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Does ICANN have a race problem?

Kevin Murphy, June 29, 2020, 21:01:04 (UTC), Domain Policy

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, pretty much every corporation and institution in the US, and many elsewhere, have felt the need to make statements or enact changes in order to show how non-racist they are, and it seems ICANN is now no exception.

The org issued a statement from CEO Göran Marby late last week in which he denounced racism and said ICANN was committed to establishing a set of “guiding principles” to govern “diversity and inclusion”.

I found the statement rather odd. Does ICANN have a racism problem that needs addressing?

I don’t think it does. At least, I’ve never even heard so much as a rumor about such behavior, never mind a confirmed case.

I’ve been scratching my head to think of any examples of ICANN being accused of racism, and the only one I can come up with is a minor controversy 10 years ago when an early draft of the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook banned “terrorism”.

Some Muslim community members complained that the word could be perceived as “racist” and it was eventually removed.

Around the same time, a handful of community members (as well as yours truly) were accused by the head of unsuccessful .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica of being part of a racist conspiracy against the company, but to the best of my recollection we never invited ICANN staff to our meetings.

But that’s basically it.

ICANN already has diversity baked into its power hierarchies. Members of the board of directors and other committees have to be geographically diverse, which will usually lead to racial diversity, for example.

A great many of its senior leaders have been (at least under some definitions) “people of color”. There doesn’t appear to be a glass ceiling.

It’s also got its Expected Standards of Behavior, a system of codified politeness used in community interactions, which explicitly forbids racial discrimination.

The broader community is global, has no ethnic majority, and is self-selecting. Anyone with the means can show up to a public meeting, dial into a remote meeting, or join a working group, regardless of race or origin.

Statistics show that whenever an ICANN meeting is held in Africa or Asia, the largest groupings of participants are African or Asian.

Of course, maybe with such diversity comes problems. There are words that are considered offensive in some parts of the world that are perfectly acceptable in others, for example, but I’ve never heard of any instances of this kind of culture clash.

But is there actual racism going on at ICANN HQ? Marby’s post says:

We will open a facilitated dialogue to support our employees, to ensure that racial bias and discrimination, or bias of any kind, have no place in our workforce. We need to be comfortable having uncomfortable conversations so that we can address the unconscious and conscious ways in which systemic racism is perpetuated. We need to listen more to Black people and people of color to learn about how these issues impact them each and every day. And we need to continue to take meaningful actions to address inequality.

That suggests that either ICANN is aware of some sort of systemic racial bias among its staff, or that it wants to hunt it down and snuff it out before it becomes a bigger issue.

Or they could just be empty words designed to pay lip service to this stuff.

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Comments (3)

  1. Vika Mpisane says:

    The dotAfrica stuff was some experience of course! Jokes aside, I suppose if Göran is on a prevention is better than cure mission, that’s great. May be his focus is more at the employee level than the ICANN community. I do not recall (in my 14 year association with ICANN to date) ICANN having to deal with any racism allegation in its community (I’m not saying there was no incident, but I can’t recall any so far). We’ve had certain unacceptable behavioural patterns by some more passionate parties, of course, but I don’t yet recall any that turned to a racism matter.

    In my view, dealing with race issues should be part of a bigger diversity-inclusivity matter, lest while we succeed in dealing with race, we ignore other possible discriminations. All the best to ICANN in this pursuit!

    • Steve GOBIN says:

      Having been part of ICANN staff between 2008 and 2013, I can confirm that, I never heard of any discrimination based on race or religion. Unfortunately I was the victim of another kind of discrimination, as indeed I was under a severe medical condition, which some people of the management used to blame me for every problem that occurred in my department and get me fired…
      The recent departure of Cyrus Namazi (who was my boss’s boss) also revealed that some other kind of discrimination were taking place.

  2. Jean William says:

    Seems like no one has, of yet, heard about the .eco Global Environmental Community Priviledged Priority Nightmare?

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