How To See Race From Silicon Valley

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Nasdaq via Facebook, Zef Nikolla, File / AP

One of the foundational beliefs of the current Silicon Valley bubble is that the Valley is an enlightened place, socially and otherwise. And it is, mostly. Yet the portrait of the tech industry (especially its bleeding edge) and the portion of the media dedicated to covering it is not exactly what one imagines a supremely progressive place to look like: extremely white and extremely male. One of the side effects of the Valley’s belief in its own progressiveness is an occasional blindness to the gap between its belief and its reality. Spanning that disconnect for some is a myth that the Valley is a total meritocracy that isn’t subject to wider systematic problems of racism and sexism; that it is, in some ways, a truly hermetically sealed bubble. It’s an even more virulent strain of the standard American dream mythology, that anyone can do anything if they work hard enough, which ignores the very real structural issues that present barriers for people of color, women, and the poor.

What makes this conversation that started on Twitter this morning between Jason Calacanis — a portrait of a Valley enterpreneur if there was one, who sold one start-up to AOL for millions and then launched another, which has pretty much bombed out — and Jamelle Bouie, who wrote a piece about the lack of diversity in tech media, staggering is the way that it replicates the most facile discussions about race and class.

Silicon Valley may be a wonderful place. But it’s a privileged one, and every time that’s forgotten is effectively another barrier erected.

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