I went to a Renaissance Festival over the weekend, and I was at one of the booths that had gemstones and other cut stones. I actually went by earlier, looked at some of the loose stones, and bought a few. Making sure to keep my hands visible because I don’t want to be accused of stealing things. I went back later on because you could buy a little surprise bag, and it actually seemed kinda fun. I was waiting in line to buy one of the bags for sluicing (where you clean the rocks in some water and get surprise stones and stuff), and there were these two white kids (a girl and a boy) looking at some cut stones next to me.

The girl cut in front of me without a word (rude) and started asking the clerk about something. Here was where I was keeping an eye on things. The clerk was by herself, as her assistant had gone on his lunch break, and she walked to another part of the booth where you couldn’t see her. All the while, I noticed the boy pocketing one of the cut stones from the loose batch. He looked at me. I looked at him. And I knew that he knew that I saw. But I didn’t say anything.

And perhaps I was wrong not to say anything. And yet, somehow, I get that ugly gut feeling that I would be the one to get the bad image if I accused some white kid of stealing. Because a white kid wouldn’t do that. And here’s this young black woman, accusing a child of a crime.

And yet, that same young black woman was taught, "to keep your hands visible and away from your pockets so they don’t think you’re going to steal something."

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I think of myself as someone whose attitudes and perceptions have been shaped largely by writers—by the novelists and essayists and philosophers whose work I’ve read and assimilated. Sure, I tell myself, I live in a culture that is saturated by and obsessed with technology, but I myself am more an observer than a product of that culture. This sense of autonomy is an illusion. I knew nothing about Ada Lovelace before I read “Geek Sublime,” but it seems obvious to me now that her influence on my life, and the influence of all the generations of programmers whom she brought forth, has been far greater than that of her father, or of any other poet.

Mark O’ConnellHow to Understand Your Computer