Angry Mac Man: Macintosh Is the 'Nigger' of the Computer Industry
Rodney O. Lain - 1999.11.18
This article was originally published on MacSimple, a site which no longer exists. It is copyright 1999 by The Linton Media Company, which also seems to no longer exist. It is thus reprinted here without permission (which we would gladly obtain if possible.) Links have been retained when possible, but many go to the Internet Wayback Machine.
Note: This column has been updated on 12/15/99 to include links to related MacSimple editorials and a page of reader feedback to this column... RL)
American blacks have finally reached cultural
maturity! They are capable of self-criticism!
- Comments made by a reviewer of the book Black Bourgeoisie
Between me and the [White] world there is ever an
unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by
others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All,
nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant
sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead
of saying directly, "How does it feel to be a problem?" they say,
"I know an excellent colored man in my town"; or, "I fought at
Mechanicsville"; or "Do not these Southern outrages make your blood
boil?" At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to
a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, "How
does it feel to be a problem?" I answer seldom a word.
- W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963), from his book The Souls of Black Folk
And they asked me right at Christmas
If my blackness, would it rub off?
I said, ask your mama.
- Langston Hughes (1902-1967), from the poem "Horn of Plenty," in the book Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz (1961)
They lynch Black people up North, too. They just
don't use rope.
- Ralph Wiley, Why Black People Tend to Shout
Since I consider myself to be a black guy who seeks true objectivity in my worldview, I long ago vowed to have an equal number of non-black friends in my life to help me - unbeknownst to them - keep a proper balance in all things racial.
Since taking that vow, I've had many a late-night conversation with white counterparts. None of those conversations were ever orchestrated on my part, but invariably, as we got to know one another better, it always seemed like sooner or later I would be asked some variation of the one particular question: what is it like to be black?
Like Du Bois, sometimes I heave a sigh, sometimes I wax emotionally, sometimes I say nary a single word.
Sometimes, though, I tire of being the representative of my race. After all, I am not the EveryNegro - even though I play one on the Internet. But such is the lot of an interracial emissary.
My mind works in weird ways, so it wasn't any surprise that I began to draw analogies between being a cultural minority and being a computing minority. The really weird thing is that the more I thought about it, the more parallels I discovered. So I thought I'd run a few of them by you and see what you think. But before doing so, I must make a confession and a disclaimer.
The Social Contract, American Style
Racial discussions tend to be conducted at one of
two levels - either in shouts or in whispers. The shouters are
generally so twisted by pain or ignorance that spectators tune them
out. The whisperers are so afraid of the sting of truth that they
avoid saying much of anything at all.
- Ellis Cose, Rage of a Privileged Class
By the very mention of race in a public forum, I have committed a gross sin.
No one will ever admit it, but there is an unwritten rule that says "thou shalt not discuss race in public." Race makes people uncomfortable. The subject of race makes Whites and non-Whites uncomfortable when addressed in "mixed company" - that is, when the audience is made up of people of more than one race. Oh, it's okay to discuss race when everyone is of the same race (or of the same opinion), but don't you dare do it where it may cause serious and prolonged discussion! Wanna make a crowd disperse? Bring up race as a serious discussion topic.
There is another reason people don't like discussing race: it causes Whites to feel pangs of "white guilt" (and no one wants to feel guilty), and it causes Blacks to feel racial anger, which exacerbates the White guilt trip - yes, Blacks can be racist, too.
Now, there is a reason I use the Black-White race relationship as an analogy for Mac/PC "race relations": the White-Black race relationship is the quintessential race relationship. It's the most written-about race relationship (as Ellis Cose says, the libraries' bookshelves groan under the sheer volume of texts written on the subject). Therefore, to discuss race - in America, anyway - is to discuss Whites and Blacks. To discuss OS "wars" is to discuss Mac and PC, apologies to my friends who use Linux and other flowering platforms. Allow me to get colloquial and ask you: knowhutI'msayin'?
By discussing race, there are some of you who will never read my column again. I take that chance, because I feel that certain things must be said. Some of you will call me a racist because you will either misunderstand what I will say, will not read past this column's title - or I will not express myself clearly. But that's okay.
I ask you, though, to read this column in a vacuum. Don't let it color - no pun intended - everything else that I will write or will have written.
Just remember that I always bow towards Cupertino and seek Higher Guidance through "The Columnist's Prayer," created by the late Lewis Grizzard, a Great American:
Oh, Lord, I thank thee for today's column,
And I ask thee to forgive me for yesterday's.
I am trying not to whisper nor to shout. I'm just trying to discuss calmly two subjects that are close to my heart - for obvious reasons.
End of preamble. On to my unabashedly biased presentation of the parallels between Blacks and Macs (and Mac users).
Both Feel Oppressed by 'the Man'
I just received an e-mail today from a reader who told me to quit bellyaching. He said that all Mac users do is complain about being slighted, and that there is nothing to complain about. This is the exact same thing that many American blacks are told. They are told that they have it better than they realize, so why gripe?
That is one reason why I don't vent my racial gripes anymore. If you begin to point our racism and prejudice, even when your indignation is justified, even when the racism/prejudice is blatant, embarrassing and harmful, you will be ostracized for having broken the aforementioned unwritten rule.
On the Mac side, Mac users should want to be judicious in their talking about the way Mac users are treated, for similar reasons. For example, one place where I worked, my supervisor walked up to me and said, "you must feel like you're in hell, since all we have here are PCs." I had no idea where that comment came from. Little did I know but many people in the company had passed around the fact that I was a Mac head and some had even read one of my columns (I'd given one to my interviewer as a writing sample) - it was an all-PC environment.
From that point on, there were always disparaging remarks made in my presence about Macs with the purpose of getting a rise out of me.
After that, I began to take my PowerBook to work. If they're gonna piss me off, I figured, I guess I should piss them off, too (my NT machine never worked anyway, so as the MIS guy fixed it, I got work done on my Mac).
On the Black side, I remember working at another place alongside a friend with whom I'd been involved in one of those Christian mens' groups where you confess your problems, etc. I was idiot enough to confess that I spent many times being self-conscious about living in Minnesota, easily the "Whitest state in America," Montana notwithstanding. After that, the "friend" began saying things in mixed company that would appear obviously meant to embarrass me. I remember one day, we were trying to get something fixed, and he commented that we need to "nigger rig" it.
Both Are Overly Sensitive
I've spoken with Mac user after Mac user who is upset about the fact that CompUSA never has any Mac software or never has this or that Mac product - sometimes I tried to point out that the Mac isn't the only computer sold in the store, and that managers have to deal with reps from Intel, Compaq, etc. and that the Mac is just one out of many, so no offense should be taken.
I've been with Black person after Black person who complains about some real or imagined "racism" - sometimes I try to point out that there is a difference between racism and prejudice.
Black people make a big thing about their culture and demand that it be recognized, to hell with other minorities. A prime example is Black History Month and Martin Luther King, Jr., national birthday. I think Black America needs to rethink this ethnocentrism - but don't give up on supporting their cultural heritage.
Mac users make a big deal about anything having to do with Macs, to hell with people who are equally passionate about Linux, the Amiga, the Commodore, etc. We need to chill.
Both Can Be the Biggest Bigots Alive
Negroes can be fascists, too.
- Richard Wright (1902-1960), African-American writer
If White people wrote the book on racism, as some blacks are fond of saying, then Black people studied the book and perfected the technique described therein.
Mac users are proud of their ability to bash the PC and Windows. Then they are quick to point out the the PC world is biased towards them...
Both Are Seen as Inferior
Fifty-three percent of non-blacks believe that
African-Americans are less intelligent than whites; 51 percent
believe they are less patriotic; 56 percent believe they are more
violence-prone; 62 percent believe they are more likely to "prefer
to live off welfare" and less likely to "prefer to be
- From a 1990 survey
How many times have you been told that Macs are worthless? The Mac isn't a "real computer"? The Mac isn't good for anything but graphics?
I arrest my case (on this point, anyway).
Have to Work Twice as Hard to Be Considered Half as Good
Okay, I know this is a stretch: Apple advertises the G3 as being "up to twice as fast" as the Pentium II. They advertise the G4 as being 2. 9 times as fast as the fastest Pentium III. Meanwhile. Windows users (White people?) don't even attempt to stifle their yawn, instead, they exaggerate.
The Mac is supposed to have huge speed differences beyond the PC (you know, up to twice as fast)'
Black men are supposed to have huge' oh, never mind.
Many of Their Problems Are of Their Own Creation
I grew up a liberal. I became a conservative in college, and now I'm a thinking person. I see right and wrong on both sides of the ideological fence. The reason that I came to eschew both liberal and conservative notions of race is because I came to see flaws in both sides' racial remedies. If you agree totally with (fill-in-the-blank with your political affiliation), then you're not thinking.
I came to see that if we applied nothing but the conservatives' bootstrap theology to Blacks' plight, there would still be the issue of institutionalized racism to deal with (it does exist, whether you agree with me or not). If we applied nothing the liberals' welfare/government intervention strategy, there would still be the issue of dealing with Blacks that depend too much on others and not enough on themselves.
The same is true for the Mac. Many PC users feel that Apple needs to shut up and make quality products (read AGP, TCP/IP, multitasking, preemptive memory protection, yada yada yada), then the Mac'd give Wintel a run for its money - but what about the MIS people who have their job security to nurture? Then there are those who think that the government should break up Microsoft to allow alternatives OSes a chance to compete - but what if Apple is subsequently proven to be a monopoly in its own right?
(Again, I know this part of the analogy is also a stretch.).
I could come up with other comparisons, but I know many of you are probably tired of me talking about race (then again, maybe not - those who can't handle this have probably stopped reading long ago, even if they'd gotten past the title).
Both Are More Influential than the Majority Will Dare to Admit
Without the presence of blacks'. Huckleberry Finn would not have been written'. [There] would be no Faulkner; there would be no Stephen Crane'. no Hemingway' even our sports would be lacking in the sudden turns, the shocks, the swift changes of pace (all jazz-shaped)'.
Since the beginning of the nation, white Americans
have suffered from a deep inner uncertainty as to who they really
are'. Many whites could look at the social position of blacks and
feel that color formed an easy and reliable gauge for determining
to what extent one was or was not an American. Perhaps that is why
one of the first epithets that many European immigrants learned
when they got off the boat was the term "nigger" - it made them
feel instantly American'. Despite the racial difference and social
status, something undisputably American about Negroes not only
raised doubts about the white man's value system but aroused the
troubling suspicion that whatever else the true American is, he is
also somehow black.
- Ralph Ellison (1914-1994), "What America Would Be Like Without Blacks," from Going to the Territory
The Mac has brought many innovations to the industry. The Mac is not only a part of the trend setters among the industry, but a part of popular culture (notice the growing number of Macs on TV?).
Blacks have influenced American culture more than any non-white culture. Jazz is the only music considered uniquely American. Over 2/3 of people that buy rap music are white. Every child athlete probably wants to "be like Mike" at one time or another. Black culture has influenced language and customs more than anything. How many of you give each other "high fives"? And how about "talking trash"? The use of slang could be a dissertation in itself.
Conclusion: Discuss This Among Yourselves
All analogies break down, and so does this one. I do not think this analogy is airtight, nor should it be carried out to its logical conclusion - it is obviously untenable in many respects; for example, I would not try to argue nor would I agree with the fact that, say, Linux is the, uh, Russian of the computer industry. So, extrapolate at your own risk.
Take this in the spirit of satire in which it was given (with a touch of seriousness).
I've been trying to come up with an appropriate name for the column that I write here at Mac Simple, and I think I've found it, in light of today's column: Angry Mac Man. Yep, that's me to a T.
It has the ring that I want, and it has a play on words, which I love.
What do you think? Comments are welcome, and I even respond to flames.
Don't worry about li'l ole me. I can take criticism. "My People" (Mac people) have been criticized for years and years, yet we persevere. We have a thick skin created from years of being 'buked and scorned. We Mac people shall overcome. We always do.
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