Salsa Dancing Naked: Body Positivity as Resistance and Thinking About How to Grow a Diverse a Startup

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the latest lecture from The Polis Project’s Dissent In Dangerous Times Series.

The program is run by the inspiring Suchitra Vijayan and I encourage anybody in NYC to attend the lectures.

The speaker on this night was Stephen Thrasher, a Senior Columnist at The Guardian and research in American Studies at NYU. An embed of the recorded lecture is at the bottom of this page.

Thrasher spoke about his experience of becoming comfortable his body—a black, overweight, gay body–by salsa dancing naked at Burning Man. Thrasher is a wonderfully warm storyteller and gave a moving account of finding power in the simple act of body acceptance at a time when there is a war on for your mind and your body.

The wider themes of his talk spoke to how bodies get shamed and policed, particularly for women, People of Color, gay, trans and queer people.

As a white cis-heterosexual, all I can do is listen and be educated on these experiences, particularly as I am on the journey of building a company. It is something I am very conscious about.

I’ve founded a company at the intersection of two very white, straight and male industries—music and technology. The power in these industries rests in the hands of white men, and women, people of color and LGBTQIA communities are marginalized and assaulted.

While a young company, one of the surprising responses we’ve had is a large volume of people proactively reaching out looking for work. These are engineers, copyright services, lawyers, admin, marketers, etc.—experienced people working at many of the major stakeholders in the industry. This has been very encouraging.

If we had the funding to hire all of them, we would have a company that is 94% white and male.

Diversity is something my co-founder Rahul, who is Indian-American, and I have spoken about many times. There’s plenty of research that supports the benefits of a diverse workforce:

For Rahul and I, it is as much about growing a smarter company as it is in ensuring our own company is in a position to directly attack historical power structures in these industries.

One of the first things I thought about after the lecture was wondering why there was such a high ratio of white males reaching out compared to other demographics, and what we can do to present the company (language, imagery, action) that is less threatening to people of color, women and LGBTQIA communities.

And there is another proactive element to this—we need to be more diligent in seeking out minority spaces and approach those communities.

An additional component to reconcile is that we are simply inducing these bodies into a capitalist system that has purposefully disenfranchized and discriminated against these communities. We are asking that these bodies become labor of the system that has exploited them.

I suppose the response to that is we would be giving these bodies a seat at a table that had not been available previously, and ultimately putting them into decision-making positions for the company and into the wider industry.

The NFL implements the Rooney Rule, which requires that a minority candidate must be interviewed for a position that is hiring. There are no quotas attached, but it was an attempt to address an imbalance where 70% of the workforce was African-American, yet that same demographic only made up 6% of the coaching and senior administrative staff. (Of course, the inherent racism in which the NFL and college football operates is another matter.)

After our raise and we are in a position to hire, there will come a time for us to codify our hiring goals and processes.

It’s something that’s active in my mind.

If you are a female, person of color, or member of the LGBTQIA and would like to work at a music technology company, please email me at dan [@] paperchain.io.

If you’re in New York City, I’d be happy to meet for a coffee or tea and chat in person about your plans.

Also please check out the video of Stephen Thrasher’s lecture below and support Suchitra Vijayan and the The Polis Project. The video includes Q&A, including my question on black queer bodies and MOONLIGHT—a film I still struggle to talk about without getting a lump in my throat.

https://youtu.be/Xrgp9R2fzOQ