Seeing friends and respected, diverse members of the educational technology community regularly passed over to participate in events or speak at conferences has become downright frustrating. This frustration is not necessarily for me, but for the other great educators of color who have put their time in and excel far beyond so many mediocre folks who are regularly lauded. I may be new to edtech shenanigans and games, but being overlooked and dismissed because I’m not the “right fit” is nothing foreign to me. I cannot be the only person fed up with seeing the same faces in the same edtech spaces.
How can people be considered “educational technology experts” when they have never worked with technology in a classroom with students? Are you an edtech leader or innovator when your knowledge of edtech is composed only of a small bubble of people who look and think like you? We have people considered edtech’s best and brightest who have a very myopic worldview. While technology and education should provide ample bridges to varying perspectives, we have many in edtech who rarely meet, work closely with, or even know multiple educators or students from marginalized groups. They often center themselves in conversations or blog posts about diversity, distance themselves from the actual work of inclusivity in edtech, regularly use microaggressions or flat-out ignore marginalized voices by having very minimal opportunities for edtech leadership roles. Instead of activating their privilege in edtech spaces to regularly amplify and include others, many treat diversity like other trendy, ornamental buzzwords and appear as hollow as a chocolate Easter bunny.
These shortsighted actions unfortunately are a huge hindrance for true inclusivity in edtech and have not gone unnoticed. When educators of color in these spaces offer push-back, we are commonly met with rudeness, defensiveness, patronizing, and haughty words instead of reflection and pause. Why? As much as the educational technology realm considers itself innovative and forward thinking, I’ve noticed it’s pretty backward in regard to diversity and inclusion. For example, for multiple months last year, every time I looked at an edtech conference advertisement, top edtech list, or new edtech professional learning community, I would see the same faces listed and lauded. These edtech innovators, champions, and leaders often did not look like me, lacked substance, and worse, didn’t work in a school or classroom. Even in Georgia at our state edtech conference last year, we didn’t have anyone of color as a featured or keynote speaker. Not one! This is especially sad because Georgia (Atlanta specifically) is pretty diverse, and there are a number of brilliant edtech people of color that live and work in the state! Seriously disappointing.
No matter the number of edtech lists or communities that continue to exclude us, I keep wondering: What else do we need to do to get invited to the table? More certifications, more experience, more degrees? No. Are degrees, learning, and more experience valuable? Absolutely. But apparently for many people of color in edtech, it still doesn’t open that door wide or make a seat available at the table. There are quite a few people of color who have been a part of the edtech world longer than I have, still getting passed over, ignored, or disrespected. Many of these conferences’ organizing committees and top edtech list makers are populated by status quo-minded white people. I think these closed-door, often non-transparent committees need to receive more vocal pushback. Not only from people of color in edtech, but more so from white accomplices who can dismantle the system of white-only leadership/decision making in edtech from the inside. Until members of those committees/leadership groups have a change of mindset or are infused with more educators of color, this problem will remain. I cannot fix the problem of the lack of diversity and inclusion in edtech alone, but I will make purposeful actions to chip away at an educational system not always conducive for marginalized groups to experience continual and external success.
Rather than internalize my frustration or write another post on my blog, I thought, “What could I do to purposefully amplify people of color in edtech?” Using the novel and movie Hidden Figures as inspiration, on January 31st, #HiddenVoicesofEdTech was born. I wanted to use the hashtag to validate the brilliance of people of color in edtech, amplify the great things they do in their respective schools and districts in regards to technology, and celebrate their numerous successes. Black History Month felt like the perfect time to use the hashtag to highlight the work of brilliant black educators who are successful, fiercely navigating and carving out niches in the edtech world. Some of the educators featured might have been more well known in the edtech community than others, but my desire was to magnify and applaud the work that has been and will continue to be done by black people in edtech despite the challenges they face.
Kimberly Bryant, CEO of Black Girls Code, strikes a powerful cord with this statement: “You can absolutely be what you can’t see! That’s what innovators and disruptors do.” Although my actions of creating a hashtag may be small in the big scheme of things, it has at least helped to purposefully disrupt the world of edtech and put individuals on notice. I will continue to be a disruptor and call a spade a spade. White people in edtech need to pass the mic and share the spotlight, because many of us are tired. And yes, that might require some folks to reduce their ego, recognize the greatness in others, make sincere effort, and remember, “It’s not all about me.”
I’m tired of having to consistently promote myself and others to receive a chance as if what we have been doing isn’t of great value. Conference committees, companies, and organizers can no longer use the tired excuse of, “We don’t know any people of color to invite or include.” That excuse is no longer valid, and neither are these, highlighting some of the typical, pitiful efforts to diversify edtech. In one month, with one hashtag, I removed an excuse from the table and made a bold statement. I have received a lot of positive feedback from the hashtag from those who were amplified as well as other individuals in the edtech community, as it provided an easy way to broaden their networks. Additionally, I’ve had many like my idea so much, they are trying to take similar actions for other groups in the educational community. After using the hashtag daily throughout February, I now will continue to periodically highlight other educators of color doing great things in the edtech world because it is necessary. Unfortunately, some in the edtech community continue to willfully and blatantly dismiss us. The truth is, we are not hidden.
Edtech, how about making a concerted effort to diversify yourself in 2017? Make purposeful decisions and stop choosing to ignore, cover up, co-opt, or minimize our brilliance and contributions to the world of edtech. It’s your move; you are officially on the clock. Who will you draft for your next event, list, or committee? We’re watching, waiting, and getting ready…