This post by Miriam Posner, professor and coordinator of the Digital Humanities program at the University of California, Los Angeles is actually her added response of an original 2012 post titled “Some Things to Think about before You Exhort Everyone to Code.” She had asserted that the “culture of code” excluded women and people of color and then outlined steps for broaching the difficult conversations necessary for improving the digital humanities community. The replies to the first blog post invoked broader arguments about digital humanities, which altered the initial context, so in the second post she merely aimed to clarify.
Having gained hindsight, Posner hoped to differentiate to readers between what women ought to do from what women are(n’t) doing, which is code. The work getting people noticed and employed, after all, is work that shows one can code. “Here, there, and everywhere, we’re being told: A DHer should code! Don’t know how? Learn!” Thus the premise of her argument sounds straightforward enough: middle-class white men tend to have better access to computers and the education of the corresponding skills, so it needs to be acknowledged that structural barriers may stand in the way of diversifying the discipline. I personally could not help but relate to her description of what it’s like for a woman to learn to program (among other male dominated things). “You will immediately be conspicuous . . . it makes you extremely conscious of your mistakes, confusion, and skill level,” regardless of group or online setting. Fair enough.
What must have been controversial and discomforting for others about Posner’s call to action was her frank willingness to be controversial and discomforting. To paraphrase, I think she would say that supporting women and people of color to code is easier said than done. In practice, the crucial difference will be if people sacrifice fairness for the sake of niceness. She asserts that uncomfortable conversations about these issues simply need to happen. Though a potentially bleak prospect, Posner’s post somehow injects humor and optimism. For example, “Step 2: Let’s acknowledge that we all do racist and sexist stuff sometimes. I should know. I do it all the time. All. The. Time. I don’t mean to, and I’m not a bad person, but I do. Let’s just figure out together how we can stop doing this when it counts, when we’re depriving someone of an opportunity to learn or do something important.” I think if an honest, self-effacing, and motivating statement like this generated buzz on the Journal of Digital Humanities, the uncomfortable conversation may hopefully get easier and easier. Now if there was only a way to make coding itself easier . . .
Miriam Posner, “Think Talk Make Do: Power and the Digital Humanities,” Journal of Digital Humanities, Vol. 1 (Issue 2), 2012