Posted November 2, 2011
CNN’s Black in America Journeys to ‘The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley’; Airing November 13 and 19 with host Soledad O’Brien
By Arelya J. Mitchell, Publisher
The Mid-South Tribune
and the Black Information Highway
“…I have not been in the room recently when somebody said, ‘oh, that’s an African American led company; I’m not going to invest there,’ but I guarantee you, from personal experience, that’s what people are thinking...And so, please, let’s not fool ourselves and pretend otherwise in some self-congratulatory kind of way.”
The above statement made by Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Software company and head of Kapor Capital, pretty much sums up what is wrong with Silicon Valley and pretty much sums up the State of Black –owned businesses in America. Granted the statement isn’t suppose to be the focus of this latest installment of Soledad O’Brien’s Black in America documentary series, “The Promised Land – Silicon Valley”, but the statement—made by a white man--is too honest to slip by.
“The New Promised Land—Silicon Valley”, airing at 7:00 p.m. (CST) and 8:00 p.m. (EST), November 13 on CNN, follows eight African American entrepreneurs trying to break into Silicon Valley to secure funding for their internet companies. But what the documentary inadvertently ends up doing is exposing an elitist racism in the Valley which this writer will call Siliconitis. Just as with Kapor’s raw statement, the Valley also mirrors what is wrong in Corporate America rather than what is right about it when it comes to Blacks being part of that ideal capitalistic landscape. Kapor flat out says that America is in a highly competitive technological global world and that it needs to develop all the talent it can so that any person regardless of race should be allowed to make his or her “maximum contribution.”
Disagreeing with Kapor is Michael Arrington who describes Silicon Valley as a “meritocracy”. Arrington, also white, is the former editor of TechCrunch and founder of CrunchFund. Arrington says that this meritocracy would ensure an even playing field upon which Blacks can participate. Somehow, it seems that he is saying that the Valley’s meritocracy would be equivalent to Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand”.
Kapor is the realist; Arrington is the idealist and the norm in the Valley. Ron Conway, another white and Silicon fund provider, exhibits the same innocent ignorance as Arrington when he says that he doesn’t know where to go to “recruit those people (Blacks)” very much in the manner the federal government said in post-Katrina that it could not offer contracts to Black construction companies because it could not find any. Were we to believe that Katrina blew away every phone book in America?
This writer has long wanted to see a mainstream media explore this ‘land’ in the business world that has put up that invisible sign of “No Blacks Need Apply” , making it in essence the new ‘Mississippi’ of Corporate America.
Bottom line: Mitch Kapor has the guts to see what Michael Arrington refuses to see, and Conway is just plain blind.
If you view this documentary of just following the journey of eight Blacks trying to get funding for their companies, then you end up missing several layers of deeper socio-economic problems that need to be addressed and solved, especially when Arrington points out quite truthfully if not hurtfully that Silicon Valley is a land of milk and honey for whites and Asians, yet this is the same man who practically swears that the Valley is an authentic meritocracy—albeit not a perfect one. When asked by correspondent/anchor Soledad O’Brien if he could name any African American internet CEO, Arrington sarcastically counters that this is a “weird” question and asks O’Brien if she knows of any. Upon which she says that she is not in the tech world, and he is. Arrington goes on offense basically ending up with the logic that the Valley is a white and Asian world. This writer would venture to say that question was not ‘weird’ and that Arrington exhibiting an elitist behavior never thought about this question even to the point that he did not think of Navarrow Wright.
But first things first: “The New Promised Land” introduces eight African Americans who have come to Mountain View, California to pursue their dream of obtaining ‘manna’ (money) for their internet businesses, aforementioned. Six of the Silicon 8 move into a three-bedroom house at the invitation of 30-year-old house-owner Angela Benton and 36-year-old Wayne Sutton. Benton and Sutton are the ‘Moses’ in that they are the founders of NewMe, an accelerator-incubator which is solely for the purpose of getting Black internet entrepreneurs into the New Promised Land. According to CNN, NewMe is the first of its kind.
The youngest is Anthony Frasier, 25, who is a former “big box” store clerk described as an “online gaming fanatic”.
Tied for second youngest are Tiffani Bell and Crisson Jno-Charles, both 26. Bell hails from Howard University with a computer science degree—a rarity in itself—for a Black female. Jno-Charles is a former technology sector specialist at a hedge fund.
The oldest is 46-year-old Hank Williams, an Ivy League dropout who had previously received $40 million in funding for his internet company but went bust in two years. Before you judge Williams, think of the zillions white entrepreneurs ran through and went bust in comparable time or less. Better yet, think of Bank of America’s screw up with billions.
In between these are Hajj Flemings, 39, a mechanical engineer laid off from GM; and Pius Uzamere, 27, an MIT graduate.
We all do dumb things, but when Google pulled a fast one on the Silicon 8, one has to wonder why they didn’t see it coming. Long story short: Google invited the 8 to a reception then proceeded to put them on the spot by calling in the “Dragon Judges” who then proceeded to call the 8 up to present their business pitches before them and the rest of the party goers in the ‘Dragon Den’ (“Dragon” is the mythological beast used in video games. If you still don’t know, then find a teenager for further reference.). Not one of the 8 could present an adequate pitch. This writer brings up this dilemma because you have to think that if you are going to Google for anything, why wouldn’t you have your pitch in your head if not on paper (errrr or maybe on a smart phone)? These entrepreneurs are too old not to know in the business world that receptions are not receptions; cocktails are not cocktails; lunches are not lunches; dinners are not dinners; playing golf is not playing golf. These are always business meetings! Besides, it was inexcusable that they could not deliver comprehensible pitches.
Their not being ready is indicative of the sad state of the educational system post-Civil Rights Movement. They are representative of a Civil Rights Movement that threw out the baby with the bathwater. The ‘baby’ was a Black-owned business/economic infrastructure which grew in spite of the strict laws of segregation. During that period, there were numerous African American-owned businesses from barber and beauty shops, funeral homes, mom and pop corner grocery stores, insurance companies, a few Black owned banks, hotels, motels, credit unions, and what have you—even from the proverbial shoe shine stands. Then Black folks got happy before the ink could dry on the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and abandoned the Black business/economic infrastructure to go into the earlier Promised Land called (white) Corporate America.
Shortly after the alleged ‘full’ integration of schools aided by mass busing, the best and brightest of Black teachers were strategically and purposely placed in what remained predominantly white public schools under a façade of ‘integration’; and in turn Black schools received white teachers who would ‘practice teach’ on Black students or white teachers who are epitomized, ironically, in a well-known comedy called “Everybody Hates Chris”, based off comedian Chris Rock’s ‘wonder years’. Chris’ liberal white teacher is so thrilled to be teaching a ‘Black’ child that she fails to realize that she has already decided that Chris is ‘un-learnable’ and ‘un-teachable’. She is very much like the liberal white professional who meets a fellow Black professional and she or he says to that Black professional, “Oh, you are so articulate.” This writer has often politely responded back, “And so are you,” only to be met with eyes that she had insulted them! Chris was lucky. Many Black students were immediately labeled ‘slow’; thus, jammed packed into special education classes to serve as numbers for those schools to qualify for certain state and federal funds.
A movie that depicts a pre-Civil Rights Movement pride Black students had and how they would prepare to meet any ‘white’ challenger is “The Great Debaters”, based on a true event. Preparation, preparation, preparation was instilled in these students (from a Black college) before they took on a white university debate team. Yes, “Everybody Hates Chris” and “The Great Debaters” are Hollywood products, but they do depict the transition of education in Black America—education being a legitimate foundation of economics; thus, the reason why it was against the law to teach a Black to read and write.
There are those who remember that strong, strict, mean-ass Black teacher who was determined to bring out the best in Black students because education was such a rare commodity to acquire in the first place. There are those who remember that this philosophy was immortalized in Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” and, dare we say, in James Brown’s, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and Proud”.
As the education of Black students eroded with an onset of ‘white administrators and mediocre white teachers’ coming into Black public schools, you saw Black students being steered away from science, math, and now technology, because to reiterate, these subjects were viewed as too hard for the Black mind to comprehend.
Long story short again: Then you saw these students graduate and flee into the first Promised Land called Corporate America only to be placed in safe Black slots such as community relations, human resources, and lily white legal departments to serve as fronts to deal only with Black clients and/or Black troublemakers and to give EEOC the façade of equal opportunity or as Arrington would describe it ‘meritocracy’. Very, very, very seldom were these post-Civil Rights students promoted on merit(s) or allowed to grow to become a viable asset of said Corporate America. Black Ivy Leaguers discovered over time that the slot-machine was at work at Coca-Cola, Inc. as well as Vegas when they saw that their college degrees weren’t worth the paper they were printed on as far as getting promoted in one of the world’s largest companies. (The Coke matter ended up as a class action lawsuit which was eventually settled). Coke mirrored the rest of Corporate America.
Caution: This is not to romanticize and ‘yearn’ for the good ole days of segregation! But rather it is to point out that under segregation African American entrepreneurship and businesses were being built and maintained as a viable economic infrastructure that could have been carried over to transition into the post-Civil Rights Movement to self-empower even those Blacks who chose to barge into the first Promised Land of Corporate America. Lest we forget, in his last speech, “I Have Seen the Promised Land,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was referring to economic rights—not civil rights—if one actually takes the time to read the speech.
Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand was never allowed to even fully develop in Black America so why should Silicon Valley be different? This is why this writer resented Professor Vivek Wadhwa, whom she will refer to as Mr. Doctor Professor Indian from India man, telling the Silicon 8 that Black people do not stick with Black people, and essentially that Black people are always bringing up American slavery. Mr. Doctor Professor Indian from India man—with the same snobbery as do too many immigrants who come to America to capitalize on and exploit African American neighborhoods – had the audacity to criticize the Black race when he so blatantly put it that when India once had a race problem (under British rule) instead of complaining about their problems, they (Indians of India) decided to solve their own problems (That might explain why he decided to ‘come to America’). The first thing, Prof. Wadhwa should do is read Willie Lynch. Next, he needs to read the accounts of Blacks who when operating on Smith’s Invisible Hand capitalistic principles created an economic infrastructure of Black-owned businesses and professionals in such places as Rosewood, Florida and Tulsa, Oklahoma, the latter which was known as the Black Wall Street, only to have jealous whites descend on them to physically wipe them out and carry out a series of lynching. The movie, “Ragtime” based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel genuinely depicts the ‘fear’ whites have of Blacks acquiring wealth when a Black protagonist drives into town in a new shiny car and whites went ballistic (Read the book then see the movie on how this ends). Such instances rarely written in fiction but quite prominent in real life mirror systemic racism even when it is exhibited by the U.S. Government itself. Another notable ‘real life example’ is the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently settled with Black farmers when it aided and abetted banks in denying these Black farmers loans. Wadhwa should also read his Black history and discover the lives of Black scientists, doctors, mathematicians, and inventors and what they contributed to America. Throughout American history, patents, inventions, and what have you have been stolen from Black Americans who could do little or nothing about it, because in many instances they were not allowed to even file for patents or copyrights. How do you solve your problem in America when you live under a government that sanctioned Jim Crow; thus violating its own 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments? It is not so much that Blacks should demand reparations for slavery but rather for segregation. Like too many ‘immigrants’ Wadhwa buys into the lazy non-productive Black economic victim stereotype (or as he puts it: Blacks who believe they are entitled to entitlements) not realizing that had it not been for Blacks who were hosed down and dog-bitten and had specific laws written to stunt them economically, that his life in America might not have been so accommodating where he can receive $50 million in funds for his internet company and that he and/or other ‘immigrants’ or other non-Black American ‘minorities’ can be used by Corporate America to fulfill EEOC’s ‘minority’ slot to further enhance the façade of a level playing field. So why should the New Promised Land operate any differently?
Forget this? Complain about this? This writer would dare Wadhwa from India now living high in the USA to suggest to America’s Jewish citizens to ‘forget about the Holocaust’ when Hitler decided to wipe out six million-plus in the Jewish population which he felt was acquiring too much wealth (economics, again). He even stretched Nietzsche’s superman philosophy to justify committing genocide. But what was disturbing is to see the Silicon 8 not standing up to him; but, this too is understandable because they are of a Black generation (even the 46-year-old) that was not taught by their elders, unlike the Jewish elders, the ‘Never again’ philosophy. And to perfectly understand again, they were being prudent in that they didn’t know what influence the good professor had on the Dragon judges. But in talking to the cameras, one Silicon 8 did express outrage that in the 21st Century, Wadhwa said that he himself had to have a ‘white man’ with him or front for him to obtain funding for his company. And Wadhwa wonders why Black businessmen and entrepreneurs have it doubly worse when they were ‘born’ here?
This off-shoot of 21st Century Nietzsche ‘superman’ is equivalent to elitist racism which is practiced daily in Silicon Valley—the practice Mitch Kapor had the guts to express in its truest black and white context and which bears re-stating here: “I have not been in the room recently when somebody said, ‘oh, that’s an African American led [internet] company; I’m not going to invest there,’ but I guarantee you, from personal experience, that’s what people are thinking...And so, please, let’s not fool ourselves and pretend otherwise in some self-congratulatory kind of way.” He even agreed to go toe to toe with Michael Arrington’s meritocracy argument.
Once again, Michael Arrington’s ideal and idea that meritocracy exists in the Valley would be laughable if it were not so pathetic and an off-shoot of economic genocide repeatedly inflicted on African Americans. Yes, Americans. Asians are welcomed into the Valley. Indians from India are welcomed into the Valley. Whites are welcomed into the Valley. Chinese are welcomed into the Valley.
This welcome mat, which has been put out for every race but Black entrepreneurs, is a realization one of the Silicon 8 discovered while he was “walking being Black” (as one of his “8” colleagues described it) in the neighborhood when cops started circling him like buzzards savoring a dead carcass. He complains that he wanted to yell at the cops that he was trying to get funding for his company, not put out a rap album because he needed ‘street cred’.
How ironic it was when the Silicon 8 entrepreneurs were asked to pitch before Dragon Judges at the Google reception. Yes, as stated earlier, they should have been prepared to pitch, because if you are passionate about your business you would carry the blueprint of it in your head. And had they been Old School Black businessmen, they would have been tripled prepared, fearless, and proud because they would have known that this was set-up time to put them, as Black business people, in a spot so that the internet-powers-that-be can ‘Just Say No’. These 8 seemed absolutely clueless and only when one of them took control of the matter, preaching to the rest that since all of them had been in the house, none of them had yet to develop a plan of action, let alone a business plan for presentation to get funded, and that they had better get down to seeing after themselves—yeah, getting out the PowerPoint slides, drawing up the charts, practicing the pitches for the next event and whatever else it took to get funded.
The Silicon 8 going before Dragon judges was eerily symbolic of Blacks going up before (Grand) Dragons of the KKK. Instead of physical lynching, this was slated to be ‘high-tech lynching’. Is this writer’s assertion too strong? Probably not. Because Old School Black business people would have known ‘before the Silicon 8 put one toe on Google turf’ that even if they had pitched a ‘perfect’ pitch and presented a ‘perfect’ business plan, they still might not have made an impression with this bunch, because as Ron Conway asserted in the documentary when he admitted that he did not know where to ‘recruit those people’ (Blacks), he admitted in the same breath that in the Valley it was ‘who you know’ and that not many Blacks knew players in the Valley, and not many Siliconites knew Black internet entrepreneurs. And in this writer’s opinion and observation, nor were they about to go out to ‘recruit those people’.
In the documentary Conway is said to invest approximately $10 million practically on an annual basis to start-up internet companies. One wonders if any of them were African American-owned?
Only one Dragon judge was African American. This was Navarrow Wright, founder GlobalGrind.com and chief technology officer of Interactive One (part of Radio One),who expressed the Old School Black businessman’s sentiments when he, paraphrasing, told the 8 that because they were not ready that they were making it harder for the next Black(s) who tried to come into the Valley. This writer is sure that Wright, like many veteran Black business people, knew that going before the Dragon judges without being extra-prepared is a precursor to the Siliconites saying ‘See we gave one of them a chance and they weren’t ready, or we gave them a chance and they F--- up.’ Never mind that 500 white internet entrepreneurs can descend into the Valley and 499 of them can F--- up, and if one Black in a total of 8 F--- up, lo and behold the game is over for all Blacks—even for a black sheep who ambles in the door to be slaughtered. Remember, we are in the 21st Century still dealing with this! By the way, this was the Navarrow Wright Michael Arrington should have been able to name when O’Brien asked if he knew any internet entrepreneurs.
That gets us back once again to Michael Arrington’s utopia of the Valley’s meritocracy. First of all, many of these companies in the Valley receive or have received federal funds. On October 28, 2011, this writer received a press release from the White House in which it was stated: “Over the years, federal agencies have supported a number of startups that have gone on to define an industry. Each one of these companies, for example, received a federal research grant:
· Qualcomm, a global American telecommunication corporation that designs and manufactures wireless communications equipment.
· Symantec, a global software giant -- now the largest maker of security software for computers.
· The iRobot Corporation, which designs robots such as the Roomba, for home vacuuming, and the PackBot, for the US military.”
If one were to research, one can most assuredly discover that nary a Black scientist, mathematician, or technologist or maybe even a receptionist can be found in their company structure; yet, these internet-related 21st Century technological companies get billions of taxpayers’ government dollars and they certainly love Blacks as consumers, but many of them in this ilk behave as do the Siliconites in that they can exude elitist racism without consequence.
And as Angela Benton stated early in the documentary a condition she wants to change: “Blacks are the consumer of technology, but Blacks are not the creators of technology.”
And this has been the problem in the Black in American populace in general: Blacks are the ultimate American consumer; yet, in a depression-recession-like economy, Blacks are poor consumers, which makes Blacks even more expendable as human resources.
But contrary to Ron Conway and as a reality check for Michael Arrington, this writer asserts that Blacks who possess perspicacious intellects are out there and can compete anytime, any day with any white or Asian Siliconite.
Siliconites run around in their little high-end tennis shoes, scoot up and down waxed or nouveau chic concrete office floors, skip in and out of brightly colored cubicles, fly kites in the ceiling, play high-flying ping pong or high-powered tennis on or in the confines of Silicon companies to generate and regurgitate their creativity, even sneer at the establishment business world, and slide into their geek regalia with the care of Klansmen donning their Clorox white sheets, all the while forgetting that they themselves did not build the Valley without help, without the aid of government funds, without the dollars of white-established investment banks, and yes even down to the garages and dorm rooms that mommy and daddy supplied them with. Is this too strong of a description of Siliconitis hypocrisy? Not really.
One has to thank what CNN’s Black in America has done with or without knowing what it was exposing: that elitist racism is alive and striving in Silicon Valley. And like the rest of the viewers, this writer will be watching to see if a Silicon 8 company gets funded. Whatever happens and how many hills and valleys, the Silicon 8 had to endure, we must remember that they are the African American pioneers who paved into “The New Promised Land”, and we salute them for this.
“The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley” documentary should be played and re-played in every predominantly African American public school, in the private Black schools that are cropping up, and in HBCU (Historical Black Colleges and Universities) business schools. Repeats of the documentary will air at 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. (CST) on November 19 on CNN.
Occupy Wall Street? Better yet, Occupy Silicon Valley.