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How Do We Heal?



Alex Qin offers a vision for how to come together and co-create the world yearned, drawing inspiration from restorative justice practices, the work of the Code Cooperative, and her own journey of healing. Qin suggests a true shift in consciousness, in how we see each other and our relationships, is needed to radically transform ourselves and our communities.


Alex Qin has experience writing code, leading engineering teams, building communities, teaching, and advocating for underrepresented peoples in tech. She spends her time learning, healing, giving love, and growing the Code Cooperative, a community of people who use and build technology to create life changing possibilities for individuals and communities impacted by incarceration.

About the conference

Software is changing the world. QCon empowers software development by facilitating the spread of knowledge and innovation in the developer community. A practitioner-driven conference, QCon is designed for technical team leads, architects, engineering directors, and project managers who influence innovation in their teams.


[Note: please be advised that this transcript contains strong language]

Qin: I'm Alex Qin. My preferred pronouns are she, her, hers. I would like to open our time together today by acknowledging the land upon which we all stand and the people who have stewarded this land for ages. Every community owes its existence and vitality to generations from around the world who have contributed their hopes, dreams, and energies that have led to this moment. Some people have lived here for generations that cannot be counted. Some were brought here against their will. Some were drawn to leave their distant homes in hope of a better life. The truth is complex. Beneath the contemporary surface of any site in the United States, there are histories of belonging that have been erased, overlooked, contested and forgotten. Truth and acknowledgement of whose stories and lives we stand upon are critical to building mutual respect and connection across all barriers of heritage and difference.

We are standing on the land of the Ohlone and the Muwekma Ohlone people who trace their ancestry through the Mission Dolores, Santa Clara and San Jose. The Ohlone people have been subjected to much brutality and violence and were gradually stripped off their ancestral land by European settlers. Across the land, the struggle for the rights and freedoms of indigenous people has been ongoing. The enslavement of African people is another important part of the history of the United States that must be named and acknowledged. As is apparent in this room, this land is also shaped by the many other lands from which people come, including those who have flocked persecution, economic, political, and social insecurity, and sought a better life for themselves.

Let us pay respects to this history and many parts of these stories we do not fully know. Please take a moment to consider the many legacies of violence, displacement, homelessness, migration, and settlement that bring us together here today. Please join us in uncovering such truths at any and all public events. I want to thank Sethu Nair for this land acknowledgement. In this talk, I mention depression, addiction, racism, sexism, sexual harassment, so feel free to skip it if that's what you need. I'm about to get really real with y'all and I hope that that's ok.

I'm from Paris, I was born and raised there. I wanted to be an astronaut, that's a real photo of me. I came to the U.S. for college where I learned about American culture. In between sampling American delicacies, I took my first coding class and that's when I learned that women are not good at writing code, but I was, "Nah, I'm going to prove y'all wrong." I fought my way through a computer science degree and into a career as a software engineer in spite of a lot of sexual discrimination and harassment and I made it. My face was on the front page of "TechCrunch" for a day. Remember when we read "TechCrunch?"

One year into my career at the tender age of 22, after a string of very traumatizing incidents that I won't go into today, working in tech got so bad that I almost quit. Instead, I shaved my head and I read Malcolm X's autobiography and all the other books that I could find about racism and sexism and other systems of oppression. I became a teacher and an advocate for underrepresented peoples in tech. I built tech education programs for people of color, people without college degrees, immigrants, women. I started telling this story and advocating for diversity and inclusion at tech conferences. I didn't plan this actually, this is QCon London 2017. Most people were happy to hear what I had to say.

Then in 2016, I read the book, "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander, in which I learned about how black and brown populations are disproportionately and unfairly criminalized and murdered here in the U.S. and how the system of mass incarceration is truly the latest iteration of slavery. I wanted to learn from people who had direct experience with mass incarceration. I started teaching people who had been to prison how to code in the hopes that we could build some impactful technology together and open up opportunities for economic empowerment for people coming home from prison. That's how The Code Cooperative started. It started as a side project, a volunteer thing that I did two hours a week, and now three years later I work on it full time and we've become a community of people who learn, use and build technology to create life changing possibilities for individuals and communities impacted by incarceration.

We teach formerly incarcerated people how to code as a means of liberation. We say we work for the liberation of all beings. We imagine and commit to building a world where our collective humanity is reflected in technology, society, and policy. We do this not just for the liberation of people who've been to prison, but for our own liberation and sense of justice because no one is free until we are all free.

Finding Yourself

Then last year, I finally got the courage to call out the men who had sexually harassed me at a conference, actually, at multiple conferences, not very far from here. The talk made its way around Twitter. It was a beautiful moment of justice and I felt like I was living my best life. I got everything I'd worked so hard for. I went from Hello World freshman year of college to almost quitting the tech industry out of fear for my sanity and safety to making a place for myself within it where I was thriving and unafraid. I proved to the world that I was excellent. I was fighting for the change I wanted to see in the tech industry, and I was doing work I really believed in with people I cared about.

There were a lot of labels I would use to describe myself at this point: founder, director of technology, international public speaker, social justice warrior, badass, workaholic, party girl, coding icon - just kidding, I would never call myself an icon; someone else did though, bless their heart. It looked like I was doing really great on the surface, but something was catching up with me - shit that you don't show on Instagram. Chronic trauma from repeated sexual discrimination and harassment, burnout, divorce, rage, quitting job after job, losing work visas and a green card and self-medicating through the fear and pain with alcohol and other substances, and ultimately depression and suicidal thoughts.

In my fight to be excellent, to be accepted and to advocate for others like me and ultimately get revenge, I had lost a lot. All these years of trying to be the best, to be bold, to be perfect, had come at the cost of something I couldn't afford to pay anymore - my wholeness and freedom - and I couldn't keep doing it. I did what people do after they get divorced - I took a sabbatical. I decided to take a break from everything and try to heal and I didn't know what I needed to heal from exactly. I just knew that my body literally couldn't keep going.

I wanted to go back to my roots and retrace my ancestral origin, so I went to France, China, and the Philippines where my parents are from and a few other places. I started removing all my distractions and coping mechanisms. I quit working, social media, dating and I was truly alone for the first time in my adult life and forced to sit with myself and my feelings and to reckon with the truth that I was not ok. I had been harming myself for a long time and I hadn't been able to stop until I hit bottom.

On a flight between Hong Kong and the Philippines, I read these words by Casey Gerald. "What is wrong with me? Ever wonder that? If so, stop. Drop whatever's in your hand. Leave your basket in the aisle. Retrace your steps out the door. Find the crack. Try to find its source, understand its reason. Try." I did, because truly the only way out is in, and I went all the way in.

I realized that so much of what I was doing was in the pursuit of validation. I wanted the world to tell me that I was special because I didn't believe it myself and this need for validation was so deep that I couldn't stop even when it was harming me. It's not just me, the tech industry breeds this belief that you have to be a superstar to have worth, the cult of the 10x engineer. This is especially true for folks who are under siege from underrepresented backgrounds. We can't just be good at our jobs. We have to be better than everyone else in order to prove that we deserve our spot. We have to be leaders and advocates for diversity and deal with the daily micro and macro aggressions with a smile. And all this, not including all the other things we have to do in our lives to get by.

Our capitalist society as a whole rewards individualism and exceptionalism. We're told that what we have is never enough, that we need to compete with each other in order to get our needs met. That life is a zero-sum game. That it's ok to sacrifice yourself to achieve success or to bring about social change, but it doesn't have to be. I saw that all this fighting I was doing in the name of justice was harming me the most. I began the slow, intentional, hard work of healing with the hope that I could live differently. I started a new quest, a quest to get whole and free.

For the first time since childhood, I gave myself space to create. I wrote, I drew. I made art that no one will ever see. I cried in my room. I cried in the streets of Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo. I cried alone in nature, in front of art, lots of art. I cried at the scary and beautiful expansiveness of the sea. I read a lot and I found new teachers in Casey Gerald and Adrienne Maree Brown, Don Miguel Ruiz, Paulo Coelho, and many others whose words are the inspiration for this talk. I learned Kung Fu. I got hurt really badly and I learned how resilient and powerful my body is. I learned to meditate, and I even learned to pray and I got sober. I stopped numbing myself and screening the world. I learned to stop engaging in addictive, harmful behaviors one day at a time. I let go of my addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, people, a lifelong eating disorder until there was nothing left to escape with, and I could finally see what was underneath. Under those behaviors were some deep wounds that were created when I was just a child, wounds I didn't even know I had until then.

When I was very young, I learned I was unworthy - unworthy of love, unworthy of being a human. That was the belief that drove everything I did - my work, my appearance, my personality, even my social justice fighting and all of my addictive behaviors. Because this was the story I told myself my whole life, it took serious work to unlearn it. I practiced meditation and mindfulness so that would be able to change my thoughts. I started going to meetings with other people who are going through the same journey of addiction recovery. I shared with them my challenges, my fears and shame and I listened to them share theirs. After a while of doing this every day and saying things out loud I didn't even believe and crying more tears than I thought were possible to hold in one body, things started to move within me. I hacked my brain.

I learned that feelings are temporary. Thoughts are not truths. Beliefs aren't truths and I can change my beliefs, my thought patterns and my behaviors. Using these practices, I've learned to stop causing harm to myself and others one day at a time. I stopped reaching outside of myself for validation from work, success, other people, and I stayed sober. In three weeks, it'll be one year.

I learned to practice honesty and authenticity instead of projecting to the world what I think will get me what I want, which is sometimes just as simple as being seen, being accepted and belonging. I learned to let go of my personas one at a time and I learned that I'm enough just as I am. Once I had gone through my past and learned why I had done the things I had done, I was told to look at the violence within me instead of looking to the violence of others. I made amends to all the people I had harmed - friends, family members, coworkers, lovers - and through this process I've learned that I am not the harms I have done and what it means to be accountable for my actions and to work hard to make things right when I've done someone wrong.

I learned what it's like to show up and sit in the discomfort and the pain and try to heal relationships instead of just walking away. I've learned to look someone in the eyes and say, "I'm sorry for hurting you. How can I make it up to you? I commit to doing things differently." This has been really hard, and I wouldn't have been able to get through it without the support of people who don't judge me and who hold me accountable to my values. In doing this, I have learned to forgive myself and others.

Over the past year, I have sat in a lot of different rooms and listened to people share stories about where they are from and what matters to them. Through hearing all of these stories, I've come to realize a deep truth that I relearn every day that we are all the same. I've listened to people who didn't look like me, people I never thought I would relate to and I've heard myself in their stories and I've seen my pain in their pain. Even though we have different wounds and different lived experiences, different circumstances, we all have pain and we all want the same thing - to be safe, to be seen and to be loved.

I saw the power of stories, through telling them we heal ourselves and others and through hearing them we remember the truth that we are all one and we're all connected. Traditional African society uses the term Ubuntu, to express the idea that each of us is fundamentally a part of the whole. It translates to I am because we are. This truth is why I'm here today.

The Future Is in The Margins

Within the past few years, many people have come forward with their own stories of harassment and discrimination in tech. We have been shocked by some of the stories we have read or heard, including my own, so we've poured billions of dollars into data collection, new hiring practices, unconscious bias trainings, educational programs for people from underrepresented backgrounds and other diversity and inclusion initiatives. Where are we now? We continue to hear about incidents of racial and sexual discrimination, vile incidents that are harming people and communities. We're not hiring more black and brown people as is shown by Google's latest diversity report. Some of us are even proudly advertising white-only job postings.

We are learning that the leaders of our industry have been covering up years and years of sexual assaults. Needless to say, we are not in a better place or at least not close to where we want to be. In the age of AI everywhere and mass surveillance and predictive policing and tech as a solution to everything and the severe implications of all of this on humanity, the issue of our industry's homogeneous and harmful culture is more critical than ever. We here in this room and in the tech industry are the deciders of what happens to other people.

Our decisions have real impacts. A self-driving car just killed a human being. GitHub is building software for ICE. We're building drone-strike software. We're building software that decides whether people go to prison or not or whether people get out at all that has been proven to be drastically mistaken in many cases. Our decisions have real impacts. That's why we need more different people in these rooms, because the future is in the margins. When we take care of those who are at the bottom, we are taking care of everyone.

Our public-shaming tactics and half-hearted top-down policies have not been working because we're not addressing the root of the problem. We need to shift how we see each other and our relationships. We need to radically transform ourselves and our communities. We keep asking "How do we make the tech industry more diverse?" but I've been thinking about a new question recently: How do we heal? How do we heal our communities and our industry? How do we heal our internalized racism, sexism, transphobia, and all our other harmful beliefs, thoughts and behaviors? How do we heal the harms that were done to us and the harms we have done to others? How do we heal our relationships and how do we be whole and free together?

It was a little over a year ago, very close to here that I gave the talk where I called out some of the men who had sexually harassed me, the men who had made me afraid, the men who had hurt me. I was asked afterwards to give that talk again, but I've recently realized I couldn't. When I called these men out, I shared their full names, photo and where they worked. After years of staying silent, I spoke up and I was really scared. The response was overwhelmingly supportive. Within three hours, two women messaged me to tell me some of these men had harmed them too. I really felt like I'd done the right thing. I was a warrior fighting for equality, giving a voice to the voiceless, telling others who had been victims of discrimination and harassment, "I can speak up, you can speak up too," or at the very least, "This is fucked up and you are not alone," and hopefully, inspiring people to make a change in their communities so that others wouldn't have to go through this.

I know that some good has come from this, but now I also see how some harm has come from this. When these incidents happened, I was so scared and so angry. I felt powerless. The only way I knew to regain my power was to take power away from those who had taken mine. That's why I resorted to public shaming. I did it in the name of truth and justice and I also did it out of revenge. Public shaming is not the way that we heal as a community, and that's not the way that I heal. When I harm others, I harm myself and hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.

When these incidents of harassment happened early on in my career, it created a deep wound in me. I began to fear men in tech, especially white men. A story was written in my mind that I will continue to be hurt by people who look like this, but this doesn't have to be the truth. There are many stories and beliefs I've learned throughout my life. They came from various places. When I was little, I learned that I'm not worthy of love unless I'm perfect, unless I'm the best at everything. That's why I never gave up in my pursuit for success in software. I couldn't give up even when it was harmful to me.

When I started coding, I learned the story that tech is a meritocracy and if I'm good, then I will succeed and if I don't succeed, it must be that I'm not good enough. From the media and my teachers, I learned that women and people of color are just less interested in coding and white and Asian men are better at it. Something happened that made me unlearn that story and I learned a new story. That tech is not a meritocracy. That excellence and code can truly come from anyone. We all deserve an opportunity to be a part of this community, this industry, and to co-create the future. We all deserve to be here, to be safe and to thrive no matter what body we were born in.

We've all learned stories. We learned stories about what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a man, what gender is, who is a criminal, and who is not deserving of being treated like a human. We didn't choose these. We learned them from our parents, from our teachers, from our friends, from the media, pop culture. We can unlearn these stories and we can choose to learn new ones.

The story of who is a programmer was created in the 1980s. In truth, women invented computer science and were the first programmers, but in the '80s there was a big drop in the number of women writing code. That's when personal computers came around. Personal computers were basically toys, so companies decided to market them entirely to men and boys. This idea that computers are for boys became the story we told ourselves about computers. It defined who geeks were. The image of the boy genius programmer emerge, and this led to where we are now, a place where the story is so old and so strong, we can't even tell it's not the truth and we don't know where it came from.

We treat each other like this. We hurt each other in many cases, not because we consciously want to, but because that's all we know to do. This is just a story. Now that we're aware of it, we can unlearn it. Being aware is not enough. Changing our behaviors, our thoughts and our beliefs takes work. The stories we have learned about who belongs in our industry and who gets to succeed are like air we have been breathing in for a long time - toxic, poisonous air. Because these stories have been there for so long, it takes time and a lot of effort to rewrite them. These are the most traveled neural paths in our brains, but we can travel new ones.

What If

I am not who I was a year ago. What if instead of seeing our internalized racism and sexism - which we all have through no fault of our own - what if, instead of seeing them as shameful flaws that we want to hide or ignore, we saw them as wounds we need to heal, stories to unlearn. What if we were given the support we needed to do this, to learn about these structures of oppression and reflect on how they've impacted our lives and those of the people around us and share about it with each other, the space to practice mindfulness and self-compassion, to change our thoughts, the space to mess up and try again to do better tomorrow. What if we were given the support we needed to do the hard inner work it takes to unlearn these harmful stories and write our own stories? What if we didn't live in fear of being discovered but in mutual support?

We could go to a group of people who are going through the same journey and be honest with them about our fears, our challenges, and our shame. These circles exist. Men's healing groups working to end sexual violence, white people against white supremacy groups. What if when harm happened in our communities, instead of ignoring, silencing, shaming and exiling, we were accountable to each other? We share the responsibility for our collective wellbeing. What if when harm happened, we saw it as a collective failure and a collective opportunity and we center the needs of the people impacted, asked those who were harmed, "How do you feel and what do you need? How can we make things right?" and then held those who caused the harm accountable for doing so, and then gave them what they need to make a change and heal as well?

What if we moved from punitive to restorative? Restorative justice practices, which we've learned from indigenous people are being used more and more to respond to interpersonal harm in prisons, schools, and now in the workplace. What if we measured our success by the strength and depth of our relationships because we are all one and we all need each other to survive? What if we worked together to heal ourselves, our relationships, our communities, our movements and worlds? We could make something beautiful happen.

Herby: The Code Cooperative is a very unique program in the sense that it's bringing together people who normally don't get a chance to actually interact very often.

Qin: For a lot of our students, traditional job paths aren't necessarily an option because of their history with the criminal justice system. What we do is provide free technology education to formerly incarcerated and justice-involved individuals as a pathway to equity.

Herby: Technology and having access to information and being able to use it is really the most powerful currency. Allowing someone to tap into their own creative energy, their own ideas and be able to magnify that just by learning some basic things like HTML and CSS is super important.

Mark: These concepts and the language to describe it, is all new to me and I love learning about it in a way. Because when I'm out and about in the street, I just see the world like a little differently now. It's like I've peaked behind the curtain.

Mike: Even though you've served your time, you still can't vote. I can't get public housing. I'm not asking for a handout, I'm asking for a hand up.

Jade: People that have been affected by the justice system are put at a big disadvantage in our society. They're discriminated against because of their former incarceration. These skills are essential to help people get jobs and support themselves. I think it's a way of leveling the playing field.

Qin: We pair each of our students with a mentor who is a professional software engineer.

Herby: That relationship between the mentor and the mentee, because it's one-on-one, you get to really sort of tailor the interaction really towards supporting the mentee as much as possible.

Ainsworth: If it's just you wanting to know basic knowledge of how to browse the web and how to check an email, it's worth it. If you want to go more in-depth and learn how to create a webpage, it all depends on what you want to get out of it.

Mike: This is the opportunity for your future. If I really believe in myself, I need to put the energy out there. And Code Cooperative, there's nothing but love in this place.

Reggie: The Code Cooperative makes me feel a part of something, part of something good.

Mark: The Code Cooperative makes me feel extremely empowered.

Qin: If you want to learn more about computers, if you want to learn to code, if you want to do good and you don't really know how, if you want to join a community of like-minded people who care about learning together and building technology to make a better world, join us.

Approaching Interpersonal Harm and Conflict Resolution

We just launched our third class. This is a video I shot on the first day during lunch. We're calling it a fellowship. We have 18 fellows all of whom have been impacted directly by the criminal justice system. I want to share a story about how we're approaching interpersonal harm and conflict resolution in a restorative way within our community. In the past, we'd had a code of conduct for class, like we have for this conference where we say, "These are the rules and you comply, or we kick you out." We tried something different this time around. On the second class, we got together, all of us in a circle, the fellows, the mentors, and we together crafted our community guidelines, and everyone had a chance to add to them. Then once we had our big list of everything we need in order to show up, feel safe in the space and be able to learn things like, respect each other's boundaries, punctuality, whatever, we all discussed them together and came to an agreement as a group where all of us had to be on board with them in order to move forward.

The conversation took an hour and there was this one community guideline that someone wanted that was "no politics talk." Then we talked about that for 20 minutes. At the end this one fellow was, "You know what?" everyone else said, "Ok, I agree to this." This is called consensus based-decision making by the way. Everyone was in agreement except for this one fellow. He was, "But it's fine, I don't care. It's ok if I don't like the community guidelines if everyone else does." Then another fellow was, "No, man, that's the whole point of this - we're doing this together because everyone here matters." He's formerly incarcerated. He's done a lot of time and he actually comes to class with his son who's 14 and who's also learning to code with him. He said that he was so grateful that his son was there to be able to witness this way for people to be in conflict and move together. He said he's seen arguments less important than this result in gun violence.

This moment was one of the moments in my career where I felt like I'm in the right place. I saw people who had been to prison and people who hadn't, people who maybe never even been in contact with someone who had been incarcerated, come together and trust each other and bring their whole selves into the conversation and say things like, this is all love, let's all win. Excellence in code can come from anyone. Let's do this together. This is what The Code Cooperative is. It's a place for all of us to heal together, to heal the impacts of mass incarceration together. Also, we learn to code there.

I imagine a world where we are no longer harming each other, where we all have access to food, shelter, education, and love, where the body we were born in doesn't determine what opportunities we have access to, where we aren't destroying our planet, where there are no prisons. I truly believe we all want this, and this world is within reach. We have everything we need to get there. We have all of the information we need to create a change. It isn't a matter of facts, it's a matter of longing, of having the will to imagine and implement something else. We have to start right now because we've spent too long going in the other direction and all we have to do is start with ourselves. I truly believe that you transform yourself to transform the world. We all have wounds, but we are not our wounds and we are not our limitations. We are not who we have been.

If you would, please take a breath with me. On Christmas day, I stood alone at the Chichu Museum on Naoshima Island in front of Monet's Waterlily paintings. For the first time I heard the universe whisper, sit in the truth and remember who you are. I am the sun, the moon, the planets and all the stars. I'm the intergalactic space. I'm all that is known. I'm all that is unknown. I'm in the drop of the tier. I'm in the grain of sand. I am the seer and I am the scene. I am the unborn and I am the undying. I'm the one who is born and I'm the one who dies. I am beyond time, yet I am found in time. I'm the one who gets lost and I'm the one who is never lost. I am totality.

I have been learning a new story that I am whole and free, always have been, always will be. That I am worthy no matter what I do, no matter what other people say, that you are not separate from me and that when I hurt others I hurt myself and that my own liberation cannot come at the cost of harming others. This world we imagine is within reach. We can get there but we can only make it happen together. Now is the time to be brave and wage love.

One last thing, we just launched a fundraising campaign for MetroCards for the fellows of The Code Cooperative just literally today, we've raised zero dollars thus far this morning. If you feel so moved, you can go to and help fund travel for the fellows to get to and from class. We also pay for their food, we give them laptops. There is a very small stipend. If you want to contribute, this is how.

Questions and Answers

Participant 1: Before the question, I just want to say thank you. You have quite the voice and as you were speaking, I could feel my own wounds. I don't know what, but just coming as tears listening to you because like you say, we all have wounds and mass incarceration doesn't only affect the person who was incarcerated, but their children and their children's children. It is something that is devastating. You said, "The future lies in the margins" and that's a powerful statement. It's also a scary statement because there's stuff in the margins that's been coming out in the past three years and how - I don't know if you've thought about it, I don't know if it's worth thinking about because there's a lot of things to think about, but there are places in the margins that also in the healing that just instinctively makes you, "I don't want to talk to those people." Your thoughts on that.

Qin: When I said the future is in the margins I mostly meant, the futures that we hope for will come from those of us who are most marginalized, will come with the co-creation of those of us who are most marginalized. I hear your question. I have struggled with this myself in the past. I was very much, "I'm not going to talk to anyone who isn't on my level of social consciousness." I think we all need to do what we need to do to take care of ourselves above everything else. The change I've seen within myself has led me to believe that we can heal any belief truly. That will come from hard conversations and from giving the opportunity to people who are in the scary margins to participate in creating this world. I don't have a blueprint for what that looks like, but, I really believe, and this might sound like super woo woo, that if everyone in the world sat in a circle with the 10 closest people to them for 2 days, all the wars would end, because we're just all human beings.

Participant 2: As a woman in the tech field it's complicated. You know that for sure. How can we, not expose but not just let it go, the things that happen and the same time, find that balance between healing and trying to transform the environment as well. Because it's crazy. I could not find this balance at all and this hurts me so much, so I just want to hear your thoughts.

Qin: I only know how I've been able to reconcile it for myself and that's just my experience that I wouldn't push on anyone else. For me, at first, I couldn't say anything. I was just scared, so I stayed silent and I got really angry and resentful and, developed PTSD. I was just afraid and alert at every work environment. I was just making things worse for myself because of everything that had happened to me, I couldn't trust anyone. Then I was able to build a support network of other women and people from underrepresented backgrounds to be able to share with them what I was going through and kind of build mutual support there. After time had passed and after taking all of that energy and putting it into something that I felt would be able to change things.

That's why I started teaching, because I was, "This is awful." The only thing I know to do is to try to make sure it doesn't happen to other people or, to change this community for the better, to make this community and to the community that I wanted to be and to the community I want to be a part of. I'd always hung onto these specific incidents that had made me so angry and I decided, "I'm going to speak up now. I'm going to fuck those guys - not like that - I'm going to throw them under the bus."

That was a really healing thing for me to be seen in that way, to be acknowledged, for people to look at me and accept that this happened to me. In the past it always felt like it was invisible and no one knew and that was so painful. Then after sharing that, I don't regret it and also, that's not how I want to do things in the future. I think it's important to hold people accountable, especially people in positions of power. I don't think public shaming should end, but I think my participation in call out culture, I want to just be more thoughtful as to why I'm doing this. Am I doing this because it's going to change something? Am I doing this because I want to hurt someone? I guess my answer is, I think any way that we are able to like heal ourselves from the harms that happen to us is the right way.

Participant 3: I think there can be a lot of internalized bad things like classism, racism, sexism. I watched "Parasite" the other day and kind of thought about that too. A lot of people may not recognize that they have that; what is a nice first step or a good first step in the right direction that you might think could be helpful for people?

Qin: It's hard to answer that because we don't see what we don't see. If someone else tells me something about myself that I don't believe, my reaction is going to be on the defensive. I'll just say this, what I can do is I can go to someone and say, "We all have internalized sexism, racism, transphobia, classism - all of us." I have internalized sexism and it's not a character flaw. It's not I am bad. That's just what I learned from being socialized in this world. When I can say that to someone, it might be easier for them to recognize that they might have some of it too. I don't think I can necessarily make people come to realizations about themselves by telling them things about themselves and I think that's the power of stories - I tell my story and then something resonates in that with you.

Participant 4: Question/observation. I was cruising CNN the other day, and an ad popped up ad choice, and it was my picture from a tech interview I did. I thought, "That's funny," so I screenshot it, posted it on Facebook. I got several hundred likes and shares. Later that day, I was watching the show "Watchmen" on HBO, and it opened up with events that happened in Tulsa in the 1920s. I'd never heard of that. I went and researched it and I ended up going back to Facebook and posting a link to the Wikipedia articles saying, "How can we get past any of this when many of us don't even know what happened? It's removed from the history books." and I got three shares versus the hundreds for the stupid CNN ad. How do you get people to have these conversations when they're unwilling to even talk about it? How do you work to get past that?

Qin: I don't have the answer to that question, let me just say, but I'll say words anyway because I've got the mic for another two minutes. I used to think I can change the world, let me tackle the problem of mass incarceration in the United States, me and this little like French girl who hasn't lived here very long. Really, the only thing I can change is myself and then I can have impact because of that on the people closest to me. Then those people can have an impact on the people closest to them. That's really how change on the global scale happens, I believe that now. I would say what you are doing is the thing to do, trying to fix a problem for people that I don't even know, that's not the best use of my energy. Let me show up as my best self in the world and for the people around me and then hopefully that will give them the room to show up as their best selves for the people around them.


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Recorded at:

Dec 03, 2019