The Vicious Cycle of Assumptions and Stereotypes

Let me step away from technology and business for a few moments. I’ve got something to discuss as it is still elusive to people.

As humans, we tend to put people into boxes. On the egregious end, it results in things like racism and sexism. On the more mild end, it causes things like disappointment from false expectations. We look at people, or groups of people, and we channel our own biases and notions – sometimes fairly, but mostly unfairly – on those people or groups. It keeps us on cyclical merry go rounds repeating the same mistakes over and over again

As an example, in the wide world of the web, it’s easy to break people into two groups – marketers and developers. Marketers are often seen as the type of person who can sell. They are social creatures that meet people, pitch people and generally are more socially adept than the other side.

Developers are generally seen as the types that sit in front of their computers writing code. The comical stereotype is the pasty-faced guy in his momma’s basement. Average Computer Science programs at Universities are male dominated making the relationship between men and women…. interesting. Or so it’s perceived.

In a similar vein, there are people who are seen as right-brained creatives. They are seen as artsy and, in the web world, tend to be the design and UX types. They are free thinkers. These types may be musicians. Or photographers. Or painters. Or they may just be “ideas” folks. They build iPhone apps because iPhones are cool. They work independently because… they don’t like the restraint of working with others within a structured environment.

On the flip side, you have left brained people who, as perception goes, are more mathematical and analytical. They see system and process and routine and operate well within those confines. They tend to think less open ended and more linearly with finite points of start and end. These are project management types that need the structure to perform.

In politics, you have Democrats who, if the perception is accurate, are supportive of social issues like green energy, are anti-war, support equal rights for all and no expense should be spared to see that the world is, in a very utopian way, a better place.

The opposite of that, however, or so our culture would dictate, are Republicans. Republicans are generally seen as stodgy and supporting policies of military expansionism, lower taxes which result in lower costs, and perhaps, reduced services and benefits.

The problem with all of these stereotypes is that it is impossible to evaluate individuals for who they are and what they stand for. My good friend @amandare will blow your mind. She is a motorhead, pool shark and a major football fan. And she loves knitting.

Another friend, @caseysoftware, is a computer science engineer and one of the smartest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s also the community guy (or has been since he’s now moving to Austin), for the PHP developers group in DC. That’s a fairly social position and doesn’t work with the stereotypical developer personality.

I am actually a fairly left-brained guy. I write code, I think in systems and patterns, and I operate well with definite task-oriented routines. I’m also a creative in that I am a musician, photographer, have an open-minded sense of aesthetics and art and prefer to think outside the box than inside.

How do people function in a world where stereotypes rule the day? Well, clearly, many don’t. Women pass up men to date based on assumptions of what a guy would be like. Some people fail to put themselves in positions to be hired simply based on a pre-conceived expectation of who will be at an event. Managers fail to manage effectively, because of assumptions about how the people they manage need to be managed. Job seekers fail to apply for their perfect job because they assume they are not qualified for it.

Taking the time to understand the world around you will help you succeed in life. Otherwise, it’s a never-ending cycle.

Photo by The Knowles Gallery and used under Creative Commons.

I Need to Get Out in Front of this PR Nightmare…

I do not want to post this. But in the spirit of good PR, I have to get out in front of it. :-)

This was a home video taken on July 29, 1988 – twenty years ago almost to the day.

The story was… it was in Africa, where I lived for a bit from age 8-12. My parents were missionaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo (was known as Zaire then). There was little to do as 1) a kid and 2) in Africa.

One of the things that we would do is use a makeshift slip and slide created from plastic sheets. Put a hose on the top and a full water mattress at the bottom and you had hours of fun for kids.

This was, if I recall, a picnic where a number of missionary families were getting together. Note the one guy who was always bound to be “somewhat inappropriate” with his dead and stinking monkey on a stick. Yes, it’s a real monkey. It was already dead. :-)

Ugh. Wow. Just wow. I’m going to kill someone now. :)

Loren Feldman Demonstrates Artistic Handiwork But is Not Racist

Alot has been said recently of the cyclone that has begun to swirl around Loren Feldman. Loren is, and continues to be, my friend first and foremost. Though I know this will be completely offensive to some in the blogosphere, many of whom I respect and see as colleagues, it has to be said.

madame_x.jpgArtwork is artwork and Loren is an artist. The best art is offensive to somebody. That’s the truth. Take this painting known as Madame X.

According to the story, this piece caused such a stir in 19th century France due to the sexual posturing of the Madame in the photo. The sexuality conveyed with the skin and pink ears was absolutely obscene in French society of 1884. (Source) Today, we would think nothing of this piece of art but in that day, there was a clear message sent about the nature of the society at the time and the truth was offensive.

In the late 80s, the National Endowment for the Arts funded the exhibition of a photograph called Piss Christ which set evangelical Christians on edge. The photograph portrays a crucifix set in a jar of the author’s urine. Some saw the piece as blasphemy while others saw it as an observation of what society has done to Jesus.

The point being that artwork can sometimes be damning. Art, like music, is one of those rare things that provides such an avenue into a person’s soul that sometimes what is seen within is frightening and, like the French of 1884, they don’t confront the issue but shove it back into a dark corner.

Do I believe racism still exists in America? Absolutely. It is one of the worst calamities ever wrought on this nation, and many others. Do I believe Loren Feldman, in his weeklong parody/social experiment, toed the line? Yeah, I do. Did he cross it? Eh… who am I to judge? Is he racist? Heck no.

Many of the people who have defended Loren have done so from the position of first hand experience. I, like many of them, know Loren personally. I’ve spent days with the guy. I’ve slept on his sofa when I was stranded in New York. I laughed with him in San Francisco and Toronto at two different events.

Is he controversial? You betcha. Is he racist? Not a chance.

Loren Feldman Debacle Demonstrates Ignorance Lives

By now, many of you have heard about the failed attempt at humor by video blogger Loren Feldman. In the past, I’ve been pleased to call Loren my friend. He is funny, and very New York – two combos that I like. People like Loren often make me miss NYC, where people are real.

However, Loren took things a bit too far with his videos from a year ago. He stepped over serious racial lines, offending many people. It started with a video where he asks, “Where are all the black tech bloggers?” It ends with a series of other racist videos that resulted in the termination of his contract with PodTech.

Now, I believe that everyone makes mistakes and that mistakes are forgiveable. Hell, I’ve made mistakes – some of the racial type – that have been forgiven.

But Loren has intentionally gone too far and shows no signs of coming back. Last month, Loren had two deals secured to create and distribute video content. One was with CNet (owned by CBS) and the other with Verizon Wireless who planned to syndicated his content to their V-Cast service.

Both companies canned him after recognizing that this was not the kind of image they wanted their brands to convey.

Corvida, over at SheGeeks, was instrumental in having the Verizon Wireless deal deep-sixed. She states in her post:

The video was degrading. He was degrading an entire community and it should not be supported by Verizon nor its customers. It hit close to home and not necessarily because it was true on some levels, but because it was negative on every level. It was an ignorant video and one that mocked a small percentage of the African-American community. Yet, that particular part of the community is the most profile and we can all guess why. Everyone loves drama.

Corvida is dead right. Apparently, many other people agree with her.

Loren stepped over a serious line. I’ve attempted, thus far, to stay out of this. Race is a serious issue in this country and though some would like to believe it is a thing of the past, it is not. Anyone who bandys around racial slurs so recklessly deserves never to have business again.