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Silicon Valley has a ‘Black people’ problem


“Daddy, I don’t like this, don’t do this.”

—Christopher Cukor’s son pleading with him not to call the police on Wesly Michel.

As this edition went to press, an episode of racial profiling took place in the Bay Area this past Fourth of July. The scenario, reported by numerous news outlets, transpired in front of and in the lobby of a San Francisco apartment building where a Black man was reportedly loitering/waiting. A resident of the building confronted him about his purpose for being there, and he replied he was waiting for a friend who also lived in the building.The tenant (a White man) then demanded the name of the person the Black man was visiting, and after he refused to use the apartment call box, the resident called the police to report the visitor was a trespasser.

During the course of all these events, the resident’s (elementary school-aged) son begged his dad to break off the confrontation so they could leave, while the Black man recorded everything on video (and later posted it on Facebook). Eventually the man’s friend, a handicapped woman, arrived and vetted his story, and in turn, his innocence. It later transpired that the Black man, one Wesly Michel, is a software engineer employed in the IT industry, while his accuser, Christopher Cukor, is an Ivy League executive currently at YouTube, with years of experience with Internet companies.

Michel, like many Black men, has had past incidents of being racially profiled, while Cukor’s father had reportedly been beaten to death by a deranged man in the driveway of his home, circa 2013. Cukor’s defensive response to Michel’s presence may have been perceived by the latter man as another example of a White person threatening to call the police on an otherwise Black stranger. Days later, Cukor took to the online publishing platform Medium ( to post his version of the incident, which is remarkably similar to Wesly’s. Episodes like this surely factor in the inter-office relationships of the cloistered realm of Silicon Valley.

Governmental intervention

“I am extremely troubled by the persistent lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in Silicon Valley.”

—Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43)

Just over a year ago a contingent of Black lawmakers made a pilgrimage to the west. The group was comprised of Representatives G.K. Butterflied (D-NC), Barbara Lee (CA-9), Gregory Seeks, (D-NY), and Waters, (CA-43). They came to address the lack of minority inclusion in the lucrative electronics industry in and around the Santa ClaraValley, historically known for its bountiful harvest of produce spawned from its fertile soil. Over the past 30 or 40 years, due to the influx of electronic experimentation, manufacturing, and technological advances, it became better known as the Silicon Valley.

From produce to microprocessors

The Silicon Valley was born out of the geographic area known as the Santa Clara Valley, a largely agricultural area transported into defense contracting as World War II progressed, then transitioned into electronics with the advent of the Cold War. The development and popularity of the transistor in the 1950s jump-started the electronicsindustry. Transistors were cheaper and could speed up the performance of virtually any electronic device, and thusly revolutionized the consumer and military industries. These devices depended on the chemical element silicon as a semi-conductor to pass current through their circuitry, and in time the name “Silicon” was appropriated for the area previously known for its fruit orchards.

By the late 20th century, what became known as the Digital Revolution was on course, as silicon enabled the development/invention of the cell phone, Internet, personal computer, video games, and other electrical paraphernalia for consumer and government use. In due course persons like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others became the alpha males of the social pecking order. It is natural that the few Blacks who do gain employment in this lucrative field are shy about rocking the boat, that is, going on record to criticize the hands that feed them. Most of the subjects contacted to interview for this story flatly declined, while many of those initially agreeable later changed their minds before the interview took place. Those who were agreeable did so only under condition of anonymity.

The experience of ‘Sasha’

Even then, these anonymous responders were guarded in their answers. “Sasha” chose an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) after growing up in a middle class White environment. Degree in hand, she soon secured meaningful employment, and then spent the formative years of her professional career bouncing between different companies in a variety of industries before setting her sights on the computer field.

“I knew there was money in tech (an average $102,470 annually, according to the U.S. Labor Department), but I did not necessarily think there was a place for me there—without a computer science background,” Sasha remembers. “The interviewing process is stressful under the best of circumstances, doubly as since as she says, “…interviewing for tech companies as a person of color is scary and daunting.”

She fortified herself by conducting research on line, and conversing with people already at the company, then memorized basic technical terms and processes. Once in, she was pleased with the numerous amenities (free meals and access to therapy, location transfers, etc.) that are a staple of companies eager to retain talent among their personnel. Alas, even with these “perks,” the pressure of working in an environment where people of color are sparse can be a burden unto itself. Sasha’s colleagues share these feelings of isolation and find relief by spending down time with peers they more easily can relate to. When the opportunity presents itself to transfer to the east coast however, with its cultural diversity and opportunities for inclusion, many jump at the chance.

Part of the reality of being Black in the racially toxic environment of the U.S.A. means developing hyper awareness toward perceived slights where none have taken place, especially by those charged with providing security. Sasha concedes she initially felt singled out when pressed for her employee identification as she arrived for work. She later realized this was merely protocol when she witnessed Whites in senior positions were required to do the same when entering the work place.

The push toward equality

“The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

—From Executive Order 10925 establishing The President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.

Affirmative action as a term was initiated in 1961 as President John F. Kennedy issued the above mandate as part of his era of the “New Frontier” and a push towards equal opportunity which continued with Lyndon Baines Johnson’s “Great Society.” It continues today, in various adaptations and iterations, with results perhaps unexpected by its original authors, as noted by Professor Jessie Daniels of New York’s Hunter College.

“When it comes to affirmative action, White women occupy a rather peculiar position. White women are the main beneficiaries of affirmative action policies, and also the most likely to sue over them,” said Daniels, a scholar of race and technology who wrote in a March 11, 2014 article for the blog Be-that-as-it-may, White women continue to suffer due to the non-level playing field as well. Holding true to the stereotypical “geek” label, Asians are among the best-represented minority in tech, but curiously are excluded from inclusion among the upper echelon, as are White women, as Alison DeNisco Rayome noted in a Feb. 7, 2018 article for

“In Silicon Valley for Blacks and Hispanics, the basic problem is getting in the door,” Rayome said. “The problem with Asian Americans in Silicon Valley is upper mobility to management.”

More inclusion needed

“Last year, I was pleased to join a congressional delegation, led by the co-chairs of the CBC Diversity Task Force, Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-9) and Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-NC), to Silicon Valley where we met with the top tech firms and outlined our ‘S.M.A.R.T. Investment Principles’ for addressing the dismal lack of diverse representation in their ranks.”

—Maxine Waters in a June 25, 2019 remark to Our Weekly.

The CBC has addressed these issues before. Back in 2015, they assembled a task force of corporate bigwigs in an effort to coax increased diversity in the tech economy. Under the label of the CBC TECH 2020 initiative, they set out to push the agenda of inclusion and parity within the Bay Area and the tech world as a whole. To start off what was meant to be a five-year plan, a series of meetings with the most influential leaders in the digital arena to encourage the introduction and retention of African Americans into the tech world. While Blacks have made strides in the way of high profile appointments such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the board of Dropbox (a file hosting service), and her predecessor Colin Powell, who is or has been on the board of several leading corporations they remain the most under represented groups in Information Technology (IT), along with Hispanics and women.

Even then, there are rumblings among those who secure meaningful employment. Consider the plight of Mark S. Luckie, a journalist and digital strategist lured to the social media giant Facebook by the possibility of making it more attractive to traditionally marginalized audiences. Accepted into the fold with the impressive title of “Strategic Partner Manager for Global Influencers,” the disillusionment set in: Luckie was simultaneously a part of the company by virtue of his employment here, while being excluded from decision making and securing a platform to launch meaningful dialogue to the previously mentioned marginalized groups.

As he tendered his resignation in late 2018, he distributed a memo beginning with the provocative declaration: “ Facebook has a Black people problem”

In the rest the lengthy manifesto, he “spilled his guts” by chronicling all the slights and negative experiences he endured during his tenure there. The distribution of this struck a cord with scores of employees among the paltry population of minorities within the organization. Luckie took pains to note these circumstances exist at other companies too, citing his experiences at the networking service Twitter. Through all of this, Luckie was able to land on his feet, and continues his critique of the silicon industry at his website