Activism and Tech at Slack

by Logan Henderson

Last week I attended the Earthtones event for People of Color in tech put on by Slack staff. There were short presentations by technologist Stacy La, Github VP Nicole Sanchez, and Slack employee Nishant Totla, and an interview with activist, Deray McKesson and entrepreneur, Anil Dash of Makerbase.

They all shared with the audience about their work and experiences as POC in tech. I particularly enjoyed hearing Nishant and his perspective as an international student and what he has learned since meeting students and other folks in the US like how people perceive him without bothering to get to know him and the ways colorism manifests in India.

Here is a list of notable takeaways from Deray’s commentary that are useful for all people of color working in the field of activism or technology:

  • Being well-known leads to a sort of “scaled intimacy.”

  • On coalition building: it’s important because we may not have the same goals, but we do want to live in the same world. This statement made me think about deeper questions, such as: If ultimately our desires are the same, then what are the barriers to coalition building effectively? And are we not assuming that people want to live in the same world?

  • “Challenge from without, and change from within.” Right now we are challenging from the outside but soon we will begin to make change from within through work on boards and within organizations.  But what does or could this look like? Is attempting to change from within worth it if the foundation of the organization is tainted or rotten? These are questions we all need to think through.

  • “You’re enough to build a movement.” We can all counteract the voices and institutions that say we aren’t enough of anything.

  • “[You] can keep going despite encountering hostility” by making a commitment to fight today and fight tomorrow, and make that commitment everyday. Even then, Deray urges us to be mindful of people who are addicted or committed to fighting but not to the outcome.

  • “You don’t need permission to act [or] feel like you aren’t “enough.” (Enough of an activist, or Black enough, or Trans enough).

One question that really moved me during the event focused on healthcare and how we think about Healthcare beyond hospitals. Similarly, how do we take care of ourselves and each other beyond institutions, people, methods that have failed us repeatedly? These are questions that I’ll continue to think through as a black trans person.

Each talk reaffirmed for me thoughts that I always try to hold onto: Anyone can change the world. Everyone has value not tied to money or how desirable they are, but by just being themselves.