One of the more intriguing and heated stories circumventing the tech blogosphere this past week was centered around an article by Jamelle Bouie from The Magazine issue 7 which explored the reasons why minority, and specifically Black and Hispanic, writers might be underrepresented in the field.
In response there was a followup blog post on The Atlantic Wire about a twitter thread by blogger Jason Calicanis also addressing the same thing.
Together, these posts bring up some interesting observations about tech media and its responsibility to diversify.
There is a common argument on many internet forums and in comment sections which follows the line of thinking that “if I am related to the subject, my opinion matters more.” It usually starts with a statement like this,
"I am a _____ male" or "I am a ______ woman"
followed by their personal opinion.
It is essentially an anecdotal way of giving credence to an opinion. In some matters it can be important. It is difficult to address things when an author has no apparent authority in the matter. For instance, it’s very difficult to accept that a married, middle-class man could have a nuanced view about something like being a single mother on welfare.
This isn’t because they can’t be correct or pose a good point, but there are still times when your background can supersede your knowledge in matters of credibility.
I don’t want to do that. I am a Hispanic male who loves reading about the tech world and would some day like to write about and participate in it too. On the surface, it seems like I am the person those articles are about. But I don’t want to use my experiences to affect what is essentially my opinion. I don’t think I’m more or less right than Jamelle Bouie or Jason Calacanis, this is just what I think.
With that in mind, I do think there’s something about this premise that feels off.
Bouie’s excellent article is dealing with a tough subject and he even says as much. But one thing that always happens when America is talking about race is that race tends to become a big dumb monolith.
As a result we get indications that something is prohibiting people of color from mirroring white people of similar interests and education.
But it’s so hard to prove that. Along the way some nuance is lost or some statistic is assumed and the premise as a whole becomes paper thin.
There are often too many variables to get useful conversation going and in the end, talking about race breaks tends to break down into a strange, tense argument about what is and isn’t. Often times, based on your experience, you’re almost forced to take a side. In binary terms you are either a 1 or 0, black or white, on or off, right or wrong.
One thing I absolutely agree with Jamelle Bouie about is that acting like there could be nothing wrong could lead things to a place where something is wrong.
There was a time when television was clearly making an effort to be racially diverse. Whether good or bad, realistic or hokey, shows like The Cosby Show, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Chico and the Man, The George Lopez Show used to be obvious (and sometimes cringe-worthy) examples of Hollywood making an effort to improve its very homogeneous, racially closed off past.
But today, in a renaissance of television, with content as moving and realistic as it has ever been, I can look at television and say, why are there almost no Hispanic or African American leads on major networks right now? Not even network, lets add major cable networks too. Race has gone from being the hot topic to being nearly forgotten.
I think you can make an argument that in a visual medium where the actors and their roles are the content, that a lack of diversity is the result of some form of discrimination through absence. Whether by viewers or studios.
Ultimately, it’s important to always keep diversity in mind, even in a much more liberal and color blind industry like tech journalism.
Tech is different from television in important ways. Just because tech companies are based out of diverse places like California and New York, doesn’t mean that the people who work there are locals. Many work remotely. Some work from other countries and many grew up in small boring places, like me, just wanting something more.
The work they do is different as well.
What is the highest traffic day of every major tech website? Probably an Apple keynote. Content is king and in tech media because the tech is what people are coming for.
Secondary to that, are the editorial voices. That’s where allegiances are formed. That’s where the writers come out from behind their words and we get a sense of who they are. Guys like Leo Laporte, Tim Stevens, Ryan Block, Dan Benjamin, Josh Topolsky, Sarah Lane, Kevin Rose; those are the faces of tech media. You come for the news, you stay for the rhetoric.
So where is the diversity? It’s there in smaller numbers. There are guys like Peter Rojas, Nilay Patel, Jesus Diaz and Brian Lam ; all of whom are extremely influential in their own right. But their race doesn’t overtly color their commentary because ultimately, all we really want are intelligent ways of interpreting the tech world.
I don’t think there needs to be a Latino Engadget or Black CNET to reach minority audiences and employ minority writers. That is what television did and the result is the balkanization of ideas and art rather than an enlightened inclusion of them.
That is why it is important that people of all cultures and walks of life find their way into the conversation. With more diverse voices, the scope of technology writing will broaden in ways that we never expected and because of this, it really benefits tech media to find a place for them. This is a conversation we can have without it turning into a witch hunt for racists or resorting to forced hiring through affirmative action.
I’m convinced that as long as diversity is acknowledged as the advantage it is, the tech world will no longer want to be made up of just 1’s and 0’s.