In this episode, Allie and Michelle talk about how they see the boundary between attacking someone else for saying or doing something you don’t agree with… and starting a debate or conversation. The line can be thin and easily misinterpreted. But it’s worthwhile to consider, because these conversations define how welcoming/inclusive a community is.
Welcome to the Underrepresented in Tech podcast hosted by Michelle Frechette and Allie Nimmons. Underrepresented in Tech is a free database, but with the goal of helping people find new opportunities in WordPress and tech overall.
Allie Nimmons 00:19
Hi, Michelle, how are you?
Michelle Frechette 00:22
I’m good. How are you?
Allie Nimmons 00:24
I’m great. Well, yeah, I’m great. We just talked about not having the best week this week but that is what was. I’m going to focus on what is and what will be. And so
Michelle Frechette 00:36
Amen. Yep, my feet were freezing at home this morning. I was doing some work from home and I forget that my thermostat goes down during the day. Like I have it programmed to do that, until I’m suddenly shivering. And so now I’m in the office, and I still have my boots on because my toes are warming up.
Allie Nimmons 01:03
We both sighed at the same time. So yeah, I really want to chat with you today about something that’s been bothering me because that’s what we do here. Um, I’ve been thinking a lot.
Michelle Frechette 01:16
We did acknowledge that. Yeah, we do want to acknowledge that we’re recording this and that we…
Allie Nimmons 01:21
On Thursday, February 25.
Michelle Frechette 01:24
Yeah, exactly. And that crazy and horrible. I shouldn’t say crazy. Horrible things are happening in the world right now. And we just want to acknowledge that we all have friends in Ukraine, and that our thoughts are with everybody there. And that respectfully, we want to continue doing what we do every week, because we think it makes the WordPress space a much better place overall. But that is not to negate the feelings that we and others have about what’s happening in the world.
Allie Nimmons 01:52
Yeah. And I don’t know about you, Michelle, but I don’t really have anything helpful or insightful to contribute to that conversation. And I’d rather just, I don’t want to talk about things that I don’t understand. I’ll leave that to people who do understand. So yeah,
Michelle Frechette 02:07
We’re just going to acknowledge.
Allie Nimmons 02:09
Yeah, thank you. Thank you for reminding me of that. We’re thinking about all of you. There’s lots of WordPressers in that part of the world. And I wish I could tell all of you like, you can leave and come stay at my house until this is over. I think I have room for all of you.
Michelle Frechette 02:25
I have a spare room.
Allie Nimmons 02:29
Yeah, thanks. Thanks for reminding me of that. And yeah, we’re just gonna keep doing what we do. Um, yeah. Today, I wanted to talk about I’ve been thinking a lot recently. I mean, I think about this a lot anyway, but I’m thinking about it more recently about what I can do to create a more welcoming environment for people, especially people in the community that maybe I don’t agree with, or that, you know, because it’s really easy to be welcoming for the people that you have something in common with, and then people that you share the same views on like, that doesn’t require any work, right? It’s the people who are different from you and the people that you might find it hard to get along with. Those are the people that it can be hard sometimes to really focus on building a welcoming, warm community space for them. And I’ve recently just been seeing on Twitter and off of Twitter as well, like, I feel like I’ve seen this in every place where the WordPress community exists, this almost gatekeepery behavior of, “Well you said something that I don’t agree with, or you said something that I think is incorrect, or you use a tool that I think is the wrong one to use, or you don’t do this the right way, or the way that I do it.” And instead of saying, “Well, here’s why I do this the way that I do it, or here’s why I think this the way I think of it, I’d love to learn about why you chose your way.” Right? Let’s meet in the middle and try to understand each other and educate each other. Maybe someone will change their mind. Maybe they won’t. Right? Like that seems to be the… and I don’t I don’t want to be a hypocrite and say, well, that’s the right way to do it. Right? And that’s getting in my own way. But that seems to be, if I’m on the outskirts of this community, if I’m a new person coming into this community, and those are the conversations I’m seeing, I’m going to think to myself, “This is a place where I can grow and I can publicly make mistakes. And people aren’t going to jump down my throat or pile on top of me.” And sometimes we just don’t do that. And it’s disappointing because a lot of times too, it’s stuff that doesn’t matter. If somebody is being racist, sexist, homophobic, blah, blah, blah, and people pile up on top of them, I’m all for that, right? Because that has direct negative, harmful, dangerous consequences. But when it’s stuff that doesn’t matter, and we pile on top of each other, and get all bent out of shape, it just frustrates me because I know that we can do better. I’ve seen it happen. And one of the responses I’ve gotten to that was, “Well, you know, my Twitter or my x space is not… I don’t curate the space to make other people feel comfortable.” Right? This is for me to say what I feel. That’s completely valid. Right? But it’s intention, right? What’s, what’s your intention as a member of this community? Is it to teach? Is to educate people? Is it to be inclusive? Is it to bring more people in? If it is, there’s a strong way to do that and there’s a not very strong way to do that. I’m gonna, I’m gonna stop saying right and wrong. Right? There’s a strong way to do this, there’s a not so strong way to do it.
Michelle Frechette 06:04
Right. So when we’re talking publicly, there is an inclusive way to talk and there’s an exclusive way to talk. There is a nurturing way to talk and there’s an anti-nurturing way to talk, right? And so whether you see them as right or wrong, you being whoever, sees those as right or wrong. It’s not what we’re talking about, the right or the wrong of it, as opposed to inclusive, encouraging, respectful, there are ways to address others. We actually, you and I had a podcast, I don’t remember how many months ago it was now they all seemed like they were last week but it was probably three months ago now, where we talked about calling somebody out versus calling somebody in.
Allie Nimmons 06:49
It was a while ago, like episode nine, believe it or not. I recently had to look that up. That was actually a really long time ago. Sorry!
Michelle Frechette 06:55
I’m sure it was last week, I’m sure it was. We talk about so many things and I’m glad that other people get something out of our ramblings. Because sometimes it does feel like I just ramble. But because we have versus calling somebody in. And the whole idea about building a better community by having respectful discourse. And by calling out when it’s important to do that publicly, calling somebody in when you’re trying to help somebody or train somebody… I don’t want to say train, but educate somebody, share your own personal feelings in a way that you don’t want to go put somebody else on blast, or be put on blast for those kinds of things. And ultimately, I really think it does come down to respect and whether or not you respect the community and the person to whom you are responding. In the past, believe it or not, I have enemies. A least people who have… I know you can’t see her face, but she just did the shocked face.
Allie Nimmons 08:00
A super shocked face. No way!
Michelle Frechette 08:03
There are people who don’t like Michelle Frechette. And I’m okay with it. Right. So I’m not everybody’s cup of tea, I’m totally fine with that. But there are ways to share information about people or with people or talk with people who have dispersed and then there are ways that you don’t. And when somebody doesn’t like me, and they don’t like what I have to say, oftentimes, instead of replying to me, they will quote Tweet me so that I have to enter in and I’m responding to them, when realistically they were responding to me in the first place. Right. So it’s about ownership of the conversation. It’s about how we have respect for one another. And it’s about how we can have differing opinions about things that aren’t harmful. Right. So we talk about race, we talk about sexism, we talk about ageism, we talk about, you know, ableism, all of those things that we talk about, and there really is a right and wrong in in the way that you treat other people that way. When we have differences of opinion about things that are like, you know, wow, Yoast better or is Rank Math, you know, those, those are the people who work with those places have definite opinions about that but it’s their opinions, right. And so I can say, I really love iThemes Security. And you can say, “Man, I would never switch from Wordfence.” And we’re allowed to have those differences of opinion. If you post online, “Wordfence is the only way and iThemes Security sucks,” I’m gonna come back at ya and go like, “Look, I think iThemes Security is part of what I work at and we don’t suck.” You know, and instead of having a discourse about what can we do to improve and why do you think that now you put me on the offense. You’re on the offense, I’m on the defense and we’re trying to fix it. We’re not going to have a middle ground because things have started out in such a way that they are absolutely confrontational.
Allie Nimmons 10:04
Yeah, exactly. And I, I want to kind of flip this too to show a good example of this. Recently in the MasterWP newsletter, my friend Nyasha who is amazing, posted an article about the question, or the debate about whether WordPress developers are real developers, because apparently there are people who don’t think that they are right. Which is super annoying. And so she posted this write up and it’s amazing. And a lot of people reacted to it. And we’re like, oh, my gosh, I just saw the title. I can’t even read this. It makes me so mad, right? Of course we are. Of course we are. And somebody replied, “The problem is that a lot of people used to present themselves as developers. But in truth, they only knew how to set up and use plugins. And that put real WordPress developers at a disadvantage.” And I remember reading that and kind of bulking because he used the term “real WordPress developers,” and that always makes me kind of like, well, what’s a real XYZ, right? Because when I was building sites for people, I was not writing code. I was using themes and plugins to develop a site, to build a site, to launch a site for someone. And so I asked that person, right, like, does that, like I explained what I just said? And they said, does that make any not a real developer? Does the developer need to code? Or do they just develop sites? I’m curious what your definition is, because I wanted to not attack this person for what they said, but to really understand what they were trying to say. And they said, “Well, it really depends what you mean by developer. When you see a job that has developer in the title, it will always require coding experience.” But he pointed to actually a job posting on Post Status and he said, “There’s a website builder position that does not require coding.” And I was like, that’s a really good distinction to make. Because I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective, I hadn’t thought about it from like a job posting perspective. Where, yeah, if you primarily use themes and plugins, and you know, you know, basic HTML and CSS, you’re probably not going to go for a developer role that somebody posts, but I don’t think, personally, that there’s anything wrong with calling yourself a developer if you develop and build sites for a living, right. So like, I really appreciated that really short exchange, because I was proud of myself for not jumping down this guy’s throat and being like, “Well, why did you blah, blah, blah,” but I was like, I really want to try to understand what it is he means. And he taught me something, right? He opened my eyes to a different perspective of that issue. And I think that is when, to pat myself on the back, I guess, that is when our community can kind of be at its best when we stop and say, “Okay, well, what does this person really mean? And how can I learn from that? What can I understand from that, and if there’s nothing I can learn from it or understand from it, then I can just walk away from the conversation, and it doesn’t have to go anywhere.” And I feel like it was important for us to talk about this on this podcast, because I feel like a lot of underrepresented people coming into a community are afraid of this kind of stuff, right? Or afraid of people being adversarial at the at the highest level, right? Or even just being passive aggressively mean, you know what I mean? Like, there are there times where people post things, and it’s like, well, on its face, that’s that wasn’t mean, that wasn’t bullying, but it was discouraging.
Allie Nimmons 13:47
I have to cough, I’m sorry.
Michelle Frechette 13:47
No, I know exactly what you mean. So I think a lot of those conversations happen around a lot of different areas. For example, you know, I do a lot with helping people find jobs and things like that. I’m not I’m not a headhunter. I don’t mean it that way. But I post a lot of information for people to follow. I often wonder if I look at Company A versus Company D, and everything in between, there’s terminologies like senior developer, junior developer, lead developer, engineer, like there’s all of these different terminologies out there, and somebody new to the community might not have any clue unless they start to read every single job description out there. What do they mean by senior? What do they mean by junior? What do they mean by lead? What do they mean by engineer versus developer? And there’s so many different ways that we, as a community use terminologies that we haven’t even decided that we all agree on. And that makes it really difficult for people who come into the community to understand how to join the conversation and especially when some of those conversations are adversarial.
Allie Nimmons 15:05
Yeah. It’s complicated when you have so many voices in the room, when you have so many cooks in the kitchen. And, and so many people care about WordPress so much, right? Like, that’s the thing is, is, I think, who said that? I think maybe Josepha or Angela, or somebody, I remember a community leader in WordPress, kind of saying, you know, when people are angry, and it kind of seems like they’re yelling, I see that as people caring very loudly at me. I think that’s such a good way to put it. Because, yeah, people don’t get worked up about stuff like this, unless they actually care unless they give a crap. People who don’t care are not going to take the time and the energy to, you know, care loudly at each other like this.
Michelle Frechette 16:03
Another really good example of this, people listen to us, and they see the things that we post. And I think that people probably think that you and I are just, yes, people to each other, that we agree on everything. And the truth is you and I don’t agree on everything. We don’t. But we choose to be respectful of each other’s opinions, and agree to disagree on things that are not absolutes, and are not harmful to others and those kinds of things. And that sprang from our own backgrounds, you know, in our own worldviews and the places that have grown us up to be who we are. I don’t mean physical places, but just you know how we’ve have have. I’m stumbling here on words. But the point is you and I don’t always agree on everything. And yet, have we had fights? Are we like adversarial to one another? Have I ever blocked you?
Allie Nimmons 17:01
Allie Nimmons 17:03
Hi, everyone, Allie here to interrupt. As we approach our 50th episode, we want to hear from you. Have you learned something that has helped you through listening to this podcast? Have you used our tool and found it helpful for your projects? We really want to know, please go to underrepresentedintech.com/50. And leave us a quick Voice Memo telling us what you’ve learned or accomplished, your voice memo might be featured in our 50th episode. Thank you! Back to the episode.
Allie Nimmons 17:33
Yeah, I can’t think of a single time where I was like, upset with you, or angry at you or anything like that, because it’s just like, anything that we disagree about. And like, I literally can’t even think of an example. But I know that there have been times. Anything we disagree about. It’s just like, well, here’s how I think about it. Okay. And whatever it is, we just try to decide on the best way to move forward, right?
Michelle Frechette 17:59
Yeah, yeah. And sometimes we don’t bring those into the podcast, because I think it will be confusing to other people. And I don’t want other people to read into things. So for example, if somebody else is listening to the podcast, and they are a middle aged white woman, I don’t want them to be like, well, that’s just the angry black woman against Michelle, and I don’t want young people of color to go, well, she’s just a privileged white woman. Because yes, that definitely is where I am a privileged white woman, I acknowledge that more than almost any other white woman I know.
Allie Nimmons 18:31
And I am a black woman, and I am angry.
Michelle Frechette 18:36
I don’t really see you as the trope, though. So can we just at least acknowledge that, but um, but I don’t ever want what we bring, you and I, to this podcast, to ever be just like, boiled down to the us versus them because we come from different places. And I think that what makes us uniquely qualified in this space is that we too, come from very different backgrounds. Right? I am a privileged white woman in her 50s. You are a young black woman who is what, 30 now? 29? You’re somewhere around there, you’re my daughter’s age, that’s all I know.
Allie Nimmons 19:10
I say 30. I’m close enough.
Michelle Frechette 19:13
And and that allows us to bring our unique perspectives, right, and that we acknowledge the places that we come from as our perspective and bring that to the table. And I think that that’s what makes really good, healthy but respectful discourse.
Allie Nimmons 19:29
Michelle Frechette 19:31
I’d like to see that in the whole community.
Allie Nimmons 19:33
I would too. I mean, I do feel like a lot of the things that I want, and that I argue for, I realized can be idealistic. I’m like, yeah, not everyone is going to be nice to each other all the time. Not everyone is going to find the perfect, the exact perfect words to have the perfect debate every single time. That’s never going to happen. But I do think that it’s worthwhile to nudge people every once in a while and be like, I don’t, I don’t think that was very nice. You know, like, if I’m not gonna do it, who does? I’m not as cynical as as I could be; I still have a little bit of a sparkle in my eye. So I feel like I want to, I want to force that on other people.
Michelle Frechette 20:16
Sparkle damn it! Sparkle!
Allie Nimmons 20:19
If I can, if I can force my idealism on somebody who’s feeling a little bit cynical about things, and maybe we meet somewhere in the middle. And that’s where the realism of the situation comes in, you know? Right. So that is something that I’m kind of learning to check is my, my blind idealism because it can get in my way, and I apologize. I try to apologize when it does get in my way. Yeah, I have no plans to stop being idealistic,
Michelle Frechette 20:46
I refer to myself as Pollyanna, a lot of the time. And if you are too young to know who Pollyanna is, it’s a story. Okay, this is a story. And it’s this young girl who goes live with her grandmother, who is, you know, kind of a curmudgeonly woman. And the whole town is just full of curmudgeonly people. And this one girl, like, only sees the good in people. Like even though her grandmother is just like, “rah rah rah”, she’s like, “Oh, but look at how beautiful your dishes are, let’s, let’s clean them up and put them on the wall and make them so pretty.” You know, like, she sees like the I’m, it’s been several years since I’ve seen it, but like, the mailman is grumpy, and she’s like, “Oh, my gosh, you get to walk outside all day long. Like, how cool is it that you get to be in the nature and see people and their dogs?” Like, by the end of the movie, you’re like, oh, my gosh, she’s just so wonderful. The whole town is a better place, because this person has her idealism. So yeah, so
Allie Nimmons 21:42
That’s really sweet. Yeah, I Googled it as you said it. Google just says an “excessively cheerful and optimistic person,” which I love that, like, I love people who can do that. I tried, because I associate that with people who are like, “Oh, you need to, like wake up every morning and choose to be happy.” Right? Which I always would kind of roll my eyes at because it’s like, if you have depression, or if you, there’s so many reasons why people can’t just wake up and choose to be happy. But I think in certain moments, yes, you can choose what you’re going to care about. Right. And I think, I think that’s something you’re really good at. And that’s always something that I’ve been drawn to about you is you choose in the moment what you’re going to care about, what you’re going to let ruffle your feathers, and what you’re going to let just slide off your back. And I think that that’s very powerful.
Michelle Frechette 22:36
I think you choose your response to things right. So there are some things I just walk away from, you know, so there are people who have sought to tear me down and I’m just like, whatever, your opinion doesn’t matter. I’m still gonna dye my hair purple, and I’m gonna get a tattoo. Like who cares? Right? I’m gonna live my life, I’m gonna continue to help people and if you don’t like it, well, that’s, that’s on you. That’s not me. And so it’s not necessarily. I see the whole thing with choose happiness. And I mean, I do have, as somebody who fights depression and anxiety and things like that, I think it’s more about choose your response when you’re able to, right? Because there are days and there are times when you’re not able to. Yesterday was a shitty day. I was in tears a lot yesterday, and let me tell you, if I could have chosen not to cry, I would have. I have this as response to things, I can’t not cry. Like I still cry over the Folgers commercial or Maxwell House or whatever when Peter comes home for Christmas. And he makes the coffee and the parents are like, there’s coffee. Instead of coming down and going who’s at our house? They’re like, “Peter, you’re home!” That’s who I am. Right? But, um, but yeah, not everybody is gonna like everything, not everybody is gonna like you and not everybody’s gonna like what you stand for, who you are, and what you do. And that’s because we all come from different places. Some people come from tremendous hurt, and tremendous places of disappointment, and, and just bitterness. And it really depends on so many things. And so when you can choose your response, think about how your response that only affects other people, but what does it do to you? Right? If you choose to be grumpy and angry about everything, instead of trying to see the silver lining and things, you’re only harming yourself in the end. And the same is true about when you choose to be antagonistic to somebody else in the community as opposed to seeking to understand and not antagonize, you’ve only hurt yourself in the community by driving a wedge between yourself and other people. And it’s not serving you, it’s not serving other people. So instead of coming at people from a place of attack, seek to understand and learn from one another and have that positive and respectful communication.
Allie Nimmons 24:53
Yeah, I entirely agree.
Michelle Frechette 24:57
Oh, and on another note, completely unrelated to any of this, in two weeks I’m picking you up from the airport in Rochester, New York.
Allie Nimmons 25:05
I’m so excited! I’m so excited. I’ve been thinking about it nonstop. I’ve been resisting the urge to pack. I’m one of those people that will pack a month before a trip. And just like, continue, like, I’ll take stuff out and like repack every once in a while. And like, I did that before WordCamp US like, as soon as I knew I was going. Not WordCamp US, oh my gosh, State of the Word in New York. Yeah, as soon as I knew I was going I went and I packed my bag. My husband’s like, what are you doing? This thing is in like, what? November? It’s like, August, there’s no like, it was weeks and weeks and weeks beforehand. So I’ve been resisting the urge to pack also, because I don’t know what like the weather entirely is gonna be like, and
Michelle Frechette 25:44
It will be cold.
Allie Nimmons 25:46
It will be cold. But I need to know how cold, right? I need to look at the forecast.
Michelle Frechette 25:51
I wish I knew. Yeah. No, and I pack literally 20 minutes before I have to get in the car and go to the airport.
Allie Nimmons 25:58
See, we’re different. We’re not the same.
Michelle Frechette 26:01
We are so different. Anyway, looking forward to that looking forward to doing our podcast in person that weekend.
Allie Nimmons 26:09
It’ll be so fun.
Michelle Frechette 26:10
It will. Well, thank you, everybody for listening, putting up with my rambling and our ideas. And you know, if you disagree with us, great! I would love to hear from you in a respectful way. Yeah, of anything that you disagree with us. If you agree with us, that’s great, too. But you know, feel free to comment, share through Twitter or, you know, through the podcast and just, yeah, yeah. Be respectful to one another. I just I like the term “be better.” No matter how good you are, be better.
Allie Nimmons 26:42
Yeah. And we both try. I think we both try to do that as much as we can.
Michelle Frechette 26:47
I agree. Yeah.
Allie Nimmons 26:48
Alrighty. Well, yeah. Thank you for listening everyone. We will see you next week.
Michelle Frechette 26:53
Sounds good! Bye.
Allie Nimmons 26:54
Allie Nimmons 26:58
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