Music is pretty much a must for most devs I know to get any work done. For me, “music” usually means “Coding Soundtrack”, a communal dubstep-heavy electronica room. Last month, Kevin and I made the switch from listening on turntable.fm to plug.dj.
plug.dj grabs music from YouTube and SoundCloud, so there aren’t any hosting issues and grabbing tracks is way faster. It has way better playlist management, chat, and the UI is easier on the eyes.
It’s also pretty racist.
Obviously, the first thing I do on any site where you can change your appearance is change my appearance. Kevin was standing next to me at the office, and when we went to change our avatars, we both made “Ugh really?” grimaces at our screens. Single-feather headdress rabbit? Really?
As you accrue points by listening and DJing, you unlock more tiers of available avatars. You can see 0-99 above (the starter tier), and I’ve presented more tiers below in their entirety.
It gets better (not really).
By the time you hit 700 points, you’re given two more racist choices. If being an American-Indian-Appropriating rabbit isn’t your thing (or you just want to show off your point clout without having to give up tokenizing the Trail of Tears), you can be a person dressed up as a racist rabbit. Also in this tier? Ninja Panda.
Don’t worry. It gets better again (not really).
The second thing I do, after hunting for an acceptable avatar (I was one of the chilled out yetis when I still used plug.dj), is ogle the avatars I’ll obviously never have enough points to unlock. Luckily, I’m not interested in unlocking the asian caricature quartet. Conical asian hat, slanty eyes ninja is just the greatest, really.
I’m used to seeing stuff like this, turning to anyone I hang out with, and saying “are they serious?” No explanation needed. Turns out, most white people actually don’t understand that this is super uncool. And by “uncool” I mean “racist”.
Now, I don’t know how many people work at plug.dj, what the culture is like there, what the demographics of their office are like, whatever. Racist design choices regardless, right? So I shoot @plugdj a tweet:
@plugdj these native american and asian avatars are straight up racist. don’t let bullshit like this keep you from being a great service.1
Somewhat surprisingly, their CEO, Steven Sacks replies:
@edbury The girl who made them is half Korean and half Native American. I’m sure she appreciates your outrage on behalf of her peoples.
A few things happen here. First, Sacks immediately gets on the defensive because his baby got called out as being, at least partly, racist. It sucks, but this is how people react most often. Second, he publicly tokenizes the designer in a classic “my black friend said it’s okay” style. It’s worth pointing out at this point that Sacks goes ahead and wraps Chinese pandas and Japanese ninja right in there with Korea. But hey, same continent, right?
If you aren’t at least a little disappointed with Sacks and plug.dj, two things are probably true. First, you’re being racist. Second, your reasoning is something along the lines of “it’s just not that big of a deal”.
I don’t want to take up a bunch of space unpacking white privilege, so if you don’t understand why this shit is uncool or, really, why you, white individual, don’t think it’s “that big of a deal”, I suggest you read Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. It’s a non-hostile, non-alienating primer on white privilege. Trust me, it’s ten minutes toward being a better human.
And just in case you still think it’s not upsetting to anyone (after all, they were designed by a half-Korean, half-Native American woman, right?) maybe you should educate yourself because people are pissed.
You know what, though? You’re at least partly right. It really isn’t a huge deal. How hard would it have been for Sacks to take four seconds to realize, “Shit. These might actually make a lot of people kind of uncomfortable”? In fact, with all the cutesy avatar combinations possible in the world, how hard would it have been to simply not approve something tokenizing and appropriative from the beginning?
Not hard at all, apparently, because they had already put some together:
Fellow white people, humans, and especially technologists: put in the effort, be aware of privilege and racism. Our industry especially already presents an image and history of white brogrammers. It’s not hard to turn that around. And if someone calls you out, don’t get defensive or snide. People mess up, especially when you’re brought up in a framework that inevitably gives you blindspots. Just step back, check yourself, and be grateful someone someone cared enough to reach out at all.