On having two identities and marginalization

“The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly. Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” – Mark Zuckerberg

This is a line from an article written about the ways that Facebook is slowly and subtly destroying our free will. It’s very good and if you have time you should read it but I want to talk about this quote from Zuckerberg because it shows the mind of a person who has never had to hide parts of their identity just to exist safely in the world. This quote reeks of unexamined privilege and it is from one of the people who stands at the forefront of ushering the world into a new, connected age.

This is the statement of a person who has never had to pretend to be something they were not, something less than their whole selves in order to get and keep a job. This is a person who has never been afraid of the type of ridicule that could lead to violence for simply being 100% of who they were. This is the statement of a person who has never had to pretend to renounce their own identity in order to survive in the greater culture.

This is a statement of cis hetero white man. You don’t need to know that it was Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Facebook himself, who said this to know that a white many said this. It is dripping with the privilege of safety and the knowledge that who you are in the world will always be accepted and treated with respect.

There’s nothing wrong with being a cis hetero white man but the world looks a lot different when you aren’t one. The difference in relationships between co-workers and other friends is, for him, the difference in wearing a tie or t-shirt to work. It is a surface difference. It is not the difference in appearing as a woman before your coworkers when they know you primarily as a man. It is not the difference of using your first initial only or going by your more ambiguous middle name so that people don’t realize that you’re a woman of color and reject your application outright.

White boy Mark has never had to do those things so he doesn’t understand how people who have had to do those things use his platform and perceive the future. It’s not a space where everyone is free to be who they are because all of these lines between people have been broken down.

Instead it is a place with less ways to form walls of protection. Although being online has allowed many people to find and build community, many marginalized groups have also become more open to abusive attacks from those that seek to continue to oppress and intimidate them. When Zuckerberg and other social media mavens speak of their imagined future, they focus on the first part because they have no real concept that the second issue is such a widespread concern for so many people.

In no statement has it been so blatantly clear that the creator of Facebook has limited understanding of the world outside of his own viewpoint then in that statement. When you exist at some intersection of marginalization, it doesn’t matter which one, you automatically must operate in much of the world as less of yourself, simply because the world was not built for you. If you want to survive, making concessions until you have the strength to fight the status quo.

That’s not what this quote is suggesting, that you fight. It is assuming that how you are will be fine for everyone you meet. That there is no reason to parse relationships between people, that everyone can be “friends” because in the homogeneous culture of Silicon Valley, this is possible. It is a utopia because it is built for and by group of people to support exactly who they are and what they want.

In that world, there are no reasons why anyone would need to present a different face to the world, we’re all just people right? But the world doesn’t see all people the same and everyone isn’t a friend, whether you’ve added them on Facebook or not.

The future can be a wonderful place to exist in. There are many exciting things happening in the realm of technology but while moving forward we must remember that those same biases that excited are still coming with us until they are dealt with. It’s not enough to say, everyone should just be excellent to one another (Rufus never showed up for anyone in this timeline), you must accept that people are still living under oppression and marginalization and that hiding is a survival mechanism.

Having two identities isn’t a lack of integrity. It’s a way to survive in a world that is often hostile to people who exist outside of the ideal of our society. Instead of fighting against an honest survival mechanism, why not call out the people who feel they have nothing to fear and use their social privilege to bully and harass people who are just trying to live?