People of color looking to break into the startup world or tech journalism will be happy to learn, per blowhard entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, that "there isn't a race wall in tech." Why, then, is tech journalism so overwhelmingly white (not to mention male)? Calacanis, who is white, isn't sure, but he has some advice: Be more like Jason Calacanis.
Calacanis, who sold a network of blogs to AOL for $25 million nine years ago before launching Mahalo, a Google-spam "search engine," spent most of his day yesterday responding to a thoughtful essay by Jamelle Bouie, a black politics and technology writer, exploring why the tech industry, and tech writing, is so white and male, even as people of color and women make up a large (in some cases the largest) share of its consumers. Bouie's conclusion is that "implicit networks"—social, educational, geographical—operating nearly invisibly, keep tech homogenous.
This rubbed Calacanis the wrong way. He tweeted at Bouie (and others) insisting that tech journalism was race-blind and meritocratic (ideas Bouie had already responded to in his essay). Calacanis' feeling was the because he'd done it—broken in to tech journalism—anyone could. (You can read the whole conversation here.)
@jbouie Do Tumblr, Wordpress or SquareSpace see color, gender or age? I think not. There is nothing stopping anyone from starting a blog.— jason (@Jason) February 4, 2013
@samfbiddle If you want to break into tech journalism you only need to blog every day for three years. there isn't a race wall in tech.— jason (@Jason) February 5, 2013
Eventually, Calacanis took it to his blog, in a post entitled "Doing the Right Things." It's a shockingly un-self-aware document, even by the low standards of tech writing; it opens with the lines "I'm a white guy so I'm not allowed to talk about race. At least that's what they tell me," and goes downhill from there.
He drops the factoid "Ninety percent of the people in Silicon Valley were not born there" as a rebuttal to the straw-man charge "Silicon Valley is in some way a closed, secret society." (Very few Bonesmen were born inside the Skull and Bones clubhouse at Yale, either.)
He jokingly apologizes to his father for the attenuation of identifiable white-ethnic identity in his mixed-race kids.
He posits that maybe those of us in the "1st world" shouldn't be allowed to talk about "inequality," because he "can't talk about race because I'm white"—to show how illogical and unfair this prohibition against white people discussing race is. (He never names or identifies the "they" who have told him that as a white person he is not allowed to discuss race.)
He describes his former employee Rafat Ali: "much darker skin than mine (brown, but not black for those obsessed with the exact tone — really?)" It is unclear whether or not this is a joke, or if he actually thinks that Bouie or his other critics are "obsessed with the exact tone" of anyone's skin.
He ends a paragraph with "boom."
He seems to conflate his advice about putting in a lot of work to build an audience with Malcolm Gladwell's idea that spending 10,000 hours at a craft will lead to mastery.
He claims to to have never "met or read [Bouie] before," which, well, Q.E.D.
"You can sit there and look backwards at the racist old-world, or you can look forward and create the new post-race world," he advises his readers. This echoes his tweets from yesterday:
. @jbouie and that sums up your problem right there. You think it can only be the system. You discount the resolve of the individual.— jason (@Jason) February 5, 2013
Silicon Valley is built on a series of myths, but none is more important than the myth that individual resolve can overcome the weight and inertia of systems. (There is someone out there right now, I guarantee you, seeking to "pivot" race, and thereby "disrupt" racism.) Calacanis and his ilk have no interest in examining the systemic effects and implicit biases that, in aggregate, result in white, male mastheads and employee lists because it might lead them to understand that their success was determined not by their talent and drive only but also by the institutional advantages of their whiteness and maleness.
Such an understanding would be dangerous to Silicon Valley, not just because it would undermine its own maverick self-image, but because it would demonstrate that there are systems and forces that no single individual can overcome, no matter how many Tim Ferriss books he's read. "The resolve of the individual" didn't make Calacanis' stint as manager of Netscape successful; it also didn't save Mahalo. It's not going to magically make Twitter or Tumblr profitable, either. Once that's understood, who's going to keep pumping capital into the valley?
So confronted yesterday with the idea that his business, his industry, his career, his successes, his sense of himself, might be founded on denial and mythology about meritocracy and individual talent, Calacanis couldn't do much more than spout platitudes:
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.— jason (@Jason) February 5, 2013
That's a Kanye West paraphrase, or, at least, the first line is. The preceding lines: "Who complains about what he is owed?/And throw a tantrum like he is 3 years old."