Paul Revere Williams architect to many

Some of Paul Williams architecture in LA

I was listening to 99 percent invisible’s latest podcast episode about Paul Williams, the famous architect who was never really mentioned or credited in history. His story is quite incredible to hear from many different points of view.

It’s hard to say exactly what motivated Williams to pursue architecture. He didn’t know of any other architects as he was growing up, and didn’t really know that architecture was a profession. He did have a natural talent for drawing, and then somehow decided that this was the job for him.

Hudson says that her grandfather’s high school guidance counselor advised him not to pursue architecture, telling him “he should not try to be an architect. He should be a doctor or a lawyer because black people would always need doctors and lawyers. And white people would not hire him as an architect and black people couldn’t afford him.” Still Williams refused to let go of this ambition.

I always wondered what would have happened if I pursued architecture too, I was put off by 7 years of college, although 6 years of design focused education wasn’t far off.

…some clients were taken aback when they first met Williams — people who “came because they may have read about him,” Karen Hudson explains, “but didn’t realize he was black.” They weren’t sure whether to sit next to him or even whether to shake his hand. To put them at ease, Williams would keep his distance, sitting across the table from them, and as he asked them what they wanted in their home,  he would draw preliminary sketches upside down, so they could see their vision evolve as he drew. This helped put them at ease but was also just impressive in itself.

I have gotten this a few times in the past, mainly before you could look me up online. The name Paul Williams and even Ian Forrester could be anyone but I guess unconscious bias makes people think white males?

The distance thing is also something I’m very aware of… as a black man. Being able to draw upside down is super impressive and I imagine he had a lot of practice.

Williams wasn’t the first or only architect to draw upside down, but his consistent use of this skill illustrates the lengths he went to accommodate his white clients. He dressed impeccably, worked tirelessly, and tried to excel in all respects, simply to be accepted.

Enough said, but sadly…

Despite his vast volume of work (and being the first black member of the American Institute of Architects) Williams has remained relatively unknown, at least until recently. “Every black architect I know is familiar with Williams,” say Phil Freelon. “And I haven’t met a white architect yet who knew who I was talking about if I were to mention that name. And we need to change that.” This is why Freelon nominated Williams for the AIA’s highest individual award: the Gold Medal.

This is basically the award that welcomes an architect into the cannon of all-time greats. Past winners include Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Thomas Jefferson. Now, 37 years after his death, Paul Williams will officially join their ranks.

This award means a lot to Freelon and other African American architects in terms of general visibility. “There are very few African American architects working in this country, relatively speaking,” says Freelon. Just “2% of licensed architects in this country are black. And one of the ways you would want to combat that is to raise the visibility. [You] make sure people know this is a great profession and that young people see it as a possibility and as an option for them.”

Hopefully blogging this will encourage people to listen or read the transcript. Its a short story with lots of interesting links and discussion.

 

Little diversity changes in the valley?

Nancy Lee

Google’s head of diversity, Nancy Lee, is retiring from Google after several years of leading the company’s global diversity and inclusion team

In Google’s latest diversity report, we saw that overall representation of women went from 30 percent female in 2014 to 31 percent female in 2015. But the overall percentage of black and Hispanic people did not increase at all, with overall representation of blacks remaining at 2 percent and Hispanics remaining at 3 percent. In 2015, only 4 percent of Google’s hires were black and 5 percent of its hires were Hispanic.

It’s not clear who will take over as head of diversity or when Lee’s last day is. Google declined to comment for this story.

Although still (at the moment I write this) not confirmed and this isn’t a criticism of Nancy’s initiatives. But its not great news and looking back at the afrofutures talk I gave a while back, little seems to have changed when it comes to non-white or non-asian people in tech. I would have hoped the increase in women would be higher too, especially with all work and attention.

Seems little is going to change in the valley, at least for diversity and inclusion. I’m sure we will find out about Nancy’s difficult position very soon.

Interview about Black Culture Applied to Technology

I did a interview off the back of the Afrofutures talk I did in Manchester last year. Its part of a group of interviews on How We Get To Next. Its a good interview and thanks to Florence Okoye for the great questions which leads into my thoughts on black culture, diversity and growing up in a ever-changing world.

Ian @ BarcampLondon5 - Day 1

I was invited to do a interview off the back of the Afrofutures talk I did in Manchester last year. Its part of a group of interviews on How We Get To NextIts a good interview and thanks to Florence Okoye for the great questions which leads into my thoughts on black culture, diversity and growing up in a ever-changing world.

Here’s some interesting parts, although I have to say the whole thing is good and worth reading in full.

A little background on what made me the person I am today.

I kind of knew I was different from other people at an early age. Yes, there was the challenge of being one of three black people in a junior school, but I also found out I might be dyslexic. Friends could tell you I didn’t quite fit in — though I wasn’t a misfit. I was popular, kind of sporty, but also geeky and fiercely independent in thought. This meant I tended to find my own way of doing things, and therefore my independence was tied to use of technology. It was only later at university that I learned once and for all that I was dyslexic, and my coping strategies existed around technology.

Remembering the first time I created a webpage for my graphic design course and the conflict I faced. I feel this is similar to the perceptive media idea; its a new medium and we should/could treat it as such.

There was a key moment I will never forget when learning about the web and creating HTML pages. I did one of my design projects as a website and my college lecturer asked me to print it out. I tried to explain and pled with her that this was a different medium and printing it out made no sense. I think it was that moment when I started to side more with the tech.

The effect of dance music/culture on my life, and the start of my distaste and distrust of popular culture… If I was answering this again, I would add something about being you’re self, not what others want you to be. This certainly speaks to my inner fire for independance.

I hate popular culture. It winds me up [to] no end! I was a geek but never got into fantasy or really into science fiction. I found it too stereotypical and formulaic for me to take seriously.

I also was massively influenced by dance/rave music, which was a very different culture. I remember hating mainstream radio for not playing rave music. The mainstream press was vilifying ravers and this new culture.

They say house music is a feeling, but it’s a whole culture which didn’t get its dues till far later, and even now it’s been watered down and packaged up into something boring and generic

A little but on how I see [I don’t see as such but my mind connects them] the world as one hyper-connected system full of interesting emergent structures and challenges. It hard for others to imagine but I’m imagining its similar to the way synesthesia feels for people who have it. Its just the reality, and it only people telling you again that you are wrong, which makes you dobht.

I see everything as connected. It’s just the way my mind thinks, being dyslexic. I see technologies which are not ready for the mainstream, technologies which break rules and change the centralized power structures. They are ignored or rejected till they get too big and the incumbents have to face up to them or outlaw them, as it breaks their fragile business models.

This is classic innovator’s dilemma stuff, to be honest.

What excites me… open collaboration with open minded people, as too much effort is wasted settling peoples egos.

There are lots of interesting trends in store for the future. I don’t like to dream about [them]; instead, I follow the Alan Kay quote, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Instead of inventing it, which makes people imagine people in basements doing funny things alone, I would change the last part to collaborate.

Now if only I could adapt this into my Linkedin profile…

Dope: Its hard out here being a geek

Dope

I watched Dope on Sunday afternoon only a few hours before I gave a talk about the lack of black people in the technology sector at Afrofutures.

Malcolm is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself.

There is much I can say I loved about the film which currently has a rating of 7.5 on IMDB (stick that in your IMDB party game)

Warning mild spoilers ahead

Malcolm and his friends are teenagers growing up in LA, they are geeks, play in a rock band, get picked on at school, etc. You would be forgiven for thinking – “this is the start of a typical hollywood coming of age film..
The big difference is they are black americans and living in a culture which doesn’t encourage geekness.

The film starts with the excellent point of, looking at the definition of Dope.

  • Slang for an illegal drug (you got any dope?)
  • A stupid person (you are such a dope!)
  • Affirmation of something’s greatness (that is so dope!)

These themes run through the whole film and connect everything. Malcolm attempts to try and avoid being pulled into the society which surrounds him. There is no doubt this is a coming of age film but the class discrimination and racism really lifts it way above the rest. Even when Malcolm is forced into the world of drug dealing, he uses his brain to get out ahead of the crooked society.

I won’t lie, dope reminds me of some of the dilemmas I faced while growing up (of course to a far lesser degree). I use to think everybody faces these things but it seems not.  The conflict of being geeky and not wanting to make the mistakes others fall into featured in my mind a lot. I came out on top but like Malcolm, there are things which I won’t forget and certainly shaped my personality.

The presentation I did for Afrofutures is here., the link with Dope comes in about slide 18. I certainly feel its not good enough to blame the tech sector alone. No, we got to look at the the way things shake out in the culture too. Yes there is a big lack of black people in tech, especially in higher positions but also the culture doesn’t exactly encourage people to embrace our geeky side. Its almost discouraged I feel.

This has lines or connections I believe with the fact their are amazingly senior black people in many other professions including law,  financial services, pharmaceuticals, etc. But very few in the tech sector, especially at CEO level.

I know this is all a massive generalisation but from what I have seen growing up, it was a fight to be openly curious, interested and switched on or as I prefer, geeky. I imagine lots of black people bury it and ignore it. Or it gets beaten out of you at some point verbally or even physically. You literally have to fight. Some give up fighting and forever regret doing so for the rest of their lives…

When looking at the diversity figures, in every case I found. White people were followed by Asians people.  You only have to look at the CEO of Microsoft and Google to see this in full effect. From a outsider view, their culture encourages geeky people. However in black popular culture (generalising again) I am almost embarrassed by the negativity to being geeky and different.

Its was depressing to research but it was worth it because its out there now and its a start of a important conversation for me.

I can only hope the next generation will see right through all this all and make positive strides ending up with a diverse workforce. Originally I was going to submit this to Singleblackmale but I didn’t feel it was the right place to host this at this stage. Maybe I’ll do a more critical blog for them in the near future.

As the tagline to Dope says: Its hard out here being a geek…

Afrofutures in Manchester next week

060/365: Afro Halo

Manchester is running Afrofutures next weekend

Afro Futures UK, a collective of researchers, artists, programmers and activists exploring new ways of examining blackness and futurism. We are hosting an  FREE all day Afrofuturist Conference and Exhibition on 10th October 2015 at MADLAB with a special rosta of speakers and workshops from the USA, Europe Africa and the UK.

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What’s been troubling recently, #Ferguson

Ferguson Protest in Palo Alto: Stanford Students Shut It Down

Everytime I hear about Ferguson, I grow that little more angry. There are literary no words I can say which sum up the feeling of unease,  worry, fear and anger. While most of the people around me carry on their lives not really thinking about the massive injustice which is happening again over the ocean, I wonder about the progress we have and have not made. I wonder about the corruption and how we are going to tackle that? Boycotting Black Friday is a start I guess.

I wasn’t going to write anything because I couldn’t really put it down (The closes thing I could compare it it to was the killing of Stephen Lawrence, something which keeps on giving) and there is so much better people to hear from.

But then after watching the guys behind singleblackmale.org talking over email, I needed to break the silence on my part and join the rest of the people in solidarity… As Dr J writes…

None of the bloggers on this blog have been immune to interactions with police officers. Most, if not all of us have encountered white police officers in our travels. What troubles me about this issue is that I’d like to think that our police officers are here to keep us safe. What we know now is that isn’t always the case and it’s not an exaggeration to say we feel like feeling safe is a minority opinion for Black men in this country…

…People always ask me how I’m doing and my response is the same, “Given my circumstance, the best that I could be.” That holds true today. Now brothers and sisters in the fight; Black, white or indifferent please channel your efforts positively or at least effectively…

Ferguson protest in downtown St. Louis

Celeste Little’s email caused me to breakdown for a bit while reading it on my phone.

…All I could think about, as I was walking along 7th avenue with the 1600 other people who were hurt and appalled by the decision, was my grandmother.

She was born in Mississippi into a family of sharecroppers and when she witnessed President Obama’s 2004 win, she was thrilled, to say the least. She died several years later, and as she was passing all she talked about was how she was happy all of her children and grandchildren were well taken care of.

That’s what all of our ancestors have prayed and wished and died for– that we would be better taken care of. And it is absolutely suffocating to think that, after all this time, we might not be.

Ferguson-10

So I wrote this…

I wanted to share a little perspective from outside the America.

I was really shocked and appalled to hear what happened, I didn’t know what to think really and what can a foreigner bring to the table what you guys don’t already know?
Nothing much, but there has been a whole discussion about police with cameras and using technology to aid solutions in the British media.

Every time I hear this my hand gets a little tense, as using technology to aid or solve human problems is not a good idea.

Its far too easy to turn off cameras and get around systems which are only there to keep those who play by the rules.

You only have to look at piracy to understand this.

Ferguson protest in downtown St. Louis

Talking of rules, what makes things worst is the rules don’t seem to apply to the police in the states.
You don’t think a police officer which has no problem gunning down innocent black men, wouldn’t break the camera lens, remove the power or find another way?

Technology can help but only when people are willing to be helped. Its like an addict, you have to admit you need help before you can be helped.
The police are clearly not willing, the courts are clearly not willing and the system just backs them up.
Lawrence Lessig a Stanford lawyer turned his head to understanding the endemic corruption and although not directly applicable is worth thinking about when talking about what’s wrong.
I’m not saying the UK is any better but the system out there is so corrupt and so broken, something has got to give…

Keep on fighting the good fight people and never give up.

Minneapolis rally for #MichaelBrown - #Ferguson #‎TCShutItDown #‎ShutItDown #JusticeForMikeBrown

Your name is so ghetto…

This is a great story about a lady who stood up to her colleagues when one of them over stepped the mark by calling up a person because she sounded ghetto

things were cool until I heard laughter followed by “Let me call Tanneisha and see how ghetto she is.”

This area of discrimination bugs the hell out of me. I was very lucky to have parents who used common English names but most of my cousins didn’t. Now I remember reading a chapter in freakonomics about how your name effects your chances in life.

there is some evidence that a name can influence how a child performs in school and even her career opportunities. There’s also the fact that different groups of parents — blacks and whites, for instance — have different naming preferences…

I wonder if/how this applies to eastern names too? Lots of eastern Asia’s and those born in Pan-Asia have names very difficult to say in the English language. Do they have the same chances or is it something else at play? My feelings is there is something else at play. I’ll call it ignorance

Anyone who says puff-what a load of crap… Should read the story of Keisha.

Remember that scene in the Oscar-winning “Crash,” when the disgruntled client asks the hard-as-nails supervisor of health insurance claims what her name is? She says “Shaniqua,” and he says, “Big surprise, that is.”

That’s the kind of stuff Keisha deals with. She didn’t grow up in a diverse community. She wasn’t surrounded by a lot of black people. And as she got older, her name started to become a source of jokes. Kids would ask her if there was a “La” or a “Sha” in front of her name. There was a hint of racism and ignorance embedded in their comments.

“It’s like they assumed that I must be a certain kind of girl,” she says. “Like, my name is Keisha so they think they know something about me, and it always felt negative.”

Even a teacher once asked if there was a dollar sign in her name, like the singer Ke$ha. If she couldn’t even get through a class without a teacher taking a cheap shot at her name, what would happen in a job interview?

Racism, ignorance whatever it is… Its going to lower her opportunities in life. How much different would my life be if my parents choose Tyrone, Willie or Jamal?

The most famous speech in human history: Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”

Martin Luther King Jr. - I Have A Dream Speech

Its been 50 years since Martin Luther King’s massively inspirational and moving speech. I was watching some of the programmes from the BBC about the speech and Martin Luther King himself. I didn’t really get a chance to blog about it but here’s some great stuff Umair Haque wrote on twitter and fb.

On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, here are 10 points on his legacy and what it still means to us today:

  1. If MLK was alive today, wonks would tell him a revolution of love was impossible, politicians would ignore him, and pundits would mock him.
  2. MLK was a great leader. He wasn’t a wannabe. He wasn’t a cowering flunky. He didn’t sell his dream out. He was the real thing.
  3. So I can’t tell whether its funny or sad to hear glowing praise for MLK from people who surely would have hated him were he alive today.
  4. It’s amazing to me how America misremembers MLK. As a policy “activist”. Wrong. He wanted a revolution of love.
  5. MLK didn’t want slightly higher taxes, or one new law. He wanted something bigger: revolution in people’s hearts. A revolution of love.
  6. So to remember MLK as some kind of policy wonk or activist or lobbyist is laughable. He was more than that. He was a real leader.
  7. MLK was the kind of leader whose memory tells us: we don’t have much real leadership left today. Just wimps selling out.
  8. MLK is probably one of the last people in America who called for real institutional change. For that, he was spied on, jailed, and killed.
  9. MLK didn’t just want an end to segregation. He wanted an end to poverty, war, anger, and greed.
  10. What MLK’s memory should remind us of is: once we had revolutionaries. Now we have analysts. Because we killed our revolutionaries.

In honor of MLK, I’m going do 7 points on dreams. Enjoy!

  1. Each and every one must have a dream. That marry who we are with what we want the world to become.
  2. Your dream is your destination. Without one, you’ll always feel lost.
  3. There are better dreams, and worse dreams. Better dreams are bigger than just you, and your aspiration.
  4. Heartbreak doesn’t happen when your dreams don’t come true. It happens when they do.
  5. Don’t cripple your dreams. With evidence or logic or doubt. Dreams are a kind of magic.
  6. Dreams are always impossible. And so we must use a force stronger than our minds to ignite them. We must have faith in them.
  7. Never step on people’s dreams. They’ll rarely forgive you. Always lift people towards their dreams. They’ll love you for it.

Geek and Geekhag podcast number eight – Black White

Chess piece

My and Sarah's 8th podcast is now available online. Enjoy and please leave a comment if you've enjoyed it or simply hate it. This is really part two of podcast number seven but its unique enough to simply make it another number. As always, enjoy.

This time me and Sarah explain what happened after the last podcast and spend most of the time talking about Black White, a TV series we've been downloading recently which tries to tackle black and white culture in America. We talk about the difference between Black American culture and Black English culture. The weirdness which is simply the extreme American way and how I love to mess with people stereotypes and perceptions of young Black men. We settle on the fact that a whole range of things keep up the perceptions and that people hate change.

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