Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tech industry silence is deafening on #BlackInAmerica


Last sunday night Black In America 4, the documentary that chronicled the summer that I and seven other black entrepreneurs spent in Silicon Valley, aired. (note it will re air Sat Nov 19th at 8pm) The aftermath has been, in some parts exciting. I have been incredibly busy doing panels and interviews. #BlackInAmerica was even a trending topic on Twitter on Sunday evening. In some sense it felt like lots of people were paying attention.

This is important to me not because I am in the documentary but because the lack of significant African-American presence in the tech economy is, I believe, critically important. In fact, If we don’t fix it, its going to accelerate an already dangerous level of wealth inequality in the country.

As I said in the documentary, not fixing this problem ultimately leads to a permanent underclass. And if you think Occupy Wall Street is a troubling signal regarding dissatisfaction around wealth distribution, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I fear the growing wealth disparity, particularly along racial and ethnic lines, will be catalyst for significant civil unrest.

If we are going to change course, in my view, the most valuable potential outcome of the documentary would be a willingness to more openly discuss the issue of race in technology. And since Twitter is a great proxy for engagement on any issue, that’s where I looked. I was hoping that given the heavy discussion in the tech blogosphere and press that the issue had finally broken into the mainstream.

But the Twitter stream said something else. Initially my sense was purely anecdotal, but I saw none of the tech industry “players” participating in the conversation.

So at my company, Kloudco, we decided to do some quick analytics. We pulled down all 150,000 #BlackInAmerica tweets between 9am est, the morning of the Black In America 4 airing, and 9am the next day. Then we cross referenced that list with industry mega-pundit Robert Scoble’s important tech people lists. These include his Twitter lists for press, VCs, and others.

Unfortunately, the results were just as I feared.

Across all of Scoble’s lists, there were only three participants in the discussion: @lekanB, @rachelsklar, and @venturebeat. The tech industry either wasn’t watching, was totally unengaged or worse, uninterested.

For whatever the reasons the tech industry is silent.

32 comments:

  1. I would add the general lack of black voices in general spaces, particularly those who speak in ways and on subjects that make the "mainstream" uncomfortable.

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  2. Why this racist focus on the color of the skin of people in Silicon Valley? What does it matter?

    And if there are "too many" jews or high-caste south indians, etc., so much the better for all the rest of us: we can benefit from the innovations they create that we are unable to.

    What next? Not enough women in prison?

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    1. Grab a dictionary and search for a definition of racism?
      Funny, as a little posing fascist you should have known.

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  3. You are right on point and I totally agree. The overall tech industry was indeed silent. The mindset is to let us say what we have to say, get a little attention and they will eventually fade away. That is my fear as an IT professional.

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    1. I wonder why The tech industry should care?
      The healthCare brouhaha isn´t a hint?

      Parents are responsible for their children, that is where the resources should be redirected.
      Liberty is something you can only conquer.

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  4. From a non-cynical, thinking about the simplest reason standpoint, after things blew up with Arrington, the people you cross-referenced may had already voiced their opinion if they were interested in giving one. They may have tuned out thinking there was nothing to be learned from watching it and the news cycle moves fast. Secondly, how many of the people analyzed watch CNN, let alone tv on Sunday night? I watched it by accident, I had forgotten it was going to be on, but my wife turned on the tv right before I headed out of the room, but otherwise would have missed it.

    From a cynical standpoint, I'd guess that if they did watch it, they probably felt there was more to lose by commenting than not. It's a sensitive topic obviously. They could have been uncomfortable as @sondjata said.

    Personally, I think awareness was raised from both the documentary and the controversy earlier, but that's probably a less than ideal outcome?

    You mention the most valuable outcome is to open discussion. I'm not in SV, but an active tech community enthusiast developer/entrepreneur and would love to be an investor someday. What would the discussion look like? Is it about getting more investment opportunities? Is it about attracting more black entrepreneurs to SV?

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  5. And if there are too many jews, why is it a "the jews are stealing the show" vs "non-jews are not doing their share of the work"? It goes both ways.

    Or maybe it so happens that computer science requires a certain kind of intelligence that is more prevalent amongst jews, japanese, certain south-asian tribes, etc., than in the general population. Ever consulted IQ studies?

    Once again, who cares? You should judge an individual for his own achievements and/or potential, not for the color of his skin, whether in {pro,anti}-{black,white,yellow,jew,blond,fat,hairy,ugly,tall,blood type B positive}. Do you have any example of people who are underestimated because of their color of skin? They would make a great investment. I'm hiring!

    If the industry is wrong, stop your stupid, EVIL whining. Make money, Moneyball-style.

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  6. I agree. I made 5 respectful but decidedly anti-racist comments on Ries's post. They have since been censored by Techcrunch. I'm so disgusted with the lack of social intelligence from so many bright people.

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  7. This blog used to have good technical posts on a regular basis. I understand that the black community has been victimized, even in recent decades, to some degree. While there are many factors behind the current situation, it seems like a stretch to suggest that Silicon Valley racism is _responsible_ for the statistical failure that you refer to... however, the attitude that external victimization is the primary cause of these problems may well be.. one of the primary causes of these problems. In any case, addressing these issues requires a lot of deep context... your delivery comes across as whining with the expectation that your readers will come along despite the lack of argument. Ditto what Francois-Rene said... if the simplistic world view you apparently take is correct, go make a bazillion dollars with arbitrage.

    Unsubscribing now... no hard feelings, this blog is simply no longer what I'm looking for in my feed reader. Good luck!

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  9. ^^^
    (Double post)

    People who say, "Why are you whining so hard, what's the big deal, etc." tend to be those who refuse to think that we *don't* live in a post-racial paradise.

    To some extent, yes it is true that individual merit matters. Skin color, ethnic background, or gender should not interfere. Unfortunately it still does. (For example: What do you say to people who think that outsourcing to India only results in headaches and bad software?)

    I'm the sort of person who thinks affirmative action and diversity quotas are insulting. Why? Because I think we, as a society should be at the point where we shouldn't have to have those things. It's supposed to be about merit and merit alone, yeah? I would like to believe I got myself to where I was without any sort of bias, but sometimes I really have to wonder about that.

    I'm a young black woman working in the tech industry, and I personally hate how obvious racial issues in general are overlooked and then tossed aside by people who can't get out of their Just World mentality. Anyone who speaks out against any sort of bias, racial or not, is brave enough as it is (especially if they don't withhold their concerns).

    (As an aside, more people should know about this program. I plan on going to a meeting on Dec 15th, and I'm eager to see what comes. http://www.newmeaccelerator.com/)

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  10. It’s true about wealth inequality in the country due to the thinking of African-American presence in the tech economy. It should be avoid in documentary.


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  11. Tech Industry is always silent towards their work. It shows immediate result towards technology.
    http://mydiscoutlet.com/

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  12. I don't understand why you separate yourself. You are black and it makes you sound racists yourself. If you desire to have more of the black community within tech then in a nutshell you have to make it cool. I've known many friends from all ethnic backgrounds in tech. It really is a personal choice, like any career, going into this field. It isn't very cool. It has to be something you really enjoy doing and most people don't. It is a lot of math. Don't blame tech blame how we treat social welfare and the public school system. It needs to start there to encourage all students to pursue what they want to do not just what the social norm expects them to do.

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  13. I don't understand why you separate yourself. You are black and it makes you sound racists yourself. If you desire to have more of the black community within tech then in a nutshell you have to make it cool. I've known many friends from all ethnic backgrounds in tech. It really is a personal choice, like any career, going into this field. It isn't very cool. It has to be something you really enjoy doing and most people don't. It is a lot of math. Don't blame tech blame how we treat social welfare and the public school system. It needs to start there to encourage all students to pursue what they want to do not just what the social norm expects them to do.

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