Black in America: The New Promised Land in Retrospect

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I just finished watching CNN’s Black in America: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley and had to write.

Brief synopsis: Soledad O’Brien chronicles the journey of eight African-American entrepreneurs who relocate to Silicon Valley to take part in the NewMe Accelerator.

So many thoughts ran through my mind as I watched, mainly because I could relate to it in that:

1. I’m black and
2. I’ve launched an Internet-based business before

First let me say, I think it’s both great and sad that CNN does this Black in America series. Great in that, it shows I’m not crazy for thinking racial issues still exist and sad because racial issues do still exist, making this show worth CNN’s time & money to produce and broadcast. I’ve had discussions and debates with black friends and it’s interesting how different everyone’s views are.

I have some black friends who think race means nothing in present day society and others who believe it means everything. I think I’m somewhere in the middle, understanding that because of history, my race does matter today and also determined that I won’t use that as an excuse in a predominately white-owned/ran society.

Tonight’s show definitely shed light on some sad realities:

Case #1: Ron Conway Doesn’t Know How to Recruit Black People
Ron Conway is one of the most successful Angel Investors in Silicon Valley, being one of the first to invest in Google, Paypal & Twitter. Here’s how his convo with Soledad O’Brien went:

Conway: I have to admit that a lot of it is who you know. If they’re well known to us, we will tend to see that entrepreneur before an entrepreneur who’s just coming in blind
O’Brien: Is that particularly hard if you’re African-American?
Conway: I would say yes. It’s disappointing, but we don’t know how to go recruit those people

Case #2: Michael Arrington Doesn’t Know any Black Entrepreneurs
Michael Arrington is the founder of TechCrunch and is now a venture capitalist. Here’s how his convo with Soledad O’Brien went:

O’Brien: Who would you say is the number one, black technology entrepreneur?
Arrington: You know, that’s a weird question. Who would you say is the number one black?
O’Brien: I don’t cover technology
Arrington: I’m trying to think of any black CEOs in Silicon Valley and I’m not even coming up with any
O’Brien: Ok so the entrepreneurs, the people who are making companies
Arrington: I don’t know a single black entrepreneur
O’Brien: And you cover the industry
Arrington: (sigh)
O’Brien: What does that say?
Arrington: I mean, there just aren’t any

(Now obviously Arrington is mistaken by saying there are no black entrepreneurs. This convo  says to me, that black entrepreneurs haven’t made it into the Silicon Valley circle of well-known, front runners.)

Case #3 Professor Vivek Wadhwa on the Way the System Works
Vivek Wadhwa came to the U.S. in 1980 from India. He is now a professor at Duke University and has started 2 Internet companies. He begins by telling the group the difference between blacks and “his people,” the main difference being, black people don’t help each other; but the biggest shocker of the night was when he told the black cohorts, they are not enough:

“What I did to raise venture capital was, my buddies here advised me, they said, ‘get a white guy to be your front man.’ And I did that. I hired a very impressive, 6-foot tall, polished white guy and let him do all the talking,” Wadhwa says. “…that’s the way the system works here…there’s so many kids at Berkley or Stanford you can hire.”

Case #4: Anthony attends the GamesBeat Conference
Anthony, one of the 8 entrepreneurs being followed in the special, goes to a conference called GamesBeat. “They thought we were volunteers,” Anthony says after asking someone at the venue, in which room is the conference being held? “Guess that comes with it, ya know?”

Case #5: Wayne gets stopped by police
While Wayne, one of the entrepreneurs, is walking home around 11pm at night, police stop him because he’s an “unfamiliar face in the neighborhood,” they told CNN. The police did a background check on Wayne, he had a clean record so they let him go.

These 5 instances stuck with me the most. I replayed them in my head after the program ended. One thing I am happy about is I think this show may spark a change. If not a change, at least there is now awareness of the severity of this problem. I’ve personally never thought about the lack of black representation in Silicon Valley, but at one point when I was working on launching my own Internet-based company, I did research some angel investors in Silicon Valley. I was doing all that research not knowing the reality was, I had close to no chance of receiving an investment, even if I had a billion dollar business on hand because I lacked the needed relationships.

(Semi-Long Side Note: For those who may be wondering what my business was, here’s a video that explains it all.

After 3 years of planning & development and almost $10,000 later, the business launched. Very early on, we hit some serious snags I couldn’t afford to fix and boom, the business was officially in the 80% Failed New-businesses Club. Super glad I had that experience tho, I learned SOOO much in the process.)

You hear all the time that “life is about relationships.” Well that is obviously, absolutely true in a lot of cases. So now the question is, how do we get to a place where more black people have the right relationships? I think the NewMe Accelerator is a great start, but definitely not enough to bridge the grueling diversity disparity in technology and business.

I can say I’ve definitely been challenged tonight and want to do my part to ensure that the generations under me have an even better chance at doing great things in this world then I’ve had. That’s the goal right? …Forward movement and progression.

So did you watch the Black in America special?

Whether you did or didn’t, what do you think about all that I’ve shared?

P.S. the NewMe Accelorator is currently accepting applications for their next round of participants. Click here for details.

1 Comment
  • dustinporchia
    February 5, 2013

    Really enjoyed this article as I am currently researching black technology entrepreneurs in the phoenix area where I live.