Systemic racism and Python
Python is popular for a reason, and it’s not good
I’ve committed a sin in the community today. I lied to the various social media giants about my identity. Today I am lying about my identity. Today I am Wally Mayfield; a shield against the wrath of the people I work with.
I’ve been working in the IT world all of my adult life. During my 20 years of working in this field I’ve had to keep my mouth shut about a few things that are important to me. Today I lied because I feel like this is a story that needs to be told.
Telling my story puts me at risk from the ville underbelly of IT. A cancer has grown in this world which appears to have been missed by everyone. I’m not talking just about the systemic racism or sexism in the business; these seem to be well covered by everyone at this point.
I’m talking about a cancer at the very core of the very companies I’ve lied to. The Python programming language is at the center of this cancer.
“But we love python!” As well you should, it’s a clear, well organized, fast language. However, what you probably didn’t realize is how bad things have gotten over the years.
Python began its humble beginnings as most things in the open source world: a single person had an idea to make a complex thing easier to approach. Guido van Rossum started the project way back in the 1980’s. I’m sure I don’t have to point out that this is yet another privileged white male at “the head of the snake” as it were.
What sets Python apart from other programming languages is its origin in visual perfection. To quote Mr. Rossum’s own design ideas behind Python:
“Beautiful is better than ugly.”
This is the central core of my gripe with Python. Every other language in use today couldn’t give two flicks about how the code looks. You can write sloppy, unorganized Java code all day long and it’ll still compile.
But Python is different, Python requires that your code conform to a very specific standard of beauty. A standard which, as fate would have it, was created and driven by the once self-proclaimed “ Benevolent Dictator For Life.”
The creator of this mess, and the Python community in general have offered up their mea culpa admission to having “inappropriate” language embedded into their software. Terms like slave and master, are slowly being worked out of the language.
Python is very popular indeed. The STEM field is littered with python code, and for good reason. I’m not trying to make the case that Python is, by its nature racist, but I do think there is a racist-adjacent problem in the community.
Whenever I’m in a meeting discussing the direction of a product, or the cause of problem, or whatever, I’m often catching myself counting the number of men in the room who are probably going to be either racist, or just assholes. It’s rarely ever a surprise when I find out that they also love their Python environment.
Most of the major companies in the Valley have a significant load of Python code to make their operations happen.
Needless to say, Python is very popular.
As I stated above, I’ve lied about who I am in fear of the wrath of this mostly white, mostly asshole community of probably racist people. I don’t often write blogs like this, so I apologize in advance if this comes off as choppy or unreadable.
I felt like I needed to speak my truth and hope someone is able to hear this message.
What I’ve observed in my 20 years in this business is that attitudes matter. And when I see people bending over backwards to use a programming language that puts looks over character, I really have to wonder if the people writing the code are just extending that attitude to the world around them.
A lot has been said about the social problems of white privilege as of late. But for me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What I’ve seen is perfectly reasonable allies playing out the “looks over character” paradigm all over the world and not even knowing it.
Next time you hear about some company or person using Python, ask yourself, really get curious about their bias. Chances are very good that an evil is lurking just under the surface that they’re not even aware of.
It’s not at all surprising that the “don’t tread on me” meme is a giant snake. Honestly, when I saw my first “don’t tread on me” flag, I just assumed they were all programmers. Then when people started to shout “learn to code” I just assumed they were talking about Python, because why wouldn’t they?
Python programs you to be evil.