Tag Archives: technology

Native Americans without Stereotypes: A Lesson in Descriptive Navajo

Debbie says:

Although stereotypes of Native Americans are easy to find, mainstream culture does not have a lot of images of everyday Native American people engaged in familiar pursuits. One thing we virtually never see is any connection between Native Americans and technology, which is why I am so pleased by this video, in which daybreakwarrior, a young Navajo man, provides “a lesson in descriptive Navajo” by showing off his iPod:

(If you can’t watch or listen to the video: This video shows a young man describing his iPod in the Navajo language in very significant detail. He covers not only what it is and what it does, but also its size, weight, dimensions, materials, and how the headphone jack and the download port work. The video has both transliteration of the Navajo sounds and translation into English.)

A few specifics to note:

1) He relies on English for only a very few words: “iPod” and “classic,” numbers, and “GB.” The word for “television” appears to be “holo.” In his notes on YouTube, he says: “In regards to concepts of “downloading,” there are no official ways to describe these things in Navajo. People in different areas use different words.”
2) The way he describes the device tells us a lot about Navajo culture–it is very hard to imagine someone of European descent thinking about some of the descriptors he uses (“it has rounded corners”), while still being completely informative and intelligible to a non-Navajo speaker.
3) His clothing and surroundings also silently combat stereotypes of Native Americans.

I find that I enjoyed this video even more the second and third times. It makes me wish I spoke Navajo, or at least that I had better access to descriptive concepts of that depth and range.

(I found this at Sociological Images, in a longer post by Adrienne Keene about stereotyping Native Americans and technological concepts, which is also well worth reading.)

Yahoo Hires Lap Dancers?

Debbie says:

I was just cruising the Internet, looking for something interesting to blog today, but I didn’t expect this

Yahoo has apologized for its use of scantily clad lap dancers to entertain mainly male software developers and engineers in Taiwan last weekend. The Internet search company Monday acknowledged its politically incorrect step.

“I wanted to acknowledge the public reaction generated by the images of female dancers at our Taiwan Open Hack Day this past weekend. Our hack events are designed to give developers an opportunity to learn about our APIs and technologies. As many folks have rightly pointed out, the “Hack Girls” aspect of our Taiwan Hack Day is not reflective of that spirit or purpose. And it’s certainly not the message we want to send about our values here at Yahoo!. Hack Days are about making everyone feel welcome, including women coders and technologists.”

“This incident is regrettable and we apologize to anyone that we have offended. Rest assured, it won’t happen again.”

The apology is on an apparently obscure developer blog, though by now it has made national news.

Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing is appropriately, if simplistically, scathing on the topic:

What a blot on technology culture this is. As a father of a young daughter whom I hope will be excited about technology, hacking, and making stuff, Yahoo’s vile behavior makes me want to puke purple exclamation points.

Regrettable? I can think of some choice words to describe this, and regrettable is so far down the list that you’d need to scroll for a week to reach it.

Of course, I agree with Cory that this is completely inappropriate, and wrong. And I also notice what isn’t addressed in the BoingBoing piece (or the Yahoo apology).

I certainly don’t know what the cultural standard is in Taiwan. I wouldn’t like this even if it was absolutely common to have lap dancers at Taiwan corporate events; nonetheless, I’d still like to know if it is. I’d like to know the national make-up of the attendees: how many are Taiwanese, how many are American, how many are “Westerners,” how many are from other parts of Asia? What are the cultural expectations of the various attendees? Apparently, Hack Day is an international event–either it travels from country to country or it happens in different countries at different times. I’d also like to know more about the gender balance than “mainly male,” which could be anything from 60% to 95% male. I’d like to know the ethnic backgrounds of attendees and of dancers.

And I’d like to know more about the lap dancers. According to the MSNBC article, they danced “wearing bras and miniskirts,” and then “pretty much threw themselves upon the men.” Apparently, the video and photo evidence of this on Flickr has been made private. The blurry but unmistakable photos at the BoingBoing link above do seem to show Asian dancers and white men. I’d like to know what they were actually paid to do, whether or not they were well paid, and why they “threw themselves upon the men.” Were they instructed to do that? Were they looking for individual payment from attendees? Again, what’s the cultural standard in Taiwan?

It’s so easy to see stories like this through one lens: in this case, almost all the news and blog reporting seems to be about how women technologists and engineers were mistreated by this choice. An extremely valid lens, but not the only one.

Thanks to maevele for the pointer.