The Intersectionality Riddle

What's Black and White and Feminist All Over?

Posted by 'Tine Zekis on May 03, 2015 · 4 mins read

Assignment: Cultural Blog | Tech Issues

This week’s cultural blog post assignment was to research a problem facing the tech world and to hypothesize potential solutions. I have struggled all week with one question: Do I write about the lack of women in STEM fields, or do I address the issue I experience much more often? As a biracial woman and a feminist, I often wrestle with the intersectionality of racism and sexism in society. And as I researched the heavily-covered issue of women being underrepresented in technical fields, I kept coming back to the same thought: Being a White woman in technology is like being a Black man everywhere else in America…minus the daily threat of violence. I do not say this to minimize the very real problem of sexism in technology, but to explain why the thought of hypothesizing solutions is so daunting to me.

In light of the news of the day, it has been difficult for me to focus on my coding for much of this week. I have been trying to avoid Facebook as much as possible, so that I don’t have to get into an argument about whether having a police record should be grounds for execution without a trial. I have been thinking about what it will take to correct a society that has such deeply ingrained systemic racism woven into our psyches. And I hate to say it, but the more I think about it, the less confident I feel that there is a solution out there. I used to consider myself an optimist and an activist, and now I’m just tired.

All this to say that racism has been on my mind. Every day. A lot. So when I came to this assignment and I started thinking about diversity in the STEM fields, I thought about approaching it from a racial perspective. But during my research, the vast majority of information I found on this diversity issue focused on women instead. As a feminist, I must say that I was appalled at some of the things I read about the experiences women have had in the tech field. Yet, as I read, I kept coming back to that thought: The exclusion and discomfort women have to endure in the tech community is strikingly similar to the exclusion and discomfort many racial minorities experience in several aspects of their daily lives across the country. For this reason, I began to suspect that maybe the misogyny in the tech field is a symptom of a long history of systemic sexism. And thinking about my exhaustion when it comes to fighting racism, I became discouraged. How am I to propose solutions to a symptom of a potentially incurable disease? Am I going to write a blog about how well Band-Aids might help us to cure the diseases of racism and sexism?

The short answer is no. I am not going to hypothesize solutions here. This is because, as a person of color, I have argued with too many White people about whether there is actually a problem. I am not prepared to argue with men in technology about work culture, education, or the many other factors that contribute to the lack of women in the field. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s could not have experienced the success that it did without White allies. Similarly, the STEMinist Movement will not succeed without the men in the field getting involved. So my proposed solution is a call to arms: Tech guys, unite! Get mad. Talk to your colleagues about how they interact in the workplace; check one another and yourselves to make sure you’re creating a safe space for everyone. Value the expertise of your female colleagues and classmates. Encourage your daughters to build things. In short, become STEMinists!