The JS Community has a Bullying Problem

JavaScript has grown up. It’s time for the community to grow up with it.

JavaScript Cheerleader is a tech agent, connected influencer, and talented film maker. She has spent most of her life working in the entertainment industry. When I met her I was immediately impressed by her enthusiasm, personality, kindness, and compassion for everybody — especially people in need of help.

Most importantly she is a human being.

The bullies first came for her at age 5. Some kid called her the n-word on the playground, and she kicked his butt — braids, bows, ruffles, and all. By 4th grade she had become an advocate. The teacher put her in charge of finding good friends for the new kids — it was her job to learn all about them and introduce them to people who would appreciate them.

Today, she does the same for me and other JavaScript programmers, selflessly connecting us with people and opportunities. She donates a lot of her time helping people who can’t afford help. Lots of people owe her thanks for their jobs and career opportunities — and few remember to thank her.

Recently, she’s taken some flack online. People question her motives, her integrity, even whether or not she’s a real person (her avatar is a cartoon illustration). Growing up as an African-American woman, she’s been called a lot of names, but the JS community is creative. She’s never been called a “social experiment” before. She’s accustomed to being treated like she’s a second-class citizen, but not like she doesn’t exist at all.

Like an African-American woman can’t attract 10,000 Twitter followers? It has to be a white man? Aren’t they afraid of how stupid and racist that sounds?

The irony is that she is an African-American woman being bullied by so-called “diversity activists.” If we really care about diversity, we need to make this community a welcoming, safe place for everyone — even if they’re not part of your cool kids clique.

Bullying is Everywhere

If this were an isolated incident, we’d just block the responsible parties and move on, but this is a pervasive problem in the community. The people responsible for bullying JS Cheerleader are conference organizers with ties to JavaScript leaders and influencers. They’re not teenagers in their parent’s basements. They’re old enough and smart enough to know better. If you’re smart enough to learn to code, you’re smart enough to learn empathy.

When I was a kid, I was ruthlessly bullied. I started coding when I was six years old, which made it really easy to learn basic algebra. By junior high school, math classes were not challenging me. I was bored out of my mind sitting through them, so I got permission to study out of my dad’s old college algebra book.

The other kids didn’t like that. They wanted to knock me down a peg, and they picked on me every chance they got. As time went on, more and more kids jumped in until one day I was eating in the cafeteria, and pretty soon I found myself surrounded by a mob of 30 kids intent on beating me senseless. Luckily I was rescued by a teacher before anybody got seriously hurt.

I thought we’d all outgrown that behavior, but glancing around the JavaScript community online, it’s everywhere.

If you spend very long reading threads on Hacker News or Reddit, you’ll see it — a constant torrent of attacks from a bunch of insecure people trying to prove their intellectual dominance. It’s ridiculous.

Not even Brendan Eich is off limits. People happily make him out to be an evil villain up on high, passing down sentences of JavaScript misery to the rest of the community from his throne of skulls (that bit was coined in friendly jest). He has a great sense of humor about it, happily wearing the crown with tongue-in-cheek, but seriously? Can’t we do better than this?

Art by Sean Martell (NOT a bully)

Where’s Your Sense of Humor?

Brendan Eich sets a great example, handling online abuse with laughs — but jokes are only funny when everybody is laughing.

When you pick on somebody who has been laughed at, marginalized, and bullied over the course of a lifetime, that’s not funny.

You’re using somebody else’s pain to get a little attention — get a bit of a chuckle. But you don’t know the struggle that other people have faced. You don’t know if one more laugh or public humiliation is the one that will break them — and chances are, you don’t give a damn.

And bullies never travel alone. They need their audience, so they travel in packs, and when the pack thinks it detects weakness, everybody else starts to pile on. To somebody who isn’t prepared or emotionally capable of defending themselves, it can feel like the whole world is against them — that they’re alone, and that their contribution to the world is not valued.

And we wonder why people in our industry commit suicide?

Bullying is NEVER OK

Bullying is never OK, and it’s not cool. I don’t care who you are or who you know. I don’t care if you think you’re funny. I don’t care if you think I’m over-reacting.

If you’re being mean to somebody else, you need to check yourself. It needs to stop right now.

If you are a witness to this kind of behavior, online or in-person, if you overhear somebody trashing somebody else to get some laughs with friends, let them know — it’s not cool, and it’s not OK.

Grow a backbone. Stand up for things that matter.

I only want positive, supportive people in my life. Haters will be blocked. I have zero tolerance for bullies. None. I’m going on a blocking spree. I hope a lot of bullies pile on in the comments here. Reveal yourselves so I can block you and move on. I encourage you to block them, too. Let’s send a message:

We don’t have time for bullies.

We need a lot less negativity and a lot more positivity in our community. The last thing we need to do is drive our most positive, selfless, helpful voices away.

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