AI: Blinded by the White
Jen recently linked to this story on the Good.is website in their media department. The article was titled, Why White Men Should Refuse to Be on Panels of All White Men. I also linked to it on my facebook page. The article was ok. As it was pointed out to me, It could have been a bit clearer on explaining the WHY it is so important but the gist of the author’s intention are as follows.
The majority of panels at tech and science conventions are comprised of white men. And the best way to combat this problem is to point it out to white men so when they are asked to be on a panel they will refuse to sit if it is comprised of all white men. The message being that white guys are are in a power position to do something about the problem of a lack of diversity.
The article when linked to in the Quickies didn’t get much attention but my facebook page got some interesting comments. The majority of people seriously don’t seem to get what the problem is or that there even is a problem. (Not surprisingly, many of these comments are made by the white men we so desperately need to understand the issue.) Here are a few comments illustrating this point and a comment from Jennifer Michael Hecht who explains the situation much more eloquently than I could:
I’m glad to see Dr. King’s dream of judging someone, not on the content of their character, but on the color of their skin, is alive and well.
Why does it matter what someone looks like when you hold a discussion?
I usually only ever care about the content and the POV of the person. To me, giving a rats poo about color, or sex just distracts from the overall goal of getting good information out to the masses.
Then again, I have very, very, few male friends. And, my first real girlfriend was a black girl when I was a kid in Vegas.
So, maybe I am not one to say much.
Jennifer Michael Hecht responded in this way:
Consider Nat Hentoff’s wonderful, At the Jazz Band Ball, on Art Davis, who died at seventy-three in 2007: Art Davis was a complete musician, as authoritative in a symphonic orchestra, a Broadway pit band, network studio assignment or accompanying, as he did, Judy Garland or country music comedienne Minne Pearl. He also became a pariah in parts of the music business for years because he insisted on breaking the color line in symphony orchestras. As I had reported in the The Reporter magazine in the late 1950s, it was not only that Jim Crow managed much of that hiring. Also, as positions opened in an orchestra, the first-chair players (all of them white) would get management to hire their best students (also white) for those chairs. For years, Art, having been turned down by leading symphony orchestras, challenged the conductors to pit him against any classical bassist they chose in an open competition. There were no takers. In the 1970s, he sued the New York State Philharmonic for racial discrimination, and as the years went on, until the case was dismissed, Art lost a lot of the previously highly diversified work for which he had been sought. Obviously, the man was a “troublemaker”. But because of the lawsuit, the attendant publicity and Art’s continuing challenge to put any symphonic bass part–however deeply traditional or unprecedently avant-garde–before him in competition for a gig in any world-famous orchestra, he became the major force that created “blind auditions”. It became the practice, when there was an opening for any instrument, to audition the player behind a screen so that those judging his or her abilities–Art also protested gender discrimination–could hear the music but not see the musician. He lost the lawsuit, but won the battle.
Derek later responded to say:
Oh, I got that part. I just get baffled when it tends to happen. Just means that people who are actually selecting people to speak, or be on panels, or be highlighted… might not be taking actual content/quality into account. That, or, it is just part of the nepotism mindset. Less about sexism, more about who is friends with who, and who they would rather ‘go have a beer with.
Apparently, this topic needs further clarification.
And let me point out that I recently got called out for this behavior too. Only white women applied to and were chosen for the Surly and Women Thinking Free TAM Grants. I realize now that I could have and should have tried harder to get the word out to more minority groups that there was a grant for women being offered. Sometimes even when trying to solve them, we are still blind to the problems.
What do you think? Are women and minorities just being ridiculous? Are the majority of public panel seats going to white men because they are the authorities on the topics and have the most interesting and valuable things to say? Should the members of minorities politely and quietly wait in the shadows until someone asks us to be on a panel? Should white men in positions of power speak up and refuse to sit in these circumstances? Is this favoritism, racism or ignorance?