in your office about her career goals and how you can help her achieve them. Ask yourself why you’re hesitant about supporting a woman of color. Ask yourself why you think your company/network is plenty diverse because you include 2 white women. Ask yourself why you don’t speak up for women of color. Ask yourself why you exclude and malign the people who do speak up for women of color. When you finally come to the conclusion of racism and/or sexism (which can range from Donald Trump levels of toxic trash to the more mild “well I just don’t care about what those people care about and don’t care to understand them”) work on that. That’s how to fix it.

P.P.S.

If you still feel compelled to go ask a woman of color for her thoughts or to “pick her brain” on these topics, pay her for her time or continue being complicit in the system of devaluing her.

Next Story — Diversity First
Currently Reading - Diversity First

Original photo by Brooke Novak, modified a little by me.

Diversity First

“…can you recommend any photographers of color in Oakland?”

That was the message I got from my significant other, B, one morning several months ago. This wasn’t a casual question. In the middle of the work day, he is very much about business and this was no exception. The company he co-founded, Clef, was updating their web presence and wanted to include pictures of the team on their site. Being the CEO of a small startup includes many tasks, and one of his tasks was to find a photographer for this project.

The Bay Area is full of photographers. Throw a burrito in any direction in San Francisco and you’ll probably piss someone off for getting queso fresco on their brand new lens. Finding a competent, if not very good photographer to do business photos could be as easy as ordering Instacart. Could be. The demographics of the Bay Area are what they are, and finding a photographer from an underrepresented group increases the difficulty level of that search quite a bit.

Because he counts diversity and inclusion among his personal core beliefs, B chose not to take the easy route, opting instead for a diversity first approach. His first priority was to make sure underrepresented groups were well represented in his candidate pool, even for a role as seemingly minor as a photographer hired to take team pictures.

This is what it looks like when “commitment to diversity” goes beyond the first baby steps of unconscious bias training and recruiting. Making sure diversity permeates all aspects of the business, voting with dollars to support other companies who value diversity, making diversity the first thought in the decision making process, all these things are how a company builds not only a diverse environment, but an inclusive environment.

Thinking about and prioritizing diversity first may take a little more time and it may make an easy task a little more difficult, but important changes rarely come easily and there is no more important change in the tech industry right now than changing how we view, interact with, work with, support, and show up for underrepresented groups.

Next Story — Humans of Silicon Valley
Currently Reading - Humans of Silicon Valley

Humans of Silicon Valley

A funny thing happened in the making of Silicon Valley. Somehow, someone floated the myth that people working in tech were something akin to modern day wizards. Maybe it was the tech media, doing their very best to make sure their hot take on 1998’s rising tech industry sold a bunch of copies of InfoWorld. Maybe it was people in the industry itself. What or whoever began the myth, it stuck, and now many in tech, and some outside of tech, look at people inside the industry as more than mere mortals. They are the chosen ones: the special few, superior to and smarter than all others, powering a new industrial revolution, all while being shielded from the common troubles facing the proletariat. Or so they like to think.

Tech is made of ordinary human beings, living mostly ordinary human lives.

The reality is that the tech industry is made of regular ass people, ordinary human beings, living mostly ordinary human lives. We aren’t any different from anyone else in the US of A, aside from the fact that we happen to be tech workers. Despite the nonsense words that fill up tech job descriptions, people in the tech industry are not wizards, not ninjas, not rockstars (okay, perhaps a few actual musicians who tour every so often and write code to pay the bills). While we occasionally do extraordinary things that may appear to be magic, we’re all regular Jane’s and Josh’s, from many different backgrounds. Oftentimes, those backgrounds don’t fit into the progressive image the tech industry likes to portray, and so we don’t hear about them or talk about them, and worse yet, we don’t address the issues that arise because of them. One of the most insidious issues facing both the United States and the tech industry is the rise of intolerance, bigotry, and the third-rail that the diversity in tech discussions rarely touch: racism.

Racism exists in the tech industry, because racism exists everywhere.

After ~18 years of life spent walking in lockstep with the values of their parents, young adults head off to college. Between 4 and 12-ish years later, they show up in new hire orientation in the industry of their choosing, including tech, overflowing with new ideas from college, but often bringing along the values they were raised with. Sometimes these values are religious, sometimes they’re pragmatic, and sometimes, they’re racist. Though much of the Bay Area tech industry celebrates Martin Luther King day, there are some here who grew up celebrating Robert E. Lee day instead, because according to them, he was a hero who fought for states rights in the war of Northern Aggression (slavery had nothing to do with it). To them, MLK was just some troublemaker. There are many here who aren’t far from home, yet still spent their formative years in places where racial hate and segregation thrive. And still, there are plenty from right here within the Bay Area who still think it’s okay to espouse ideas about the destruction of an entire race. The reality is that though many in tech think they are above and beyond all the problems plaguing the rest of the US, though they believe themselves to be separate, they’re very much equal. Racism exists in the tech industry, because racism exists everywhere. It’s time we talked about that, instead of dancing around it.


Tech industry racists come in many different flavors. There are those who hold tight to the racist values they were steeped in for nearly two decades, who think people who don’t agree with their views just need to be properly informed of the superiority of white people. Those people are ready and willing to share those values with other like minded people. If you ever work in a large tech company with open methods of communication, you might see a mailing list wherein members regularly discuss the superiority of white people above all others. Members might insinuate that black people are inherently more prone to violence and aggression than white people. They might wax poetic about the need for anyone who isn’t white to “go back home.” They might suggest that maybe, just maybe, slavery was good for black people.

“…they’d never date a black person but they might still fuck a black girl, if her body was hot enough.”

Then there are those who, while they still hold on to some of the racist ideas they picked up during their formative years, are more nuanced, more cautious about demonstrating that racism. If they trust you, they’ll happily tell you that Asians can’t drive. They can’t fathom the idea of a black person that is as intelligent as they are, or more, so they might make up reasons why that person got hired. They willingly wore blackface and sombreros to their college sorority parties and sang cheerfully that there wouldn’t ever be any niggers in their fraternities. Behind closed doors and after a drink or two, they’ll earnestly share that it’s not that they’re racist, they just don’t find wide noses attractive, so they’d never date a black person but they might still fuck a black girl, if her body was hot enough.

…their bigotry was a demonstration of their flavor of contrived contrarianism…

And then there are the internet youths. Tech companies are obsessed with youth. Completely, unabashedly, unfailingly devoted to hiring young employees. There are whole programs set up in many companies dedicated to “New Grads.” These new grads have come of age in the time of 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit. Because you aren’t hacking on computers at 13 without spending a lot of time on the internet, many of them cut their social teeth in the darkest recesses of the web, thinking their bigotry was nothing more than a demonstration of their flavor of contrived contrarianism, and so set out to be the best bigots they could be. They called their online harassment trolling, and the bigger the reaction they could get, the more caustic they could be, the better the lulz. Eventually many grow out of it, but others do not. As many bigotry breeding grounds are very anonymous, those who spent years on them doing their best David Duke impressions while being protected by that anonymity, can get hired and do get hired, and the bigotry they confuse with personality comes along with them.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of racists found at nearly every tech company. There are many more, like the casual racists who think it’s okay to compare a black woman to a black chair, or those who claim the woeful lack of diversity in the tech industry is just a by product of people of color not being interested in STEM, or not having enough hustle. The fact of the matter is, that if there is a scale of racism, from zero to Stormfront, then people everywhere, including those in tech, fall somewhere on that scale. It’s time for tech companies to acknowledge and do something about that.


We’re in a very precarious time in the US, with the KKK fighting and stabbing people in broad daylight, with Donald Trump congratulating those who assaulted black people at his rally, with people championing and cheering for Trump, accepting and even welcoming his platform of hatred, using his name as a symbol . In this racial environment, where blatant bigotry seems to be gaining in popularity, the mostly quiet racists hanging out in tech are going to become emboldened. Those who shrewdly conceal their very conscious biases, those who think bigotry is just a funny joke, will begin feeling safe to start sharing their views more publicly. They will join the ranks of the vocal racists, which will set the tone for discussions within companies.

This does not have to be. If we choose to continue the myth of being the chosen few, of being somehow more progressive and enlightened than everyone else, then right now is how we can live up to that, how we prove our ability to be better human beings.

Consequences for racial harassment should be codified.

Leaders who are “dedicated to diversity and inclusion” should start now in establishing clear ground rules regarding racial harassment. Having written language against discrimination isn’t enough. Leaders striving to build an inclusive environment should codify the consequences for racial harassment in the same way consequences for sexual harassment is codified. If writing “Pat is a slut” on a wall is a fireable offense, then so too should be telling Pat that they’re inferior because of their skin color. Leaders of companies should immediately cease dismissing reports of racism as “alternative political opinions” and consider strongly how often they’re asking employees of color give the benefit of the doubt and to assume good intentions.

Now is the moment to ensure everyone knows that racism is a fireable offense.

Now is the moment for company leaders to make bold moves to ensure all employees know very well that racism not only won’t be tolerated, but that racial harassment is a fireable offense. That might force some painful discussions and more painful decisions. There will definitely be times when a company will need to choose whether or not to keep an otherwise high performing racist on their staff, determining whether or not to sacrifice an inclusive workplace for the sake of productivity. In those moments, a company will determine the culture they build. If time and time again, companies choose to keep the racists, they should not be surprised when their employees reject the idea that “Black Lives Matter”, because they’ve received a clear message: in those companies, they don’t.

Next Story — Doxxing Dead People
Currently Reading - Doxxing Dead People

My Family Tree

Doxxing Dead People

A quick look at my process for building family trees

You may or may not know that I’m obsessed with genealogy. If you didn’t know that, hi, I’m Erica, genealogy is my jam.

I’ve offered many times to help people do their family trees, and recently after such an offer, someone asked me how they could do it themselves. This wasn’t the first time, and I figured it was time to get off my ass and share how I do my family tree research, so I’ve written this quick look at how I build family trees. Some notes: This is just a cursory overview of my process, written in sleepy haze. In reality, there is a lot more puzzling and logic involved in this than my writing below lets on. Also, since I’m the descendant of slaves and the white folks who had sex with them, my research has been limited to the United States. As such, this is geared toward researching ancestors in the US. Here we go.


Tools

I use Ancestry to build my tree and do the bulk of my research. Ancestry’s database of information is massive and continues to grow, both from partnerships with other sites that have data and their work digitizing records. That said, Ancestry is not cheap and they’re not the only show in town. FamilySearch has tree building tools and a massive searchable database as well, and it’s free. They’re also in the game of digitizing records. Their tools aren’t nearly as good as Ancestry’s, but a good amount of the data is there. Note that if you’re using Ancestry, they’ve partnered with FamilySearch, so you don’t need to go to both. Also note that the genealogy space is dominated by Mormon people, and FamilySearch is run by the Mormon church. I don’t give a damn about that, but if you have serious objections to associating with things related to religion, you’re going to have a bad time doing genealogy. Ok, back on track, there are other tree building sites out there like MyHeritage and Geni, but I’m not a fan of either. MyHeritage’s UI isn’t very good and last I checked, Geni doesn’t do GEDCOM (the standard for storing and sharing tree data) support very well.

There are other sites with data out there as well, and I tend to use Google to find them. The small county sites on USGenWeb are usually what I’ll land on by doing a search for “[COUNTY NAME] county genealogy”, though occasionally there are more robust sites out there, depending on how active the genealogists are in a county.

Newspapers are a fantastic resource for finding background information on someone, finding old obituaries, marriage announcements and birth announcements. I use GenealogyBank, another paid site, to do the majority of my newspaper searches. I also search Google Newspapers, which has many papers Genealogybank doesn’t have, and Chronicling America, the a newspaper archive put together by the Library of Congress. Once again, there are more places to get newspaper archives, but those are the ones I use.

Process

If I’m starting a new tree, my first step is to gather as much data as I can from people who are still living. Talking to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, great aunts, everyone. The best way to get folks talking is to ask them questions about their lives. My goal here is to get them talking about people who were alive at the time the 1940 census was taken (we’ll get to the why of that later). Some good questions are:

  • What were your favorite memory with your grandparents?
  • Where did you live when you were growing up?
  • What was it like while you were growing up?
  • Did your parents ever tell you what it was like when they were growing up?

Questions like this serve multiple purposes. First, they get the person thinking about their family and recalling memories. Second, answers to questions like this are full of details you might not need now, but could come back to later. Third, these questions lead to more questions, allowing you to get more information. I used to take notes when asking these questions, but these days just prefer to record answers with my phone. That way, I don’t miss something that could be crucially important later.

Once I’ve gotten all the data I can get from relatives, I start filling in the tree with my immediate ancestors. If I’ve gotten the names of one of more relatives who were alive during the 1940 census, I have a good starting point for my Ancestry.com research.

I start searching census records first. If I know the name of two family members who were alive during the 1940 census, it helps me identify a family. Since the 1940 census was the latest census to be released, it’s the most likely to contain the names of relatives that folks alive today know. When I’m searching census records, I usually start looking in a very narrow area (specific city), then broaden the search out first to county, then to adjacent counties, then to state, then to adjacent states. Searching in this way helps to find people who have moved around, without also finding too many false positives. About the false positives: a rookie mistake people doing casual tree research tend to make is incorrectly assuming someone with the same name must be their relative and then they add bad data to their tree. One piece of bad data can cause major problems later, so I am very careful to do cross checking of any sources. For example, I won’t add a census record unless the names of family members match up with other census records I have.

Once I’m done with census records, I start searching for death records. People have historically been buried in cemeteries with family members, so that’s a place I look for information. Ancestry recently got access to social security applications, which tend to be treasure troves of data, especially for female ancestors, as they list their maiden names there. Speaking of maiden names, here’s another rookie mistake: searching for a female relatives married name (say Jane Smith) and finding an unmarried young woman or girl with that name and assuming it’s the right person. Always search maiden names for female relatives, especially if you’re looking for records about them before they were married. Death records often list parents names, which is helpful for pushing back a generation in the tree.

After death records, I look for marriage records. Armed with the maiden name I got from the death records, I go searching for the marriage records. I gather what data I can from the marriage records (marriage records often list parents names), then move on to birth records. There isn’t much to be found in birth records that I can’t get elsewhere, but if I’m having trouble identifying a relatives mother (especially if the mother died in childbirth), the birth records are helpful.

At this point, I’ll also start searching newspaper archives for obituaries. Obits tend to be full of information about a person; their siblings, where they were born (helpful for knowing where to focus a census search), names of siblings’ spouses, etc.

Once I’ve exhausted the newspaper archives, I start searching for the county genealogy sites of the counties my relatives lived in. The goal is to leave no stone unturned and add in all good data about my relatives I can find. If you’re still living in the area where your relatives lived, it would be a smart move to figure out where your county keeps their records and do some manual searching on your own. Though there is a lot of data online, not nearly all of it is, and county records can fill in some blanks you wouldn’t be able to fill in with online databases.

When I’ve gotten all the info I can from all my data sources, and can go no farther back into the tree, I start searching for siblings, using the same methods above. Siblings tend to turn up information that other relatives have not. For example, though your grandmother may not have listed her mothers maiden name on her social security application, her sister or brother may have, so siblings are great for pushing through brick walls. Similarly, I’ve often found other relatives living with siblings in the census records, which helped to identify where and why people have moved around.

Aside from some fanciness with searching (example of fancy searching: know the address of someone? Look for people who lived at the same address by searching for the address as a exact keyword. Sometimes that turns up relatives who haven’t been listed anywhere else), my process for finding relatives and building out a tree is just repetition of the steps above. Things get more complicated once genetic genealogy is added to the mix, but that’s a post for a later day.

Hope this helps someone! Have fun tree building!

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