When news broke of Palmer Luckey’s financial support of Nimble America, an alleged Alt-Right organization, I was deflated.
I am a literal Nativist, or Native American, with a mom who was called a Prairie N****r as the only woman in her Electrical Engineering class. For a moment I had actually let my guard down —it was the 1970s after all— and grown naive about racism in tech. Fred Brooks’ programmer who “builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination” has no room for political views, much less hatred of brown women.
So – What had I stepped into when I accepted a Oculus’ invitation to diversify the VR space?
So there I was, nervously wandering into the vast San Jose Convention Center for Oculus Connect 3 (OC3), clutching at free ticket from the Oculus Launchpad initiative. What kind of crazed clan convention was I attending? Should I try to blend in with the cleaning staff? As I drew near the conference hall, the universal smell of sweaty computer nerd and warm plastic welcomed me into it’s blue glow. The entrance to OC3 was full of well nourished geeks gazing vacantly into their smartphones who I, in turn, documented with my iPhone.
Within minutes I had a fancy new OC3 badge and chatting with a fellow VR enthusiasts and shared Unity3D horror stories. We all noisily made our way to the VR demo lines. Throughout the demo hall was buzz that Luckey would not make an appearance while journalists, in my lines, noted that OC3 was classier than the last two.
Palmer Luckey never did show up. Most conspicuously, he did not appear for a Diversity Luncheon where Oculus showcased its commitment to equality to a room full of minority men, women, and everyone in-between.
Oculus Connect 3 and the Launchpad initiative allowed me to be inspired by VR pioneers, amazing technology, and my fellow Launchpad peers. It was evident that the employees of Luckey Palmer value diversity as a concrete necessity and not an abstract opinion.
I left Silicon Valley a day early to help give a presentation in Reno Nevada at the National Indian Education Association on using Augmented Reality for indigenous language revitalization. This education conference and was complementary to my OC3 experience since VR will transform Native American cultural revitalization. At my wife’s urging we attended a session dedicated to environmental activism in Nevada by local tribal youth, it was thought provoking and inspiring.
Twenty four hours later, as me and my wife drove back to Montana, we watched live video of the environmental activists peacefully protesting in downtown Reno. Throughout their protest a white pickup truck can be seen honking its horn while the drive hurled racial slurs at the protesters as they walked along the road. As the group crossed an intersection, the white pickup truck, in a what seems to be intentional move, charged into the group and injured five including an elderly woman.
I am conscious again of the savagery Native Americans, and other minorities, face for being different. Diversity in Virtual Reality, or its lack of, will embrace the real world.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of VR Today Magazine