Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Still Black In America

I got caught up in Soledad O’Brien’s latest edition to the Black In America canon that aired last night on CNN. This episode was entitled “The Promised Land – Silicon Valley” and was about Black entreprenuerism in the tech world. It followed a house full of individuals, Black men and women, attempting to demo projects in order to raise money to get their sites and projects off the ground. Really heady stuff…mostly because despite living a semi-charmed life online, I know pretty much jack sh*t about building a startup tech-centric website.

But one particular scene stood out from the rest, poison as can be, a high powered chest to me. A professor from Duke University (can’t remember his name to save my life) of Indian descent was talking to the developers about the fact that when he began his venture capital company somebody told him to get a white man to be the face of the company and that’s how a lot of companies operate. Basically, investors like to see white men because it gives them some sort of comfort in the product. You know, the psychological something or other that exists in nearly every community.

I mean let’s be real, I feel safer (and more inclined to be okay staying there) when I see white people live in a community I’m interested in. That tells me that there’s growth and *ding* investment potential. People with money – largely white people – look for other white people in order to feel comfortable handing over the dividends. It just is what it is, to me at least. Hell, in China you can rent white people for that very purpose. Basically everybody’s racist. Which kind of makes nobody racist. Riddle that sh*t.

This admission seemed to bother a lot of the folks in the house. And while I get it, I kind of don’t. See, I’m generally more surprised by other people’s surprise that the rules haven’t changed yet. I know we all want to believe in the world as it should be. I have a kid. If there’s one reason to ever hope for the best in people it’s because you don’t want to bring your kids into world that’s worse off than the one you grew up in. However, you have to acknowledge that people are creatures of habit. Especially in a tech world that’s all white and Asian.

Aside: there’s really no way in holy f*ck that Jennifer Lopez would really drive a damn Fiat. Thank you and good night.

One thing that the Indian professor from Duke said was that you have to take that information, as unfair as it sounds, and use it to your advantage. Now, I have no idea how to use it to my advantage, but I’m sure its possible. I guess. But this does beg the question, a few actually. Do we just assume that white people, and say other minorities, don’t really realize they’re being racist and therefore to hear them acknowledge it is what pisses us off?

And if they know that’s the case, that means they can do something about it right? Self-aware people can change f*cked up stuff, right? So if they choose not to, that means that the injustice is not only accepted but condoned. Right? And if they know that we need to use it to our advantage, shouldn’t they just help out in the beginning by not being racist? I realize that last one is asking a lot but I figured I’d throw that log on the fire.

And I think that’s what tends to piss me off about these situations – should I find something to be pissed about – its that the folks who are creating the injustices know that they’re doing it. But nobody wants to rock the boat though for fear of losing, especially in business.

Odd dilemma.

So I bring those questions to you kimosabe (ß—- that’s racist), does open acknowledgement of racism make it worse or is racism just racism no matter how you get there?

And more abstractly, does racism still frustrate you or is its mere presence just something you know exists and therefore you keep it moving? Or is it both?

What say you?

Say you, say me.


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Damon Young

Panama Jackson is pretty fly for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future.

  • NomadaNare

    IMHO, you’ve tapped into how our generation relates to racism. Most white people know that they’re in a position of privilege and know that they didn’t necessarily earn a lot of the things that they were given. Even if they don’t know it intellectually they know it intuitively. Is the form of racism we deal with now better than what our parents dealt with in the past? Arguably, but it’s more important to acknowledge that it’s still there alive and kicking, being just enough in the way of things to make a measurable and noticeable difference.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      yeah, i would never suggest that we don’t keep kicking and screaming. i do think we need to be screaming at the right folsk though. or screaming the right things.

      its like a mental occupy racism movement.

  • http://iwassjustthinkingg.blogspot.com NewPoster

    Honestly, the only thing that got to me was the Duke professor talking about our community not sticking together to get something done – always wanting to cry injustice instead of overcoming our situations. (Now, granted, I don’t remember what he said EXACTLY but it was something like that) I don’t feel that was a fair assessment, as far as comparing it to a community of immigrants from India. You can’t compare the black community in America to any other minority community bc of slavery, civil rights, Jim Crow, and well, our race. We weren’t brought to this country to be citizens of equal rights & given the choice to come here in the first place – our sense of community was lost in the trans-atlantic. I’m not trying to provide an excuse but more so an understanding. Immigrants come over to America a lot of times TOGETHER with a goal in mind – we didn’t have that luxury. You can’t give someone a 5 minute head start & expect the other people to catch up & be at the finish line at the same time, especially when said persons are black in America.

  • CurlyTop

    “One thing that the Indian professor from Duke said was that you have to take that information, as unfair as it sounds, and use it to your advantage. Now, I have no idea how to use it to my advantage, but I’m sure its possible.”

    Yes it is! Place a smiling thumbs up photo of a white male after the “Brothas” in the logo at the top of the page. Thereby increasing your demographic and capitalizing on the full potential of VSB. Better than the white guy is an interracial couple including a black woman with natural hair. Give the couple an unnecessary Asian male friend. Our ‘studies’ have shown that no one is threatened by an Asian male but he helps to bring more to the website, no one likes feeling threatened. Finally, change the name to “Very Smart People” that way you reduce your chances of offending any group you haven’t included. B!tches love Political Correct-ness nowadays.

    *hopes this is taken as lightly as I wrote it*

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      it was and that was hilarious.real talk, there was a point in time i wondered if we’d called our site very smart people, would we have achieved a much larger crossover appeal. maybe. maybe not. but that one word could make all the difference. to others.

  • Mz_Thang

    Definitely felt same way about Duke prof comment especially regarding how blacks dont build each other up. But Silicon Valley is an entirely different world within itself.

  • http://twitter.com/wavecapwillis Wave Cap Willis

    Racist thinking is so entrenched in this country (and worldwide). But most people seem to rely on racist mindsets out of convenience rather than outright malice.

    Does the guy who doesn’t give your resume a second look because your name is Tyrell Jones do it out of a seething hatred for “the Blacks?” Probably not. He’s likely to do it because he wants to play things safe.

    Have ad agencies stayed lily white to the point of facing EEOC charges because their executives were determined to oppress uppity negroes? Nope.

    That’s not to say that such instances of racism are permissible. In fact, it means that it would take formidable efforts to change things for the better.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      i agree with you. i had this convo last night with a friend. i dont think there’s as much malice behinds the racism as we want there to be at times. its just so entrenched into the fabric of society…whcih makes it worse. if folks are being dbags at least you know how to attack it. if folks are just being themselves you have to make fundamental changes to…well, everything.

      goooooooo life.


        Racism is a hard pill to swallow, but when there is malice behind it, for me it’s a little easier to wrap your head around it, get your bearings and move on, but when it is innate; when someone stands in your face and makes a racist statement and not even realize it was racist, that blows me away, but does give one the opportunity to school that person.

    • http://asiyah3.wordpress.com Asiyah

      “But most people seem to rely on racist mindsets out of convenience rather than outright malice.”

      Yup. Habit is stronger than reason. Sad but true.

  • Malik

    Racism is racism. It’s always valuable to know where people stand on issues though. Does racism upset me? Well you can’t be Black and conscious in America without being in a constant stage on enragement to paraphrase and bastardize the James Baldwin quote. I’m not numb to it yet and I have no desire to divorce myself from that hate (Darth Nihilus swag).

  • nillalatte

    1st PJ, hope the site doesn’t throw me out again — or maybe it’s just racist against me! :P

    2nd, though I understand the perception that the Indian dude was referring, I do find it disturbing too. Look at the most damaging scandals in corporate America: Enron, Worldcom, Halliburton, AIG, etc (here’s a list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_corporate_scandals) and who was leading this unethical conduct in business? Ehem… white men! And, please, let’s not forget Bernie Madoff!

    Unfortunately, racism isn’t just a black/white problem. I remember when I was in the middle east how Arabs used to treat the Filipino workers. It’s really bad. I mean REALLY bad. Talk about your modern day slavery. You’ll find it there, easily. Indians were also 2nd class. Bedouin (Arabs without documentation/citizenship to any specific country) were regarded just slightly above all these peoples, but still classed below citizen Arabs. Interestingly enough, relations between ‘white’ Arabs and ‘black’ Arabs are relatively equal, particularly if they share the same sect of faith (i.e. sunni v. shiite Muslim).

    At any rate, I think before anyone puts trust in a business partner, especially with a lucrative business such as high tech, they may just want to consider more than their skin color as a pre-qualifier. I’m just sayin.

    • nillalatte

      Follow up: I caught this show late last night and saw the part about the Indian guy saying get a white man for the front guy. I also heard him tell that group of entrepreneurs something else — the perception of black people who as a whole who cry racism, slavery, under privileged, etc, as excuses for lack of success. What was interesting to me is here is a ‘minority’ man telling other ‘minorities’ his perception of black people. Individually, some may not subscribe to his perception. Others may.

      I thought about this for a while… until I faded to sleep… in that this guy, whether he’s right in his perception or wrong, has done the one thing that mattered in business. He (or the person who told him to get a white front man) identified a weakness and exploited it to his benefit. ‘Good’ business is all about exploitation of a skill or product to produce revenue. He also said that his people (Indian) see a problem they try to fix it. Hahaha… he saw the problem was racism, but he couldn’t fix that so he exploited it. Big difference.

      Question is, was it ethical for him to use that weakness to enjoy greater financial gains? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But, in reality it did work to benefit him financially and usually business minded people use whatever works to succeed (succeed = generate revenue).

      My opinion, it’s all about playing the systems that exist in our society; right, wrong, privileged, under privileged. If you recognize a system exists and you play the system, you are more likely going to to succeed than fail. When you buck the system and blatantly upset the status quo you have resistance. Though I do have ethical issues with the exploiting of race to further objectives, to deny the fact that racism exists, it has for thousands of years for many peoples, and to create success you must play the systems in society, is only setting yourself up for failure. You have the choice to play the game or be a victim of it. Very Smart (and rich) People play the game.

      • http://www.styleillusions.com WIP

        I think if we always play by the rules the game will never change. I think settling for the status-quo may be a sign of weakness; one would have to be quite brave to decide to do business one’s own way. Although I can understand the argument that, as in life, the “game” will never be fair and someone will always be shafted. Just get what you can get. I also see value in standing up for your beliefs and being a pioneer. Let someone else get stomped for a while. The greater the risk the greater the rewards I suppose.

        • Sigma_Since 93

          The way to change the game here is to pimp the current system for funding and take your product to market. Next, ensure that you and your team let all media outlets know who’s the brains behind the operations or have a buyout clause where you buy back controlling interest in your company.

      • nillalatte

        Um, yeah, my first post was erased. The comment about the site being racist was not a jab at VSB. I believe you all are still having issues with the site operating correctly. Just an observation with a bit of bad humor, apparently. My bad.

  • http://twitter.com/tylerg_thomas tgtaggie

    I thought it was a pretty interesting series. I think a lot of the black folk on the show could benefit from developing mentoring relationships with some of the higher ups. It probably will be easier to get their foot in the door.

    One more thing…I’m not the only person that lol’ed when that one black dude had a white gf named “Becky”.

    • NappyMind

      Yeah I laughed about his Becky.

  • http://blackpicket.com/ brownivyx

    To call racism “bothersome” is like saying a gunshot wound smarts. It is something I deal with every day from the moment I step outside of my home. It is something I have to step on, walk through, jump over, and more often than not, pretend I don’t notice in my daily interactions with people…along with the other burdens of chauvinism, colorism, and general ignorance. When all is said and done, in consideration of human nature, it is a rarity to find ANY person, regardless of race, who can look at you (and admit/see past their own flawed perceptions) and really see who you are; have a real conversation with you (not your image). It is an understandable realty that all extensions of human interaction: politics, business, sports, the arts will only reflect and magnify these flaws.

    I suppose it particularly frustrates me because one of the most important male figures in my life — in absencia my own biological father — was a White male. He was my mentor, groomed me in how to navigate the academic “White” World as a sheltered kid in an all-Black neighborhood. He treated me as an equal, an individual who was deserving of external opportunities that would not have been as readily available without his help…and in many ways, set a precedent that has been unmet ever since. But because I know that the possibility exists, that there are those who are truly capable of transcending racial boundaries, I naturally view those who choose not to as inferior.

  • http://iamyourpeople.com/ I Am Your People

    I didn’t watch this, and I’m pretty much done with CNN and there “The Negroes Among Us” specials. Is there a reason CNN feels the need to portray Black people like we’re some obscure Amazon tribe worthy of a National Geographic special? i just…can’t….

    • BizChick


      And the same goes for NPR, bless their hearts.