Change Begins With Me
Institutional racism has been with us for centuries. It is the root cause of the anger of inequity marches throughout our cities. Whether we protect it, ignore it, or are victimized by it, it is a societal ill that is tearing our democracy apart. The real question we face now, perhaps more than ever, is what can we do about it?
I don't believe any individual is capable of answering that question for everyone else. However, I do believe that each of us is responsible for asking it of ourselves. As the Executive Director of the North American Network Operators' Group (NANOG), I wrestle with that question often. Our community is a reflection of the tech industry, which is still predominantly white, and male. So I ask myself almost daily, “What can I do, both personally and professionally, to encourage diversity and inclusion in this community? What can I do to embody and inspire change?”
I believe it begins with individual intention. The basic tenet of democracy is that power is not concentrated at the top; its fundamental precept is that meaningful power is in the hands of individuals. And if a person commits to doing better, they will do better. I am fortunate to work with a diverse team, but that is only as helpful as I allow it to be. To benefit from that diversity, I must encourage diverse points of view. If I am the loudest voice in the room, mine is the only one I will hear. I must be vulnerable, and acknowledge that I don't have all the answers. In fact, I shouldn't have all the answers. It is only when I let go of control that I stand to benefit from the wealth of knowledge and perspectives provided by the diverse team I work with.
Diversity flourishes in an environment of safety and inclusion. At NANOG, we developed a code of conduct that not only encourages diversity, but protects it. We have zero tolerance for behavior that is harmful or disrespectful to anyone regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, disability, physical appearance, personal appearance, race, color, national origin, or religion (or lack thereof).
We also needed to reach beyond our immediate community to become evangelists for the change we wanted to see. As a leader, I couldn't just stand in front of our community and deliver a pretty speech; I had to acknowledge that diversity was not going to walk through our door. If we wanted to get more students involved, it meant we needed to reach out to students. If we wanted to engage with more communities of color, we had to go directly to communities of color. If we wanted more women in technology, we needed to reach out to more women.
Do I always achieve my goals? No, I do not. Do I sometimes fail? More times than I care to admit. Change is hard. It is one of the most challenging things that any of us can attempt. But lasting change comes from doing things that are not easy, nor convenient. A good first step is to envision the change you want to see. To ask yourself, “Am I doing all I can do?” “Am I surrounding myself with people who have diverse points of view, and listening to voices other than my own?” “Am I creating a safe environment for all?” Am I reaching beyond my community to encourage others to participate?”
As an African American, I am all too familiar with the pain, anger, and humiliation that inequity breeds. It is an inescapable reality, and all too easy to look in the mirror and see George Floyd’s face staring back at me. The knowledge that on the wrong day, at the wrong time, and under the wrong circumstances, I could find myself with a knee on my neck, gasping for air. We can do better. We must do better. Change begins right now, and it begins with me.
In solidarity with the Amplify Melanated Voices and Black Lives Matter movements, NANOG is pausing all regular social-media content through June 7. We encourage you to listen, learn, and continue to make lasting change alongside us.
Resources we have found to be helpful:
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