A first step: examining my complicity (without self-loathing)

This email was sent to my newsletter Monday July 15th, 2020. I’ve decided to publish it here so I can share with an even wider audience.

Dear UXers,

Last week, I wrote to you about how I’d been examining my own website so we could build an object-oriented design system. I wrote to you about how I’d found shapeshifters on my very own site! Gasp. A hard pill to swallow.

Well, this week, the self-examination goes deeper. WAY deeper. The pill is 100x harder to swallow. This level of vulnerability — it is a place I don’t know if I’ve ever been. It’s scary, because I want so much to be liked, to be seen as a good and generous person. But I’m sure this letter will make some of you upset.

Ya’ll, I live under a rock. But I am coming out from under it. I don’t watch the news and I generally only hop on Twitter and Facebook to sell something (tickets to my events or Kondo’ed home goods, respectively). I didn’t even know George Floyd had been murdered until 2 days after the fact.

My strategy has been:

Stay in your lane, go heads down, play with this OOUX stuff, and do your part to save the world from unintuitive technology. Don’t get distracted by politics and things out of your control.

I have not thought much about race or racism in my life. A massive privilege, as I’ve discovered in the last few weeks. I can focus on my professional interests and my nerdy projects, safely enveloped in my bubble. I’ve learned that thinking about racial injustice is consuming, to say the least, even when you are the one dealt the winning hand. It’s incredibly uncomfortable. My White fragility, I suppose, shows its cracks.

For my entire life, I’ve believed that several things “should” go without saying.

I’ve felt I shouldn’t have to SAY that I respect the minds, opinions, and LIVES of Black people.

I’ve felt I shouldn’t have to SAY that Black lives matter, because it’s “should be” so blatantly obvious.

I’ve felt I shouldn’t have to SAY that I stand with the Black community against systemic racism.

But I am waking up to the fact that I not only need to say this with words, but with actions as well. I cry as I write this because I realize I have not done enough to examine and challenge the racial inequities and biases that exist in me and my work — regardless of how ‘nice’ I think I am being.

And if I look closely at my actions as a “leader” in our UX community, I am filled with shame.

  • I’ve never had a Black person on my podcast.
  • We’ve had very few Black women speak at Ladies that UX Atlanta — probably more White men than Black women.
  • We’ve never had a Black woman invited to join LTUX ATL as a co-organizer. After 6 years and 6 organizers. Atlanta is 30% Black.
  • If you were to look through my Twitter, you wouldn’t see retweets of Black designers. Until very recently.
  • There are no Black people in my OOUX Certification Program. After 2 cohorts and over 30 people.
  • If you were to peak at the charities I give money to, you will see lots of support for animals and clean water in Africa. But no dollars are going to the fight for racial justice in my own country.

For my White readers and leaders, can you relate to anything here? What might it look like for you to engage in a similar self-examination?

…?

…?

…?

I am sure many of you have already started this work and are a leaps ahead of me. Amazing.

But maybe some of you get defensive even thinking about thinking about this? I get it. I still get a little defensive, too. I want to give 100 excuses for all of the bullets above. But I know the more defensive the reaction, the more transformative the work can be.

This is not an exercise in self-flagellation. It is simply recognizing the problems that are within our control so that we can get on with the work of fixing them. Sure, for me at least, there is definitely some “mourning the loss of my innocence/ignorance” mixed-up in this process. It’s emotional — but cathartic.

Yes, I am filled with shame — but also hope and excitement. Selfishly, I realize that I’ve been missing out. As I fix these problems, my podcast will get stronger, LTUX will get stronger, and my OOUX community will get stronger. As I break my White bubbles, I aim to amplify Black voices — but I know my work will benefit just as much, if not more so.

I know nothing on my list above is by cruel intentions — it’s by stupid, stupid default. It’s defaulting to the system, defaulting to my White bubble. I imagine few-to-zero White people reading this have been intentionally racist, but let’s ask, “have I been anti-racist?” I can’t say I have. This history doesn’t make me a BAD PERSON. And my attempts at change don’t inherently make me a GOOD PERSON. They simply make me a GROWING PERSON.

So, because it does not go without saying, I say it now. Black Lives Matter. I believe this in my heart and I am finding ways to reinforce this with my actions. Here are a few small-but-immediate first steps.

  • I am going to expand my circle of influence — I am going to listen up. Here’s a few organizations I’ve started paying attention to: @PeopleofColorinTech, @GreaterGood_, @PeopleofCraft_, @CRXLAB
  • I’m excited about Creative Reaction Lab’s Intro to Equity-Centered Community Design Webinar Series. I’ve signed up for the July 9th session.
  • I am asking Black professionals for podcast-guest referrals — please reply if you know someone you’d like me interview!
  • Havana and I are actively assessing future LTUX content to make sure it does not just come from White voices.
  • I am creating a scholarship to Cohort 3 of my OOUX Certification Program. More on that next week.
  • Here’s a few more things I’ve added to my playlist. (Thank you, Talaia, for pointing me in the right direction.)
    Netflix: 13th and Explained: Racial Wealth Gap
  • Amazon: I Am Not Your Negro
  • Book: White Fragility (good news/bad news = it’s on backorder! I did find this NPR snippet that you can dig into now.)

To my Black readers: I hope I can earn your trust. I hope that you can forgive me that it took a crisis, and, I’m not going to lie, some social pressure, for me to examine my own actions — or lack-thereof. For my own sake, I hope you want to collaborate with me. I invite your thoughts, your opinions, your ideas, your referrals. Just hit reply if you feel compelled. Meanwhile, I am working on it.

Sending love,

Sophia

PS — Right before hitting send, I realized I was inconsistently capitalizing White and Black. I’m generally terrible about random, Inconsistent Capitalization, but I realized I should probably look into this one. After reading a few articles (Columbia Journalism Review and Center for Social Study Policy and Conscious Style Guide) I’ve decided that it makes the most sense to capitalize both. For the grammar and word-nerds out there, take a look at these interesting articles.

Found and Lead UXer at Rewired. Speaker on object-oriented UX. Recovering perfectionist.

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