Yesterday, social media exploded with the story of a 9th grader, Ahmed Mohamed, getting arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school. Ahmed now gets to take trips to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the White House. His future is probably set. Because he made his own clock. So he could learn. Because it was fun.
I’m glad it ended that way. It could have gone very differently. And I have to wonder. If he had been white, would he have been arrested? I don’t know anything about the school or Ahmed, really, but I’d have to venture a guess that someone at the school knew him, and knew of his interest in electronics and programming. At least I sure hope so. Where were they when all this went down? Why didn’t the principal know? Adults failed him because adults far too often assume the worst in kids. It’s what teen shows are made of.
Ahmed’s story to me is one where people were afraid. They were afraid of the technology. No one had ever seen a computer board outside of those scary spy and crime shows on tv where they’re hooked to bombs. They were afraid of who Ahmed was, based on his ethnicity. First, we need to educate people about technology. If engineering or CS is offered more broadly, educators would see projects like Ahmed’s more frequently. They might even be able to look at it closely and understand how it worked. And more importantly, we need to get away from stereotypes about what techie people look like, and what certain kinds of people are like.
I’m kind of cheating here, since I’m pulling content from WoW.com, but I thought this column and the comments that follow it were pretty interesting. In it, the Drama Mamas discuss what to do when someone in your group says something racist or sexist or offensive in some way. The suggested strategy is a good one, boiling down to basically: 1) tell the person you find it offensive and to stop and then 2) if they don’t stop, kick them from the group and 3) report them to Blizzard. I’ve had this experience more than once. Just the other day, while we were waiting for someone to return, a guy told a racist joke, a bad racist joke. I was stunned, but didn’t say anything. The other two people said something, and one even virtually spit on him. I doubt they reported him and we continued on our way, mostly as if nothing had happened. According to both the columnists and many of the commenters, this is a pretty common reaction. You’re thinking, damn, it’s just an avatar; I don’t even know this guy. And you just let it go.
But I think the argument to call these people on their misbehavior is a good one. It probably won’t change their underlying racism or sexism, but it might make the game space a more pleasant place for those of us who are behaving ourselves.
The whole pugging experience has made me think about how and why people behave so badly among strangers. When I was growing up, I was taught to be on my *best* behavior when I was around strangers. Yes, the Internet provides a screen to hide behind, but I still have the sensation that the people might be able to figure out who I am, and I’d want them to think highly of me. It’s amazing to me that there are people who’s idea of letting their hair down involves making everyone around them uncomfortable. When the guy told that racist joke, I thought, how does he know one of us isn’t black? Or is he the kind of guy who would tell that joke even if he knew one of us was black? Really, I shouldn’t want to play with a guy like that and I should have done something more. And next time, I will.