DrunkenBatman Is Not A Racist

August 14th, 2007

OK – I had a great time at C4, and I would like to write an extensive blog post about all the great, and some of the slightly awkward things that happened at the conference. I would like to, but I’m incredibly busy. Almost too busy to write anything at all. Except I want to help stand up against a growing tide of inaccurate commentary about the deeds of DrunkenBatman at the conference.

Here’s what happened:

DrunkenBatman used his role as moderator of a group panel to explore some theories that did not meet with universal agreement from the audience. The topics were explored longer than they should have been, and some of the ideas were presented in a provocative fashion. The audience and panel were both generally pretty dissatisfied with the resulting lack of meaningful discussion that transpired.

One of the ideas DrunkenBatman tried to convey was that the Mac market might not be as diverse as other platforms, particularly Linux. His theory was that by improving the diversity of the platform, it would lead to a greater atmosphere for future product development, and be a particular boon to the open source movement on the Mac.

In the course of presenting these ideas he filled the screen with one particularly provocative slide, which read “Black People Don’t Use Macs.” He then employed some statistically inappropriate anecdotes, and took an informal poll in our room of 150 Mac developers, where only person raised his hand, self-identifying as black. While he didn’t particularly convince the audience or panel that his theory was accurate, at least we understood where he was coming from in his speculation.

DrunkenBatman did not do a great job making his points on Saturday evening, or of managing the panel he was supposed to be moderating, but that does not make him a racist. Conference attendee Ian Baird snapped a photo of the aforementioned slide, and posted it to his Flickr account, where it received a fair amount of misguided and inappropriate venom. I trust that Ian was not trying to encourage accusations of racism – he was just posting an interesting snapshot from the conference.

But today some idiot on Digg (is that redundant?) took it upon himself to post a link to the Flickr photo, with the extremely inappropriate caption “DrunkenBatman goes on racist tirade at C4 Mac dev conference.” This gets my blood boiling, because although there were aspects of DrunkenBatman’s overall presentation that bordered on tirade status, his comments regarding diversity among Mac users were by no means racist. It’s offensive and slanderous of Digg user AmazingSyco to imply that they were, let alone that it was “a racist tirade.”

If you were at C4, or even if you weren’t but trust my description of how things went down, I would urge you to help bury the story on Digg. The way this works is you log in as a registered Digg user and “Bury” the story with a rationale. If enough people do it, the story disappears from searches and from the popular stories pages.

It won’t undo the damage of the slanderous statement, but at least it will help prevent it spreading wider or faster than it should. I rarely believe that stories should be buried, but in this case the caption and associated commentary are so hurtful and inaccurate, I believe it’s the right thing to do.

Thanks for listening, and I hope to have a less adrenaline-inspired post about C4 at some point in the near future.

58 Responses to “DrunkenBatman Is Not A Racist”

  1. Harvard Irving Says:

    “One of the ideas DrunkenBatman tried to convey was that the Mac market might not be as diverse as other platforms, particularly Linux.”

    If he’s going to make ridiculous statements, then he should back them up with facts. What on earth is his evidence that there’s more diversity among Linux users than among Mac users? I’d love to see his sources.

    I also don’t understand how you can so definitively state that he is not a racist. Surely the jury is out on that. He made a comment that sounds rather racist, and didn’t back his comments up. That’s looking pretty fishy right there.

    And even if this statement is not racist in itself, how do you know that he doesn’t secretly lynch black people at night? It’s almost impossible to prove a negative. The most can say is that you think that his comment was not racist. You don’t know everything about him, and you are not the arbiter of what constitutes racism.

    Anyway, racist or not, his comments were disgusting, and I’m not sure why anybody is bothering to defend him, when he won’t even bother to clarify his meaning on his own blog. I think his lack of subsequent comment on this is pretty damning. Why isn’t he offering an olive branch of clarification or apology?

  2. Harvard Irving Says:

    Xenonson writes:

    but its impact is no more significant than the movie title “White Man Can’t Jump” (wonder why nobody cried racism over that movie)

    Huh? People did cry racism over that movie title. Perhaps you’re being selective in your recollections?

  3. andrew Says:

    Wow, liberal white guilt FTW.

    I don’t have all the statistics to back this up. Neither does DB. Neither do you.

    I wasn’t at C4. Neither were many of you.

    But my read of this whole nonevent is: DB, who has spent a lot of time in both the Mac and Linux communities, shared an observation that he believes to be true, but many of the listeners don’t want to believe.

    Again, I don’t have the statistics, but. …how can it not be true, that statistically, black people don’t use Macs in a quantity that reflects their representation in the population as a whole?

    OK. That’s not what he said? Yes, it is. Try this:

    “Cats hate water”. OK, not all of them, but a large enough portion of the cat population compared to other living things, definitely do. It’s a generalization, but for the purposes of most discussions, it’s completely true.

    DB was talking about a human race and subculture, not cats, and it invoked all sorts of social baggage that doesn’t really change the content of his message. He thought we were intelligent and adult enough to put his statement in the context that it was intended, after we got over the initial “wow, i can’t believe someone is saying that, and it makes me kind of uncomfortable” moment.

    So, is his statement likely to be more-true or more-false? Another sticky but incontrovertable fact: economic position in the US shows clear divisions along race lines. A guess: the portion of the population in lower economic strata use Macs in lower percentages than those in higher economic strata, even after all possible adjustments are made for computer-owning vs not-computer-owning populations, and use-computer-in-public-library, vs use-computer-at-home, etc. (another guess, supported by observation: most public computer terminals are not Macs).

    Don’t like it? Me either! I think it is an unfortunate side effect of Apple’s value-brand positioning, which is so successful and valuable for it (and us) in so many ways. Maybe they also don’t market well to minorities.. I have no idea. Maybe it’s Apple’s fault. Maybe it’s Louis Farakkhan’s fault.

    But it isn’t Drunken Batman’s fault. From everything I’ve read, he thinks it sucks, and wishes it would change, for the betterment of Mac software and users everywhere. How can that possibly be a racist comment?!?

    I’m astounded at the collective discomfort that this has caused, and the tendency to place the blame for uncomfortable-but-probably-mostly-true observations on the speaker (or his style) instead of giving them consideration. I’d take a long-odds bet that DB is absolutely correct. And also that if we could find a way to change it, the Mac ecosystem would be a better place.

    News flash: if DB’s assertions are true, it isn’t your fault either. You don’t have to take responsibility for it as an individual. There is no reason for you to hide from the possibility by attacking DB instead.

  4. Averie Says:

    hi i enjoyed the read

  5. Angelo Says:

    hi i enjoyed the read

  6. Larissa Says:

    hi nice post, i enjoyed it

  7. John Muir Says:

    Would this have caused the same uproar if it had happened here in Britain I wonder?

    I’m not going to claim any deeper insight than a regular Mac using non-ethnic minority Scot can have while reading of this distant furore online. But then again race does seem to have to be handled differently on the American media compared to the BBC for instance, despite both countries being in similar phases of increasing diversity with economic migration.

    Commenters are right about this particular debate really being about class more than race. The poorer people are, the greater every cost becomes and looking at a Mac Mini compared to the sloughs of Dell pretty much answers the question. Apple don’t compete in the low end; ergo Apple appears exclusive when you really have to count every penny.

    What’s more striking though is indeed this charge of DB (who I’d never heard of before, for my ignorance) being “racist” for addressing race. He was certainly mistaken in choosing this particular angle with such little preparation; but surely a racist would gloat at the supposed disparity instead of bring it up for discussion at a panel? Racism is a position, not a shying from debate. He made a fool of himself but the racist themed reaction is another mistake in itself. Understandable when a sore nerve is touched, but not it seems a positive sign of a multicultural society at ease with itself.

    (Britain is far from perfect either. *Tries not to change an argument over addressing race into one about countries!* We just seem to have differently placed lines in the sand for when, where and how we address these universal concerns.)

  8. Harvard Irving Says:

    Andrew:

    A guess: the portion of the population in lower economic strata use Macs in lower percentages than those in higher economic strata, even after all possible adjustments are made for computer-owning vs not-computer-owning populations, and use-computer-in-public-library, vs use-computer-at-home, etc.

    and John:

    Commenters are right about this particular debate really being about class more than race. The poorer people are, the greater every cost becomes and looking at a Mac Mini compared to the sloughs of Dell pretty much answers the question.

    The problem with these arguments is that not all black people are poor. In fact, there are some very wealthy black people. And it’s demonstrably untrue that black people don’t use Macs.

    So, what was Drunkenbatman trying to say? Why did he make an untrue statement on an inflammatory topic? And then you guys come along, claiming there’s no racism in this, and just go and further racist stereotypes.

    How does this help anybody? It would be do much more for the situation if we recognized that “black people” aren’t a uniform mass – but they are individuals who are all different. That’s the real problem with his comments. They don’t treat black people as people.

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