Facets: Issue 08

December 4, 2015

The Day I Almost Quit Advertising

corey d. seaton
"Overwhelmingly, depictions of diverse people are made in boardrooms void of diversity."

When we try to avoid asking difficult questions, we resort to vague (and implicitly offensive) euphemisms, and rarely are those euphemisms called out. Seaton describes being in a client meeting and being told that a TV spot had to be for the ‘general market,’ a phrase that he immediately points out as meaning, “Cast it with White people.” This is followed by terrifying comments such as, “guys, this is a general market commercial, not some little BET spot! Start acting like my general market agency!” Though the environment is that of advertising, the biases expressed exist everywhere, and Seaton encourages us to ask ourselves why exactly it’s we can question being "too Black," but not "too White."

What World Are We Building?

Danah Boyd
"Unchecked, new tools are almost always empowering to the privileged at the expense of those who are not."

This is a transcription of a talk given by Danah Boyd at the 2015 Everett C. Parker Lecture. The spotlight is turned on the technology we build, and we are encouraged to ask ourselves how that technology reflects on us and the issues of our everyday lives— the good, the bad, and the ugly. She points out that we have created a world that is dominated by data and the dangerous expectation that technology will solve our problems. But it is not without asking the questions that linger between the numbers— those about social justice, transparency, and unconscious belief— that we can build a world in which tech improves everyone’s lives for the better.

Has Diversity Lost Its Meaning?

Anna Holmes
"The definition of ‘‘diversity’’ changes depending on who is doing the talking."

In an incisive challenge to the meaning (or lack thereof) of the word ‘diversity,’ Holmes challenges us to confront what the word has come to signify— to ourselves and others. She points out that the problem with actually creating diverse technology environments might be that we can’t even settle on what the word truly means, and even that it has come to carry a negative connotation. This connotation has arisen from "a combination of overuse, imprecision, inertia and self-serving intentions.” She describes diversity not as a box to check but only as a starting point, associated with far more complex issues such as equity, inclusion, and belonging.

The Tech Diversity Blind Spot

"tech people want everything to be sensible and measurable, and will assume this is the case even in the face of moderate evidence otherwise."

In a piece by one of my favourite writers, eevee challenges our reliance on and love for measurement as the be-all and end-all— even though we’re terrible at it. They point out how good we are at avoiding the hard questions and confronting our own failures, convincing ourselves that the problem has been measured, quantified, and the efforts we’re making are good— it’s very easy, when the alternative is changing long-held beliefs and perspectives, despite how misguided they may be.

How to Talk To Minorities, Part I and Part II

A primer, refresher, and reminder on pausing before we talk.

I’ve featured Dr. Prescod-Weinstein’s work before, but just recently stumbled on these two pieces. The fact that we even need such a set of reminders and guidelines is an indictment on the way we’ve treated each other in the past, but behaviour changes all start with this kind of self-reflection. Even when our intentions are good, we are still capable of (rather spectacularly) putting our feet in our mouths by making assumptions we’re unaware of, and Dr. Prescod-Weinstein does a brilliant job of reminding us of that.

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