How Privilege Defines Performance

(audience applause) So this is an extraordinarily personal talk, it's one that I first gave at PerfMatters where Tim and I met in person and I realized that Tim and I are the most hilarious duo because he's quite a bit taller than me, I don't know you've noticed that.

But to give a personal talk like this, many of you probably have no idea who I am and so to tell you a little bit about myself to contextualize why this talk is important to me, hopefully that will help to make it important to you. So I want to tell you about myself through the context of the careers that I've tried to hold and hold, but I still am kind of trying I guess, When I studied in high school I wanted to be a journalist, specifically a foreign correspondent like Christiane Amanpour and I wanted to travel the world and do reporting and so I immersed myself in newspaper stuff and went to journalism camp which is so nerdy to admit.

And I really deep dove into newspaper stuff and wrote a lot of pieces.

I thought journalism was such a cool industry to be in because it's one where you can write a story about the manhole covers in the street or you could write a story about Watergate and it has such immense power.

Part of that power that is also used is that journalists can also write a story that can villainize a 12 year black boy who's murdered and that same journalist can turn around and write a story in Rolling Stone that humanizes a white supremacist boy, so I felt that there was a lot of power in this career. And I like many of our favorite politicians, I'm very power hungry I guess.

But journalism didn't really pan out for me, I graduated into what is now known as the 2008 American Recession, so journalism wasn't a very good career option at that point and a little website, you may have heard of it, called was launched relatively closed to when I graduated and many people saw that as the potential death of print journalism, that this idea of micro blogging news would become the most prolific thing and in many ways it has but I do still see the occasional newspaper here and there. So I graduated without really any job prospects, I had to rely on a skill that I learned from a very young age.

At 10, I went to school with my dad basically, my parents owned a pre-press business which many of you don't know what that is probably, but pre-press is a step where large format photographs were taken of print designs and then printed onto big metal plates and those metal plates were then given to the printing press and that's something that my parents specialized in and that's what their business held, but desktop publishing tools became prolific very quickly around when I was 10.

So tools like PageMaker, Quark Express, which now modern processors are things like Adobe InDesign, those tools took over that step and made it seamless that people were delivering digital files so my dad had to go back to school to learn that which meant that my mom worked three jobs and was sending my dad back to school and then me, being by myself.

I think Americans are quite a bit different than Europeans and especially the Dutch.

I saw at the airport while I was waiting for my ride, a child that was riding on his parents' rolling suitcase and he's taking a running start and then jumped on it and then slid a good couple of hundred yards it felt like, and then he face planted and I laughed because I'm a horrible person and then after I laughed I looked at his parents to see what they were doing, they looked over and then continued having their conversation. And I just thought that that was such a cool thing to observe.

But anyway, I digress, back to my story, my parents did not leave me home alone, 'cause that's I think illegal in the United States to leave your 10 year old home alone for more than a couple of hours or at all.

So I went to school with my dad and on a gumdrop Mac I learned things like Quark Express, Photoshop before layers, destructive Photoshop for those who remember that, terrifying time and I just gained these design skills and I used them for such good.

I built Backstreet Boys websites and I once was the holder of a NSYNC web ring and then I also sold Leonardo DiCaprio calendars to all my friends 'cause that's when Titanic came out. So I've always been entrepreneurial, so when I graduated I took those skills back on and basically emailed every single person I knew in my database and wrote them a custom email saying, "How can I provide a service to you? "Design of anything from a website with a CMS "for a single origin coffee roaster "to a poster for a belly dancer to a press kit "for a modern jazz musician," any job, I took every single job that I could and have a really weird portfolio as a result. But in 2017, I had been working at an agency for about five years and I had helped to grow the team from two designers, of which I was one, to a cross disciplinary team of 26 designers, developers, content strategists and writers and I realized that I was working this 60, 70 hour weeks and for what purpose? I was helping big brands like Nike and Taco Bell to sell more shoes and tacos, I helping Jeff Bezos to become richer, I don't think he needs my help. And so I decided instead to do what any rational person would and I did a hard reset on my life.

You're supposed to laugh then, come on.

(audience laughs) Okay, thank you.

So a hard reset on my life and I packed everything up into storage, broke up with my boyfriend, quit my job and then backpacked around Europe to remind myself how much better socialism is and after a few months of doing that it got very cold so I went home.

But what I realized in doing that that the reason why I was so burnt out making Jeff Bezos more money as his little Santa's elf is that I didn't have a purpose for what I was doing. And so that's when I realized that at my core I'm also an activist.

So we looked back through my career in journalism taught me to seek stories, stories that are of small things like manhole covers from people that are often ignored. And being a designer taught me that the solutions that we seek are only as good as our framing of the problem and activism taught me that unless we explicitly seek justice for all we only ever end up with justice for some.

And if we can catenate this into a string we have seeking solutions for justice and that is what I do now.

My name is Tatiana Mac, I use she and they pronouns and I'm here to speak to you about how privilege defines performance.

When I give this talk at other places where they don't understand what performance is and they think performance is performance art and they expect me to do a dance, I reframe this talk as how privilege defines perspective. So before you get into my mentions and tell me about how there's not enough performance in here, I think that you've gotten a lot of performance today so hopefully I can give you some perspective. So to appeal to this audience I wrote you all a plugin and like most plugins this is beta release we're still testing it on ourselves and on each other.

And before you install anything you have to agree to some terms and conditions and GDPR and the terms and conditions of this talk are quite simple.

It's that I recognize that this talk is going to make many of you very uncomfortable and that's okay.

Comfort is how we grow, or discomfort is how we grow rather and I don't ask you to do anything with that discomfort I just ask you to sit with it.

So you don't need to make it go away, you don't need to change yourself, you don't need to do anything, I'm just asking you to sit with that discomfort. Because I guarantee you that that discomfort will be temporary, you'll go on with your lives, maybe you'll be like, "Urgh this chick gave this talk, "whatever," and you'll move on with your lives and that discomfort is something that you might have the privilege of having go away.

Many of us, many of us in the audience, I shouldn't say many of us, some of us in the audience live with permanent discomfort.

So with that said when you think about privilege I think there's some faces that we might think of, this is Regina George from Mean Girls, movie that I reference a lot.

Maybe we think of Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, if you'd like to buy a calendar go ahead and send me a DM.

Or Moira Rose from Schitt's Creek, if you haven't seen that show, hilarious, I don't know if it's available on Netflix in Europe, so hopefully it is.

But privilege isn't just reserved for fiction, it's also very apparent in real people like Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Kim, this is one of the many Trumpster fires that we have in my home country.

And also our boy, Marky, Mark, who likes to store passwords in plain text files and also I don't know if you can tell or not, if that's a deep fake or real, I don't think he can either. So when we look at privilege it's not so binary, it's not just, we often say that person's privileged, right, as if it's a binary thing, but really when we look at the definition of privilege, it's a special right, advantage, or immunity granted to only a particular person or group. And when we look at privilege through the lens of the ways that we define people, I picked eight, I recognize these are not all the ways in which define people, thank you for the people who pointed that out to me, I picked eight because it fits a 16 by nine ratio well, so that's the reason.

But the ways in which we define people commonly for UX personas, for example, are things like race, class, gender, religion, physical ability, orientation, nationality and mental ability. And there some defaults that I use for this, to be white, wealthy, a cis male, protestant, able-bodied, hetero, American, and neurotypical, those are the default settings, in tech in particular. And when I first gave this talk at PerfMatters, just in April, which is so bizarre to me that it was not that long ago, I included the Implicit Association Test.

For those of you who don't know what that is, it was a test created by two Harvard professors about testing whether we have implicit bias. The way that they did this was that they set two binaries, when it's done digitally it's two buttons, and you are to associate the buttons with white and good on one side, or black and bad on the other and then things were rapidly sent your way. So a picture of a black person or a white person, or concepts like love, okay good, murder, bad. And what they were seeking to show is that when white and good are associated, people would answer them much more accurately and quickly but when they were switched, and white was paired with bad, and black was paired with good, people were slowed down.

And great, so that helps to prove that we have an implicit bias, but then what? And the book that they wrote about it called, "Blind Spot," which is a severely ableist title is what I quoted in my talk and I realized after my friend and colleague, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein told me that this is bad setup, I shouldn't be setting up my talk this way, because yes, we all have implicit bias, we can't help it, we're creatures of nature, biases help us to survive.

Biases also distract from true anti-racist work and they distract from the ability to fix bias, overt or not overt, the harm that we do is what we need to focus on.

We need to stop focusing on this idea of oh well are you biased, are you not? How do we fix bias? No we need to do active anti-racist work so all of this is distraction.

The article that's linked in the slide is excellent, it's very long and it is dense, but basically Chanda goes through and dissects why this argument is so flawed, why we need to stop focusing on bias.

So going back to this grid, I didn't pick these at random and what I want you to imagine is that this is not random, okay great, good job, Tatiana, but instead, this is systematized.

But what if I told you that the system behind this is the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Now you might be wondering, okay, you're in America, racism is much more of a problem there than it is here.

And I would profer that on the global scale with globalization is the way that it is, there is overt racism everywhere in the world. Places where it's white dominant are affected by racism, it might manifest itself in different ways, culturally of course, but it exists everywhere. This term, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, comes from an excellent writer and really prolific human, Bell Hook, she's a black feminist author that I wish more people would read.

The reason she came up with this term was that when she was interviewed about the harm that she's experienced, people would try to extricate whether it was because she was black, or because she was a woman.

And what she told them is that all these systems of oppression, white supremacy, sexism, racism that stems from all of that, all those systems are intersectional and that's where the term intersectional comes from, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined that term, another black feminist I wish more people would read. So when I gave you these default settings, the reason these are the default settings is because that's who holds the most power. In America this is who colonized America and who raped and murdered many indigenous people so that they could found a new country.

Those default settings are ingrained into our society and so when we look at these settings you might be thinking that a lot of those boxes are boxes that you yourself tick and you might be feeling defensive, that's natural. And you might be thinking, "I'm not privileged." And I have a little secret for you, and that secret is that we all are, including me. So now we're ready to install our privilege plugin. There's only 39 431 dependencies, the first one being to confront your privilege. So I think to help take off a little of the tension in the room, I'll talk about my privilege.

So when we look at these boxes, these are things that I squarely fit into.

I'm relatively wealthy, I have a $3000 computer that only partially works and has a shitty keyboard. I'm able-bodied, I'm American, which is guess is a privilege, and I'm relatively neurotypical.

And when we assemble those together, we have this list of terms, but we hate being labeled in such binary ways ourselves and so let's add some new ones to this.

I'm able-bodied but I'm petite, which means that I'm at a distinct disadvantage when I play basketball with Tim and I still kick his butt. I'm American but I'm a first generation Asian-American which means that any time I get into a ride share I have to have the conversation with the driver that's where you from? I'm from Portland, but where you really from? Portland, I was born at that hospital right there that we're driving by.

No, you know what I mean, where you really from? What flavor are you? That's my favorite.

And while I'm wealthy, moderately so, not Jeff Bezos wealthy, but I was raised poor, my parents immigrated to America and they didn't have very much money when they did so. So they created all of the wealth for themselves and thus for me.

And while I'm neurotypical, I also experience suicidal ideation and depression and so these terms are somewhat restrictive that we only fit into these boxes, but there's nuance to it.

And not only that just because I'm not white or a cis-male or hetero Protestant doesn't mean I don't benefit from those things. My proximity to whiteness, that I'm relatively light skinned and Asian-American instead of say, a black American, I have a lot of relative privilege as a result.

And while I'm not a cis male, I don't believe in the gender binary, I present in a way that is not antithetical to who I am.

When someone says, "Ma'am," sure it annoys me, but it doesn't hurt me as badly as somebody who doesn't identity, or doesn't present in a way that aligns with who they are.

And while I'm not hetero or Protestant I don't wear any religious head covering that immediately reveals to you, what my religion might be.

And here's a plot twist for you, privilege alone is harmless, there's nothing wrong with privilege, we all have privileges Privilege is kind of like the character from Mean Girls I told you, it's like homework that people should do if they watch my talks, it's like Gretchen Wieners. To give you a little context for Mean Girls, it is a movie written by Tina Fey and it is about Lindsay Lohan's character, Cady, she moves to a new high school, and there's a group of girls, plastics, and they're the most popular girls in the school, and she's trying to just fit in and get by in high school.

So Gretchen Wieners is kind of the ditziest character and so she's a really good representation of privilege. But, and it's a big but, she has a friend, Regina George, who represents power.

And that's the thing is that privilege is what gains us our power.

So when we look at this block here, what that represents and what I didn't tell you is that it's something that we stand on.

So the block is something that we all have but it's different for everyone.

So here's your average dude in tech and there's me, he has more relative privilege and he's on a higher block than I am.

And what I didn't tell you about this grid earlier is that it's not so much a grid or just a grid, it's also a wall and so when we have our privilege box, that's what gives us the leg up on this wall. The thing about privilege is that it doesn't dictate how hard we work or how far we go, you can be the most privileged person in the world and you can still work supremely hard and you can still have had a lot of grievances and a lot of pain in your life, I'm not trying to take that away.

I'm just trying to say that privilege determines where we start.

And the thing with privilege is we're standing on a block, we don't often look down at our feet to see what's under us, our privileges are invisible to us until someone, on a stage, is yelling to us about it for 45 minutes.

And there's this diagram that I borrowed from The New Yorker and it was done in that ugly New Yorker style which is really not fitting my vibes so I redrew it with Pac-Man and what it says on here is that the dot says, "The world is unjust," and Pac-Man says, "Well there is some justice," and then Pinky's like, "What are you talking about, "the world is just." We're going to analyze this a little.

Here's the difference, is the dot can't move and Pac-Man and Pinky can.

And that's the thing is that the dot, what gets generated as the dot or as Pac-Man or as Pinky is random, just like us, it was by random selection that I was born in Portland as a first generation Asian American, that's a randomized thing that I did not help, just like you didn't help where you were born. But the thing is the system that grants us the power associated with our privilege is not random. And when we look at this diagram, we're looking towards the privilege, we see that privilege is heading in a specific direction, that's a vector.

And most days we're not looking at that, most days were looking towards our oppression, the ways in which we are disadvantaged within life and the reason for that is that we look for the ways in which the system benefited us, our privileges, we don't look towards, excuse me, the ways in which the system benefits us though our privilege, instead we look towards the ways in which the system disadvantaged us, that's what we're doing most days, and the reason for that is capitalism.

Capitalism wants to tell us, "Hey, scarcity is a thing," capitalism scares us with scarcity, and there's a reason for that, because the harder we work, the more money we make for the system.

And so capitalism just tells us to work harder, get over it, get over whatever social justice shit you're talking about, just work harder, I hear that a lot on social media.

So I want to reframe this for you all in a way that might resonate if you're still not convinced which is that Lyft earlier this year, IPO'd at a cool 24.3 billion dollars, U.S dollars.

This guy, Logan Green, is now valuated at a also cool, 760 million dollars, and like if I were on Tinder before he IPO'd, he only had like 360 million dollars so totally would've swiped left on him, but now that he's 760 million, I totally would swipe right on him.

Just kidding.

And the average Lyft driver, which by the way isn't, I Googled average Lyft driver, this is what came up, I've never seen a Lyft driver like this, so let me know if you do.

They make an average of, according to a MIT study, $3.30 per hour and if we multiply that out times working eight hour days at five days a week, at 52 weeks a year, so counting for no vacation, no benefits, not taxes removed, that's about $7000 in a year.

So if we look at his picture I think we have to admit that we don't earn everything we receive.

Logan Green didn't work 140 000 times harder than the average Lyft driver or 80 to 90 thousand times more than you or I, I just don't buy that.

And that might make us uncomfortable, especially if we have a bit more money, you might be mad right now or you might be sad or you might be feeling awkward.

And the reason for that is because we really like to peddle this idea of meritocracy, that's at the core of tech.

And meritocracy is this idea that things like goods or power, wealth, they should be based just on pure talent, effort, achievement, rather than things like sexuality or gender or race, all the things in my block effectively, and here's a thing with meritocracy that not very many people know.

Meritocracy came from a book, written by Michael Young, and the book was a about the London school system, so it was about the ways in which the London schooling system was feeling, that book is a satire.

So basically this homey wrote a book that was the equivalent of an Onion article. I don't know if you've ever read the comments on the Onion's tweets when they tweet their articles, a lot of people think the Onion's real and that's what happened with meritocracy is that it's a satirical concept.

He made up this concept about the London schooling system and wrote this satirical book and then people took this idea, of meritocracy, which is at the core of the book seriously and I remember reading something about Michael Young on his death bed and he was like, "Fuck, that is my one regret." So invite you here to this funeral, the death of meritocracy.

When we kill something or when something dies, we might experience some grief like denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, so let's walk through those.

Denial might look like I work hard for everything, sure, I'm sure you do.

Anger, slavery wasn't my fault.

Bargaining, why not a Men's Month? Depression, I hate my privilege.

To acceptance, where I hope we all land which is that privilege isn't my fault but it is my responsibility.

And as the great James Baldman, a tremendously fabulous writer that I wish also more people would read, "Nothing can be changed until it is faced." And that's what we're doing today.

So we recognize that privilege and power play a key role but that's not the complete picture, there's two other high schoolers, played by Lindsay Lohan on your left and Amanda Seyfried and they represent bias and ignorance.

And that's the thing is that privilege is what gains us our power but ignorance is what hides our bias.

And so next step, and still got 43 231 dependencies, God, we're not on airplane Wi-Fi like the last time we were on NPM, we need to admit our bias.

So we look at this, this is what our focus is, and how does that manifest in tech you might be asking, you've been talking about privilege and quoting some people I've never heard of, what about tech? All right here you go my friends, this is the chart from the Majestic Million. For those of you who don't know, that is a study that was run earlier this year by the Web Standards, WCAG, and they run some of these on accessibility and oversee the standards and these are the results of the one million most popular sites.

The most common mistakes made for accessibility are things like low contrast, missing alt text, empty links, missing form labels, missing document language and empty buttons.

Now I'm not going to stand up here and say that accessibility is easy because it's not, but relatively speaking, these six areas that are the most common, are very simple to fix compared to a lot of other accessibility lows. And these are things that can be fixed by a lot of people, things like missing alt text, especially are things that can be generated on the user side.

So these are not things that are overly technical is my point and the reason that that happens is the same reason why Dominoes asked the Supreme Court to shut down a lawsuit requiring their website to be accessible to vision impaired people and people who use screen readers.

And the reason is because we center the able-body and neurotypical experiences in our work.

This is your average gender drop down, I imagine many of you work for companies that have a gender dropdown and I hope you remember this. I fill out a lot of forms and I noticed one day after years of not noticing that male is always listed first, I'm curious why, is it the number of characters? Or is it because God made Adam first and then he made Eve so it's like a Biblical nod, is that why it is? And then I also looked at the Dutch census and it's interesting, the Dutch census from 2011, the breakdown shows on the graph on the left, is the average age of men in the Netherlands, that's graph, 3.2.3 and then this is followed by 3.2.4 and this is a pattern that is prolific. Men are listed first almost always and it's very rare that we include gender options beyond the binary such as non-binary, usually it's just listed as other.

And this also manifested itself in a tool in Framer, so this is a Framer, I was doing a design that had a lot of faces and many of you can see but I'll describe it for those who might not be able to see this.

I was trying to figure out when I did a whole array of faces, there was like 60 faces in front of me, they were all masculine presenting, probably men staring back at me.

I was like, this is so weird, I know that tech is really shitty at this stuff, and so this is a mistake that I'm not surprised by but I was like, I wonder if there's any way that I can change it and then I open up the settings and then I saw that the gender, when listed as true, was male and when it was listed as false it was female. So I learned that day that my gender is in fact false. (audience laughs) And the reason for things like that are because we center the cis male experience. Now this one, this is a video of the soap dispenser, I don't know if it will play, it won't play.

So it's the soap dispenser at Facebook offices and you may have seen this, it dispenses soap to the light skinned hand and does not to the dark skinned hand.

Oh now it plays, there you go, it works, great, white people can be sanitary, oh and if you have a dark skinned hard you don't get to be sanitary, okay.

No, how do I get to the next slide? (audience laughs) I'm stuck on a racist loop.


All right and then my friend, Jacky Alcine, which is one of the coolest names of all time, tweeted this a while back, Google Photos, y'all fucked up.

My friend's not a gorilla.

So this is the automated algorithm that Google thought would be really helpful to identify that things that are skyscrapers, airplanes, bikes, cars, and oh, look, his friend is a gorilla.

Self driving cars are more likely to hit black pedestrians than white ones, as if we need more things to murder black people in this world.

And this is my favorite one because it is dear to my heart.

So it's a camera that tries to tell you when someone blinked, Joz Wang is not blinking. And then to things like when you Google successful CEOs, this is what comes up.

And the reason for all of these things is because we center the white experience, you're starting to see a pattern.

Now within performance, when we're doing our testing, this is a screenshot from Firefox dev tools and Chrome dev tools, you'll notice that there things listed like Galaxy, iPhones, Microsoft Lumia, Nexus, Pixel, iPhones, kind of the standard phones that are quite common, but not around the world.

I was in Nairobi and Lagos earlier this year speaking at Concatenate, amazing conference and most people around me had phones like Huawei's and One's and phones that you might have never have heard of, Tecno, those are the phones that are most used in the world.

If you look at global population, the phones that are used in India for example, surpass by and large all the phones that we center in our testing.

And all those phones I should add are what are considered low end devices, so they're phones that are anywhere between 100 to 300 dollars, they're perfectly excellent smart phones.

What we typically use and center in those testing tools like iPhones and Pixels are thousands of dollars, those are considered high end devices.

The reason for that is because we center the American experience, I know it's weird to be in the Netherlands and to say that we center the American experience but you have to remember that Silicon Valley, the real place not the TV show, that is where the hub of so much happens and so I see this being emulated even in places like Nigeria, where they really idolize the work that we're doing in America.

And when we look at this, at some point, a designer, developer, casted some sort of range, they decided what an appropriate skin tone was or what was sufficient contrast for their website, and they determined some sort of device, money range and they might have done that intentionally or unintentionally but it doesn't matter because the impact is still the same.

And they missed part of the picture that the ranges that they cast were insufficient for the testing that they did.

The reason for that is that we have a very narrow world view and in fact, I would say that we deny this objectivity of our world view.

And we really like to hide behind math and your girl's a math major and I love this tweet by Ryan Saveedra, he says, socialist representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claims that algorithms, which are driven by math, are racist.

I would like Ryan Saveedra to take a look at the way in which we cast these ranges so we might see things as being usable or unusable, we might set an appropriate range for things like my apartment door, I can't trigger the door of my apartment, I wish Tim could just walk around with me all the time. But it's set at some of appropriate range for me to actually get to leave my apartment.

Or in performance, we might determine what is an appropriate load time for somebody but that's going to be different around the world, especially in places like Lagos where people are relying on data instead of on Wi-Fi.

And we might determine an appropriate range for someone to walk.

We might decide that a mile is close by or 10 miles might be close by depending on who we are, and we abstract these terms sometimes to being more generalized words like hard and easy, tall and short, fast and slow and near and far. And the problem with this is that they too, these terms are centered in the neurotypical, able-bodied and wealthy experiences.

I wish that there was a book that Ryan Saveedra and many of us in tech would read actually, two books, which are, "Algorithms of Oppression," and, "Technically Wrong," these two books do an excellent job of showing how things like algorithms are extremely laden with our bias and with our center of perspectives.

And that's the thing, is that we in tech have the privilege of defining what the viewport is. And what we include in the viewport is the grid I showed you, the default settings of that grid are what we center, I center those experiences even though I'm not squarely within them.

And when we look at this graph, we need to remember that this is all relative and we need to contextualize our absolutes with the relative and to do that we need to lessen our ignorance. Still at 43 231 dependencies for anyone who's counting. So when we look at this graph what we need to recognize is the term I really hate and that you might hate as well that you hear from clients say which is that, "This is what's above the fold." Oh my god, I hate it so much, but we need to be aware that we're always focused above the fold, we're focused on the viewport that defines our lives and so in order to fix this what we need to do is have a curiosity and to scroll past our own viewport, we need to consume things that do not center our experiences.

Little story here is that I don't know for those who have seen this movie, it's a short by Pixar, it was the precursor to Incredibles 2 and Bao, I wont' spoil it, but Bao is a movie about a mother and son who make dumplings together.

And I was watching this is the theater and I was crying hysterically.

For those of you who have seen Up, that's probably the only other Pixar movie that also made me cry as much as this movie. But this movie was really the first time, I think I was in my late 20s, where I saw the depiction of something that resonated with my relationship with my own mother.

20 some years old.

And then around me, mostly white folks, 'cause that's what I have in Portland, they were laughing and they were like, "That was such a weird movie, what was that even about?" They said, and this is an ableist word that I hate, but they said it was stupid.

And to hear other people experiencing something that just emotionally struck at my core and to hear them say that it was stupid was a really really really sad moment for me. And I think that what I wish I had known to say to them at that moment is to understand that not everything is made for your understanding.

I grew up for 29 years, only seeing Disney princesses that didn't look like me.

You've got a blonde one, you got a red head, you got a brunette and then it wasn't until Mulan, who's Chinese, that didn't resonate with me, that I had a Disney princess, I don't know if she's even classified as a princess, but a Disney princess that looked like me.

And we throw around the term empathy a lot in this industry, especially within the design community, we talk about empathy all the time, how empathy for your users.

And I have a word for empathy, empathy is a scam, I don't buy it.

The reason is because when we look at the definition of empathy, it is the capacity to understand or to feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another's position. I don't think that someone in that movie theater watching that movie could understand, fundamentally, how I was feeling, I just don't think that's possible.

And more importantly, whether or not it's possible, empathy seeks to validate someone else's lived experience by centering your own.

You're basically saying, if I can feel that, then it's valid, if I can't feel it, then it's not valid.

So instead let's replace empathy with trust, trust people when they say that something is racist, trust people when they say something is sexist and trust your user's lived experiences over your own presumptions.

So if someone tells you that something feels fast or slow, trust that.

And stop gaslighting people's lived experiences just because they're not your own.

Because again, we might not be able to understand how someone is feeling, but don't gaslight them for it, don't tell them, well that's not true, are you sure about that? That's gaslighting, stop it.

I love this quote from Angela Davis she says, "If they come for in the morning, "they will come for you in the night." And I think that what is happening, I wrote earlier this year an article for A List Apart, called, Canary, I always cannery, Canary In A Coal Mine, and that's how I feel all the time, that in tech, I'm screaming about these issues and it's like what I've become known for which I'm partially resentful for because I think I'm a decent designer and developer as well, but these issues plague me every single day, and they plague users and people that look like me. And the thing is I'm a canary in a coal mine because I'm saying it first, I'm telling you I can't breathe anymore, you're all miners and you might be able to hold a bit more oxygen, but at some point it's going to start impacting your lives. Case in point, global climate crisis, indigenous people have been screaming about the global climate crisis forever and we ignored them, we didn't listen to them and now it's starting to impact people in wealthy countries. So what we have to do to fix this is to share our power because nothing about us without us, that is a saying we say a lot in accessibility and what we mean by that is that we need to include people in building these tools.

So, "Diversity is being invited to the party, "inclusion is being asked to dance," what a lovely quote by Verna Meyers, the VP of Inclusion at Netflix.

But I borrow Verna's words and add to it that justice is letting someone else throw the party. I don't know how many conferences I've been to where all I see staring back at me at white, wealthy, cis males, who may or may not be Protestant, able bodied, hetero Americans, who are neurotypical, that's who's building the tools, I just ask for those people, get off the stage, you've had your time, so many of them are speaking at the same conferences year after year, set it for someone else, use your privilege to step aside and to tell a new narrative, let someone have their Bao, you've had your Cinderella, you've had your Snow White, you've had so many of your narratives centered, let someone else tell a story for once.

And hand over the keys and power of our tech tools and of our companies to disabled, trans, immigrant, Muslim, Black, Indigenous, non-binary people, and women of color.

And in doing so we need to help each other, we need to learn to lift as we climb.

And you might be wondering, "Well, aren't you just setting up a new grid, "if we center everything like the black, poor, "Muslim, queer, neurodiverse, non-American, "disabled perspective, does that fix things?" And the answer is no it doesn't fix things, letting them throw the party, I would be a lot more fun party first of all, but re-centering these narratives isn't enough and instead what we need to do is we need to tear down the wall together.

So I tell all the Chads, which is I'm sorry, I'll go back to this slide, I call a lot of white dudes in Texas Chads and then I realize that is a perfect initialism which is a Caucasian, hetero, abled, dude, so you're welcome for that.

So all you CHADs might be staring back at me right now wondering how do I go ahead and tear down this wall? What we have to do is we have to commit to doing this in every single action.

Look at your dropdown menus, look at every action that you're taking and understand how it might be harming people. With everything we do, with every poll request, with every comment we make, with every gaslighting moment that we have, we're contributing to reinforcing these biases in the world.

So I just ask for you all to just commit and to do so relentlessly.

Thank you.

(applause) - I really like the way that you're positioning or discussing privileges.

- Look at my feet.

- Yeah, it's fair.

- I look like a child.

- That's where the basketball thing again kicks in. - Yeah, still beat you.

- I like the way that you're framing the privilege thing as a spectrum so I think that's just coming at it from obviously some people are at one of that spectrum, that's I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with.

And from the empathy perspective as well.

I find that interesting as well because we're taught a lot, I've said it before, you've got to empathize with users, I'm constantly talking about testing on networks or devices for that sort of perspective.

Is it that it's completely useless or is that that there's an extreme limit to what empathy can provide? - Yeah, I think that we can not only replace empathy with trust, but we can replace empathy with compassion. I'm not saying be a dick, but instead, I think that empathy, I just don't know what it really accomplishes, what does empathy accomplish, in your opinion? - Oh boy, cute, I didn't prep for this.

I think for me, what I would hope for it to accomplish is to be able to make some of those things a little bit more aware.

That's where I guess where I was coming from with the question in terms of the limitations of empathy. I would hope that I would see empathy as the goal of empathy to make it so that it opens my eyes to things that maybe I have not seen before.

It makes it a little bit more apparent to me when something, that I have biases standing out to me, that I'm doing something that was invisible biases you were talking about.

But recognizing that yes, no matter how much empathy I develop I will never fully understand what it means to be in that different situation or to have a different perspective entirely. - Yeah and I think what you just described is a really great trait which I would instead reframe as curiosity.

That what you're describing is that we need to be curious about things that we might not understand and we might not experience and we need to have a curiosity that our knowledge is intrinsically limited, we've only lived so much time.

And I think beyond that, that when we address that curiosity by learning, that there's just some things we don't understand, like I do not understand what it's like to be a developer in Lagos who relies on using data, who is on a phone that can't load a website that shipping in a gig of java script, I don't understand what that feels like.

And what I've observed is that we have this, someone a while back tweeted something about like, "Oh my gosh, look at these Nigerian developers, "I saw one carry these bags, his hands were worn, "and he was smiling, he was happy to carry it "for kilometers at a time," and it's like that is us projecting onto them what suffering looks like or projecting, a lot of people, especially in the performance land, I focus on that fast and slow, because fast and slow is so relative.

Sure, when I'm on airplane Wi-Fi and I'm sipping on my free drink like, "Oh the internet's so slow, "poor people must be so sad about this," maybe that's me being empathetic, but then what? I only care about it because it affects me, I don't know, I'm not sold.

- That makes sense.

And this is not a question but I want to give you a chance-- - It's more of a statement.

- Yeah, it's more of a statement, I'm going with that one.

I want to give you a chance to plug the Self Define thing because that feels extremely relevant for this particular conversation.

- So I'm building a dictionary, which is no small task and the reason I'm building a dictionary is because when I speak out about a lot of these issues online, you'll notice that I have a fixation with definitions, I think I included four definitions in my talk. People will quote me the dictionary definition of racism a lot.

And the dictionary definition according to Merriam-Webster is something like, racism is any sort of discrimination against any grouping of race.

Well that's ignoring privilege and power and all these things that again, people of color have been saying for a long time. And I just don't think dictionaries evolve quickly enough to address things in the positive like our ever growing understanding of gender fluidity and all the terms that came with that.

Or understanding of just the terms that define us. So the dictionary's called Self Define for that reason is that I'm hoping to give a place for people to define these new terms that they're coming up with as we continue to evolve and I want to build a few things, future plans are to create an API so that you can plug this dictionary into any of your tools to have access to all the definitions, I'd like to build a Twitter bot and a Slack bot. So in the same ways something like Threader App works, you can say @threader_app, please unroll this thread for me and it does that and then they steal your content and sell ads on it.

The dictionary, you can say, "Hey @selfdefinebot, "define racism," and it will generate that with the bot. And what the intent of that is to lessen the amount of emotional labor placed on minoritized people in particular, to do a lot of this education. Sometimes it feels like my job, in addition to having a normal, scope of work, is to educate people, and so I want to build something that can help take off that burden of education. And then lastly, the thing I'm most excited about is to be able to have, many of you might be familiar with the website,, if you're not you should look it up, but basically what it does is it helps to say,, they and it tells you what the pronouns are and then it teaches when you click on that link how to use the pronouns.

I would like to do something similar where on the dictionary it will say something like plus pan, and I could put that on my profile and then someone can immediately understand, they might be like, what does it mean to be pansexual? They can click on that, and now they know what terms that I want to use for myself.

Like with the disability community a lot of folks might prefer to be called a person will disabilities or they might prefer to be called disabled, that dictionary will help people to just do a lot less emotional labor so that they can get back to their lives.

I don't enjoy talking about this stuff, it's not fun for me, I sorta had fun when I was making fun at Tim, but beyond that, that's not 45 minutes of fun for me, that's 45 minutes of emotional labor and work and I'm probably going to crawl in the corner, backstage into the fetal position and enjoy the conference from back there.

So yeah, please look up my dictionary, I'm really excited about it and it's open source so if you have contributions like someone contributed, they have obsessive compulsive disorder and they were really sick of people using that term to mean anal retentive or particular.

So really I would love for more contributors, so if you could contribute your time or code or writing, I would really invite that and appreciate it. - And I know that this is an incredibly emotional journey and stuff like that which is why I'm so very grateful that you're willing to do it.

Really appreciate it, it was extremely powerful, extremely important so thank you.

- Thank you Tim.

(audience applause)