Dominant Power Dynamics and Me

I’ve been thinking about Open Source and diversity. It is true that open source, in my experience, is largely populated by white men who can program. I think this would come as no surprise to most people reading this post. However, I have been stimulated to think about it a little more due to some very odd reactions on an email list I am subscribed to when I, very gently, pointed this out. The reactions to my comments were extremely negative and very personal. Over the last few weeks, in reaction to points I have made on the list (related to diversity and possible new models for open source projects), I have been accused of racism, questioned about my nationality, asked if I speak English, made fun of, and it has been suggested many times that the kind of work I am doing is fruitless.

I find these points say a whole lot more about the persons making them and the associated dominant power dynamic than anything else. Never-the-less, as a result of these comments, I have been prompted to reflect on, and refine, my position regarding diversity in open source.

Essentially, I see the lack of diversity as a problem on so many levels. I am disappointed, on a human level, that there isn’t a greater diversity of ethnicity, and gender, involved in open source projects. I also lament the lack of role and skill diversity in open source projects. I believe this lack of diversity hurts us as humans and hurts the effectiveness of open source. I wish to see a greater diversity in open source.

I am a white male and I am part of the dominant power demographic. I don’t feel guilty for being so, but I do believe, as someone that is part of the dominant power group, that I have a responsibility to address the imbalance. So, if I wish to see greater diversity in open source, then I should do something about it.

After pondering what I can do, I have come to two points, and they reflect how I see the yin/yang personal – political nature of this issue:

  1. I will endeavor to help produce greater diversity – in part I am doing this through my work with the Cabbage Tree Method. Odd as it may sound, I very much believe that the Cabbage Tree Method is not ‘just a design methodology’ but it is a template for a different model of open source organisation, one that requires, at its core, a more inclusive project culture.
  2. I take responsibility for my own networks – when I work on interesting projects I often bring in good people I know who do great work in the area. I have been very lucky to have met many wonderful people that also have great talents, and projects like Coko and Book Sprints reflect that. However most of the people I know come from a pretty homogeneous demographic, at least in terms of ethnicity. So, I need to take responsibility for that and diversify my networks.

In a way, there is nothing new here. But I needed to think this through a little to work out my own position regarding the issue of diversity. How I can better achieve the actions above is something I will need to work on (continually). I’ll ponder it more, and I welcome any thoughts you might have on the issue that can help me on my way.

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