Ain’t I A Woman

In about half the interviews I’ve done over the years, I get asked if I found it more challenging as an African American or a woman in the technology field.  Early on I would answer with a quip “I don’t know because I’ve never been one without the other.”  I recognize now that was my way of trying to strike a balance and not piss off anyone who read the interview.  But over the last 10 or so years I’ve been very honest about it.  The number one challenge for me is being African American.  No doubt.

Now the tech sector is back on their every 10 years we care about diversity kick–we need more women and minorities in the tech workplace–but when they say women, they mean white women. Intersectionality doesn’t even enter the consciousness.  When people talk about women’s rights, start programs for girls and women, and push for women to be in particular professions, they are not talking about all women. They are talking about white women.  For example, why do you think there is now “Black Girls Code” and “Latina Girls Code” since “Girls Who Code” sprang up? Wouldn’t you think “Girls Who Code” would serve all girls and serve them well? You can go all the way back to the late 1800’s to see how we started on this path.  When there was the women’s suffrage movement, it was for white women.  Black women had to have their own separate effort, which caused more challenges for them because it wasn’t like black men had any rights either.
Fast forward to today and you get comments like this from Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris

“Well, right now I’m focused on women, you know, and it’s back to Marc’s focus on priorities. I have employees, that are, you know, other types of diversity coming to me and saying well why aren’t we focused on these other areas as well, and I said yes we should focus them but, you know, the phrase we use internally is “If everything is important, then nothing is important.”

as cited in a poignant article by Erica Joy in Quartz. You know who he was thinking about right?  No notion of intersectionality whatsoever! And to make matters worse, she also calls out the Grace Hopper Conference (a conference to promote women in tech, which had 12,000 attendees) for lack of diversity… “Yet for the 2015 conference, they could not manage to find one black woman to be a “headline” speaker. Two white men are included in the set of headline speakers at a conference celebrating women in technology, but not a single black woman.”

If you have a few minutes, you should read her entire article.

I’ll share one of my many personal experiences around this issue.  About three years ago TAF was looking for a janitorial service for our building. We place a high value on hiring people from the community in which we work and serve–which happens to be communities of color.  So I posted something on Facebook asking folks if they knew any janitorial business run by people of color and do commercial buildings.  An old friend of mine, a white guy, sent me a private Facebook message saying how disappointed he was that I didn’t include women. I simply responded, “there are women of color you know”.  You see, in his mind, women are only white when it comes to equal opportunity.  I don’t think he recognizes that, but he’s not alone.

slide_sojourner_truthThank goodness for all the people who started things for black girls and women otherwise, we wouldn’t get anything since we’re always an afterthought–if we’re thought of at all.

I don’t want to totally negate the women’s movement because I know I benefited from it in many ways (The title IV law that requires women’s equality in sports in particular).  But I am still reminded of  Sojourner Truth when she called out the notion that as a black woman she is a woman too whose rights should be fought for, but at the same time she saw the need to lift these white women up in their efforts because she connected with them as women.  The story of our lives as black women, since we’re not for the most part meant to be included.


by Sojourner Truth

Delivered 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.

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  • Kim Mustafa

    Love the metaphor, is this your blog?Can I find this article somewhere?

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