Hopefully I have not given away too much in the title, but if you’ve made it this far, you are perhaps somewhat interested in what I do for a living, how I came to be on Google+, what insights this young whippersnapper could possibly have to impart. (With any luck, you also agree that a well-placed Meet The Parents reference never goes amiss.)
So again, hello. As you might guess from my profile, I am an actor-writer-producer working in the two US cities where those professionals are typically found. In a previous life, I briefly plied my wares in the dotcom dales of Silicon Valley and in Redmond WA; which seemed the natural path for a geeky girl graduating with an EECS degree from Berkeley. And then there’s the other thing. Why yes, well guessed – I am black. African-American if you like (though not quite that either, as my passport is not blue.) A person of colour (with a u, if you don’t mind). Frankly, I tend to refer to myself more as being melanin-fortified. It gives an extra bit of a kick to match the afro pick.
I was invited to Google+ on Beta Day 2 by +Kenny Yu, an MIT grad with whom I worked during a college summer internship in the technology division of a certain (particularly notorious) investment bank. Like many of my old techie friends, Kenny continues to be bemused by my unchecked enthusiasm for Google products. Over the years, I have socially networked on Friendster, Orkut (I know), Facebook, Nerve (hey yohh), and Twitter (only becoming active 6 months ago, for shame.) The extent of my activity on MySpace was a skeletal profile boasting Tom as my only friend. Which naturally leads us to Google+; where I once more have the pleasure of including +Tom Anderson in my special circles, only voluntarily this time.
Quite unlike any of my previous experiences in social media, the philosophy behind Google+ neatly mirrors my own – marrying my myriad spheres of interest with my passion for exploration. With one quick peep at a G+ profile, I can populate and fortify my little village with interesting views from all over the world. Creepy and exhilarating all at once!
But in my very first Hangout on the Plus, a strange thing happened. I had +Mike Downes in my circles because we have the UK in common and he’s active in new business and cultural development in his local area, but we’d never previously spoken. Once I got in the Hangout however, I was suddenly aware of my being in the presence of older, white, middle-class, almost certainly heterosexual males (per their profiles or my own conjecture), and was rendered instantly camera-shy and tongue-tied. A fearful doe trapped in the big, bad lion’s den of the Interwebs. I exaggerate of course, but this is learned behavior that a darker-complected girl might well take on once she unpacks her bags and settles down in America.
With the current Arrington vs. O’Brien CNN faceoff and with each public kerfuffle on the topic of race in this country, I rehash incidents from my own life as a perpetual other. For good or ill, I reside at the unmarked intersection between technology, high society and street culture. I write at turns in Franglais, Russian, Yoruba, American Southern argot and various pidgins and patois. I am frequently told I “act bougie” (as in bourgeois), that I “don’t sound black at all”, or that I have a “male sense of humour”.
I bristle at any and all of these, but will admit to having developed some skill in the art of code-and-context-switching. And I don’t mean the computer science kind. Forgive my Harvard for showing, but I’d be answerable to quite a few minority folk if I didn’t drop some W.E.B. Du Bois right here. Double consciousness, or always seeing oneself through the eyes of others, is a concept that’s likely familiar to anyone outside the dominant culture; anyone who’d have had anything resembling the reaction I had to encountering +Mike Downes and +Lord Miles Parker (who, naturally, turned out to be perfectly harmless and who indeed were gracious enough to share quite a few tech tips and even some entertainment industry related tidbits! We now have a little mutual appreciation society going, by the way, and I highly recommend both for your encircling pleasure).
But this tale of fleeting discomfort leads me to now point out the notion of privilege – in real-life society, as well as online. Equality is paramount among social issues of personal interest to me, and that means equality for people of all shades, for women, the LGBTQ-identified, the mentally ill, the non-religious, and every other identifier that describes me and the peeps in my circles. In an insightful article I came across recently by blogger Jeff “Dark Spirit” Adams, he offers the following tale from This is Water, a novel by the late David Foster Wallace,
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?”
According to the wisdom of Jeff (himself a self-confessed member of the dominant culture, i.e. a white boy), creating change is about changing perception, educating yourself, and finally joining the conversation.
My tenure on Google+ reinforces my hope that conversations and exchange can indeed change the world. One last quote if I may – it’s one of my favorites and is quite apt advice for a happy experience online and off.
Veux-tu des perles? Plonge-toi dans la mer. [Do you want pearls? Dive into the sea.]
More Fun Stuff!
Your Life of Privilege by Jeff “Dark Spirit” Adams : on Nerdiest Kids
The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl :a webseries by +Issa Rae
Google Search:“W.E.B Dubois double consciousness”
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