Last week, I took part in a 'booksprint', which involved bringing together a group of people from different disciplines, to collaboratively write a book from start to finish in just three days.
It was my second booksprint - the first being this, "How to Read and Understand an Oil Contract", which I coordinated logistics for, and participated in as target reader - but my first as a fully-fledged writer. It was a brilliant experience, for a number of reasons - some obvious, some less so.
I woke up this morning to see this post by Jillian York, “Courage – it’s not just for white men”. Suffice to say, I wholeheartedly agree with it, especially the idea of remixing that wholly reductive image released by Pirate Parties International.
As Jillian mentions, there are a whole host of women and people of colour that didn’t appear on the remixed version she produced; so, here’s another, with the people who came to mind for me.
Across the global development sector, the idea of opening up data and becoming more transparent is taking hold. One might even say that it has become reasonably well established; almost every week, new data portals commissioned by global development organisations are appearing.
Undoubtedly, this move towards transparency and open data is, in theory, a positive development. Responsibly sharing data on global development projects is potentially, a crucial step towards more effective international development projects, both in terms of more efficient development programming on the side of the practitioner, and in terms of increasing accountability for citizens affected by projects.
So surely the flourishing online data portals are a good thing?
Not entirely. While the intentions are undoubtedly good, the results are often much less so.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my best friends handed in her PhD, in geology, and the TLD .rocks went on sale. Clearly this was a sign, so I bought her what has to be the best domain for a geologist named Sorcha to own: http://sorcha.rocks.
I built her a little present on the site, too – a memory game, with photos she took during the PhD, and the place names, meaning that she's basically the only one who will recognise the pictures and be able to do it really from memory. Once the game has been completed successfully, a 'to do list' appears at the bottom of the page, so it's hidden to most viewers.
Yesterday, I went to a fantastic wedding. It was truly wonderful for a number of personal reasons, given that it was my brother's wedding (!) – but it was also, for me, a great example of how an old-fashioned institution like marriage can be brought into the 21st century, and celebrated without gender-bias.
On Monday, I co-presented a short show on Berlin Community Radio, with my friend Kate McCurdy, on a topic that has been fascinating us for a little while now – feminist science fiction. We looked at a few key pieces of science fiction from as far back as 1905, with a short reading from Sultana's Dream, another reading of Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness (one of our favourite pieces!), and talked briefly about Afrofuturism, too. We were joined by April who provided us with some awesome spacey tunes.
We did a fair bit of research for the show, which I've arranged below into an article, with links to works we mentioned– we said much of what is written below in the radio show though, which you can listen to online here. Suggestions for future radio show segments are welcome, as are recommendations of other feminist science fiction books to read!
The cultural wonders of immigration: 3 generations, 3 mother tongues, and a lot of cultural differences
[Image credit: an amazing visualisation on migration flows, on http://global-migration.info]
In a couple of weeks, my brother is getting married. This is a hugely exciting event in my family, and family members are coming from all around the world to attend the wedding(s) – they're having the actual wedding in Devon, and then a 'reception' up where my parents live, in Manchester.
Party details aside, I don't think I'll have ever seen so many of my family members gathering in one place before; though we still have lots of family in Bangladesh, we've all travelled a lot. It's made me think a lot about the various cultures that are encompassed within our extended family – within just a couple of generations, we've put roots down all across the world, and that has brought with it some interesting changes in cultural values among us.
A few weeks ago, someone asked me at a party, “Where do you come from?” and then second-guessed my answer, asking “No no, I mean where do you come from, originally?” This isn't anything new, sadly, but what happened afterwards surprised me.
Someone I didn't know very well interrupted my interrogator, with
“You know, that question is racist.”
I was speechless. A white German man, who I'd never really spoken to, was saying almost exactly what I was about to say. The conversation continued, with protests from the man asking the questions, and the man who interrupted him explaining clearly and firmly why asking different questions to different people based on their skin colour, as well as not accepting their answer, is racist.
It was wonderful.
Having those conversations, explaining to someone why what they're saying or doing is discriminatory, is incredibly tiring. Sometimes I don't even bother; I just answer the question, then walk away, but I always feel a twinge of almost guilt, knowing that they'll likely just go ahead and continue their behaviour as is.
But then again, it's not my responsibility to explain the world and its migration flows to them... so whose is it? When someone else – and especially, someone who has likely never been asked that question in his entire life in Germany – decided to step in and help explain, it was incredibly welcome and (sadly) a huge surprise.
It's all very well not engaging in discriminatory practices yourself, or having an increased self-awareness of what you and those around you are doing; but going that step further, and actually speaking out, is much more than many people actually bother doing. Naturally, it's part of the privilege bestowed upon sections of society that we/they can actually ignore discrimination to the level of never having to engage with it; that, however, is not making it go away for the rest of society.
Perhaps there's the worry of 'mansplaining' or speaking over others, but (and obviously, I can only speak for myself here) – knowing that there are active allies who I can turn to in those cases is really so reassuring. People who would not just stand by me while I get into an argument with someone over what is considered racist or not, but those who would actually join the argument rather than watching from the sidelines.
If you're really, truly, wanting to use your position of privilege, wherever it may lie, then stop being a passive observer of discrimination around you, and actually do something about it. Say something. Explain why. If it's purely a case of ignorance on their part, then it's your responsibility to educate them just as much as it is anyone else's.
PS. There are ways of doing this that are considerate and understanding, but also get the point across – Willow's blog on this topic addresses some of these points really well.
This week, after a couple of months break, I returned to adding things to my project website. I've written before about the things I've learned en route to building that site (the most comprehensive round up being this post, “Newbie hacking coding tips”) but there are a few other things that came to mind during this week's foray.
Namely: what to do when you get stuck, or something doesn't work? I've written before that it's important to try and use your own logic before asking for help, and to try and follow trails as much as you can, but that's still a little vague. So, here's a summary of things I've learned to do when things break, or don't work quite as I expected.