Earlier this week, in a private forum, one of my colleagues took a friendly joke thread and dropped a horrible MeToo joke in it. I was astounded, incredulous and disgusted. But I said nothing. Another MVP called him out, and today I discovered her blog post stating that she'd resigned from the MVP program.
I don't want to focus on (or even repost) the "joke". I want to focus on something that has equally bothered me - the way I handled it. With silence. And I'm devastated that my silence was in part responsible for her feeling the need to resign from the program. I've always counted myself as a silent ally of human rights movements, but have realized that a silent ally is no ally at all. Allies are allies specifically because they come to your aid during a time of need. And I didn't do that. Change doesn't happen via silence, and I need to do better.
The tech industry is dominated by men, who (in North America) are mostly white. Like me. And even though many of us in our group were uncomfortable with the "joke", no one spoke out to say "Dude, that was unacceptable." How hard would that have been? No, we left it to a woman to criticize a man who made a sexist joke. She was right to do so, but the added weight of my white male privilege would have gone a long way to back her and make our "space" feel safer for anyone else who was feeling uncomfortable. It shouldn't be necessary. It makes me angry that it even is, as I respect her greatly. Her voice should be enough to call someone out. But unfortunately, in the culture that we currently live in, things often need to be endorsed by a white male voice in order to gain traction. Any one of us should have stood up and said: "Yeah, what she said. That was brutal, and there is no place for that here." To empower people, to be an ally, we need to support those people brave enough to speak out - vocally - lest we leave them feeling even more vulnerable. And that goes for women's rights, LGBTQ rights, systemic racism, or any other human rights issue that is facing us today.
I failed this week. And I'm sorry. And I plan to do better.