Allie: [00:00:00] Good morning, Michelle.
[00:00:03] Michelle: [00:00:03] Good morning, Allie. How are you?
[00:00:05] Allie: [00:00:05] I’m good. How are you?
[00:00:07] Michelle: [00:00:07] I’m good too. Thanks.
[00:00:08] Allie: [00:00:08] I think we’re both a little sleepy this morning. Definitely talking to you. Always wakes me up and cheers me up. Likewise. So today on the underrepresented in tech log, I wanted to talk to you about words and language.
[00:00:26] Um, I encountered a tweet a little while ago, um, earlier on in April where somebody was talking about the word microaggressions. And how, um, we need to stop saying the word microaggressions because it’s just racism. Like it’s the same thing. And I understood what they were getting at, but it really started to make me think about how important words are and the nuances of those words.
[00:00:54] And, and to me, a word like microaggressions is so important because. We need to give words, weight, depending on the severity. Right? So that we can broach a conversation with people because if somebody uses a microaggression, just out of a place of ignorance, maybe they mean well, but they just don’t know something.
[00:01:17] I would not call that person a racist. Right. I feel like the word racist is, is, is a very, very strong word. And it has very. Um, I’ll just say it very violent connotations behind it. Right. Um, and so somebody who makes a mistake and who is probably very willing to understand and learn from that mistake. I like having words like microaggressions to be able to open up that dialogue with them, without them feeling completely attacked.
[00:01:44] Um, And so I started thinking about all of those sorts of words. So not just microaggressions, but words like prejudices and biases, um, that we use to talk about not only just race, but lots of other things, right? Like they might have certain prejudices that we were taught about people from other countries or people with disabilities or people who are older than us and things like that.
[00:02:10] And I don’t think that it means that, you know, If you have a bias or prejudice that you are actively, uh, trying to make those people’s lives worse, right? Your, your knowledge or lack thereof is a product of the larger system that makes those lives, those people’s lives worse. Um, but yeah, I just kinda wanted to chat with you today and get your thoughts and get our, like our listeners’ and watchers’ thoughts about. The importance of those words and, you know, should we just call everything racism or ableism or, you know, sexism, or like to what degree do we really need those softer words, especially in a world where people are, people have less and less patience and less and less, um, empathy for people who do make those mistakes.
[00:03:04] You know what I mean?
[00:03:05] Michelle: [00:03:05] Yeah. You know, when I was growing up, um, my mom taught me this little phrase that I’m sure that most of us will know, which is, you know, sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me. And the truth is names do hurt, like calling people names that are intentionally um, intended to harm, especially, you know, that is harmful. You know, you can, you can call a person, by nice things and you can call it person by not nice things. And usually when it’s, um, when words are inflicted, right, they’re intended to cause harm and, and words do hurt and words have meaning and they have weight just like you said.
[00:03:47] So, yeah, I think it’s, it’s. It’s kind of a product of, you know, trying to help our children, you know, have tougher skin and, and, you know, not be so triggered by different things and try to teach them. But I’m not sure that we don’t do them a disservice by not allowing them to have the feelings that they feel when people have those aggressions micro or otherwise with the way that they use words.
[00:04:15] Allie: [00:04:15] Yeah, that’s a good point. The person in that original tweet said, there’s nothing I’m going to, uh, their Twitter handle is Dr. OMA, Lara O M O L a R a. I want to give them credit for starting this conversation. Um, she said there’s nothing micro about the pain and trauma we feel after. And I don’t think that the, the, the overall concept of that is wrong at all.
[00:04:38] Um, I just like being able to have. Yeah, the proper words to describe. So for example, um, when I was in high school, I had a friend and I will say friend because she was my friend. She was a very nice person. Um, She was African-American much darker skin than I, and she referred to me as her gray friend because I was, I am white and I am black and right those two colors together and make gray. And she meant that as I see both sides of you, I think both sides of you are cool. Um, but it was very othering to me. It, it reemphasized that it told me that other people saw that I didn’t belong in either group. And it’s things like that where it’s like, I can’t, I can’t call her racist.
[00:05:34] I in good faith. I can’t say that that was a racist thing to say. Right. Um, but it was a microaggression and it, it did hurt. Moreso afterwards when I got older and I kind of had the context in the, um, I really started thinking about how those sorts of things made me feel at the time. It was just sort of like, okay, this is kind of a weird thing to say.
[00:05:59] Right. Um, so I wonder if it’s, if it’s more so about, um, intent or, um, You know, there was also a phrase to describe the mixed kids when I was growing up, which was Oreo. And that was meant more as an insult, right. Where it’s like, Oh, well, your, your, maybe your skin is dark on the outside, but you’re really white on the inside.
[00:06:22] Right. You’re like a faker. Um, nobody ever called me that to my face. Thankfully. Um, my husband got called that a couple of times when he was younger and that really hurt him. So I wonder if it’s maybe more about the intention behind the words. What do you think?
[00:06:36] Michelle: [00:06:36] You know, I know like, so, you know, my daughter I’m white, my daughter is half white, half black as well. And, um, you know, there’s been different things. She’s been called over the years as well. And I think, you know, I think Oreo is one of those zebra has been another word that’s been used in the past. And, um, you know, the, they used to use the word and I still hear people use this word.
[00:06:57] I see it online. I hear the word “mulato” a lot, which is a horrible word to call somebody. Um, and I’ll say growing up. I didn’t know those were bad things. I didn’t use them because I tried never to just. Like, I always thought you weren’t supposed to even like tell a black person they were black or use the word black.
[00:07:15] Like that was something only they could say, I could only acknowledge they were a person. I couldn’t acknowledge their color. And I was raised with the United colors of Benetton and being colorblind was considered a good thing. Right. And then, you know, like, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, whatever it was. Um, I heard somebody say, don’t want you to be colorblind you’re. I mean, I’m proud of who I am. My skin color defines me in a way.” Right. So it doesn’t wholly define you, but it’s part of who you are. Um, and so like, colorblind is also not good. And so it’s, it’s not, it hasn’t been easy to navigate. Right. I’m older than you. So my. Racist roots if you will, of growing up, knowing that I was, I was being taught racism.
[00:08:01] Um, and you know, my that’s my parents, they didn’t know they were teaching me racism. And now I get to teach them that the things that they taught me were wrong, you know? Um, words like Oriental, like my mom will refer to people as Oriental and I’ll say, mom, the word is Asian. We only refer to rugs as Oriental now.
[00:08:21] Yeah. You know, and those kinds of things. And so. We learn. Right. We learn and we grow. And I think that when we’re taught that something is wrong, but we continue to use it. That’s what it goes from being a microaggression or misguided to all out racism. Because if you learn and you don’t grow and you don’t acknowledge and you don’t change, that’s when things are really bad.
[00:08:46] Allie: [00:08:46] Yeah. It’s intent intention. Right. And it’s, it’s interesting because like words like prejudices and biases, I think about a lot. Um, because I remember hearing a story a while back about a man who he himself was black, but he grew up in a very white affluent, you know, upper-class area. Um, And he was like walking down the street with his young daughter and he passed by another black man and this black man presented in a very stereotypically black way, right?
[00:09:23] Like the saggy pants and the chains and blah, blah, blah. And he crossed the, the, the man with the daughter, saw the guy coming and crossed to the other side of the street. And afterwards he was like, Holy crap. I can’t believe I just did that. Right. And like that to me is, is he described it as a bias, right? Like he had a bias against certain types of people, even though he himself is like, they’re the same, um, they’re both black males, but he had this, this reaction, this gut reaction based off of what he was taught, um, Until it’s until what do you call that?
[00:10:08] Do you call that racism? Can you call that racism? Can can two black people be racist against each other? Like what do all of these things mean? Um,
[00:10:18] Michelle: [00:10:18] yeah, there are people who are, you know, are, prejudice against other people because they’re literally from the other side of town, they have the same exact roots, right?
[00:10:27] So like if white people can be aggressive, against other white people, because you are from the wrong side of the track, so to speak then. Absolutely. I think people can have prejudices against other people. I think I told you this before. Um, my, my daughter has been told that she’s not black enough. Like, what does that mean?
[00:10:49] Allie: [00:10:49] What does that mean? Yeah, you’re so you’re assuming then when you say that, you’re assuming that, you know, as the speaker, what it means to be black whole, whole cloth, right. And that’s impossible that doesn’t make sense. Great. Yeah. Going back to what you were just saying,
[00:11:03] Michelle: [00:11:03] But it wasn’t white people saying it, it was black, it was black people, right?
[00:11:06] Allie: [00:11:06] Yeah. I’ve received much, many more microaggressions and bias and prejudice statements about my race from, from black people, from my family, even then from other white people. And that’s not to say that white people maybe don’t think those things or believe those things. I think they’re a little bit more afraid to say those things, maybe just putting that out there. Um, but yeah, like I remember. I have family members. Who’ve made all kinds of statements about like my hair and how I have good hair. And I’m like, okay, well then you’re insinuating that there’s a bad hair. Right? Right. Like going back to what you were saying a few minutes ago, my best friend, her family comes from Sicily and she tells me all the time about the, the, the relationship between Italians and Sicilians. And it’s like looking, you would not be able to tell by looking at difference at the Italian and Sicilian, but there exists this like animosity based on all these other things. Right. Yeah. Um, so I wonder how let’s, let’s kind of move this conversation into our world, into the tech world, right?
[00:12:16] Um, I’m not exactly sure how, I just kind of want to find a route back to what we do. Um, I just know that, you know, particularly from the WordPress community, I’ve encountered one or two people who I would describe as racist. I’ve encountered a lot of people who have said microaggressions or revealed prejudices and biases.
[00:12:43] And I feel like those are the people that I can have conversations with because. I feel like once you point out that was a biased statement and here’s why people are typically willing to learn, what, what has your experience been like?
[00:12:58] Michelle: [00:12:58] Oh, absolutely. A hundred percent the same. And you know, Obviously more from a standpoint, if we’re talking about ethnicity and race more from a standpoint as observer, and maybe the person that’s committed microaggressions and learned from them.
[00:13:12] Right. So, um, you know,
[00:13:15] Allie: [00:13:15] These words definitely don’t just apply to race as well. Right? Like you hear microaggressions against, um, people who are overweight or people who use wheelchairs or, you know, all sorts of stuff.
[00:13:27] Michelle: [00:13:27] Uh, one of the things is like, so I will describe myself as fat. Right. I will use the word plus size.
[00:13:35] My mother, I grew up, my mother is also, has always been a person who carries extra weight. And so she would use the words, Rubinesque , and, voluptuous like was like we’re gonna take fat. We’re going to make it sound sexy. Right? So you’re rubinesque your voluptuous, whatever. Um, You know, I, I will say I hate the word obese, but that’s probably because I think the medical connotation that comes from it, um, and I hate the words morbidly obese, because that’s like, Oh, you’re going to die.
[00:14:00] You know, a lot of fat people live to be really old by the way kind of thing, but, but don’t assume things about fat people and don’t use the word fat. Um, in an aggressive way, right? So you could be like, I don’t care if I’m your fat friend, you can call me your fat friend. If you’re saying it in a way that just describes jovial Michelle or whatever, or sad Michelle or whatever.
[00:14:21] Um, I, I know have tweeted about this before, but it’s been a long time. I had a friend who was, I guess she’s still my friend. I don’t, I have our paths don’t cross as often anymore because of the, just the way our careers have taken us. But, um, She was a runner. She was slender, she was athletic. She had twins.
[00:14:42] Um, and what I was part of her life, more like her twins were nine and the four of us went away for a weekend. Um, they had a cabin and she’s like, Hey, you want to come away for the weekend and just kind of get away from things. I brought my art supplies. I taught her kids how to do Zentangles. It was a great weekend.
[00:14:59] We had a lot of fun, you know, we all cook together. That kind of thing. On the way home, her kids were like zonked out in the back of the car. And she said to me, can I ask you a question? And I’m like, you can ask me anything. I’m, I’m pretty much an open book. Right. But what she asked me kind of like took me aback a little, she said to me, considering your size, how are you so confident?
[00:15:24] Right. I just looked, I like took a half a beat and I’m so glad I didn’t like stumble over my words. And I said, I’m sorry, am I not supposed to be? Yeah. And she kind of like backpedaled, like she realized she’d said something wrong. I said, I want you to understand something. I said, I have a lot of intelligence in my head.
[00:15:43] I have a lot to share. I have a lot of kindness. And if I let the size of my ass dictate how the rest of me was able to share that information, that would be a sorry thing, indeed. And I understand that there are people who are so ashamed of their own bodies that that happens. I just choose to live in my body.
[00:16:03] It’s it betrays me sometimes, or I get to use a scooter that you can crash after I leave and have fun with. But the truth is just because I am a fatter person or, you know, whatever, I’m rubinesque if you want to my mom’s word. Um, but it shouldn’t make me less confident. It shouldn’t mean that the information I have to share, the knowledge and the kindness and the heart that I have should be impacted and how other people receive me either.
[00:16:28] Allie: [00:16:28] I really like, I mean, it’s, it’s kindergarten level stuff. Right. But the way that you look does not impact who you are on the inside, like, if you want to get a little Sesame street about it, right. Like. I can’t believe she asked you that that’s, that’s wild. That’s crazy.
[00:16:48] Michelle: [00:16:48] It is the other thing that I will say too. And this, this goes back to being a white mother with a non-white child. Okay. Um, I was in church and she was maybe two years old and somebody said to me, Oh, how old was she when you adopted her? And I was just like taken aback. Cause most of the people in my church had had known me since, before she was born.
[00:17:11] It didn’t. And it was like the first time it occurred to me that somebody would look at us and not realize that like that kid came out of me, you know? And I just looked at her. I said, Oh no, she came my vagina. Like I said, it just like that to like, like I’m going to put your shock value right back on you.
[00:17:25] So you realize that yeah, you just said was the wrong.
[00:17:29]Allie: [00:17:29] Um, geez, Louise. I wonder. So I didn’t really, um, grew up spending a lot of time with my dad. Who’s white, but sometimes I wonder about that. Like if, if, uh, you know, my dad had been walking around with me because my dad is, you know, as white as you are, he’s about the same complexion as you are.
[00:17:46] Um, if people would have had that assumption, where did this white man get this little brown child from? Where did you steal that child? Yeah. Um, luckily I look kind of like my mom, even though she’s deeper skin than I. We look, we look alike in our features. So people, you know, figured out that we were related.
[00:18:04] Um, one thing I definitely would like to, to leave our listeners with, um, if these are things that are confusing to you, right? Like maybe you don’t know how to refer to a person. And one example that comes to mind, um, kind of veering away a little bit from the race thing is. Ableism or rather, um, specifically, sorry, there’s a truck outside.
[00:18:28] Um, I viewed a conversation on Twitter the other day where somebody, two people were discussing, um, autism. And the difference between saying, you know, I am autistic versus I have autism, right? Because one kind of defines you more as a person and the other one, and somebody was saying, you know, don’t say that I’m autistic.
[00:18:52] I have autism. And the other person was like, well, I, I I’m the other way around. I prefer it to be said this way. Um, so the point I’m getting at is a lot of times there’s not one right answer right. Of how to use some of these words. Right. Um, If you’re uncertain ask, like Michelle has said she doesn’t mind being referred to as fat.
[00:19:18] I’m certain that there are heavy people who would not like using that. You know what I mean? I hundred percent agree. There are so many people that hate it. Yeah. My mother is black. She has been told by people don’t say black say African-American and her response is. I’ve never been to Africa. I was not born in Africa.
[00:19:41] You can trace my family back eight generations. None of them have ever set foot on that, on the continent of Africa before I’m black. Right. But some people would prefer to be called African-American. So. And in the same token, going back to that original tweet, some people don’t like the word microaggressions.
[00:20:01] Some people just want to call it racism. So there isn’t one right answer. And as we’re having these conversations in our tech industry, but also in the wider world, like do the best that you can. And if somebody calls you out on using a word incorrectly or calling something, something that they prefer, you don’t call it.
[00:20:20] Apologize and say, I won’t do that again. You know, it’s this it’s as simple as that.
[00:20:24] Michelle: [00:20:24] Well, can I also say that, you know, do we have to refer to each other by our physicalities? Right. Do I have to say, Oh Allie, and she’s the black girl that was on my podcast. Like, do we have to say that? Or can I say, Oh, Allie , she’s that brilliant girl who had uh, Pixel Glow, you might have heard her talk about this, that or the other. Can we not talk about our accomplishments and we can we not refer to each other by other things? So she’s the kind, one of the kindest people I know you, you might see her on, you know, this is her hand, her Twitter handle, or this is her, you know, I don’t have to be, I mean, not that I, like I said, I don’t mind being the the fat person, but you don’t have to refer to oh Michelle’s my fat friend.
[00:20:59] Right. You can just say, Oh, you met Michelle, she’s got a podcast. She works for this company. She does these things.
[00:21:05] Allie: [00:21:05] You might’ve done a really good point.
[00:21:07] Michelle: [00:21:07] Right. So we don’t have to refer to each other by anything that is, that’s a physicality, unless there’s literally no other way to discern people. Right?
[00:21:14] Allie: [00:21:14] Yeah. That is thank you for bringing it up. That is an amazing point. Extremely true. Especially dealing in, you know, in tech, in WordPress and in PR in the professional world, there is absolutely. Pretty much, no reason to refer to people by how they look. Um, I guess
[00:21:31] Michelle: [00:21:31] That’s not to say we don’t need diversity though.
[00:21:33] Right? We still acknowledge it, but we don’t have to refer to people that way.
[00:21:37] Allie: [00:21:37] Right. And even just outside in the world, having these conversations, if you do need to describe someone in these sorts of ways, um, or, you know, I think too about when I talk to people about like, Bringing in diverse people as speakers, or, you know, sometimes you might want to say, Oh, I know this person, they are autistic, or they have autism, or, you know, using those things as qualifiers of like, they have a unique experience that might, they might want to contribute their voice too.
[00:22:10] Um, there are times and places to describe people for their diverse traits. Yes. Most of the time work. It’s not the place to be.
[00:22:25] Michelle: [00:22:25] You are correct. Absolutely. Alrighty, but it’s not a conversation that can be solved. We’re not having a 20 minute conversation. That’s going to solve this because this is language is evolving the way that, um, that different. People communicate with one another evolves, right? So you and I would, if this was 1962 with this will be a much different conversation than it is in 2021, I have to stop and think about year it is.
[00:22:55] Um, so you know, things change and things grow, and I love that we can have these open conversations. And I love that. If I say something that it’s like, Oh, Michelle don’t ever say that again. You can tell me that. And I’ll be like, Oh my goodness. I can’t believe I said that. And I’m so sorry. I’ll never do it again kind of thing, you know, and that I don’t have to worry about offending my friend, because I’m not referring to you in an offensive way, as much as being, um, educated that sometimes I might say something that’s not the right thing. I’m so glad you bring up these subjects. So that between us, we have different experiences that we can talk about and that hopefully our conversations on Thursday mornings help other people do better too.
[00:23:37] Allie: [00:23:37] Yeah, I hope so too. That’s definitely what I want is someone to leave, leave this experience a little bit more prepared to go out into the world and be a good, good friend to other people. Absolutely. Thanks. Thanks. I’ll talk to you next week.
[00:23:51] Michelle: [00:23:51] You got it.