Posted in Personal

I am a Unicorn, hear me Gallop; Choosing Computer Science Education and being a Black Woman

In my fantasy world of rainbows and unicorns there is equality, acceptance and the notion that each unicorn is unique but there are enough of us to create a community…

Unfortunately, I live in a world where you realize a unicorn is a symbol of difference in a “good” way and a rarity. An intersection between what is not considered the norm and should be placed in a special section as if to preserve it, not to create more.

At a young age, I knew I was interested in different things than what my peers were interested in, mainly the curiosities of computer science and engineering. Which derived from trying to figure out what was wrong with a computer in my elementary school computer lab to taking my first programming class in 7th grade using a language called Logo.

Who would have known that my upbringing in a lower middle class, predominately black community, as well as a brewing passion for comp sci and education, would lead me to the career I have today. My growing experience as a Black Women Computer Science Teacher in the classroom, in after-school and in the adult continuing ed spaces, has often felt like a unicorn placed in its own special pen with no one to interact with.

When a unicorn gets to play with all the other horses, the unicorn and all the horses know the differences but the horses will only acknowledge that unicorn if they accept the social norms of the horse community. In my opinion, this is an example of my everyday life. Even though I love what I do, the spaces that I am qualified to be in were not made for me.

What some people do not understand is, I did not sign up for the unicorn school for black girls. Nor did I realize that I was a unicorn until after many years into my career. Yes, I noticed in college that there weren’t many women in my classes and later realized that there were a few black people, if not, I was the only black person in the classroom. At the time, I chalked that experience up to just that. Computer Science was a predominately male space. Hence, the reason why I felt the need to restart our school’s Women in Computer Science Club.

It wasn’t until 2017 that I learned about intersectionality and how my experience as a black woman was different than from being just a woman and being just black. By combining both experiences into one and adding my career choice into the mix, my unicorness was created. It took me two years just to understand the meaning and role it played in my life. Only to conclude that I would always have a job in the tech world not just because of my experience but also because I am one of a few black women in the industry.

With the term diversity and inclusion being used more frequently in the workplace, I sometimes wonder if employers look at a person like me to mark off a checkbox. Just to say, “hey we have our own unicorn look at her and she is qualified at the same time”. Internally, I am excited for the opportunity, there is a sense of accomplishment and I feel like I made it. But this unicorn feels the need to work twice as hard and often downplays the many micro-aggressions that she experiences. Overtime, that unicorn externally is still beautiful, still rare and still alone.

I’ve come to realize that if I don’t want to be a lone unicorn that I need to find or help create other unicorns like me. I cannot continue to hope that the workplace will expand with other unicorns without putting in the effort to find my own. In some ways, the most ideal space is a community of unicorns mixed with a few horses but I’ll take a unicorn at a time.

Where will you find your unicorn community?