Even when I think I'm getting things right, I know I still get things wrong. I say that not as a lament or complaint but simply as a statement of fact. I get things wrong. Anyone who knows me well knows that I look forward to those times when I find out I'm wrong. I look at those times as an opportunity to grow, to expand my thinking, and become the kind of person that I want to be.
A few weeks ago I had one of these opportunities. I invited someone to be a presenter in the TC Dojo and, after they had a chance to really look at it, they declined and told us why. After some uncomfortable conversations (for me) and a chance to review and think through everything, I'm embarrassed. I know that I only ever have my own eyes and my own experience, but if I believe in inclusion, justice, and equity, then I have to take action, listen, and change. Again and again and again. And I can't be afraid of it.
First, I want to thank this person who was generous and brave enough to share their thoughts with me. I am truly grateful for the trust and for sharing. They could have avoided saying anything but then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to hear someone else’s perspective. The problem would have persisted until I got around to it and more people would have been hurt. That’s not what anyone wants to happen. I count myself lucky that this person took a risk opening up this discussion for me. And I hope that both I and Single-Sourcing Solutions can live up to the trust they placed in us.
About the TC Dojo: From its inception, the TC Dojo was designed for the community--to discuss topics that the community was interested in, not simply those topics that promoted our business goals; to feature other people, not the staff at Single-Sourcing Solutions. We look at it as a public service and designed it as a community resource. Topics are chosen by vote. Community members can vote and revote, as their interests shift over time, in a survey that has been ongoing for more than 10 years. Every month we look at the survey to see what the community wants to learn. We go out into the community to find speakers who are willing to share their learning on those topics. Single-Sourcing Solutions staff might do one session a year, usually when a speaker has a last minute conflict, and we can't find someone to fill in on short notice. It's never been a forum for income. There is never a fee to attend or to watch the recordings. We don't sell -- we don't allow anyone to -- in the TC Dojo. Even when we've had vendors in to share, they must be teaching something first and showing their product second. There's never any charge to attend a TC Dojo session and we do not accept money for an expert to present in it.
If we want it truly to represent and be accessible to the professional and technical communications community, then we have to respect the members, cultures, and perspectives of that diverse community. What we intended originally isn't what's important. This isn't about us. It's about anyone who ever felt marginalized, uncomfortable, or even simply disappointed in us. We know we got it wrong and in doing so, without any attempt to correct it, we're perpetuating negative images, stereotypes, and perspectives.
To that end, we are committing to adopting and enacting anti-racist reviewing practices. We’ll be using the Anti-Racist Heuristic Reviewing Practices, developed by the TPC Academic community. I haven’t signed the commitment yet because I didn’t feel I could without offering this apology first.
So, to everyone, we sincerely apologize. We’ll do better in the future. We’ve laid out a transition plan. We know we still won’t always get everything right, but we will try. We will continue to learn. We will listen. And we welcome being corrected. We’ll be issuing a call for public comment so the TPC community can help guide our next steps. We should have thought of this sooner. I’m sorry we didn’t.
We've laid out a transition plan that includes several points we need to address: the imagery ( the characters, the interior/exterior images), reengineering the overall project components, and the places that we've deployed it (thumbnails/featured images, videos, slide templates, web pages and social landing pages, book covers).
Some of these are easier to change, others will have to be removed altogether. Some we may never be able to fully replace. We will address the current offending material and continue to actively seek out, as well as being open to, community input. Here's the plan:
Removing the characters
While we had a solid understanding of why we themed the webinar series as a dojo, I can't say that we took as much care choosing the characters. And looking back at them now, 10 years later, I still don't have a good reason for choosing the original characters or assigning specific characters to specific topics in the featured and title images. We added new characters about 7 years ago when a powerful partner asked why their culture wasn't represented, but we probably should have seen that as an opportunity to rethink it all then. It's an extremely thin line between appreciation and appropriation and the characters, ending up more as decoration than substance, pushed us the wrong direction over that line.
We've already updated the slide template available both to us and to speakers. For all the speakers who sent us their slides in powerpoint or Google Slides (rather than PDF), we've updated their slides as well.
We've established a timeline for recreating and migrating the featured images and thumbnails on the persistent internet places including the website and on the youtube channel. We prioritized these as they have the highest visibility. We plan for all of this to be done before the end of the year.
Right now there are three programs that make up the TC Dojo. There's the open sessions, the affinity (mastermind) groups, and the private sessions. We'll decouple the last two from the TC Dojo entirely. The work entails mostly updates to the website, so we've planned for this also to be completed before the end of the year.
As far as updates to social landing pages and other places where we've deployed the imagery, a complete audit of those locations will be done by the end of Q4 2021 with updates completed by the end of Q2 2022.
The books are not related to TC Dojo, yet have TC Dojo imagery on the covers. Covers for new versions of the books (aiming for end of Q2 2022) will reflect their genesis: Arbortext Monster Garage
The books have TC Dojo imagery on the covers, which need to be updated as part of this effort. New versions of the books (aiming for mid 2022) will reflect their genesis: Arbortext Monster Garage.
There are over 3000 hours of video. For the cases where presenters used their own slide templates, we will re-record the opening and closing bumpers. For the cases where presenters used our slide template, the whole video will need to be re-recorded. We will do our best to evaluate re-recording or editing these videos, prioritizing those with the highest watch rates.
As we progress, we'll be notifying speakers and letting our audience know to update their bookmarks as things get migrated. On YouTube, changing a video means deleting the old video and uploading a new one, invalidating old URLs and saved bookmarks. I don't know that we'll get through all of them--3000 hours is a lot. I do not have a timeline attached to this task right now. Future videos and TC Dojo sessions will not use the old slides or problematic graphics.
Updating the Interior and Exterior
While we took great care creating the interior and exterior images and have a deep appreciation for the concept and tradition of the dojo, we have reverted one change that shouldn't have happened in the first place: the mixing of photo with sketch to insert photos of our staff on the background. It was a bad idea that opened an ugly door. In our review of speaker slides, there were cases where presenters changed these images in their slides in a way that pushed farther over the appreciation line into appropriation. We're in contact with the other presenters about sending replacement slides. Although we reverted the images to the original sketch drawings, we've decided to simply remove the interior image altogether.
When we updated the slide template to remove the characters, we made this replacement at the same time. We also included this task when we updated the slides from speakers who sent us their slides in powerpoint or Google Slides (rather than PDF).
We'll revert the image on web pages, social landing pages, and other places where we've deployed the imagery, as part of the same task for the character removal. These will be included in the plan to correct and update being done in Q4 and completed alongside work on that task in Q1 2022.
As far as the exterior goes, we're extending an invitation for community comment (see below).
An Invitation for Comment
We chose a dojo to celebrate a place for learning and meditation. When we created the exterior images, we did extensive research so that we would be as faithful as possible to the historic and cultural traditions and intent behind them. We designed an exterior in the Japanese minimalist architectural style. Minimalism is an important practice in technical and professional communications. When we train, we regularly show images of architecture, art, and music from many different traditions and cultures when we’re explaining the concept of minimalism. There are specific ways dojos are constructed, laid out, and arranged, and we made sure that we had all the elements incorporated into the images.
It was never our intent to appropriate the culture or portray the dojo as something aggressive (Western traditions tend to associate dojos with martial arts training).
Intent and results are two different things.
Most of the content is beautiful and represents the shared approach necessary for tech comm. Our artist will adapt and change the problematic images. The most important thing is that we can continue as a place for the TPC community to share with each other and the general public as well.
As much as it is our job to expand our awareness, we realize that we have a better chance of getting it right with your help. We invite your honest feedback, constructive criticism, and perspectives.
Please let us know what you think.
To Our Guest Presenters and Speakers
We invite any speaker who wants to re-record their session to do so. We understand that this was a volunteer effort and that you already gave a lot of time to the community creating and giving your session in the first place. We hope you will take the opportunity to re-record. We'll be reaching out to each of you, so the burden isn't on your shoulders but on ours, where it belongs.
To Anyone Who Wants to Learn More
For anyone who wants to talk to us about what we learned and what changes we made, you're welcome to contact us and we'll share our learning with you. We hope to be as generous as the person who came to us.
If you look into cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, be careful with what you find. When we looked, too often we found articles that put the emphasis on intent and placing the issue firmly in the "I know it when I see it" category. But if you're looking at things through that lens, you've already missed the point. Rather than trying to find a definition (or, more accurately, trying to find out how to argue your point), try going at it a different way. Intent is not what matters. And, this isn't something to argue. If you want to be open and want to grow, then we suggest looking deeper into specific grievances such as "I'm not your mascot", "I'm not your sidekick", and "Not about me without me." This investigation will provide far more insight and help you understand things from someone else's perspective.