For the past couple days I’ve been traveling around with my friends Bilal, Jordan and Paul, who are working on the Two Hands Project — a documentary about hackerspaces across the U.S. and Canada. One conversation I’ve been having a lot is how to engender more diversity at hackerspaces. I think it’s interesting that a lot of the hackerspaces I’ve seen so far have been more diverse than the stereotype of a hacker might imply, but there is a lot of concern about including women and people of color. However, a lot of times when the folks at these spaces talk about diversity, they talk about diversity of background and skill sets, and balancing between men and women. But there’s a huge amount of other diversity that they might be missing — especially because gender diversity often just means parity between men and women, and nobody seems to want to talk about race, socioeconomic status, or queer diversity.

The remarkable thing is everyone we’ve met so far has been hugely nice. They’re very committed, energetic, smart, socially involved, and want to start a movement of people who are self-motivated autodidacts. I think that there’s a culture of being very welcoming and tolerant here, but maybe that’s the problem. There seems to be the assumption that because they’re welcoming and tolerant, diverse people will come to them. But I think that thinking is where the problem is, for several reasons. First, tolerance is not enough. Acceptance is essential. Second, because the majority of hackerspace members are white men, it’s less likely due to social segregation that they will have as much facetime with queer people, people of color, and people of different socioeconomic statuses. As a result, outreach is something that they need to start focusing on. Third, I think many people do like to think of themselves as progressive, and like to find a way to sweep their subconscious or socialized biases under the rug.

For starters, I think that the idea that tolerance is important is very limited. Tolerance means that we can live in the same community, but acceptance means that we embrace each other with open arms. Tolerance is a bare minimum, but we’re at a point that we should demand acceptance of diverse people and points of view. Acceptance means that all are welcome, not just afforded.

We also tend to deny the fact that we do self-segregate. I know a lot of extraordinarily committed, nerdy, creative people of color and queer folk. I think that not all of them would immediately think that a hackerspace is somewhere they can do work and find community, and part of that is the fact that the community seems very homogeneous at first blush. Self-segregation means that the word-of-mouth recruiting that hackerspaces employ is limited to similar people. It does, whether we like it or not, perpetuate certain social divides. So, it’s imperative that we start thinking about other ways to recruit.

Finally, I think that everyone I’ve met is amazingly kind, generous, thoughtful, creative, and smart. But, like most people, they don’t necessarily like confronting things like their social privilege or ways we can deal as a group with the oppression others experience. As people who care about the communities we live in, we don’t like thinking about situations where others in our communities are not our equals, or that the systems that keep us apart are also socialized into us, personally. Encountering that within ourselves is important to making social progress but it’s hard. It’s painful. We tend to avoid it unless we’re forced to confront it.

I’m thinking about ways in which we can solve these problems without tokenizing the members of hackerspace communities who are minorities of some kind; I’m wondering what role I can have in supporting potential allies in hackerspaces in my region. I’m thinking about how we can work together to make hackerspaces into microcosms of the way the world should work. Because of the nature of hacker communities, I think there’s a huge potential there to model truly diverse communities working together for sustainability, education, and social action.

What kinds of ideas do you have for hacker communities? What kinds of support systems do you think should be in place?