Many of us are unknowingly responsible for microaggressions in our everyday interactions, including when we write content and create examples for MDN. The Open Web Docs team has been working to reduce the occurrence of microaggressions and up the number of micro-benevolences throughout MDN.
Microaggressions are demeaning experiences in seemingly normal daily interactions from generally well-intentioned people who are unaware their behavior is non-inclusive and even offensive.
The use of stereotypes is an environmental microaggression. This may be manifested by who is portrayed as a knowledgeable teacher versus who is portrayed as naive and needing to learn. The absence of diversity is also an environmental microaggression. Ensuring representation in curricula and the overall culture of an organization, in general, improves diversity. The absence of diversity, such as including only or mainly cis-hetero-white-men of North American and European descent in relationships with power dynamics, in prose and code are environmental microaggressions.
When people are not represented, they feel invisible. When people from minoritized communities do not see themselves represented in learning or workplace settings, which includes MDN, they can feel isolated, lonely, and excluded. When the only minoritized representations are of learners and students, these microaggressions can negatively impact confidence.
Microaggressions aren't just related to birth-based differences. Language is important for all readers. Describing something as "simple" or "easy", or telling a developer to "just" do something, makes those who don't find something simple or easy, or have never encountered a task, API, or property, feel inadequate or incompetent, and can lead to imposter syndrome. Microaggressions negatively impact everyone's mental and emotional health.
The OWD team has been working to remove potential microaggressions on MDN content. For example, when we encounter words minimizing the complexity of a task, we remove them.
A micro-benevolence is a small act of kindness that benefits another person, without expecting reciprocity. Micro benevolences can be as basic as including culturally sensitive names in code examples or putting primary parent and secondary parent on a form instead of defaulting to cis-gendered, patriarchal, heteronormative norms.
In addition to removing potential microaggressions on MDN, the OWD team has been working to include micro-benevolences in code examples and imagery when we update content. As we work thru new content and revise old content to meet new specs and coding standards, we update the text and code examples to reflect the diversity of our readers. By increasing the diversity of cultures, genders, ages, and topics portrayed in code examples, more of our readers will feel seen and included. Another great benefit is that all readers will be exposed to cultures, genders, ages, and topics of interest not their own.
Diversifying code examples
When learning to code, you will often encounter John Doe and Mike Smith in code examples, with the occasional Jane and Kim. The OWD team went thru the
content directory and updated such examples to better reflect the diversity of developers. For example, the first names in a table of names was updated to include common first names of different cultures, such as Diego, Shilpa, Caterina, Jayla, Aisha, Kyouko, and Shireen, and non-gendered names, such as Dominique, Jayla, and Gila.
Opportunities for benevolence abound; another table was a list of names and countries was updated to included country-appropriate names, and indigenous names, such as Tlayolotl for Mexico.
With a little effort, and mostly awareness, we hope to make all people feel included and seen.
We also included examples that made people who are often discriminated against and marginalized feel seen. On the web, many code examples are geared toward science fiction and math lovers. While we haven’t removed all references to Star Wars, all male sports teams, planets, or Pythagorean, we’ve included quotes by Maya Angelou, SVGs of mandalas, and a welcome to our trans friends.
We are also encouraging the community to be aware of historical discrimination and exclusion and how history impacts our examples. For example, a community contributor suggested a code example that included the top scorers for the 1954 World Cup. Originally, FIFA allocated only one spot in the World Cup to the three continents of Africa, Asia, and Oceania (one spot in total, not one to each continent). While most people know that FIFA excluded women for most of its history, most don’t know that over half of the world’s male population was also excluded. In this case, we guided the contributor thru the PR review process to use a more inclusive statistic. In so doing, we both improve the inclusion in this single example and made contributors more aware of being mindful when creating examples.