It must have been a couple years ago.
I was in a meeting with fellow colleagues discussing our Fellow nominations. Each year my place of work hosts a gala and honors pioneers of computing history. This has been going on for decades and a visitor can see a wall filled with pictures of past Fellow honorees. Visitors will notice that the honorees are all white and the vast majority are male. Sure there are women honored and one transgendered person, but the “diversity” stops there. There is no person of color on the wall. No person of color honored over the past decades of the event.
I brought this up in the meeting. Why was there no person of color? To my colleagues, who responded, the answer was simple: African Americans did not contribute to computing history. We (my place of work) did not know of any pioneers of technology that were African American.
Of course I was shocked by this. Really? My coworkers actually believed this? I tried to explain, without going on a long tangent, that just because WE did not know of the contributions did mot mean that African Americans did not make contributions. Just because tribes in Africa, for example I explained, did not document their history in written format did not mean they DID NOT have a history, correct? My coworkers only response was that I could nominate an African American if I wanted or could fine one.
But I did find pioneers of technology and computing that were African American.
It must have been a couple of years ago now.
Around the same time of the meeting mentioned above, I pitched to our marketing department a blog post about honoring African Americans who contributed to technology. I had found a lot of information from trusted sites, like universities, IBM etc. The blog post was rejected. According to them there was not enough evidence to write about these pioneers.
Why am I shocked? For centuries African American stories have been pushed aside and hidden. Could this be a reason why many do not know the contributions of these pioneers? OF COURSE! But this is no excuse that in 2018 these stories, and many others, are still untold.
African American, and many other groups, stories need to be told because for far too long their stories have been untold. And, unfortunately, their stories continue to go untold and remain hidden. If we want kids, students, and adults to be inspired, we need to show that EVERYONE has a place in history and that EVERYONE has contributed to the world’s history. EVERYONE has a story.
I know as a white woman that I am writing this blog post from a position of privilege. These two examples were very eye opening for me and reminded me, in a forceful way, that not everyone is treated as equal. As a white person I do not experience this, but there are many people who experience inequality every day.
I want to be part of the solution and not encourage the problem to continue. I can’t wait for the day until my experience is not privilege and that everyone gets to experience what I get to experience. I also look forward to when more African American pioneers are celebrated and that Black History Month is celebrated EVERY month.
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