Jesse Jackson has a new cause, and it is racism in Silicon Valley. I will try to keep it brief as this is an emotional and personal issue for me. I will provide no links or quotes, as in this matter, they should be unnecessary. On matters of racism, I am an unqualified expert. Therefore, you can link to this article and quote me. I offer three observations for your consideration:

1. Racism is a far worse problem than sexism or ageism. Yet it is the one problem we never talk about. We talk about sexism all the time, and ageism occasionally. Yet the tech industry is lousy with women, even at the C-level. I can think of more female CEOs than I can black tech journalists. And I bet you can too. It is not to say that women have gained full equality in the field. It is to say that their issues are well documented, and are being addressed in visible and meaningful ways. 

Consider this. If you put all the tech execs in a room and removed the white males, white women would become the overwhelming majority. Black people, male or female, would still be difficult to pick out of the crowd. Another point to consider is that there are enough women in tech to keep the issue of inequality of women in tech in the fore front. There are not enough black people in tech to shine a light on the fact that they are not there in representative numbers. While everyone in tech gets to be a feminist for a day by championing women's issues, there seems to be no benefit to speaking against the racial disparity.

2. It's obvious. There is no debate on whether inequality exists. Just search for staff photos of journalistic and tech organizations, count the brown faces, and see for yourself. It is the 800 lb. gorilla in the room Here is a semi-random sample of what I mean:

Do a little digging for yourself. It gets much worse. The blinding absence of brown faces in tech leadership is so obvious and so embarrassing, we dare not speak its name. To acknowledge it is to admit guilt. If it is fair to say that a company is sexist because it does not employ enough women, or place them in positions of leadership, then most Silicon Valley companies are probably sexist. But by that same standard, they are definitely racist. If you think that does not have an effect on the products, and coverage of products that are released to the public, you are sadly mistaken.

3. Finally, the solution is almost as bad as the problem. But everyone knows it has to be done. Racial inequality has flourished because corporations have been cheating in favor of white males. Unlike a baseball game, we can't just stop it when systematic cheating is discovered, and start over with everyone obeying the rules. This game cannot be stopped, nor the clock rewound. As much as it pains me to say it, the only thing we can do is cheat in the other direction until we reach equilibrium. Yes, I'm talking about some form of affirmative action.

The scales will not balance themselves. If we made everyone stop cheating right now, it is still too late. The damage is already done. It does not fix what is broken. It just freezes the brokenness at the current state. Consider how people actually get jobs in the real world. This is not a meritocracy as we like to fantasize. Seldom is the best person hired for the job. That almost never happens, especially the higher up you go.

Serendipitous opportunity, favors, and nepotism are huge drivers in landing the big job. The game is already rigged against outsiders breaking in. Does anyone really think that Steve Balmer was the most qualified person to run Microsoft after Bill Gates? They were college roommates and buddies. No one thought Apple's last retail chief was a good hire. The most recent board member of Microsoft was someone who muscled his way onto the board from an investment firm. He literally strong-armed his way into the position. Otherwise, his qualifications for the position are non-existent. That is how the real world works. Merit seldom has anything to do with it.

Many argue that race should not play a part in the hiring decision, and that we should just go with the most qualified person regardless of race. I have also held this position until recently. Let me tell you what you can do with your qualifications: you can shove them up history's bong hole and light them on fire. To hell with your qualifications. Just look around and see where they have gotten us. Look at the junk produced by these companies. Look at the fortunes lost, and opportunities squandered. Look at the world around you. I'm not impressed by the most qualified people.

So for a time, we must hire a different set of idiots. Instead of just propping up the old boy's club, we can do it for a more noble reason. We might even find that the problem was never that we didn't have enough qualified minorities. The problem might be that our qualifications are BS. Those qualifications we hold so dear might just be what is driving away the most qualified candidates. At any rate, we do it until the score is tied. Then we end the cheating on both sides. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can play the game the way it was meant to be played.

David Johnson

Comment