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SJWs & the Soul of the Tech Nerd

Almost twenty years ago, some friends of my wife’s said that they had received a calling to be missionaries to supermodels, and were pursuing it. Yeah, that was a thing. And this is a thing too: [1]

I have now been working as a tech chaplain at Union Theological Seminary for over a year. I started my ministry when students asked me to share my organized Google Drive folders or documents and Google calendars; soon, I was holding workshops on how to get one’s inbox down to zero (and how to keep it clean) and on other Google apps that few were taking full advantage of. It took a year for me to find the right title for my vocation. The “tech” part refers to how I have ministered to students, faculty, and staff to empower themselves in the use of their technology. “Chaplain” evolved from the way I have approached my passion. Instead of being a technician who merely (and seemingly magically) charges in to fix a problem, I meet you wherever your skills are and teach you how to get where you would like to be. I practice a ministry of presence and provide a safe space for conquering spiritual crises presented by today’s ever-advancing technologies.

To understand what a “ministry of presence” means, consider the friend or loved one who takes care of you when you are sick. You want someone who is present in moment, mind, and heart, who feeds, bathes, and turns you while helping you keep a smile in your heart, if not on your face. I was a certified nursing assistant when I lived in Illinois and was challenged by every call to provide care to each person without treating them like “sick people”; I have carried that spirit into how I operate as a tech chaplain. I do not see “non-techies.” Instead, I see fellow human beings who are reaching out with questions, and I see that I have an opportunity to give them answers in a way that is respectful, disarming, affirming, and fun.

And Social Justice Warring. Don’t forget the Social Justice Warring:

All that I do is rooted in my spirituality and faith, which emphasize the responsibility to be good stewards of the world around us. Graduate research has also helped me develop a more theoretical side of tech chaplaincy. My thesis proposes the concept of techno-womanism to guide discussion around what happens when social justice issues get digitalized. I inherit the womanist methodology, grounded in the experience of black women, to critically analyze digital life. How does “brogrammer” culture affect the women and people of color who use technologies developed in low-diversity settings? How can the vitriol and gendered harassment found online be dealt with? Who suffers the consequences of a device cycle that generates “the electronic waste basket of the world” in China and the largest e-waste site in the world in Ghana? As a tech chaplain, empowering others in the digital space means more than helping them set up their Chrome browsers or learn how to find hidden commands on their Apple products.

My story is rather unique, not just because of the novelty of my work, but also because I am a black woman positioning myself to serve in both the technology industry and the Christian community. The recent statistics about diversity in tech companies, as well as the ongoing Gamergate debate (which highlights the gendered harassment women face, whether they’re video-game characters or CEOs), only strengthen my will to serve.

What this country needs are more chaplains who inherit the womanist ideology, grounded in the experience of black women (like the author of this essay), who busy themselves critically analyzing digital life.

All this just goes to show that you don’t have to be white to be a SWPL.

UPDATE: Many of you commenters can’t understand why I have a problem with any of this. The first half of what she says sounds great. It’s when she chose to wrap just helping people out with SJW jargon and framing that caused my eyes to roll. “Techno-womanism”? “Womanist methodology”? As opposed to techno-masculinism (techno-manism? and “masculinist (manist?) methodology”? She loses me right there. It’s like the diversocrats who can’t help themselves avoid framing mandates and exhortations to be basically a decent human being in all sorts of silly ideology and SJW rhetoric. The SWPL-ness of the whole thing lies precisely in the rhetoric, as applied to a ministry embedded within the tech field.

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66 Comments To "SJWs & the Soul of the Tech Nerd"

#1 Comment By JohnE_o On June 1, 2015 @ 7:38 am

So the user of specialized jargon and preconceived notions about what the writer is really up to leads readers to mock her ideas?

Not unlike the BenOp, eh?

#2 Comment By M_Young On June 1, 2015 @ 8:48 am

“But many folks here seem to regard this loss of hegemony as a bad thing…”

Given that one of the worst epidemics in the Western World in the last 70 or so years followed hard on the heels of that ‘loss of hegemony’ concerning ‘certain sorts of nooky’, and that there are pathways down to the molecular level to explain why that was the case, the loss of hegemony was a bad thing.

And of course we are simply replacing one sort of hegemony with another. If that New Mexico photographer fails to photography a ‘gay’ wedding, and fails to pay her fine for refusing, she’s going to jail at the point of a gun. At least the Xians didn’t claim they just wanted to be left alone (as did the homosexuals at the beginning of their ‘liberation’)

#3 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On June 1, 2015 @ 9:37 am

@EngineerScotty and Darth Thulhu, have either of you actually worked at a Silicon Valley tech startup? Do you have any evidence to demonstrate that brogrammer culture exists other than news media articles which claim its existence is common knowledge? So far Darth has some anecdotes about the Uber CEO which frankly isn’t that much to go on.

I’m dismissing it because frankly the news media is fairly credulous (e.g. Iraq WMD, UVA rape allegations), and I’d rather have evidence like lost lawsuits than media buzz.

BTW I have not worked at Silicon Valley startups. I’ve twice worked at Route 128 startups (once in the ’80s and again in the ’90s). Startups go through phases, the pre-VC initiation phase, and then the expansion phase (possibly VC funded). The pre-VC phase is usually a small team of people who work nights and weekends to get the initial product out the door. In the pre-VC phase they usually don’t hire anyone, or very selectively when they do. In the expansion phase they usually get VC funding, and things the culture undergoes a rapid shift to become much more corporate. They definitely have a personnel department because they are hiring people, and need one just like any other corporation.

#4 Comment By SLW On June 1, 2015 @ 10:29 am

[NFR: Oh, my dear Social Justice Warrior reader, the reason I picked that particular image was because it was the first one I came across that had a tech nerd pointing upward, toward heaven. Had the nerd been a Mighty Whitey Privilege Guy, I would have picked it because of the visual reference to heaven. And I didn’t assume that “womanist” had no meaning at all (though I didn’t know it’s specific meaning); I assumed it was some kind of feminism, which, in fact, it is. Good luck grounding your idea of God and His relationship to Creation in an ideology/theology that focuses on the experiences of being a black woman, and using that to reach largely white and Asian male nerds. — RD]

I think what you’re missing is that no one is going to use womanism or womanist theology to “reach largely white and Asian male nerds.” Womanist theology informs what she does and how she behaves and what she chooses to become engaged with in a religious or theological context. Womanism isn’t a tool of conversion, it’s why she does what she does.

Also, best I can tell, MTD was the subject of one paper by two sociologists. Womanism has been around since the 70s and was coined by Alice Walker. Which one’s the jargon again?

#5 Comment By M_Young On June 1, 2015 @ 10:29 am

“Very nice if one works at Microsoft or Raytheon. Less nice if one works at a company like Uber, whose CEO openly called it “boob-er” for how many one-night-stands the company’s early post-VC sucess was providing him.”

And what of it? Seriously, what’s the objection? Were the women coerced? Underage? Or were they just enjoying a night with a successful guy and maybe taking a chance something more developed?

I think this is at the crux of why so many of us are both bemused and irritated at SWPLs and SJWs. It is that they hold two, obviously contradictory positions on so many things and yet are oblivious to it. Women are supposed to be equal, and yet have to be ‘protected’ from boorish comments by a CEO. They’re sex drives are supposed to be recognized, even celebrated (see Amy Schumer, for example, or Girls), but a tech-nerd makes a stupid joke about a [2] They believe simultaneously that ‘race doesn’t matter’ and that ‘racial diversity’ is the the summum bonum. They will decry ‘white flight’ and certainly any hint of resistance to ‘vibrant diversification’, yet send their kids to 70% white schools where public schools are 80% minority and institute [3] to maintain racial balance. They will bitch and moan about the ‘lack of people of color’ in tech when the area is about 1/3 (I think it is) Asian — often immigrant Asian, never stopping to think that , hey, maybe all these Asian male H1-Bs are crowding out both women and our own homegrown ‘minorities’.

The list of contradictory positions held by SJWs and SWPLs is endless.

BTW I don’t think this ‘tech chaplain’ is anything near a coder; she seems to be what we used to call a ‘power user’ — someone good at using computers and other gadgets to the utmost, but probably not someone writing programs beyond simple scripts (if that). That’s not a knock — its good to have a power user or two around the office — but it isn’t like she’s at the core of some brand new software development project.

#6 Comment By Robin Abrahams On June 1, 2015 @ 11:12 am

JohnE_o says: “So the user of specialized jargon and preconceived notions about what the writer is really up to leads readers to mock her ideas?

Not unlike the BenOp, eh?”

Hmm, I’ve submitted two comments making this exact point, neither of which were posted. But that couldn’t possibly reflect any sexism on the part of our blog host.

[NFR: No, I just don’t have much time for chronic jerks. — RD]

#7 Comment By Formerly Other Matt On June 1, 2015 @ 1:57 pm

@MH, I’ve worked at a Chicago startup from its first expansion phase to its now having been swallowed by Big Red (it was in SV during pre-expansion). It became more and more brogrammer throughout expansion, not less, mostly on the services/implementation side. There’s nothing that’s Boober-class, but a steady low-level aggression letting you know where you stand.

So, then again, maybe my objection is standard corporate America that’s been gradually poking through my nerd bubble. I’m guessing this is a feature, not a bug, to a good part of the commentariat, for whom I’m probably not enough of a Real Man ™.

#8 Comment By EngineerScotty On June 1, 2015 @ 2:18 pm

I don’t live in Silicon Valley, so no, I haven’t personally worked in any places like that.

Even in the straight-laced Big Corporation where I do work, I have seen quite a few examples of sexist attitudes. Management here tends to nip that sort of thing in the bud–such unprofessional conduct is not tolerated where I work–but it does occasionally occur. (The perpetrators are given the choice to shape up or ship out).

But I do know lots of people who do live and work in Silicon Valley, and have heard quite a few tales of this sort of thing.

And there are quite a lot of documentary articles on the subject (ones that do things other than agreeing with other news reports), with a dissenting article from Sam Biddle.

#9 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On June 1, 2015 @ 3:35 pm

@Formerly Other Matt, aggressiveness isn’t necessarily sexist. It can just be a stressed out workplace that’s making people edgy.

@EngineerScotty, my personal experience matches yours, people occasionally misbehave, but management quickly puts a lid on it.

#10 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 1, 2015 @ 10:45 pm

Also, best I can tell, MTD was the subject of one paper by two sociologists. Womanism has been around since the 70s and was coined by Alice Walker. Which one’s the jargon again?

Speaking as someone on the hard-left that has little to do with sociology, I’ve heard “Moral Therapeutic Deism” before, and not just from Rod. (My priest back home raher likes the term). I didn’t know what ‘womanism’ was, or is, until this morning.

#11 Comment By Rob G On June 2, 2015 @ 7:24 am

“And of course we are simply replacing one sort of hegemony with another.”

No, hierarchies are bad, remember? Relations of power must be subverted and stuff.

Tolerance is the key, man. Tolerance!

#12 Comment By Tech Chaplain On June 2, 2015 @ 11:15 pm

Hey y’all!

It’s so great to see people talking about my work! It’s certainly true that the article was written for an academic, and not lay, audience. But, since it has found its way here, I really appreciate how some folks have connected with the heart of what I’m striving to do.

There has been some really great debate, and as people of faith, I believe we can celebrate our common ground. In that spirit, I’m here to offer the chance for you and your readers to ask whatever questions y’all may have about my burgeoning ministry.

Geeked,

Shamika

[NFR: Thanks for showing up here and agreeing to take questions. Asked sincerely, no snark: Would you mind rephrasing your point in the post for a lay audience? Because what pushed my button was the jargon, which telegraphed to me a certain attitude. Please help me (and others) to see what you were getting at. If you answer, I’ll create a new post so those who have stopped reading this thread can hear what you have to say. Take as much space as you would like — I will post it without editing. — RD]

#13 Comment By Adam Williams On June 3, 2015 @ 9:47 am

It’s plainly (and painfully) obvious that you have no idea what “womanism,” or “Womanist Theology” is.

#14 Comment By Coleman On June 4, 2015 @ 8:35 am

Shamika,

Glad to see you posting here (I hope you don’t take the lack of response to your thus far to reflect a lack of interest; Rod posts often enough that when a post falls of the front page, people often don’t go back and see new comments.) Anyway, question for you: I’m wondering to what extent your ministry is overtly Christian (e.g. talking about Jesus) and to what extent it’s more about being a presence and hopefully reflecting some Christlikeness? I suspect the fact that you work in a seminary has some bearing on this 🙂

#15 Comment By Mark Hamann On June 9, 2015 @ 3:11 am

Shamika,

I just saw you on bloggingheads.tv ( [4]) so I came back to this post to see what’s transpired in the mean time. And I see that you actually commented here. I hope you take Rod up on his offer.

I know that Rod’s post is pretty dismissive and insulting of your work, but he is actually much more open minded than he seems at first glance. And after watching your bloggingheads discussion, you’re just not doing anything that deserves to be dismissed or insulted and I’m pretty sure that Rod will see that.

I hope you respond. Technology should be for everyone, and for lots of reasons, logical and illogical, it’s still only for certain segments of the population. Your efforts are important, and I know that you can make a strong case for what you do here on Rod’s blog. Rod is pretty protective of the use of sacred language for the sacred, and part of his issue was the use of sacred language for technology which is in some ways profane. But still, you have a really strong case and a lot of support here.

#16 Comment By Tech Chaplain On June 10, 2015 @ 3:25 am

Thank you again Rod for allowing me the opportunity to respond in a new post (found here: [5])! It is painfully clear that I sound like a seminarian and have much work to do in improving discussions about womanist theology outside of the academy. I look forward to doing so!

Geeked,

Shamika