This week in race and technology: My daughter’s face is 97% Korean!

A few weeks ago, Jamelle Bouie wrote a story for The Magazine about the lack of racial diversity in Silicon Valley, and the media that cover it.

One excerpt:

[I]t’s important to recognize the barriers to entry that exist in [technology media], or put differently, the ways in which the obvious path doesn’t always work for people of color. To start, many writers of color lack an insider connection: They don’t necessarily have the social status or networks needed to break into tech journalism.

And despite the dominance of tech reporting and gadgets sites, there are relatively few tenable staff jobs or full-time freelancers working in the field — perhaps no more than a few thousand, if that, in the United States. Thus the competition is fierce, even if that competition is hidden from view.

“Most of the dominant tech blogs are run by a very small number of men, and they’ve tended to hire from their familiar circle of connections to staff their teams,” says Anil Dash, tech entrepreneur-cum-writer. Insofar that they take an open approach to recruiting, he explains, it can “take the form of ‘we found a great writer in our own comments!’” Which is a problem, given how many people are turned away by the endemic racism and sexism of Internet comment threads.

He reposted the full text of the story on his blog, and on Monday, asked a question on Twitter: Why is tech writing so white?

And, oh, the responses. 

Matt Buchanan storified some of the “better” conversation, which included indignant tweets from Jason Calacanis, a tech entrepreneur and totally not a racist. See, he even proves it on his followup blog on the issue of race in technology:

This idea that Silicon Valley is in some way a closed, secret society is laughable. Ninety percent of the people in Silicon Valley were not born there — they moved there. The industry is driven by investment and investment is driven by metrics, not where you went to school.

In fact, people are leaving their Harvard MBAs off their resumes because they don’t want to seem outside of the classic archetype: outsiders who dropped out and are uncontrollable rebels.

Now, there’s some truth to me not being able to speak about race. I haven’t experienced racism myself, except when standing next to my wife (who is Asian). I had no idea people were as racist toward Asians as they are — but they are. That makes me sad for my mixed-race daughter, who looks 97% Korean and 3% Irish — let alone Greek or Swedish (sorry, Dad).

But she’s going to live in the post-race world we’re shifting to. Her kids will probably share six or seven heritages — enough so that no one will matter. And that’s awesome.

Is “I have an Asian wife” the new “I have a gay friend”?

Calacanis’ defensive claim that technology is the most open and meritocratic of industries was echoed across the interwebs by successful white men in tech, which, as Nitasha Tiku points out in a smart piece in the New York Observer, is exactly the point. She writes:

The problem with identifying racism is that it seldom happens in isolation. Often it’s a confluence of factors that inspire people to see you as enough of an “other” to underestimate you, ignore you, deny you access, or simply not want to help.

Silicon Valley, however, does not respond well when its virtue is called into question. Unlike Wall Street, say, the tech industry cares what you think of it. It wants to be seen as a bootstrapped meritocracy–until the VC check arrives–open to all exceptional individuals and beholden to nothing but the disruptive tide of innovation ushered in by its gadgets, services and apps.

To imply otherwise is to call into question the hustle–the defensive posture of a “crush it” culture, which helps obscure both self-doubt and the fact that success can be capricious.

Another way to obscure self-doubt? Keep to your own, and keep “others” out. Good job, Valley!

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2 Comments

  1. Posted February 8, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I understand that getting hired at an existing firm or media outlet could prove troublesome which is why this is a perfect example of how people need to start creating new outlets and companies and sites where they can break away from this club. If you have the talent and the drive you will succeed and in-turn have the opportunity to bring others who lack the connections into the fold.

  2. Posted February 9, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    It’s defamatory to accuse him of racism for talking about the ethnicity of his wife and daughter.

    It would be more enlightening to criticize Calacanis’ facile meritocratic and post-racial ideologies than to play the race card in a way that’s out of touch with reality.

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