Say NO to discrimination in our community

Recently the subject of discrimination has been something I have been thinking a lot about. It was the subject of some meetings with ubuntu-women, something I have discussed with my friend Sulamita in a Brazilian bar at 4.30am and the subject of various ad-hoc discussions at the Ubuntu Developer Summit. As the wider Open Source community grows, it becomes more of an issue every day, and something we all need to be aware of.

While in Brazil I made a promise to Sulamita that I would be blogging about the issue of discrimination against women, and I have been holding off writing an entry until I had some real, practical, implementable steps that I can advise people to take to help make the situation better. Although I will never fully understand how some women are made to feel at the hands of such discrimination, I have been hoping my contribution could be to help contribute to an awareness of the issue, and for that to happen I felt I needed to construct some doable steps that people can execute. Solving social problems is hard though, which ain’t all that surprising, so I had held off on a blog post until I had some such action points. I have since discovered that there is really one key step that we all need take – don’t accept or allow discrimination in your community.

In my mind all discrimination is bad. Every day people get up and are discriminated due to gender, age, race, mobility, technical knowledge and more. The issues of discrimination, while different in the specifics (e.g. women are discriminated in different ways to age discrimination), the underlying issue is very similar – mistreating people because of a grouping they are part of. We have all suffered this in different ways, from serious racial hatred to someone not taking you seriously because you have long hair and an Iron Maiden t-shirt.

Equality is not a luxury, it is a requirement. To achieve this we need a change of thinking, a new philosophy. A few years back, environmental issues were largely the concern of a niche group of people; those with an expressed interest in the issue would recycle, bike to work and try to avoid wasting energy. As time went on and the issue grew, it was clear that saving the planet was most certainly not the responsibility of the few, but of the many. As the media and foppy haired politicians jumped on the subject, environmental issues became something that all of us should care about. Caring for the planet is now something that everyone is responsible for.

We need to take the same approach to discrimination in our community. Our community is defined by diversity, it is a pulsating machine driven by ideas, culture and experiences that each one of us brings to the table. The vast majority of us understand this diversity, relish it and enjoy exploring each other’s thoughts and culture as we create this incredible free software platform. Then, out of nowhere, we allow a bunch of ignorant muppets to come in and undermine this diversity with their nonsensical views.

Remember how I said social change is hard. Well, it is hard, but not impossible, and we can make very real change by simply not tolerating discrimination. Say no to discrimination. It is a responsibility that every one of us is tasked with. We may disagree on the direction of free software, we may disagree on who we like and dislike in this community, but I think we all agree that each of us should be treated as equals. If someone discriminates on a mailing list, in an IRC channel, on a forum, at a LUG,at a conference or anywhere else, don’t stand for it. It is a small step, and one voice that may not be heard alone, but this is the ethos of Open Source – each of us coming together as one to make amazing things happen together. Lets make something really amazing happen and stop discrimination in our community.

I would like to encourage every blogger, podcaster, forums poster and anyone else to raise this issue. We need a unified voice, lets work together.

  • Michael Wood

    Summary of paragraphs 1 to 6: “Think about how the things you say and do affect others.”

  • Joe Buck

    I was with you until you said “technical knowledge”. Discrimination on the basis of technical logic, or lack thereof, is completely appropriate. Ubuntu does it, as it should. People who don’t know what they are doing are less likely to be hired, and are less likely to get checkin privileges.

    Now, people shouldn’t be rude to beginners, and perhaps that’s what you meant to say. Discrimination should have a rational basis; discrimination against people trying to participate in free software development on the basis of gender, national origin, etc. is not rational and harms both the people and the work.

  • Joe Buck

    Yuk. I meant “technical knowledge”, not “technical logic”.

  • Pedro

    As you said there is a lot of types of discrimination, mostly we suffer discrimination just because we are Latin Americans (lot of friends had suffer this), for example finding a job outside the region is really hard. I don’t know what’s wrong with the world , but, discriminate for anything is just bad.

    Would be nice to start some campaign around this.

  • Clare

    Oh! Your blog entry reminds me one of Vincent’s entries two months ago:

    De la nationalité de GNOME (ou de son absence de nationalité)

    (If you can’t read French, just feed the page into a google translator.)

  • Tristan Rhodes

    How do you recommend we respond to discrimination when we see it?

    In an IRC channel? In a mailing list? In a forum discussion?

    Should we reprimand the behavior in the public or in private? Should we make a public example so that everyone understands that discrimination is wrong? Or should we inform the person in private so as not to distract from the Ubuntu related discussion?


  • Robert


    Could you collect some (anonymised) examples of discrimination that are occurring? For those like me who are nearer the fringes of the open-source world (and avoid IRC and mailing lists like the plague) it is hard to gain visibility into the whole open-source sphere. If more know where the main problems occur we allow a wider section of the community to see/recognise the discrimination and “say no”.

    I’m thinking a bit like the ethics pamphlets you find in large companies (“Jim does drugs in the office, do you tell your manager?”) but not as comical :)

  • nixternal » Say NO! to discrimination

    […] I highly agree and support both Jono Bacon and Melissa Draper with their recent posts concerning discrimination in the community. […]

  • Passed On: An Open Letter… | Veritas/tic

    […] Melissa Draper, over at, along with Jono and Nixternal, address a tough issue lurking in the nether regions of the Open Source Community, discrimination. Theres not much I can say that isn’t already said below, so please read on at their pages. […]

  • infodroid

    That sounds very nice, but what does equality mean? Treating everyone equally?

    Probably you mean discrimination in areas that don’t matter when being a member of the Ubuntu community, like the length of your hair or your gender.

    But the fact is that we aren’t all equal in skills or abilities, an area that might matter.

    So if there is a developer discussion that assumes a certain level of knowledge and a person is lacking that knowledge, then they will feel excluded.

    This is not discrimination.

  • nixternal

    inforoid, equality means exactly that. Being a member of the Ubuntu community or anyother community for that matter, shouldn’t matter. Even though we aren’t all equal in skills should we judge or treat someone differently who doesn’t share equal skills? Should we just say well you are a newbie, one of these days you will get it? I have been in very many discussions where I had no clue wth they were talking about, but in order for me to learn, I had to ask questions. Everyone should feel comfortable in the open source community on doing just that. We don’t want people feeling excluded, if they do, then we aren’t treating them equally.

  • Kagou’s Blog Reloaded

    Non à la discrimination…

    Plusieurs voix se font entendre au sein de la communauté Ubuntu au sujet de la discrimination. Jono a ouvert le feu ainsi que Melissa Draper, le message étant à l’heure qu’il est, relayé par Richard Johnson. Ils traitent essentiellement de la…

  • The topic of discrimination « Robitaille’s Blog

    […] May 22nd, 2007 I have don’t have really anything to add to what was very well written by Melissa, Richard, and Jono. Except for the fact that in my mind discrimination is not something that should be tolerated in any corners of society, not just in the open source community. […]

  • Nermal

    Is this still about that bloody joke that someone took offence to on an ubuntu mailing list?

    Men and women are different and a lot of humour is based on that – deal with it.

    Bloody politically correct people – if there was no discrimination I wouldn’t have to pay more for my car insurance just because I’m a guy and would have enjoyed proper toilet paper at school 😛

  • Jono on Discrimination « Foreseeing Linux

    […] Jono on Discrimination Posted in freie software, floss, discrimination, Linux, women by vinci on the May 22nd, 2007 Jono Bacon has taken on the topic of discrimination in our community. I just like to forward to his post, now. I think he is absolute right and I think that this really an issue – not in the sense of that it does happen seldom, but that its unfortunately part of our culture, which is reflected in the low numbers of women in FLOSS related to other software fields. […]

  • DJ

    In the many years I’ve been involved in the FLOSS community I can’t say that I’ve ever seen discrimination, anywhere or in any form. The great thing about this community is that it doesn’t discriminate; people are judged on the quality of their contributions.

    I get the impression you’ve got a specific example on your mind (“…we allow a bunch of ignorant muppets to come in and undermine this diversity with their nonsensical views.”), so let’s hear it else you’re not going to convince me that you’re not campaigning against something that isn’t there.

  • » Blog Archive » Not good

    […] I have to say that the issue of discrimination within the Open Source community is something I’ve been earing a lot lately. […]

  • Vincent

    DJ – it seems to me the reason he wrote this post was discrimination against women, even though he is against all irrelevant discrimination. I haven’t experienced much discrimination, but then again, there’s not really anything you could discriminate on in the Xubuntu community, AFAIK there are no women there 😉 Allright, I’m Asian, but what do they know 😛

    Anyway, I’ll hold out blogging about this until I witness this myself, so that attention to this issue won’t fade away with your next post. Also, perhaps my blog is a bit more popular by that time 😉

  • Piers Cawley

    There appear to be something in the water. I just wrote about these issues on Sunday:

  • Chris Rohde


    What you’re talking about would be more of a natural exclusion than discrimination. The people holding the discussion about a super-technical topic would, in my experience, most likely not lock the room to someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about.

    In my experience it would be completely fine to ask questions and gain knowledge, so next time I could converse with them about it. And that is what nixternal was talking about, the free and open access to information. Without regard to gender, race, political preference, yadda yadda… none of that should matter.

    And that is why this post, and nixternals, and Melissa Drapers, are so important: they address an issue at the core of the community, that we should all be seen and treated as equals regardless of any other circumstance. Any other at all.

  • fraggle

    I think everyone agrees that more equality is better. What’s really important is educating people about prejudiced behaviour, because I think a lot of people aren’t aware of the effects of the things that they do. Read “HOWTO encourage women in Open Source” for example.

    I’d point to events like the Slashdot April Fools day joke where they changed their website design to pink and wrote all of the news posts in the style of a 12 year old girl on AOL, under the guise of “attracting female readership”. People will say that it was just a joke, but if Slashdot started making jokes about black people eating fried chicken and watermelons you can bet that there’d be a backlash. Instead, almost nobody said anything. We really need to change the culture and way of thinking where this kind of thing is considered acceptable.

  • Linda

    Nermal – I hope you’re kidding. If you’re not – you’re proof there’s a problem.

    Maybe it’s the word discrimination that’s blinding you to the obvious.

    Nobody wants to be part of a community where they’re (or their gender, race, orientation, religion, etc) held up for ridicule, then told they’re too sensitive because they don’t think it’s funny and say so.

    Knowing the type who say there’s no problem, the next step is you saying something like “I wouldn’t care if someone told a joke about white males”. Of course not – there AREN’T any.

    Wonder why that is….

  • Jonas

    I promise I’ll speak up against discrimination. I’ll have to wait until I actually see it actually occurring though.

    Could someone PLEASE show me an example of actual discrimination happening in the FLOSS community, because I personally haven’t witnessed any. Ever. Pretty please?

    On the subject of the infamous joke. That’s not discrimination, but certainly a stupid thing to post on a community mailing list, but mostly because you shouldn’t just go around posting random jokes. Gender-based humor goes both ways, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, because it’s great to laugh about stuff we all know about.

  • resiak

    +1 to everyone who’s commented with words to the effect of “we should say NO to unfair discrimination”. I think that’s what jono’s talking about, though. Disregarding someone’s technical opinion on the basis of their inferior technical expertise in the subject can be justified; flaming them for their lack of knowledge is obviously out of line.

  • Ubuntu | Richard Johnson: Say NO! to discrimination

    […] I highly agree and support both Jono Bacon and Melissa Draper with their recent posts concerning discrimination in the community. […]

  • Ubuntu | Daniel Robitaille: The topic of discrimination

    […] I have don’t have really anything to add to what was very well written by Melissa, Richard, and Jono. Except for the fact that in my mind discrimination is not something that should be tolerated in any corners of society, not just in the open source community. […]

  • Olly

    It’s clear that most of the posters here don’t have a clue what the discrimination is that is being talked about. The discrimination that is being talked about is not just the blatant name calling to do with race, sex, sexuality or gender but the less obvious discrimination.

    For example on a technical mailing list or forum if I post a message about a topic and from my name it is worked out that I’m probably female, I don’t expect replies to my post in private asking me where I live, what I look like and whether I’m married. I expect all replies to be in public on the issue that I’ve posted about.

    In person, if I work in a technical field I don’t expect assumptions to be made that I lack technical knowledge because I don’t look like a stereotypical “geek” and can talk about other topics at work rather than just computers.

    BTW the person who complained about toilet paper at school it’s a common complaint from people of all genders that school toilet paper is hard. Some accountant somewhere obviously decided that this was a major way to decrease school running costs :mrgreen:

    Also while guys get discriminated on in car insurance due to statistics showing they have more serious accidents (women have more minor accidents) women get discriminated on in pensions as statistically they live longer and in some countries they are made to retire earlier.

  • Ryan

    Guys, read what Olly said. You don’t see it because you’re not the one being discriminated against.

    When you attend a symposium expecting to be treated as a human and a peer, but people spend more time talking to your crotch than to you, then we can continue the discussion.

  • Jonas

    Ryan: Then by all means people should call attention to it when it happens! Just saying “it’s happening, but I won’t tell you when, where or how” is not helping anything, because it’s impossible to act against.

  • Khaos » Blog Archive » Is Sexual Discrimination Really an Issue in the Perl Community?

    […] I’ve been reading the comments on Jono’s post regarding discrimination and a couple of them are asking for actual examples of sexual discrimination in their communities. I’m a member of the Perl community and I was trying to remember if I’ve ever had a problem with sexual discrimination. My first thought was that I haven’t at all. And then I occurred to me that maybe once, and I mean once in seven years, that assumptions were made because of my sex. […]

  • Khaos » Blog Archive » Discrimination Against Women in Technology

    […] Jono has been writing about discrimination and in particular discrimination towards women in technology. This is a subject that I have mixed feelings about. I don’t believe that anyone, male or female, should be treated badly simply because of their gender but I do think that it’s very hard to treat men and women in the same way as they are different. I’ll give you an example. As part of my job I used to have to move computer equipment between labs. Some of the men who worked with me found it very difficult to let me carry heavy equipment. Was this sexual discrimination or mere politeness on their part? Or was their reluctance to let me lift things something I should have been annoyed at or something that should have pleased me? […]

  • ryan

    Jonas: Read what Olly said. Its not something obvious, usually. Realistically speaking, if someone says something inappropriate to you, what do you do? Stand up and scream “this jerk here isn’t respecting my abilities! he just asked me for my phone number!”. At best you just get a reputation for being a b**** that is hard to work with — you’re best to just suck it up and walk away.

    The point I think you’re trying to make, and I totally agree with, is the best thing to do, is increase the amount of dialogue and communication, which I think is what we’re trying to do. But its a two-way process where the listener has the responsibility to pay attention carefully to what the speaker is trying to say.

  • Jonas

    ryan: I don’t see why. If a woman pointed out that someone in a group was mailing her in private asking for her phone number or whatever he did, I certainly wouldn’t think less of her. On the contrary, I’d be glad that she had pointed out what jerk that person is, and think that she did the exact right thing by pointing it out in public rather than keeping it secret and then suddenly blowing a fuse and directing her anger at all males in her vicinity (yes it’s a stereotype, but they exist for a reason, and I’ve witnessed this too many times for me to dismiss it, but no, I’m not saying everyone does that).

    But maybe it’s a female thing – keeping problems under covers and only talking about them in a roundabout way. I guess I’ll just have to accept that, then, but I still don’t see who on earth would think that she’s a bitch (censoring with stars is stupid) who is hard to work with – other than the original jerk, perhaps.

  • fragility » Blog Archive » Oh please…

    […] After some issues that recently striked the Ubuntu community I hoped people’s minds would be a bit more open. Maybe the “humanity to others” means “imposing my moral values to others” to some persons. […]

  • grep|grrl » Blog Archive » La représentation des femmes dans la communauté Ubuntu

    […] Cette campagne, dont sont à l’origine Jono Bacon (responsable de la communauté Ubuntu appointé par Canonical) et Melissa Draper (une “Ubuntu addict from Australia”) a donné lieu à un billet sur le blog de Jono et une excellente lettre ouverte à la communauté Open Source de la part de Melissa. […]

  • jess

    I also believe that all discrimination is wrong. I am doing an assignment at this moment about disability discrimination and why people discriminate. My reponse to that queston was… People discriminate because people can’t except that everyone is different. If people can except that everyone is different we wouldn’t have a problem!

  • ashley

    i am writing a paper on discrimination against the elderly in the workplace and community and i was just wondering if somebody could give me a definition of discrimination in the community and it would be greatly appreciated if you could help me come up with some main topics for this.


  • La représentation des femmes dans la communauté Ubuntu | openSYD

    […] et Melissa Draper (une « Ubuntu addict from Australia ») a donné lieu à un billet sur le blog de Jono et une excellente lettre ouverte à la communauté Open Source de la part de […]

  • Gambianpopstar

    sandra i suffer from affective disorder and am discriminated againt every day until life has become a daily fight.  i joined the community voluntary sector and received a lot of training to lead some social change for other like myself in the so called big society and was still discriminated against.  so not credit no change.  needed to go to law about it.  but the higher up you go you find its the same people that put their to help is doing it.  what to do?