Loud and Black in Tech

For the relaunch, after one year away, I decided to reach out to a friend, Edward Moses. I talk to Moses about his love of music and technology, as well as how being black intersects with his life as a worker in the tech industry. We talk about how being the son of a black, former Chicago Police officer impacts his views on policing, and also how his family, at times, doesn’t always see eye to eye with him on Black Lives Matter protests.

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My questions and responses will be in bold, and Moses’ answers will be in plain text. This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

[Episode music by Sole..]

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Today we have Edward Moses, known to many friends and colleagues as Mos. He’s a tech support specialist with a highly rated Chicago company, small business owner who runs his own computer repair business on the side, local hip-hop DJ, rapper, MC for break dancing & DJing events and former b-boy.

Anything I left out that I didn’t cover in your illustrious career?

Uh, terribly bald, unfortunately bearded and way too damn tall. That’s about what covers it.

I agree.

You wear a lot of hats through your various jobs & hobbies. What first sparked your curiosity, tech or music?

My dad was always a person who was a big audiophile, which sort of pushed the direction of both. I learned to spell quadraphonic as an audio system before I learned to spell any other $10 words. When my dad is exposing 5 or 6 year old me to The Who’s “Quadrophenia”, or he’s sitting me down to listen to Led Zeppelin’s “IV” or Earth Wind & Fire, or any amount of jazz albums on a surround sound system and then showing me how it works afterward, it sort of spurs that interest; because of course you want to be interested in what your parents are interested in. But you also get really curious because as a kid part of your initial instinct you wonder if I can take this apart. So that pushed a lot of it forward. That, and as the technology got a little bit more complicated and my understanding got a little bit better, my parents looked at me as ‘oh, he has a talent and an interest in this, so let’s spur it forward.’ And then before I knew, I was helping my dad out with hooking up surround sound systems; and then when my mom brings home our first computer, it’s like oh this is just something that’s just a little bit different. It just requires a keyboard as opposed to me using my hands, and then the interest just grew from there.

Any good horror stories from your first DJ/MC gigs or computer repair services?

Rapping, there’s been a million and one bad stories. I forgot the second verse to every song in my set at one of my first rap shows. The DJ was kind enough to blend it in so that I did one verse from every song. I was only doing four songs . . . so people were like ‘that’s one of the best sets you’ve ever done;’ . . . This is where your career starts. I’m thinking in my head that I’m ashamed of that. I had spent three weeks memorizing material. Then I get up there and second verse . . . dial tones, tumbleweed, crickets, just nothing was happening. I guess it’s a character building experience if nothing else.

Photo credit: Marilyn Reles

Photo credit: Marilyn Reles

I know you as someone who is very self-assured when he speaks and doesn’t seem like someone who would let someone walk over him. How have those qualities, on top of being a tall, generally loud, black male affected you as someone in the tech workforce?

The thing about it is I grew up and still am a very a shy person by nature. I grew up reserved because of whatever amounts of combination of bullying or otherwise of not having as many folks to confide in as maybe my childhood mind would’ve liked, but the people who taught, engendered or put skill into me told me the craft speaks for itself. Over and over again I’ve seen that be a demonstration where people will talk something great. They’ll talk themselves like they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread or smoked bacon. They’ll talk three country miles of shit. But you put them in front of the medium that they’re supposed to be so good at and they fall flat on their face over and over again.

One of those things that I like to attribute it to, strangely, was when I was learning to get obsessed with weight lifting, and people would say lift with form not ego. So being able to step back and say to myself okay, you need to approach this for a room full of people, and you have to assume that every room is going to be 50-50. You have to assume that on one hand 50 percent are going to people who understand exactly what you’re talking about. The other half are going to be people who have no idea but will benefit from what you are speaking on.

Couple that with people’s assumptions as to what people of color’s ranges of talent are, although the industry dictates wholly as to otherwise. I think I read a study that since 2002 61% of system administrators are people of color. The really wild part about that is people will still look at you and assume you don’t know what you’re doing. So you have to either let the form speak for it, or you have to let your craft speak for it. I try to walk a thin line between both where I have my personality that’s going to be joking and jovial. I’m going to be loud; I’m going to make jokes; I’m going to do all of this. To some extent it’s part of an exercise of me liking my life and liking what I do. On the other hand, professionally speaking, my resume is nine miles long; and if you sit me in front of something and I don’t know, I’m going to ask enough questions so that I can find out. Or if I do know, I’m going to speak up and say this is good, but there’s a better way to do this; or, I think I know how to solve this problem. I’m going to talk this out and let’s see if this works.

It establishes in some people’s mind an idea of ‘Oh, I didn’t know you could be so professional.’ It makes an assumption about us that you’re sort of here as a mascot or a token, and that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here because I’m good at what I do. I would not have made it this far if I was not good at what I do. Attempting to shatter people’s expectations or assumptions, there’s a bit of joy behind it; but it’s also incredibly fucking annoying. Having to prove yourself over and over again to people who don’t know you, at least personally and to some extent don’t want to get to know you, is something that’s so trying to say the very least.

I can feel you there.

I want to swing back to your parents for a second. I know your dad, who’s Black, is a former CPD officer. How did that inform your views of policing while growing up?

It was really strange. At four or five years old in that era where you are looking up to everything your parents do, I looked at my dad as part of what makes Chicago one of my favorite places–like he’s a good guy. My mom was a teacher and helps foster young minds–my mom is a good person. At 10 years old my mom and dad sat me down to have this talk . . . but my dad would sit me down to tell me that not all cops are good people. As a matter of fact, the majority you run into will not have the best intentions for you.

I remember asking my dad why he wanted to do this then. He said ‘because I felt as though I could make a difference from the inside and the outside, because I’m not somebody who’s looking to keep a border on a neighborhood; I’m part of that neighborhood. These are people, but the problem is some policeman don’t view them as people; they view them as suspects. When you grow up you will understand.’

Having that hammered into me over and over again, there’s this naïveté that you have to get over. The moment I realized it was when I got jumped by a group of white kids in my neighborhood. . . . I got jumped after a basketball game. When I reached out to say good game and shake one of their hands, he punched me dead in my face. They got me down on the ground . . . and these two other kids were ganging up on me. . . . I couldn’t understand first and foremost why this happened, second, why it happened to me and, third, what their motivation was. . . . My dad immediately called the police, and the first thing they asked me was what did you do to them. My dad and mom had this look on their face, and so did the neighbors . . . like, ‘what do you mean what did he do to them?’ And they said, ‘well, they wouldn’t have done this to you if you hadn’t done something to them first.’ I spit out some blood, and said I beat them in a basketball game. I looked at them confused, and the officer looked down or away . . . and they got back into the car and bounced.

Two weeks later I was mowing my parents’ lawn . . . and a blue and white pulled up. . . . They asked if it was my house. . . .Well, yeah. . . . They told me to sit down on the curb and that they were cuffing me for their safety. As I’m sitting there confused as they’re running my name, I remember the other officer’s hand is on his holster and notice the snap is undone. The officer running my name asks if I could give them my dad’s name. I say it’s Edward B. Moses, and he’s a police officer. Just then as they’re going to unlock the cuffs, my dad pulls up. . . . He’s in uniform because he just got off of work. They say they got a report that someone was stealing a lawnmower in the area, and my dad says ‘so you’re telling me he’s stealing the lawnmower but is kind enough to mow the lawn before stealing it. . . .’

So it established this dichotomy, and through my teenage years I came to understand exactly how drastic this is. This is a moderately affluent black family living in a majority white neighborhood, and then suddenly being accepted locally but then being of suspicion or worthy of assault or personal invasion outside of its immediate circle. It creates such an unnecessary sense of tension. It goes without saying that you can look at any amount of neighborhoods and how black childhoods shape out. It ruins childhoods. Black children don’t get a chance to be children. I understand why my parents were trying to shelter me from it for so long.

Photo credit: DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer -- Laquan McDonald Protests

Photo credit: DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer — Laquan McDonald Protests

I know you said your dad viewed himself as part of the community. However, in the current climate, as someone who supports Black Lives Matter, do you ever butt heads with your dad or other family members about your stances? Do they ever push back against some of the things Black Lives Matter has put out? 

A bunch of my family has disagreed with some of the forms of protest. I’ve asked some of my aunts if they participated in any sit-ins, public transportation boycotts or if they were part of any of the demonstrations and marches. They said yeah, we did all of that. I said then why is there such a stigma upon this generation almost doing much the same. Progress is not made by standing peacefully in places. Progress is made by making people aware of the issue. The demonizations outside of Black Lives Matter vs inside black families is scarily different. It’s different at least with respect to my family, because my parents and family had this philosophy that we bring up children that are educated, productive members of society who will make contributions to society as people of color.

When I told my parents I down there at the marches and protests for Laquan McDonald etc., . . . they asked me if I was part of . . . you know, there was that incident where they ripped lights off the Christmas tree in Daley Plaza. That was a big discussion at the table because they wanted my take on it. I’m like, a Christmas tree? How the hell am I supposed to feel about a Christmas tree vs a life? One of my relatives said this is not the way you go about it; and I’m like how else do you make people aware? How else do you go about making people take notice of the fact that people are turning into hashtags overnight? How would go about it? How do you access this sect of society that effectively wants to look at this as though it’s not an issue? A lot of the table went silent, and I said this is the problem.

I’m not about to tell anybody to go build pipe-bombs or any bullshit like that. . . . The violence enacted unto black bodies should not as yet be returned onto other bodies, because people immediately view that as we’re just filling out exactly what we assumed of them. But at the same time I’m not just going to stand idly by as people pull the metaphorical effect of spitting in people’s faces, slitting their throats and modern day lynchings as an excuse out of fear for saying, ‘okay, I just want to go about my business.’ I want that, but I’m not going to lay down for anybody either. So there is that conflict.

At the same time  on my dad’s side, he’s told me so many stories of white partners of his who didn’t want to come to his defense. . . . My dad didn’t pull his gun in 27 years. My grandfather as a sergeant didn’t pull his over the course of 33, because they viewed this as we’re interacting with people. Human beings are going to hit the fan much the same as shit does, and there are going to be shitty situations. You’re going to have to step in and try to resolve a situation by being another human being inside that situation. My dad told me there were moments when desk sergeants would ask him why he didn’t pull a gun, and he’s like ‘because he didn’t have a gun, wasn’t threatening or charging at me. He was in a situation, and I inserted myself in the situation. Both of us walk away alive. That’s the idea. That’s what the idea is supposed to be.’ White partners would not get out of the car or they’d immediately pull their gun. My dad would say put that fucking gun away and get over here and help me.

My dad’s dichotomy as he’s approaching his 70s becomes a lot different, because he’s a child of not only the Civil Rights era inside a household of policemen and then eventually having become one. So it’s having to balance that life of being not only a person of color but specifically a black man from a multiracial family that is also involved in policing in the middle of the Civil Rights Era, while also balancing having to say he’s part of a community and he has to keep that community safe; policemen have a certain assumption about them [the black community], much the same as people of color have about them. Not to say they’re one in the same, because it’s far from equal in terms of assumption. But being a person of color and also being a police officer, there’s a bunch of considerations to make on that note as well.

Is there anything in particular you’ve changed your mind on in a notable way, something you believed in because you took it up from your dad or another family member that you definitely feel differently about now?

It’s really weird and haunting to say to a child, but my dad told me at the age of 11 to comply but do not trust. That’s become something that’s more and more and more powerful as my life has gone on; because I have been stopped for such ignominious offenses such as walking down the street at 3:30 in the morning, or driving the wrong car, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s been demonstrated to me over and over again. So by the time I was 13 or 14 years old my trust of police specifically in Chicago and as a general institution, as someone coming into being a young black man, my trust of police was shot. I effectively called it as being gone. It was one of those things where I looked at it as I know this will eventually happen to me in the course of my life. I know I have some of the tools to deal with the situations as they arrive, but no one is truly equipped to deal with these situations, especially as past situations have dictated.

I want to go back to an earlier question: being black in a tech job–although this could really go to just about any field where you’re the only or one of a few black or brown people in the office. How do you cope with the feeling of a fresh black woman or man becoming a hashtag, then going into work where it seems like that’s the furthest thing from folks’ thoughts that day?

From a personal standpoint it’s very very difficult to not become numb; because you get people that on one hand will toss the immediate, usual defense of ‘oh, well what about the violence in the communities? Blah blah blah. Why aren’t people out protesting that?’ . . . Well people are. Just because you don’t know about it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It makes days at work difficult, because it immediately brings a million and one philosophical conundrums into your head.

In a very future-forward thinking sort of way it makes me conflicted . . . my parents had the same conflict of do we wish to bring children into a world like this. From a daily standpoint it’s, well, how are my interactions going to be today, because you’re bombarded by this news from all different directions. On one hand because the internet is something so pervasive now, you learn about it mere hours after it happens. On the other hand because people re-post things constantly in almost a form of torture porn, where a body is something viewed as so further detached. And so little value is placed upon these bodies of these people that have such unfortunate circumstances, putting it lightly, happen to them, that we distance ourselves from it. Thus the numbness. You attempt to get away from it. You attempt to push or put yourself into something that you can more so enjoy. I get a degree of enjoyment around my job. But there’s always going to be down time, and idle thoughts sometimes trail you right back to it; or someone asks casually because they genuinely want to know your opinion because they don’t occupy the same space. . . . Sometimes conversations just drift towards us like ‘man, did you see that on the news yesterday?’ Part of you doesn’t want to talk about it because I’m hammered with this every day; there’s no place I can go where I’m not confronted by this. So it’s like you can’t really say I don’t want to talk about it.

On the other hand there’s this this idea that you are, to some extent, occupying a space of being a person of color, people look at you as being obligated to speak about this. . . . From the tech perspective, if you don’t feel like talking about it, genuinely you can duck your head into a laptop and be like my thoughts aren’t built for this place right now or my thoughts are a bit too raw to deal with this right now. In some cases it’s after thoughts or things that pop up afterwards. As with the case with Freddie Gray, each of those officers had their sentences just tossed out. It’s one of those things where like . . . c’mon man, this didn’t happen by itself. Then there are the strange moments of catharsis like when George Zimmerman gets punched in the face.

Loved it.

That made my day. The fact that he introduced himself as hi, I’m the guy that killed Trayvon Martin like he’s a damn infomercial.

You’re asking to get punched.

Right, and someone got up and jacked that man in the face and gave him five. I was like yeah, this is what you’ve earned.

So people want to talk about all of the little nuances in between. You’re drained from work; and then get home, and you’re drained from the day. And then on top of it, you’re drained from the news. Then if you take any interest in being well informed, you’re drained from being informed. So you have this cloud of perpetual fatigue about all of this just sitting there. To some extent it makes me not want to do my job. It makes me want to say, okay, I just need some space to process all of this, but there is no space for it because you need to continue to be productive. You need to go back to work . . . the bills will continue to need to be paid. It’s like, what can you do?

You’re already sort of an odd person out based off of people’s aforementioned assumptions about what black folks’ role is inside the tech industry, and whether or not we’re supposed to even be patently interested in it. And then people view you as a further token as a sounding board for these incidents. It’s like what can you do other than try to continue on the path that you’re on, acknowledge the fact that it happened and try to find teaching moments inside all of it? Because the moment somebody says something that is off cuff ignorant or unaware, then I have to say to myself okay . . . this person is probably deserving of it, not in a haughty sense but deserving in this is their moment. This may honestly not be the place for it, but you’re going to have to make it the place. It can be a one phrase something to try to flip their coin over; or you pull them aside and say hey, what you said in that conversation earlier I take issue with it. Here’s why.

Most people that I’ve run into . . . 75 percent of people are at least receptive to it. Whether or not they take anything from it, that’s up to them; but I’m going to put it out there, and I don’t give a damn about their discomfort. The other 25 percent are so defensive about it that they’ll try to find an immediate out of it, or they’ll get defensive to a point of attempting to place you immediately defensive. So, you pick and choose your battles. You have to unfortunately. I guess I count myself thankful to be working in a place now where these discussions can be had and people are receptive to them, and their immediate response to it is ‘how can I or how can we change behaviors here, so as to not either not place you personally in these strange situations or to better the situation overall for bringing people of color into the fold. Not only for the company’s sake but for the discussion’s sake as well.’

Places I worked beforehand, *cough* Northwestern, it didn’t work out as well to say the very least.

Well, that was the last question I had for you. Any shout outs you have or upcoming events you want to let people know about?

There’s mixtapes to cop and all of that. Nah, there’s not mixtapes. For all your house [music] needs, go on Facebook and look for Vader Wins. If you like nerdy hip-hop, go on Facebook and look for AMS King of the Nerds. That’s right, every single nerd. Steve Urkel stunt double and all that jazz.

Well thank you very much for being the first guest of the relaunch of my Q&A series. Thanks

Aye, thanks for the time.

Photo credit: Lincoln Jones

Photo credit: Lincoln Jones

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