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Reflections on the React Community

August 25, 2019

There’s been a lot going on in the React community these last few days. It has been difficult to organize my thoughts around the myriad complexities involved, and processing it through the bias of my own lived experience. So, this will be a fragmented collection of thoughts, but my choices were to wait until it’s perfect (never) or publish it.

A quick note on my perspective. I am a white hispanic cisgender female. I don’t know where I fit sometimes, but tl;dr, I walk through the world as a white woman.

Context

This tweet was the main catalyst:

My initial reaction to this tweet was defensiveness. “I’m a React developer, and this isn’t me, and this doesn’t represent the vast majority of the community I see around me.” I felt like it erased me and other folks I know and love and respect in the React community, who aren’t represented in this. I also perceived it to simply be lazy, poorly executed satire.

I happened to be at React Rally as the conversation picked up steam. Over the course of the conference, having in-person conversations with folks, I challenged my initial reaction. I had a conversation with someone, who pointed out that dissecting the delivery of the message didn’t matter, and our feelings about it didn’t matter; What mattered was reading and acknowledging the reaction of marginalized folks. This is about acknowledging that our community has, both passively and outright, made this space unsafe for people. This response from Tatiana Mac that I saw later captured that perfectly:

React Rally

It was bizarre to be at React Rally as this conversation exploded. Last year was my first time at React Rally, and it was really one of my first tech conferences (aside from a random PHP conf like eight years ago, and a few WordCamps). I have a lot of love for React Rally. It felt like they really made an effort to create a welcoming environment, and I did have a good time, but I did still feel very out of place — there was not much diversity in terms of attendees. Not that that surprised me (my very first JavaScript meetup was me and forty dudes). The handful of WordCamps I had been to were comparatively diverse.

This year, for whatever reason, it felt like it was even less diverse. I have become somewhat numb to it, and aside from the initial feeling of walking into a room of 95% men (picked that percentage out of thin air btw, no idea what the real number is), I really tuned out that observation. It wasn’t until a friend, a first-time attendee, pointed out that she would not be returning next year because of homogeneity of attendees, that I really stopped and thought about it.

It ended on a weird note. The closing talk, by Brian Holt, started off as a very jokey insider-y talk. In the context of the conversation in the community, it felt out of touch. He later closed it out by addressing the current conversation in the React community. I’d like to think he intentionally framed the beginning to contrast and set up the end, but he said he added what I thought were the most impactful slides at the last minute. So to me, he owes the most impactful part of his talk to Tatiana Mac. I missed some of the blowback to her recent talk at Clarity Conf, Systems of Systems. But it apparently drew some very shitty comments. He closed out by (with her permission) referencing part of her Clarity talk.

White feminism

In the midst of all this, I’ve been thinking deeply about my role as a member of the React community, and how I can do better. Tatiana shared this thread about white feminism that I spent a great deal of time digesting. I think you should read it. (And I don’t mean to center myself in this conversation, I’m just trying to take it in and learn from it, and amplify it.)

Where I’ve Fallen Short

I have fallen short in taking a “just tech” approach to being in the tech community on Twitter. The people I’ve been exposed to and listening to have been opening my eyes to that. Even being able to focus on “just tech” itself is a great privilege.

There is either active perpetuation of the status quo, or actively challenging it. Being passive and reserving comment is actively supporting the status quo, masquerading as passivity.

What I’m Continuing to Do, and What I’m Committing To Do Better

Not being “just tech”

I’m actively re-evaluating how I engage online. It is a privilege to have the choice to not engage on uncomfortable things, but for the health and safety of our community, especially for its most marginalized members, I see that it’s my responsibility not to exercise that privilege.

I’m a perfectionist, and that paralyzes me sometimes, which is no excuse. In this context, I reserve comment often because I’m afraid to get it wrong and do more harm. The harm of not trying is greater. There’s some metaphor in here about not being able to learn programming without knowing you’ll get stuff wrong a lot — you learn from it and carry it with you. I don’t stop programming because I know I won’t be 100% perfect, and I can’t be silent because I know I won’t be 100% perfect.

Doing more of the work

This year I started intentionally trying to diversify my Twitter feed, and specifically seeking out podcasts, articles and books created/written by people of color challenging the way I think about things. But I need to do even more of that. I’ll be following along on #causeascene podcast reading “How to Be An Antiracist”

I am conscious of contributing back into the community monetarily, and have been working on growing that. I created a page of the orgs and people I support, partially to keep track of it, but partially so that anyone who comes across it might have a starting point. I will continue to be conscious of that, and grow it.

I speak up in my company, pushing us to be better. I will continue to push, and will push harder. I am not satisfied with the overall lack of diversity on the team, and we are actively pushing to change that — which means nothing until we see results. Similarly, we’re talking about how we can change the way we work in OSS to change the status quo. Again — saying that means nothing until we do it.

The approach I am actively trying to internalize is to listen, believe, and sponsor.

You’ll notice that I’ve cited Tatiana numerous times in this collection of thoughts. She’s an incredibly important voice in our industry. I sponsor her on GitHub, and would urge you to do the same. I hope we collectively show her we can and will do better, and we don’t lose her voice in this industry. For her sake, I hope she does whatever she needs to to take care of herself. Regardless, we need to do better.


Amberley Romo

Words by Amberley Romo, albeit irregularly.
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