As some readers may also be aware, the editor of this blog is a Black male who was an information technology professional for most of the last 50 years. Moreover, I was also a Professor of Urban Planning at one of the nation's leading HBCUs for fifteen of those years. Therefore I usually have a strong positive bias for reports that highlight unappreciated opportunities for Black techs within our nation's highly varied urban economies.
But Fast Company's most recent note about the best cities for people of color in tech rattled all my chains. It struck me as the worst kind of mindless number crunching whose findings were not only misleading, but counterproductive ... if anyone took them seriously. But then again, its findings are so silly that I doubt that many readers will take them seriously, so it probably won't do much harm.
"STEM" has four letters
My first concern is, hopefully, just a quibble. The title of the article was "Best Cities for People of Color in Tech" ... but the data presented in the table in the article (and copied at the bottom of this page) is correctly titled "Diversity in STEM" because the article is based on census data about the diversity of jobs in all STEM fields, i.e, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
I am not a person of color. I'm Black.
The author of the article included Asian Americans in her analysis in a way that caused cities with higher Asian American employment in STEM jobs to be regarded as more diverse, i.e., "better" places for "people of color" in STEM -- and by implication "better" places for Blacks in STEM. What nonsense.
- The irony of the author's fallacious logic is especially painful for an old Black tech like myself who remembers Senator Moynihan's rueful observation back in the 1980s that the biggest beneficiaries of the Supreme Court's school desegregation decision (1954) and the subsequent Civil Rights/Voting Rights legislation (1964, 1965) were Asian Americans, not the Black Americans who had fought so hard to secure these legal victories.
- The court's decision and congressional legislation unleashed a torrent of admissions of thousands of highly qualified Asian Americans to the best public and private institutions of higher learning in the country, institutions from which they had previously been excluded. This torrent flowed with particular intensity into STEM programs.
- President Johnson's recognition of the debilitating legacy of centuries of slavery and the terrors of apartheid in the many decades that followed the Civil War caused him to propose affirmative action as a way to give Black Americans a fairer chance to secure quality higher education and gainful employment thereafter.
- Fortunately for Asian Americans, the oppression they had suffered was orders of magnitude less debilitating, so they didn't need affirmative action. All they needed was the removal of the legal impediments to their progress.
- Finally, anyone who perused the diversity reports issued by Google, Facebook, and most of the other big software houses in Silicon Valley in the last three years knows that Asian Americans enjoy a large share of the tech jobs in the Valley that is hugely disproportionate to their share of the U.S. population; by contrast Black America is substantially underrepresented.
The good news ...
- As the reader can see from the table (below), the five best cities for Asian Americans are found in the top seven cities listed in the table in the third column from the left. Asian Americans hold over 20 percent of the STEM jobs in Sacramento (30%), New York (23%), Los Angeles (28%), Houston (23%), and Charlotte NC (22%).
- By contrast, the best five cities for Black Americans can be found via column 6: Charlotte NC (21%), Washington, DC (22%), Durham NC (24%), Baltimore MD (28%), and Atlanta GA (22%).
Nowadays more than 90 percent of the nation's Black college students attend non-HBCUs, so I am not saying that most of the Black STEM employees in these cities are HBCU alums. Backing up a few steps before moving forward, I know that one of the best predictors of college completion, especially the completion of difficult degrees like STEM, is having parents who were college graduates. And I also know that, contrary to movie and TV cliches, most people tend to settle down within a couple of hundred miles of their parents and other relatives. Therefore I am confident that further investigation would show that most of the Black employees who are over 50 graduated from HBCUs and that most of the Black employees who are under 50 had parents who graduated from HBCUs ... :-)
Finally, as a loyal son of the Bronx, I was disappointed by the Black 11 percent share of the STEM positions in New York City ... at first. But then I noticed that the Black share in the top five cities was a bit more than half of the Black share of the total population in those cities. Were it not for the continuing legacy of slavery and segregation, Black Americans might be overrepresented, like Asian Americans; but we're not there yet. New York City is a little more than 22 percent Black; so an 11 or 12 percent share is about what should be expected ... for now.
... and a post script ...
Given the relatively small Black population on the West Coast vs. the relatively large Asian American population out there, I have not been surprised that most of the major software houses in Silicon Valley employ so many Asian Americans and so few Black Americans. On the other hand, given the large Black population in New York City, plus the substantial Black enrollments in the City University of New York, and in nearby components of the State University, and in prominent private universities like NYU (my alma mater) and Columbia University, I would be hugely disappointed to learn that Google's operation in New York City was less than 11 to 12 percent Black.
Fast Company's diversity table ...