The Ongoing Fight for Diversity

Channeling open source passion to fight intolerance

I'm pretty excited to be speaking at Ohio Linuxfest this weekend, in Columbus, OH. This regional event promises to be more... sedate than PenguinCon was last Spring, and there will be lots of interesting talks (besides mine). I am particularly interested in the Diversity Workshop on Sunday.

Diversity in the open source community is a touchy subject. For one thing, the global nature of Linux and the free and open source projects out there tend to make people think that there is built-in diversity right off the bat.

But diversity comes in many forms, beyond just nationality. Race, gender, and faith are also facetsof diversity, and at many times in the history of open source, you can find examples of where such diversity was attacked or lack of diversity ignored.

Bring up the issue of women in open source, and you get the (rightly) concerned proponents that argue that there is still much discrimination for women in communities and businesses. As the father of three daughters, it boggles my mind that people will judge them on their gender before judging them on their merit.

Of course, then there are the misogynists and trolls who will also show up and toss out their stupid platitudes.

But the people that concern me the most are those who genuinely think there is no problem. They're not insensitive or stupid. They're the kind of people who are thinking: "I would never discriminate against someone, so what's the big deal?" And let's be clear: they are 100% honest when they think this. They don't discriminate based on gender, race, or religion, so problem solved, right?

Not quite.

I was raised, thankfully, not to judge someone based on how they looked, but on how they treated me and others. This is, I think, a pretty good way of living life. But I learned early on that this is not enough. Yes, getting your own house in order is important, and leading by example is great, but we have to be willing to take the next step and actively teach others that diversity issues exist and discourage discrimination in all forms.

The funny thing is, this is something for which the open source community would be perfect. How many times have we collectively been chastised for telling people to RTFM? Or telling people exactly what we think, tact be damned? Surely such an outspoken community can marshall this talent and direct it against those who would say ignorant things to promote intolerance. If we can get worked up about library calls, imagine channeling that energy into a cause like fostering diversity.

Perhaps such an approach might be seen as fighting one type of intolerance with another, but prejudice of any sort is something that should be actively fought, not ignored.

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