Software for Good Logo
Insights / October 19, 2015

Continued Thoughts on Privilege

By Casey Helbling

As a white/straight/cisman/wealthy/educated/able-bodied/land-owning person, I’m at the pinnacle of privilege and power. While I don’t feel guilty about inheriting decades/centuries of systemic injustice, I do feel guilty that I didn’t recognize my own privilege sooner in life.

I wonder how many microaggressive or flat-out oppressive things I’ve done over the past 30 years that I was completely oblivious to. How many times I’ve said “man up.” How many shitty racist jokes I’ve told.

These obvious failures aside, let’s talk about microagression in tech. I wonder how many M/F-only gender dropdowns I’ve coded. I wonder how many completely inadequate race dropdowns I’ve created. I wonder how many times I’ve othered. I wonder how many totally inaccessible sites I’ve developed. I wonder how many times I’ve decided my CSS pixels were fine when EMs would have been a much better option for visual scaling. I wonder how many times my laziness has created an injustice. I wonder if my Apple fanboy bias has hindered my desire to create apps for clients that are SMS or Android only. I wonder why we continue to ask gender questions when, frankly, gender isn’t really what matters.

How much of my own laziness and ignorance has harmed others?

As members of the software development community, we must use caution to not perpetuate social inequality in the applications and tools we create. We need to recognize the need for privacy in the data we capture and never betray our users’ trust. Don’t be lazy. Take the extra effort to consider your biases and your privilege.

This week, remember and recognize your privilege. We don’t need to harbor guilt over our successes, but recognize that many of us got where we are in life by running downhill with the wind at our backs.

Software shouldn’t be built only for people who are running downhill with the wind at their backs. 

Unless we actively focus on this fact, we will continue to unconsciously propagate inequalities. By paying attention to our privilege, we can better see—and address—these inequities in our words and work.