Every now and again, something happens in our community that's problematic -- something racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise harmful. It can be something high profile, or something as seemly innocuous as a comment on a mailing list or irc channel. In fact, I shouldn't say "every now and again" -- it happens a lot. More than you might think.
This post really spoke to me -- this comment in particular. Part of the issue surrounding being a minority in FOSS is that your time and energy get diverted from the productive bits (coding, testing, writing, etc) whenever you're forced into dealing with incidents like the above.
We have a lot of amazing people from a lot of diverse backgrounds in FOSS, and we all benefit from their contributions and expertise. So when someone says or does something (intentionally or not) that makes people in the community -- our community -- feel unwelcome, or excluded, or threatened -- we all need to step up and address it.
Nobody wants to have their project saddled with behaviour that drives people away. We all benefit from an environment that's welcoming the broadest possible range of contributors. So when it comes time to deal with sexist behaviour, women shouldn't be the only ones paying the troll tax. Geek guys need to step up and take part of the load. I'm trying to start with me.
Guys, if your experience mirrors mine, you've been in the situation where someone else has done something that crossed the line. You've gotten that sinking feeling that what's just happened is wrong, but maybe you weren't quite sure what to do about it, or how to do something about it, or if you were even the right person to do something about it. I'm going to urge you to step outside of your comfort zone a little, and say or do something to let people know that this kind of behaviour isn't ok. A stern glance or a terse "not cool" can be enough. It doesn't have to be elaborate or involved, but it does have to happen, because silence is tacit approval. If nobody objects, it looks to all concerned as though it's ok.
This isn't a sermon from on high. Nobody is perfect, least of all me. There are going to be times when we screw up, or let something slide that we shouldn't have. We're human; it happens. What's important is that we make the effort -- a serious and genuine effort -- to work together, respect and support each other as fellow hackers and human beings.
(Some random links that inspired this post. I found them useful; I hope you will, too.)
- Jay Smooth: How to Tell People They Sound Racist
- Shakesville: Crank it up to 11
- mdz: Do not stand by
- Chris Clarke: How Not to be an Asshole: A Guide for Men (frank but important read, especially if you think a woman is overreacting to an incident of online harassment.)