‘I Can Tell You the Tech Industry & Tech Media Space Are Both Largely Post-Race’

ARE YOU CRINGING?!? Of course you are. If you’re interested in CRINGING some more, please direct your attention to this conversation about race and tech media that Matt Buchanan has storified for your convenience.

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30 Comments / Post A Comment

deepomega (#22)

Our Raceless Society, really.

@deepomega Didn’t you know? White people, not having any race, are actually uniquely qualified to comment on all racial issues!

…apparently.

You can have your programmer in any RGB combination as long as it’s #FFF.

julebsorry (#1,572)

Oh wow, that is classic. Start by saying something offensive, get angry when people point out that what you said was offensive/uninformed, dig hole deeper with additional responses, get schooled, eventually start wailing that you’re a victim and how unfair it is that everyone is calling you a racist (they’re not).

That said, it’s nice that there is finally an industry in America where white men who went to Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, or, uh Reed College can get a fair shot at success. I don’t see why the tech press wouldn’t naturally mirror the marvelous rainbow of diversity that is their favored subjects.

@stuffisthings ok, as someone working in the industry being discussed here, I’m not going to try and deny that things are a lot whiter and maler than the national average, but actual demographics of people working in the field are not nearly as monochromatic as the visible representation. The pipeline problem is a related issue, but not at all the same one. Part of what’s so frustrating about the conversations about diversity in things like tech press and conference speakers, is that we can, in fact, do much better with the people already here.

In fact I did a little count of the employees at my small company, and out of 28 total, 13 are white men and 5 are white women. There are other problems (there’s only 1 non-white woman, no black people at all, the leaders of the company are all white men) but “they’re all white men anyway” is not currently one of them.

@Lorelei@twitter Sure, tech and tech writing is pretty much like any other industry — dominated at the top by Ivy League white guys (even if they didn’t graduate), with a fair share of diversity further down the ranks, still not representative of the country as a whole, and making an effort in some ways but facing various systematic barriers.

That’s not the infuriating part. The infuriating part is tech people pretending they are part of a magical post-racial meritocracy.

Chuck13 (#3,148)

So I guess South Asians and East Asians don’t count in Silicon Valley? Because last time I checked, they make up a huge portion of the tech population. And alot of them came from environments that would make most people’s heads spin over here. Yet, they have built great lives for themselves and their families while being productive members of this society.
Now, do we need more African and Hispanic Americans in STEM fields? Absolutely. But saying the Valley is “extremely white” is preposterous

I am cringing…at your silly outrage over how RAYCESS Silicon Valley is.

craygirl (#63)

@Chuck13

Did you get a chance to read Jamelle’s original article? It’s available at his blog (http://jamellebouie.net/blog/2013/2/3/and-read-all-over and was super interesting.

He does point out that there is a large number of South/Southeast Asians in tech reporting (as well as tech in general, though his article is more about writing), but mentions that this is helped by the large Asian community in CA. He does then narrows his point to Latino and African American tech writers. It’s a really good piece, you should give it a shot!

craygirl (#63)

@Chuck13

Grr, I tried to post this and it disappeared, somehow! Trying again…

You should take a look at Jamelle’s original post on the topic (http://jamellebouie.net/blog/2013/2/3/and-read-all-over) – he does acknowledge that there is a large number of South/Southeast Asians in tech reporting. But he specifically focuses on African- and Latino-Americans since so many Asians grew up in California, and because of that are afforded (a) more early experience with tech and (b) better opportunities for networking with people who went into the tech/tech reporting fields.

It’s a really interesting read – you should check it out!

Kokoda (#3,205)

@craygirl Yes, alot of Asians grow up in California. So do alot of Hispanics. Were there programs to get Asians interested in tech?

Jason wrote a great article expanding on his thoughts. You guys should read it.

http://blog.launch.co/blog/doing-the-right-things.html

@Kokoda Yes, I grew up in New Jersey, which has a lot of African Americans. I wonder why I and many of my white and Asian friends got interested in technology and many of them didn’t?

It couldn’t possibly be because of the tens of thousands of dollars in computer equipment in our basement and the fact that my dad was an Oracle executive at the time, because tech is a pure meritocracy, and I’m sure every black kid in every Newark public housing project in the early 1990s also had the opportunity to learn SQL and Visual Basic when they were 11. Just as African Americans in the late 1960s had the exact same opportunity to get an electrical engineering degree as my dad did, and then the same chance of being hired at a major engineering firm, since all the blue chip engineering firms employed tons and tons of black engineers in the early 1970s. Just like black soldiers in the Army were able to get government jobs working with early computers after WWII, like my grandfather did.

Nope, tech is all meritocracy, with no structural issues whatsoever. Must be something else then!

craygirl (#63)

@Kokoda

Jamelle mentions this as well, both in the article:
“California’s large Latino population is a relatively recent development”
and via Twitter (https://twitter.com/nateog/status/298948304522342400).

And I did read that article last night! I disagreed hugely with it. For one thing, he didn’t address the issues of institutional racism that have a huge effect on the representation of African & Latino Americans in tech/tech media (which @stuffisthings addressed above).

j-i-a (#746)

START A ZINE LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

Also, Jamelle is amazing.

Sallymander (#3,159)

So! Female, Asian software developer here (taking a break from programming to post):

I think there is something missing here from how people understand the tech industry. I’m not going to claim that it’s a “pure meritocracy”, because what does that even mean, amiright? But if your job is technical in nature, then you can’t fake it. Your software either works or it doesn’t, and whether you graduated from an Ivy League school or not isn’t going to change that. You can “network”, throw your weight around, and play the kind of games that will help you in other industries, but at the end of the day, you will be judged by your work.

Now, will going to a fancy-pants school help you “get to the top”? Probably, yeah. But here’s something to consider. I am definitely speaking for myself, and almost certainly speaking for a large number of tech professionals: not everybody wants to be on top, be in management, and generally be in jobs that a lot of us consider to be bullshit. Once you get “promoted” out of a technical position, it is no longer true that faking it doesn’t count for anything, or that your skills matter and will be continually used, refined, and rewarded. Those upper management jobs attract the same “types” that like to go to Ivy League schools to begin with, and by and large they are not the heads-down programmers that are perfectly happy where they are.

Sure, there is a lot of maleness in this industry, which I have my own theories about. The white maleness probably is an overlap of this phenomenon with the fact that most people in the US are white.

Safari (#3,209)

@Sallymander Most people in the US aren’t male though. And most people in coastal areas and large cities, where the tech industry is, aren’t white.

Nobody was arguing that the racist white men were bad at their jobs anyway though, just that they’re racist.

Haha I do love the “minorities don’t WANT responsibility” argument though.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@Safari I said I have “my own theories” about why tech is male-dominated, which believe me, as often the only woman on a team, I have had ample opportunity to notice. I chose not to elaborate because the topic is too large for a comments section, in my opinion.

Moreover, I never said that “minorities don’t want responsibility”, I said that among most actual engineers, people whose jobs are grounded in skills and technical know-how, we are at our jobs because we want to create cool technology, not to “climb the ladder”. Unless you are attempting to contradict that opinion from the viewpoint of someone who also understands the technical culture, you are simply misquoting me and dismissing my experience as invalid for no reason at all.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@Sallymander And to be absolutely clear, I am talking about people who make/design software and hardware. I don’t mean people who blog, write about Apple products, or any number of satellite industries to technology. I don’t understand those industries and don’t pretend to. But I think when people say “Silicon Valley” is a meritocracy, they are probably talking about the technical workforce, not the execs, bloggers, or whatever other jobs are out there.

@Sallymander The discussion is about why there are relatively few minorities in tech-related fields. You said that in your experience, as an Asian programmer, most people in tech are there because they like the work, are judged on their performance, and are not necessarily interested in rising into managerial roles.

That’s certainly a good explanation of why, as I mentioned above, the tech CEOs people love to write about are mostly white and come from Ivy League backgrounds. I disagree with your characterization since most of the big-name tech CEOs were heavily involved in building the products they’re now famous for, but it’s a fair enough argument industry-wide, I guess. There are certainly a lot more brown faces at the middle levels (many of whom are on H1B visas and were middle class in their home countries, but I digress), but few of those belong to techies from groups that have faced major discrimination in this country’s recent history.

That’s all fine. But the implication of what you are saying, in the context of this discussion, is that minorities, specifically Latinos and African Americans, are not present in tech fields either because they can’t perform (which is what you say really matters) or they are simply not interested in creating cool technology. And this is precisely the attitude that many on this thread find cringe-worthy.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@stuffisthings I am not saying that at all (which I think you understand), but let me point out where I am being misrepresented, exactly:

I am trying to make the point that Latinos and African Americans (“specifically”, as you say), most likely do not face race-based barriers to hiring AT THE POINT OF HIRE. This is different from claiming that there are no structural barriers that prevent people from certain backgrounds (or women!) from starting down that long path which eventually differentiates us all into different careers.

Can the factors which siphon people off into different areas of the workforce be slow, subtle, and result in racially discriminatory outcomes? Absolutely. I am not claiming that they are not. Nor am I claiming that everyone has an equal opportunity to acquire the skills that are sought after in the industry.

Frankly, I think this “implication” that you are pointing to doesn’t originate from me, but rather from others who are interested in making a point that I myself am not making.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@stuffisthings Also I clicked on your username and you live/work in DC??? We should totally go out for drinks.

Safari (#3,209)

@Sallymander They do though. They face massive, massive race-based barriers of which you are patently unaware. Your obliviousness IS part of the barrier. YOU are one of the people making this worse.

@Sallymander Yes I’m sure if more black kids gained an early interest in technology, and then had the resources to pursue that interest and gain the technical skills to be one of the best at their profession, then any Silicon Valley firm would welcome them with open arms. That’s not at all what we are suggesting. The people in this Twitter discussion are explicitly saying there are NO structural barriers in tech — that anyone can start blogging (or make a zine, haha) regardless of their race, and rise to the top through the merit of their work. The implication, again, being that anyone who isn’t part of the Silicon Valley meritocracy is not there either because they choose not to be or because they simply aren’t good enough.

In other words, what you say in the third paragraph of your last comment directly contradicts what the tech industry “defenders” are saying in the Twitter conversation.

(ETA: Let me be clear that I don’t 100% agree with Safari here, since you do actually mention structural barriers.)

Safari (#3,209)

@stuffisthings I mean structural barriers as well, it’s only that we’ve collectively decided that zero-black/latino hiring committees recruiting from almost-zero-black/latino university programs doesn’t count as “structural.”

And let’s be clear, those “open arms” would be holding tons of racist jokes, admonitions to not be “uptight,” pointed observations about THIS kind of [nonwhite person] vs. THAT kind of [nonwhite person], defenses that it’s okay because [comedian] says it, and one hand would be exaggeratedly aping a “hip-hop” high five while the other one was grasping for someone’s “exotic” hair unbidden. And if any black or latino workers decided life was too short for that bullshit, those arms would immediately be shrugging about how some people “just can’t hack it” and patting themselves on the back about what a big throbbing meritocracy they are.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@stuffisthings Hah well, it’s true that the Twitter guy who inspired this whole discussion did come across as pretty smug and oblivious, and I am not going to defend him per se. I just wanted to articulate some of the ways in which tech is in fact more rewarding of skill than many other industries. It seems we agree, that acquiring the interest and skills to pursue tech careers in the first place is another matter altogether.

I also think Jamelle’s analysis of why Asians gravitate toward tech is bafflingly oversimplified and I disagree with his explanation. California is not all one place where everyone knows each other! I’m from an area in southern California, over 350 miles from Silicon Valley, that is about one-half Asian and the other half Hispanic (very few whites, blacks, and others), mostly lower to lower middle class immigrant families. I think asking the question of why so many Asians end up in tech, and being open to the answer instead of championing one of a million plausible explanations, can reveal intriguing insights into the question of tech and race.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@Safari I appreciate your illustrative caricature of the culture of the high-tech workplace. If only we could more frequently stereotype and mock people based on some group that they belong to, I’m sure many cultural and racial tensions in this country would fade away.

@Sallymander It has a lot to do with the dynamics of immigration, especially talking about Silicon Valley, which is about 30% “Asian.” I’m willing to bet up to half of those, if not more, are H1Bs — it’s not like ICE is letting in tons of low-caste illiterate farmers and Chinese peasants who then make it through grit and determination. In general, depending on which country and year we’re talking about, Asian immigrants generally come to the U.S. with more education and capital than Latino immigrants, and obviously more than African slaves had, and those differences tend to persist over time.

Aside from those Asian people descended from families that immigrated in late 19th century-WWII era, Asian immigrants in California have also generally never faced the same kinds of official discrimination that black and Latino people did and do. Though certainly they face the same kinds of day-to-day racism that Safari is describing (find me an Indian programmer who has not heard jokes about curry or being a terrorist…) Which is why I think saying “Oh but there are lots of Asians!” is at best a red herring.

There are many differences between and among the Asian, Latino, and black populations in CA and in the whole country, but I tend to believe — and the evidence suggests — that the relative success of one “minority” over others is due far more to extrinsic than intrinsic factors.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@stuffisthings Well! I agree with everything you said here! The only thing I’d add is that I wouldn’t entirely discount culture as an explanatory element, especially for immigrants who tend to be closer to a strong, homogenous cultural identity. I think people shy away from discussing the impact that culture has on an individual’s perceptions, motivations, and narrative understanding of the world because they think that once racial disparities can be identified as having certain cultural (i.e. “intrinsic”) factors, that these disparities are somehow codified and legitimized. I don’t think that’s true and I think that to fail to examine cultural differences is to miss a part of the picture.

Safari (#3,209)

The Pullman car company isn’t racist! Why, every bag-boy I see is a negro!

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