Essentially, open source software is software that allows users to inspect, change and share the source code of the program. Instead of passive consumers of a program, users become part of a community to which they can choose to contribute if they are capable and inclined.
The difference from everyday consumer culture, where shoppers simply line up to buy products that are already in their final form, and it is almost never expected that shoppers will actually try to open up or modify those products.
Find out more about the open source idea and how it is transforming human interaction in this week’s GRTV Backgrounder.
The US open sauce programming movement has opened its eyes and noticed that for some reason there are very few blacks and Latinos in software development positions.
Given that open sauce is supposed to be egalitarian and easy to be involved with, some are starting to wonder why this is the case. Code Switch poses the question and then makes a sweeping generalisation which explains part of the problem.
“You don’t have to know somebody or have a degree in software engineering or get hired to participate in an open-source project. You can jump right in and start writing some code,” the magazine wrote. In other words, it assumes that blacks and Hispanics do not have the right educational qualifications to enter the programming world, so they can still enter the open sauce universe.
It quoted Betsey Haibel, a software developer in Washington who did not have a traditional computer science degree, but contributed to open-source projects helped her land her current job.
Haibel found that the open-source world is even whiter and male dominated than the world of proprietary software.
If she was right, then the open sauce community was whiter than a KKK rally in Florida. The Bureau of Labour Statistics says that more than 80 percent of software developers in 2012 were white and Asian-Americans, blacks and Latinos are significantly underrepresented. If the open sauce community is worse than that, then there is a very serious problem.
Ashe Dryden, a blogger whose focus is diversity in tech spaces, points out that the overwhelming majority of the most active users of GitHub were white males.
Then Code Switch makes its mistake. It claims that the reason for this problem is that blacks and Latinos are more likely to attend under-resourced schools and are under-represented in maths and science fields at every level of higher education and increasingly so the higher they go, and are less likely than whites to have Internet access outside of the home.
In other words, it is all because blacks and Hispanics can’t provide themselves with a decent education like white folk.
However, if poor education is the problem, why are open source communities less likely to attract the ethnic minority programmers than proprietary software? The suggestion has to be that open source is less attractive in some way.
Dryden thinks that it is all down to time. Time is not a luxury that many people who are lower on the socioeconomic scale have.
He thinks that many marginalised people in tech, women, racial minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, and others, have less free time because they are worried about dependent care, domestic work and errands, and pay inequity.
However, here is the problem. The excuses are all based on a stereotype of black, Latino, women, and disabled people being poor and poorly educated. In itself, this is a prejudice. Anyway, why are poorly educated white people able to use the Open Sauce community as a springboard to success, but not blacks and Hispanics?
What is more likely is that open sauce community projects form in cliques based around their demographic. Projects are developed with people you already know and are from your demographic. This shuts out people from the wrong side of the tracks.
However, all this does prevent people from dealing with the elephant in the room – is the open sauce community sexist and racist? While people look for the minorities to explain why they are not included then that question will not be tackled.
US whites can always come up with reasons why black people cannot join their club or travel in their buses or why women need to stay at home. Putting the blame at the door of ethnic minorities being too poor or badly educated is a cop out.
If structures within the open source community do not encourage the limited number of ethnic minorities or women into the community then there is something wrong.
There are well-educated and clever programmers from ethnic minorities or women who do have time to work on Open Sauce projects. If there were not, there would be even less in the IT industry generally. The only answer is that for some reason they find the structure hostile to them and they stay in proprietary companies.
It is not up to ethnic minorities to come up with reasons why they are failing to enter the club; it is up to club members to work out why, if they are so egalitarian, they are a bastion for white supremacy.
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