Where are the blacks in tech

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Essays

Michael Arrington and Vivek Wadhwa had a funny (and strangely charged, though that’s mostly because Arrington got angry-defensive reeeeal quick) debate about minorities (non-Asian) and women, and how there are disproportionately fewer of both categories in high tech entrepreneurship. They are arguing over whether or not there is bias in funding opportunities, which I think is an interesting debate, but the wrong one. The reason there are fewer black people in tech, as a black person myself, is also cultural. There are a lot of black people in finance, in consulting, in business schools, in law schools. Especially in America, where black culture has a very, very different history from white culture, most parents in black america encourage their kids to AVOID risk, not to SEEK IT OUT. As a result, the best and the brightest are steering clear of entrepreneurship, at least until they have some stability from a different career. It’s interesting, because immigrant blacks and first- and second-generation also have cultural attitudes that prioritize degrees and stability and safety vastly above peers (even more than Asian peers… trust me). I’m wondering if there is a colonial mindset that plays into this. Why this is the case, whether it’s an issue, and how to combat it is a better debate to have. Talk about how to encourage more smart black and latino kids to try and break out and innovate, and you’ll be doing the very movement you’re both trying to manifest a favor. Affirmative action in investing one way or another can be debated all you want, but if there weren’t a proportional bias against entrepreneurship (based on cultural issues, which tend to start at the beginning of the funnel) then you’d be able to have this discussion on better footing… Also worth adding to this discussion is the fact that, as Gladwell pointed out in Outliers, or maybe it was Blink, a lot of these entrepreneurs have a lot of things going for them beyond their smarts and risk profile. Your average black guy isn’t going to get a $50,000 loan from “friends and family’ as easily as the average white guy. Not even close. The reasons on that tip are twofold: first, blacks in America are poorer than whites on balance. Fact. Second, this builds on the culture issues that make it less likely for blacks to go into tech in the first place. Since it’s not something that is valued highly in our community ("Oh he’s going to try a start-up! Great!”) the support network which so many white (and Asian) entrepreneurs take for granted just isn’t there. These are the relevant facts here, as I see it, and where we should focus our energies. The bland “you’re a racist” thing is tired and inflammatory without being productive.

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