Friday, March 23, 2012

Response to a Very Important Comment ... with a P.S.

Earlier this evening (3/22/12), Mr. Kalimah Priforce submitted the following comment to an earlier post on this blog, Fight or Flight (revised)

"Racism to Blame, Not Affinity Groups, for Lack of Minorities in Tech -"

When I tried to post a lengthy response to his comment, Murphy's Law suddenly suddenly went into effect.  No matter how I reformatted my comment, the IntenseDebate widget that I am using would not post the full comment. I will figure out what went wrong tomorrow, but right now I will post my response below because I consider Mr. Priforce's comment to be sufficiently important to warrant an immediate reply.

My response:

Dear Mr. Priforce,

I won't pretend to be "objective" about my daughter's book, so my response may contain more bias than I'm aware of. However, she does have data, as does anyone who  followed Silicon Valley's development for the last forty years, that the pipelines from the Valley back to Berkeley and Stanford have always been major conduits for white entrepreneurs, and more recently for Asian entrepreneurs. So she focused on those pipelines. Her next book, if she wrote one, might look at the sources of black talent from outside the Valley.

But aside from this difference of opinion, I was excited to read the article you cited because it reinforced my own hope that black wannabe high tech entrepreneurs would recognize the wisdom of the Indian professor who advised the entrepreneurs in Soledad O'Brien's documentary that prejudice was so strong in the Valley that they might well consider using white sales reps from Berkeley or Stanford. The article you referenced also underscored the existence of strong prejudice. He also told them that the only help they would get would be from themselves -- which is a point that you also agree with. And he noted the dangerous sense of "entitlement" to special treatment that is shared by too many black Americans, but clearly not by the members of your group of entrepreneurs.

I am excited to learn about your group's existence and would like to link it to a group of applications developers that I am helping to organize here at Howard University. We will be holding our first meeting tomorrow afternoon (Friday 23 March). I will call your article and the references that it contains to the attention of our group that includes students, faculty, staff, and senior administrators. Indeed, I hope we can call upon you for recommendations as to how we can get off to a fast, but productive start.

We would like to function as openly as possible so as to encourage other HBCUs and minority serving institutions to launch similar groups. Please check out new our blog at (3/24/12):

And you might also check out two recent notes that I've posted on this blog (HBCU-Levers) that address the opportunities to make progress in closing the Digital Divide by encouraging more of our best and brightest to do what you and your colleagues are already doing.

Thank you again for posting your important comment. And I hope you will not offended by my fatherly pride in my daughter's work. No piece of scholarship can cover everything. That's why it usually takes a community of scholars with common interest in a major topic to cover all of the most important aspects of such a topic over a period of time.

Although Stanford and Berkeley can claim to be "innocent" with regards to the prejudice in the Valley, they and all other universities must accept responsibility for not helping their black and other minority students become better prepared to cope with prejudice, rather than back away under the shadows of "stereotype threat."  Beyond this, they must also do a better job of providing their black and minority students with the necessary technical skills to launch start-up operations and exposure to important technical and financial networks... And HBCUs are not exempt. That's why I'm helping to start our applications developers group here at Howard. To date, my beloved institution has not done much to help our student wannabe high tech entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams. But I'm going to do my best to help put an end to this neglect ... and my determination to do something has been heavily motivated by my daughter's findings ... :-)

Roy L Beasley, PhD

Post Script (added on Friday 23 March 2012)
When I read Mr. Priforce's vehement assertion that racism, not self-segregation was keeping blacks out of Silicon Valley, I was puzzled. Having read every line in my daughter's book many, many, many times from her first drafts to the final published versions, I knew that her book never denied the existence of racism in the Valley. Her book focused on the students' reactions to their perceptions of racism. A few recognized that racism is still a fact of life in these United States of America, and refused to let racists limit their career aspirations. But others "opted out" -- changing their majors to fields that were "racialized" which is my daughter's term for fields that already have a substantial number of black practitioners. Indeed the title of my note on this blog was "Fight or Flight" -- which expressed my dismay that gifted and talented black students, certified members of our Talented Tenth, would not choose to hold their ground in the face of bigotry. Where would any of us be today if Charlayne Hunter Gault or Medgar Evers had "opted out" back in the 1960s?????

A few moments ago, I read one of the articles that Mr. Priforce cited in the article linked to his comment ... and I understood his misunderstanding. The article was a reporter's summary of an interview conducted by another reporter who quoted my daughter out of context. Having myself been misrepresented by reporters in major media from time to time when I was much younger and far more ambitious, I learned the hard way that one never talks to reporters without handing them a printed press release beforehand that summarized my opinions that I myself had prepared. I still bear the psychic scars from having my opinions grossly distorted by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek magazine before I learned the preemptive value of the printed press release. My daughter's views have been misrepresented a few times since her book was published ... and now I have every Daddy's most cherished compliment == > my adult daughter's admission that I was right!!! She understands how "wise" I was in urging her not to talk to reporters without receiving their solemn assurances that they had read her own one or two page summary of her findings ... :-)

Indeed, it is a cruel irony that Mr. Priforce should imply that my daughter was unaware of racism given the fact has she has just emerged triumphant from a harrowing confrontation with the most vicious kind of academic racism -- the stuff of the worst nightmares of the students in her book who opted out. I am proud to say that she stood her ground in the face of blatant and career threatening bigotry ... and she won. As my own Daddy taught me when I was a kid, winners never quit because quitters never win ... :-)

Related notes: