Commentary: Can Blacks Get a Foothold in Silicon Valley?

Commentary: Can Blacks Get a Foothold in Silicon Valley?

With just a handful of Blacks leading startups in the tech world’s power center, how can African-Americans get a grasp on the future economy?

Published November 1, 2011

As far as the politicians are concerned, the next generation of American productivity will be reliant on science, technology, engineering, and math programs. The STEM —science, technology, engineering and mathematics — fields are seen by the Obama administration as the key to U.S. advancement, especially as we compete with rising superpowers India and China.

 

"Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon,” Obama said in his State of the Union last January. “The science wasn't even there yet. NASA didn't exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation's Sputnik moment."

 

When looking for our “Sputnik moment,” most eyes will turn toward Silicon Valley. The Northern California enclave is the heart and soul of America’s tech industry, housing every heavyweight from Google to Apple to Facebook. If there will be some sort of magical tech burst in the next generation, it's likely to happen there. Unfortunately, the future isn’t totally bright in Silicon Valley, according to some insiders, especially if you’re Black.

 

CNN’s fourth episode of Black in America, a Soledad O’Brien hosted series focusing on Black issues, will highlight the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley. As it stands, less than 1 percent of funded tech startups are headed by Blacks. That means that if the future of business is being built in Silicon Valley right now, the future is going to exclude African-Americans in a big way.

 

In an interview for the new episode, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington said he’s found it so difficult to find African-Americans in tech that he’d be willing to put his support behind a “clown show.” When his comments drew criticism after an advanced screening of Black in America last week, O’Brien responded on CNN’s website, saying, “What has everyone upset is that what he is saying is true — there are not many Blacks entrepreneurs succeeding in Silicon Valley.”

 

Why there are fewer Blacks in tech seems obvious: The educational infrastructure simply isn’t there. Learning computer coding requires education, and with Blacks denied the educational opportunities of their white counterparts, gaining access to advanced computer science courses is extremely difficult. Where the tech world can help is by acknowledging the roadblocks Blacks have on their way to Silicon Valley and then helping to guide them with supplementary educational programs and scholarship grants for Black kids who show aptitude for computer science. Black kids aren’t dumb, and they’re into computers as much as the rest of their peers. When given the opportunity, it’s only a matter of time before the first Black Steve Jobs comes to power.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

Written by Cord Jefferson

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