Recently I’ve been talking with community organizers about how we can both organize inclusive events and also do that organizing in an inclusive manner. WordPress is an open source project, and because open source depends on a large active contributor base, we have to constantly think about how to make the project welcoming and inclusive.
One of the goals for the WordPress Community Team is to organize in-person events (meetups and WordCamps) that help connect and inspire WordPress enthusiasts. We ask organizers to organize welcoming and inclusive events, AND we ask them to do that organizing in a welcoming and inclusive manner. (Double play!) This means we encourage organizers to recruit a diverse organizing team, work transparently, and embrace community involvement and feedback.
All of that sounds great and seems simple enough, right? We have great tools for publishing information for everyone to see (namely, WordPress), we have great language around how our program is open to everyone, we have a code of conduct, yay! Inclusion!
Except of course we’re all humans, thinking with our human brains. Human brains, alas, are not always our friends when it comes to diversity and inclusion, because human brains are primarily wired to keep our bodies alive. And from our brains’ perspective, diversity and transparency have not kept our bodies alive for millions of years. What human brains have found highly successful re: the survival of the human race is: to create and stay in small groups of people with similar looks and values.
So in many ways, the work of a community organizer in an open source project is to fight with your brain a lot. This is what happens for me at least, multiple times per day:
“Danger!” say my brain. “Someone different wants to join our group!”
“Shhhh…” I say back to my brain. “It’s going to be ok, they just want to help.”
“But they’re not like us and they might fight us and we might lose and then we’ll die!” suggests my brain.
“I see what you’re saying,” I reply, “but really this discomfort is not dangerous, and we really need more people who are different, to help us grow.”
“Harumph,” says my brain. “I’m certain you’re wrong, so I’m going to sit back quietly course-correct us toward safety with my favorite tools, adrenaline for change and endorphins for sameness, until you stop endangering us with your crazy ideas.”
“Ok,” I sigh, “I realize you can’t help it, so I’m going to use logic and patience to keep reminding us that tight-knit exclusive groups, paranoia, and suspicion will not serve any of the goals we have in building open source communities.”
I don’t have a solution to my assertion that open source goes against human nature, other than this practice of fighting my instinctual attraction to exclusivity and closed groups/processes. If you’ve found a method that works for you, I’d love to hear it! 🙂
I like to think I am very aware of my own priviledge and I admit, I too have to have similar conversations with myself.
But it’s become easier to open myself to newer people and to enjoy diversity. Recently I have been through some personal loss, because of which I have stopped worrying about motives towards opensource and appreciating people as different and yet very similar to me in many innumerable way.
I think that having a code of conduct and community standards is a good start, but I don’t know if it goes far enough. I have been thinking a great deal about how to make our local community open and welcoming, we are faced with a challenge of being part of a multi-lingual hugely diverse community from very different backgrounds. I think the biggest thing is to have an assumption of good intentions and common ground.