On navigating racial microaggressions in tech - Technical.ly Delaware

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Sep. 12, 2019 1:05 pm

On navigating racial microaggressions in tech

Two technologists and a Ph.D. talk about inclusion: "If you're silent and passive, you're part of the problem," says Capital One dev Jocelyn Harper.
Markevis Gideon cuts the ribbon at the new NERDiT NOW in Scranton.

Markevis Gideon cuts the ribbon at the new NERDiT NOW in Scranton.

(Courtesy photo)

When Markevis Gideon opened his first NerdIT NOW location in Newport, he did nearly everything himself in the small storefront packed with donated computer towers and laptops waiting to be refurbished.

In late 2018, NerdIT NOW moved to a new, bigger location in First State Plaza in Stanton, in the strip between the ShopRite and the Cinemark movie theater — a move that required him to expand the team, including bringing on videographer Jake Voorhees as partner and marketing director. Both work out of the store, running the device repair business as well as the company’s nonprofit, the NerdIT Foundation.

It’s not uncommon, Gideon says, that customers will come into the business he founded and demand to speak to Voorhees instead of him.

Gideon is Black. Voorhees is white.

“Jake has my back when that happens,” Gideon said during a discussion of inclusivity at Technical.ly Delaware’s summer stakeholders meeting, stressing that it’s important for team members to push back when customers make assumptions about who’s in charge.

Microagressions — those small indignities that, intentionally or unintentionally, slight a marginalized group — can happen anywhere throughout the day, and often do.

“I was at Brew Ha-Ha the other day and this lady yelled out, ‘Oh, how often do you see a middle aged Black man without four kids?'” said Gideon.

Dan Young, head of the business administration doctorate program at Goldey-Beacom College — who, as it happens, has four children as well as a Ph.D and an MBA — said that there needs to be a common understanding that “diversity” and “inclusion” are not one and the same.

“I was the only person of color, and I felt it,” Dr. Young said about his early career. “People would ask crazy questions.”

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In his current role at Goldey, “I’ve proactively looked for a diverse staff for the doctorate program.”

Despite his high level in academia, Young said he is still aware of how people perceive him — a six-foot-plus Black man.

“I would make sure my seat was lowered and I would sit back,” he confessed. “When I would say something, I thought about not coming off as ‘aggressive,'” he said — a perception that plagues both Black men and Black women.

Jocelyn Harper, a full-stack developer for Capital One and host of the Git Cute podcast, deals with that perception differently: “I’m comfortable coming off as the ‘angry Black woman,'” she said.

“If you’re silent and passive, you’re part of the problem,” Harper said. “Especially if you’re white. Allyship doesn’t mean just coming into a space, you have to act on it.”

How does one act on allyship? Janet Wurtzel of Delaware Libraries suggested the Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative, which holds periodic community forums, called “Dialogue to Action,” at YWCA Delaware. To sign up for the discussion, click here.

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