Do we need to talk about race?
You guys: Most tech writers are white males. That's the simple premise of writer Jamelle Bouie's blog post from yesterday called "And Read All Over." This isn't an anecdotal observation but a fact, as Bouie's analysis bears out. He doesn't lay any blame at the feet of individuals, and the post isn't a cheap grab at page-views like Henry Blodget's "Why Do People Hate Jews?" Bouie merely says, "Look, the tech community isn't as strong as it could be because some voices are being drowned out. I have data to back this up. Now what are we going to do about it?"
Normally this kind of thoughtful, data-driven, results-seeking analysis is like catnip to the tech community. But this is race we're talking about, not HTML5 and quadcopters. And even though Bouie was careful to avoid accusations, some responded to his post as if Bouie had launched a full-scale attack against white privilege. The highest-profile naysayer was blogging pioneer Jason Calacanis (a contributor at this site) who Tweeted, "When I came in the game I made my own lane @jbouie -- I didn't wait for a break, I broke the rules. You're underestimating the hustle."
From there, the argument played out exactly how all so-called "post-racial" arguments do: Person A says, "The evidence suggests that some races are at a greater advantage in this field than others." Person B says, "Are you saying I didn't work for what I have? That's reverse racism!" Then Person C says to Person B, "Are you suggesting that racism has been completely eradicated? That's double-racism!" And so on and so on.
To be honest, Calacanis' argument resembles the attitude he took toward the Series A Crunch, writing, "You’re in control of your destiny, and obsessing on the blogger-manufactured 'Series A crunch' will only distract you from the work you need to do survive the winter." Now, he's written a full blog post doubling-down on his conviction that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy and so race shouldn't matter. Because it's a complicated issue, Calacanis' argument is worth hearing out, even if it's one many of us don't agree with, and even if the opening line ("I’m a white guy so I’m not allowed to talk about race") reeks of the same defensiveness that started us down this road.
But I'm not trying to pile on Calacanis. No, the point of all this is to bring the focus back to what Bouie identifies as the problem. Because even if you're naive enough to buy that Silicon Valley is a total meritocracy, and that every venture capitalist, angel investor, CEO, and hiring manager is blind to race, it doesn't change the indisputable fact that African Americans and Latinos are under-represented in tech journalism. And we're much better off focusing on solving this problem than we are attacking each other over our own personal anecdotal stories of success and failure that have nothing to do with macro trends.
It's not as if it's only for the sake of minorities that barriers-of-entry should be lowered. No, this is a problem because tech journalism is suffering in general. When more voices are involved, It makes a community (or a newsroom) stronger, whether those voices come from different races, genders, religions, or socioeconomic backgrounds. By not caring that your community has become homogenized to an extent, you're basically admitting that it's okay for your community to be boring.
So in the end it doesn't matter so much if it's overt racism or networking challenges or simple geography that's to blame. The causes only matter insofar that it helps solve the problem. And for a community that purports to function by a "shut up and fix the problem" mentality, some tech observers need to do a lot less handwringing and lot more fixing. So do we need to talk about race? Yes, but not like this. To quote Anil Dash's comment on Calacanis' latest blog post, "You're hearing people say 'this happened to me. this was my experience. I went through this thing.' and you're replying with 'No, you didn't.'"
That's no way to have a conversation.