Sometimes there are circumstances where no words will suffice. This is one of those times. And yet we cannot remain silent.
The brutal, racialized murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd (and so many others) are the most recent in a long history of abhorrent acts that highlight the pervasiveness of anti-Black racism in this country. Everyday acts that weaponize white privilege — such as the bigotry exhibited by Amy Cooper in Central Park — are also hurtful and destructive, as are more subtle everyday instances that often go unrecognized. These acts come amidst a pandemic that has disproportionally impacted Black communities with higher rates of unemployment, sickness, and death, also elevated by systemic racism and inequities. We stand with Black communities and the many other organizations and individuals who have denounced these actions and the systemic forms of racism, oppression, and privilege that underlie them.
We grieve for the lives so senselessly taken and acknowledge the range of feelings — historical and current — that have intensified in these past few weeks, from unspeakable sadness and loss to anger, agony, hopelessness, and depression. To Black Americans who are experiencing this collective trauma: we recognize the heavy weight that you carry as you process, reflect, and grapple to understand what is happening (again) in our nation — and that this is often compounded by having to act and carry on with “business as usual.” Nothing about these recent events should be normalized.
Reflection, of course, is not sufficient. Dismantling racism requires strategic and intentional work on multiple levels: 1) individual actions (e.g., self-reflection, bystander intervention, proactive learning); 2) organizational actions that change systems (e.g., increasing visibility of underrepresented groups, addressing biases in organizational systems and processes, creating welcoming work and classroom cultures); and 3) societal actions (e.g., policies, laws, culture change). This will take sustained efforts — especially on the part of majority-group members and allies — to have difficult conversations about race and racism and to apply a spirit of inquiry, examining ways that everyday practices and systemic processes contribute to normalizing whiteness and perpetuating racism.
New technologies have often been weaponized against Black people and other marginalized groups, and so we at NCWIT have a particular responsibility to support the creation of bias-free technology products and services. We will increasingly address in our publications the practices on how to overcome and fight against anti-Black technologies, systematic anti-Black racism in the technology community, and anti-Black opportunity gaps in STEM education. In doing so, we will consider the ways in which Black women’s experience in technology fields may differ from those of other groups discriminated against.
At NCWIT, we are also committed to continue interrogating the ways we as an organization and as individuals are complicit in upholding systems that perpetuate racism and privilege, reinforcing the invisibility of Black people and other communities of color. We pledge to increase the representation of Black academics and industry professionals on our NCWIT boards and staff, and to ensure better representation of HBCUs, two-year colleges, and other Black-serving institutions among our university members.
We cannot let the current momentum dissipate as it has in the past. Recent weeks have marked the largest protests for racial justice in the U.S. and internationally. Let us take advantage of this moment to rethink the pitfalls of past approaches and to make the kind of sustainable, systemic change necessary for racial justice. We are drawing up a list of actionable steps to improve NCWIT and to participate in making the technology world more welcoming to Black people. And we invite all the members of the NCWIT community to do the same — our community of over 1,200 computing organizations (K-12 through career) can be a powerful force in eliminating racial injustice from our discipline. As we do so, let’s continue to say the names of those lost, let’s not forget what all of their lives — those known and unknown to us — meant and still mean, and let’s use the current momentum to fuel the critical work that lies ahead. Black Lives Matter.
Additional NCWIT Resources
Critical Listening Guide
Interrupting Everyday Bias in Academic Settings
Interrupting Everyday Bias in Industry Settings
Modern Figures Podcast
Color of Our Future: An Online Conversation Series on the Empowerment and Inclusion of Black Women & Girls in Tech
The Color of Our Future: Promising Practices and Next Steps (Video) with Jannie Fernandez; Cheryl Swanier, PhD; and JeffriAnne Wilder, PhD
Race to the Future? Reimagining the Default Settings of Technology and Society (Video) with Ruha Benjamin
Learning About Intersectionality: Videos that Spark Discussion