Race, Voice and Non-Diverse Spaces

It bothers me when a private conversation with many fellow POC in edtech veers to this end of the conversational spectrum…

Person A, “Look at this list, #Presenterssowhite”

Person B, “I can’t with them right now.”

Person C, “They didn’t even bother trying.”

Person D, “Well, you know…we still have to prove ourselves.”

Person A, “Well, you know we have to work twice as hard”

Last week, I was at the “super diverse but still lacking black attendees” space that is TED. I’m not going to lie. It was amazing and for a minute, I allowed myself to go to a place where the most important part was the diversity of ideas, global voices and educational experience. I even called it life-changing but there was a moment that still lingers in me.

A woman of color, TEDx curator and professional psychologist spoke to me about the need to get more of “us” to share our perspectives because even though last week’s summit boasted the most black attendees that she’s ever seen, there were still less than 20 and that spoke to an incredible deficit in perspective.

Even after her conversation, I left TED thinking that I would focus more on my work, ideas and expertise outside of diversity. There is so much more that I want to do and share and the thing about being a person who “Speaks on diversity” is that when you are in that space, as vocal as most remain silent…you become “THAT” person…and “THAT” person alone.

As much as I do much more than “diversity”…especially when it comes to creativity, computer science, STEM and community making…I’ve come to understand that the moment that we stop fighting for what matters and force systems to change, the more that organizations will continue to select experts from lists of friends and not from true expertise that is representative of the schools that we teach and communities where we live.

Here’s the deal.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Conversations about over-white male-ness in spaces shouldn’t happen in backchannels amongst potential marginalized attendees. It should happen before the final poster is published. It should happen before the schedule is finalized and it should certainly happen before contracts are signed and graphics are shared across social media.

It shouldn’t just be techs of color that raise these questions. It should be all of us and especially those who sign contracts for your likeness to be used for 3 hours of service.

It’s not hard.

If you are asked to keynote or speak on a panel…ask these questions…

“Who else is speaking?”

“How are you addressing diversity?”

“Have you considered _________?” (Insert person’s name here. We all know people and if not, you need to diversify your circle. In other words, don’t simply put my name, get to know more people in tech beyond me.)

Until we ALL hold the people who manage the systems that allow this, accountable, nothing changes.

To my friends who believe that somehow we need to just work harder to be “known”…No, you obviously just need to be on the super secret list from which names are chosen and that doesn’t require harder work. It requires to simply be seen and acknowledged. The work isn’t on you. It’s on them.

One more thing…

I should also say that while I am addressing race specifically, diversity is much more than about race. While I definitely encourage you to explore this meaning in your communities I must say that if you are going to a school to host a summit or any learning event…this should not even be a question anymore. This should be a minimal requirement.

Seriously, it’s 2016.


Comments 3

  1. Agreed that the work isn’t solely on us and shouldn’t be hard. Remain active and pull others into opportunities that arise. EdSpeakers becomes a go to database.

  2. Agreed… The struggle to find “space” in these “spaces” becomes very frustrating…In fact, it can cause such confusion in our mind & focus…Reminds me of DuBois’s phrasing Blacks in America as having a Double Consciousness. But I will say this, the momentum is picking up in areas such as POC in edtech and Hacking Diversity… I know for the last year these spaces have given me much needed healing & nurturing. Thanks Rafranz!

  3. You are so much more than “THAT” person. You bring a wide range of experiences to every conversation.
    I have backed out of the edtech world but while I was there, I felt that there definitely was a secret club of people who are chosen to speak and present. I never felt I could figure out how to get in the club or who was even in charge of the club. I can’t image adding a layer of feeling “outside”.
    You did a fabulous job of including people when you spoke. I had several opportunities because you thought to include me. I appreciated it greatly.
    The first step, as you’ve said, is to get to know more people outside your circle. Don’t keep talking to people who look like you. The second step is harder because it requires people to think about others. They have to think not just of their opportunity but also push for opportunities for others.
    Keep up the good work! I appreciate you!

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