In his last two blog posts on the subject of the CNN Black In America documentary airing next Sunday, November 13th, Michael Arrington has been running around like a wounded dove claiming people are calling him racist.
Let’s get something straight. No one credible or substantive has said that.
The fact that Mike can’t discern the complex and important arguments about this from “people are calling me a racist” is incredible. The other thing he is doing is accusing Soledad O’Brien and CNN of sandbagging and tricking him and accusing them of starting a “race war”.
From where I sit, asking him about the black entrepreneurs he knows is nothing of the sort. It’s not a crazy question, it’s not unfair, and it’s certainly not a trigger for or indicia of a race war. In my view, Mike shows his insensitivity to the issue but certainly not ill intent, with the on-camera answers we’ve seen in the clips. There is a big difference between having a lack of understanding or awareness of the issue and of being a racist.
But what Arrington is doing now is deflecting a hugely important issue and discussion by trying to generate sympathy based on non-existant racism accusations. He is diminishing and minimizing the life experiences of all of us who are arguing with him who, to be honest, have far more experience with this issue than he does (i.e. apparently almost none).
For example one of my housemates in the documentary, and the co-organizer of the NewMe accelerator, Wayne Sutton, was stopped this summer by the Mountain View police at night and checked for warrants for doing nothing more than walking down the street and being black. The police’s after-the-fact excuse for the stop was “they didn’t recognize him” and it was a “voluntary” stop. For those of you who may not realize, this is *very* common. I’ve been stopped three times by the police for just walking around.
But the biggest problem I have right now with Arrington is, to bend an old political cliché for my own purposes, the coverup is far worse than the crime. What Mike is now spewing is really bad because it shows him to be either purposefully or “in the fog of war” dishonest. I think the “they are calling me racist” defense is intellectually dishonest, but some of the specifics he uses to defend himself are flat out lies.
In his latest post, Mike characterizes my last post by saying I am criticizing him because his coverage of NewMe or African-American entrepreneurs was not enough.
Specifically what Mike’s post says is:
While it’s easy to look around Silicon Valley and see very few (non Asian because they don’t count!) minorities and then conclude “you’re a bunch of racists,” I don’t think that’s productive. What I do think is productive is to get more minorities, and women, and everyone, focusing on math and science and computers in school, as early as possible.
Once they’re here they are welcomed with open arms.
The top ten, or so, reasons I’m a racist
Unless their ideas suck. And even if they do suck a little, at TechCrunch we’d write about it anyway to give exposure to these entrepreneurs. That’s another source of endless criticism.
Or the coverage wasn’t good enough.
Or that putting people on stage who didn’t strictly deserve it is racist because it makes people think that they’re only on stage because of their race.
But either way, unless we cover more minorities, we’re racist.
First, the link in the block quote above is to my last piece. And the implication (though I admit it is murky) is that my post accuses him of racism because he doesn’t cover enough African-American entrepreneurs.
The part that is *very* clear is his representation that my piece accuses him of not sufficiently covering African-American entrepreneurs.
The best defense of this comes from Natrius on Hacker News who said:
Hank said nothing of the sort. He said there is no proof that Arrington goes out of his way to cover black founders as he had claimed. Hank didn’t say Arrington should go out of his way, nor did he call Arrington a racist. Hank just said that Arrington’s claim was incorrect, and from where I’m sitting, he’s right.
And just to back up what Natrius said, here’s a big hunk of the text from my last post where I specifically say the *opposite* of how Arrington characterizes my post:
Either way, Mike was within his rights to decide what he would or would not cover, or how he would cover it, and at what depth. He does not owe any person of color or female entrepreneur or anyone else anything. But to, after the fact, say that he bent over backwards to cover African American entrepreneurs is laughable.
Does this make Mike a bad guy? No. I presume in actuality, he wasn’t even involved in the editorial process. So I won’t blame him for the uncharacteristic lack of depth of demo day coverage. But I sure as hell am not going to let him claim credit for somehow being some kind of bend-over-backwards-to-cover-African-American-entrepreneurs kind of guy. Let’s get real.
So to conclude, no one is accusing Arrington of being a racist. But it’s clear he is (or at least his writing reflects him to be) incredibly insensitive to issues of race and privilege. No one imagines him sitting around spewing racial epithets or purposefully discriminating, or even thinking bad racial thoughts, but that is not a very high bar.
Mike, it would be great if you’d put an end to this pity party and join us in real discussion as you suggest you would like to. Most of us engaged in this debate are pretty reasonable people and if you really do want to “do something” as you suggest, now is a great time to work on it with us. And yes I’ve heard you want to work with will.i.am on the issue, so you can bring him too.