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Silicon Valley has a ‘Black people’ problem

Guess who’s left behind in the information revolution?

Gregg Reese OW Contributor | 7/11/2019, midnight
As this edition went to press, an episode of racial profiling took place in the..

By the late 20th century, what became known as the Digital Revolution was on course, as silicon enabled the development/invention of the cell phone, Internet, personal computer, video games, and other electrical paraphernalia for consumer and government use. In due course persons like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others became the alpha males of the social pecking order. It is natural that the few Blacks who do gain employment in this lucrative field are shy about rocking the boat, that is, going on record to criticize the hands that feed them. Most of the subjects contacted to interview for this story flatly declined, while many of those initially agreeable later changed their minds before the interview took place. Those who were agreeable did so only under condition of anonymity.

The experience of ‘Sasha’

Even then, these anonymous responders were guarded in their answers. “Sasha” chose an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) after growing up in a middle class White environment. Degree in hand, she soon secured meaningful employment, and then spent the formative years of her professional career bouncing between different companies in a variety of industries before setting her sights on the computer field.

“I knew there was money in tech (an average $102,470 annually, according to the U.S. Labor Department), but I did not necessarily think there was a place for me there—without a computer science background,” Sasha remembers. “The interviewing process is stressful under the best of circumstances, doubly as since as she says, “…interviewing for tech companies as a person of color is scary and daunting.”

She fortified herself by conducting research on line, and conversing with people already at the company, then memorized basic technical terms and processes. Once in, she was pleased with the numerous amenities (free meals and access to therapy, location transfers, etc.) that are a staple of companies eager to retain talent among their personnel. Alas, even with these “perks,” the pressure of working in an environment where people of color are sparse can be a burden unto itself. Sasha’s colleagues share these feelings of isolation and find relief by spending down time with peers they more easily can relate to. When the opportunity presents itself to transfer to the east coast however, with its cultural diversity and opportunities for inclusion, many jump at the chance.

Part of the reality of being Black in the racially toxic environment of the U.S.A. means developing hyper awareness toward perceived slights where none have taken place, especially by those charged with providing security. Sasha concedes she initially felt singled out when pressed for her employee identification as she arrived for work. She later realized this was merely protocol when she witnessed Whites in senior positions were required to do the same when entering the work place.

The push toward equality

“The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

—From Executive Order 10925 establishing The President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.