Monday, October 31, 2011

Silicon Valley’s Race Problem “I don’t know any black entrepreneurs.”

Silicon Valley’s Race Problem

By Violet Blue | October 30, 2011, 5:09pm PDT
Summary: CNN’s Black In America documentary ignites issues of “pattern matching” and shocking sentiments about race in Silicon Valley.
November 13 is the premiere of CNN’s documentary Black In America 4, which focuses on the experiences of black entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley; specifically, the NewMe Accelerator.
The doc’s pre-screening has revealed Silicon Valley’s race problem, which blends a pyrophoric mix of denial and a new kind of racial profiling.
CNN appointed TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington as spokesperson for startup culture’s ruling class.
What Arrington said about black people and discrimination in Silicon Valley, and continued to say after his interview clips hit the internet, is shocking for all the wrong reasons.
Bizarrely, when the on-camera discussion turned to racial diversity in startup culture Arrington said, “I don’t know any black entrepreneurs.”

Tell the truth
How many black people are at the top end of the class in major math and science programs? Is it a coincidence that people of Asian origins do so well in school and in business? If discrimination against non-whites is really to blame, why are other ethnic groups so successful? Maybe the issue is more that some cultures place a greater emphasis on educational achievement than others, and reap the corresponding benefits.
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Speaking personally, I run don't run into very many extraordinarily talented black tech people either but I have run into about a half dozen in my career. The fact is a) they do exist and b) there really aren't very many of them. Back in the mid-90s, I only knew of two in one building I worked at. There is one fellow (his last name is Henderson, his first name escapes me) whose name popped up in nearly every module of the Microsoft mouse driver that is still embedded in every one of the windows PC's that sits of 95% of desktop computers today. The other was Trish Millines Dziko who is Executive Director of the Technology Access Foundation  which just celebrated 15 years of "educating 15 years of educating Greater Seattle's students of color". I met another fellow at Autodesk who last time I saw him did consulting gigs, his father helped test the first radar-guided sparrow missles for the US Navy, while another fellow was head of the Supercalc group at Computer Associates. 

More recently, there is a fellow Mike Dixon who is running for Alderwood Water District in my area of the Seattle Suburbs. He's got a resume that most make most Asian parents jealous, TWO MIT degrees (bachelors and MBA), military veteran. In a column he wrote for conservative TownHall, he was a general manager of a $100 million business, managing a team of 400 people, father of four married to a wife of Polynesian, English and Irish heritage.

I think the real race problem is spending so much time categorizing some races and failing and others as succeeding rather than recognizing that the top 1% or 0.1% is going to be a small number no matter what race you are talking about (and not demonizing the top 1% or billionaires which include people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who have created gobs of jobs and wealth for thousands of people). If you are worried that your people, who do disproportionately well in sports, entertainment and politics are NOT winning in the high tech game, then I would spend less time complaining about the unfairness of a profession that puts so much emphasis on raw intelligence and degrees from Stanford and MIT, and spending more time cultivating what these venture capitalists are looking for.

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