Jamelle Bouie on why technology reporting remains the domain of white guys. Familiar ground, for sure, but I think it’s necessary for this debate to be had repeatedly.
But it’s important to recognize the barriers to entry that exist in the community, 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.
Interestingly, this opened up a conversation among respected names in the tech community, when Jason Calacanis claimed that the space they inhabited was “post-race”, “pure meritocracy” where the only thing that matters is how hard you hustle. (I guess there’s a reason why Atlas Shrugged and Thug Motivation 101 stay selling, guys).
Anil Dash, Sam Biddle and others jumped in and layed the smack down upon him (respectfully-ish, see the Storify here), but he still didn’t seem to get it (lol, surprise). His response, opening with a Kanye lyric (“ohhh shit, you like hip hop? My bad!”) and continuing like this:
I’m a white guy so I’m not allowed to talk about race.
At least that’s what they tell me.
Don’t talk about it because it’s a zero-sum game — and you’ll lose. White guys get all the breaks, and as such we can’t contribute to the discourse.
But I believe we’re on the precipice of a post-race world, and many of us took the leap long ago. We have mixed-race families, diverse startups and we — gasp! — select our music based on how it sounds, not the ethnicity of the performer.
So… yeah. (I’m putting a pin in the “white guy talking about race” thing because that’s like 1000 words right there.) Most of the time, I try to view this breathtakingly naive attitude in a positive light - well, at least this guy knows racism is bad! - but then Calacanis says shit like:
To fall back to race as the reason why people don’t break out in our wonderful oasis of openness is to do a massive injustice to what we’ve fought so hard to create.
It flies in the face of our core beliefs: 1. anyone can do it, 2. innovation can come from anywhere and 3. product rules.
Falling back to race (how bad do you think he wanted to say “pulling the race card”?) is implied to be regressive, but it’s the only way to be progressive - we can’t fix things if we don’t know what’s wrong. The reason it goes against the core beliefs he espouses is because they are flawed, at least in regards to this conversation about minorities and access. There are a couple of other diamond lines - “I haven’t experienced racism myself, except when standing next to my wife (who is Asian)” and “Two of my most successful writers … the second with much darker skin than mine (brown, but not black for those obsessed with the exact tone — really?)” but you get the picture.
In these situations, I usually try to frame that person’s ignorance as a child-like naivety to the bad shit happening in the world, partly because I want to believe these people are well-intentioned, but mostly for my own sanity (like 97% for this). But ultimately, I know how harmful this attitude is. Privilege-denying (eurgh) - which is what this is - is so hot right now that even Drake is doing it. Let’s not piss around the pot - the playing field is not equal. It’s definitely getting better, thanks to people like Jamelle constantly questioning the way things are. But we’ve all got a distance yet to go.
A lot of successful, rich white men get angry when you suggest things like this. It harms their creation myth (“I put my hours in, b”) - rooted in an emphasis on the power of the individual over institutions (you should school up on your David Simon if you really think this, broseph). In their eyes, accepting that they had a factor or two in their favour (race/gender) diminishes their own achievement. I get that the tech community is notorious for this relentless promotion of meritocracy, but it takes real balls to acknowledge some people have shit to deal with that you will never have to. I think it also riles them because they (wrongly) assume that minorities and women want advantages they themselves never enjoyed. Which, to display some empathy towards you old white guys, is understandable. But the truth is, we don’t want to steal your trophies. We just want to get in the game.