At a recent screening of the documentary sponsored by Black Founders, some members of the NewMe Accelerator – and the subjects of the doc – sat on a panel and took questions from an audience comprised mostly of other Black entrepreneurs. Before the screening, we were encouraged to move past the Arrington comment, and to think about the larger issues facing us as Black entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. The questions for the panel mostly focused on successes, failures, lessons learned, and what we can do to help each other.
The audience was enthusiastic and we were all excited to see the documentary, which had garnered so much attention and caused so much controversy in the past weeks. At last, the mainstream media was focusing on diversity in technology and Silicon Valley in general. For the most part though, we wanted to understand what all the fuss was about. Why had a sound bite created so much controversy as opposed to the show on a whole?
In my conversations with other tech entrepreneurs prior to the screening, the general consensus was thus: No one cared how many Black entrepreneurs Arrington knew. We know we exist. We know that we’re here. Arrington does not validate us. His acknowledgement of us does not slow our roll nor does it affect our “grind”. We have been Black all our lives. We understand that we have to be better than everyone else just to be in the game. [Insert Chris Rock anecdote here].
The fact that we have made it this far is a testament to the fire that burns within us. We see the statistics. We know that the odds are stacked against us. But still, we push forward.
We also understand that in order to be successful, we need to create an ecosystem of support for us, by us. We also know that despite catchy terms like ‘meritocracy’ and ‘pattern matching’ racism exists. It is alive and well in America – and so Silicon Valley is no different. While most of us have not experienced overt, in-your-face racism, we know it exists in its many forms. Whether as a result of sheer ignorance or otherwise, it is what it is.
So, could the Valley be more diverse or inclusive?
But, the only way to combat that is to show up; to be here. VC’s can’t fund what they can’t see.
The controversy surrounding the Arrington clip certainly served CNN. I’m positive that the numbers for the show were impressive. But, to reduce the show to a 2-minute sound bite is shortsighted. The show is not about Arrington. It is about the participants of the NewMe accelerator and their experiences collectively, and individually as Black entrepreneurs in mostly-white Silicon Valley. There are obviously hours of conversations and sound bites that didn’t make it into the final edit. Like this one
In this clip, Hank Williams (NewMe participant) discusses with Soledad O’Brien, the BiA host, how race really matters and how much the term meritocracy means to someone who has no resources or support to move their idea from pen and paper to a viable product with a winning business model and a successful team. Williams is careful to state that the question and its answer are not as simple as yes or no.
We should remember that when we begin to have more of these discussions after the show airs.
Today, as an entrepreneur, I am constantly on the lookout for qualified African American engineers. On a team of 8 engineers, I have one female African American engineer. And she’s good — damn good. Every few weeks or so, I ask her if she knows any other Black engineers. We joke that she is a unicorn – one of a kind. We discuss her experiences as a Black engineer. How did she come to it? Did she find it easy? Was she well versed in math and science? Was she a geek? Everyone’s path is different but the fact that we joke about her being a unicorn makes us both uneasy. We want this to be the norm and not such a rare occurrence.
The documentary should be a starting point for those of us who are entrepreneurs and founders to identify those areas where we are lacking in resources and to achieve for others what we have done for ourselves. Being an entrepreneur is more than having an idea. It takes execution, drive, ambition, and money.
So then, where are our Black angel investors? We need you to invest in our companies. Where are our Black reporters? We need you to get the word out about these founders and their startups. Where are our Black educators? We need you to push STEM education and help to educate our youth on the importance to science and mathematics. Where are our millionaire basketball and football players? Where are our Black churches? We need you to put your money where your mouths are and help us raise money to fund our ventures. We must perpetuate the idea that learning, technology, and entrepreneurship are cool.
Since I started my company, I’ve found an incredibly supportive community of Black entrepreneurs in the Bay Area. They come in all shapes and sizes and ages. But, they’re here. So, whether Arrington knows two or twenty Black entrepreneurs, doesn’t really matter to us. We have an opportunity and an obligation to move the discussion forward with real action.
Is there racism in Silicon Valley? Probably. Is Michael Arrington a racist? I don’t really care.
Sian Morson is the founder and CEO of Kollective Mobile. She is a digital veteran who has honed her craft over the years as a Project/Product Manager for agencies from San Francisco to London. She’s worked on some of the top brands in the world and has a keen interest in developing mobile products to help small businesses. Sian brings with her a deep knowledge of the interactive and mobile spaces and has written on these topics for AfroPunk, Politic365, and other journals.