Let’s Talk About the Afro-Tech Jay-Z describes in 4:44…

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to 4:44, you haven’t tried hard enough. You may not have a Tidal subscription but Jay’s latest album hit platinum before selling a single physical copy or distributing to other streaming networks. That means I need you to listen ASAP if not for anything but for the culture. All jokes aside, Jay-Z brought up one of my favorite topics (clearly): Afro-tech. In the song “Legacy”, he says:

“TIDAL, the champagne, D'USSÉ, I'd like to see

A nice peace-fund ideas from people who look like we

We gon' start a society within a society

That's major, just like the Negro League

There was a time America wouldn't let us ball

Those times are now back, just now called Afro-tech”

A few topic gems were touched on in these verses. I won’t get into the topic of black tech and businesses, not today at least. You can read my thoughts in one of my old posts here. But I should fess up. I was one of the ones who complained about TIDAL and didn’t wanna pay for it. Don’t judge me though, I had already paid for Spotify and I was working at a non profit living in NYC. That being said, people can change and listening to this album made me check my behavior and ask: “will I put my money where my mouth is?”

The truly interesting topic for this young black girl working in the tech is when Jay alludes to the system that is keeping most of us out it. Educational opportunities, or lack thereof, for POC are institutional, and so are the lack of tech opportunities for POC. It’s 2017 and honestly, I shouldn’t need to explain to any qualified professional why diversity matters. Accordingly, the slow awakening to the need for diversity in tech, despite proof of its value in every other industry that has diversified above the tech avg of...2% black and 3% latinx, suggests to me that POC are being kept out of the industry somewhat intentionally.

“There was a time America wouldn't let us ball

Those times are now back, just now called Afro-tech”

Despite our qualifications, we aren’t being given enough educational opportunities, investment opportunities, or hiring opportunities to make a dent in the dismally poor statistics for POC in tech. I’m not a conspiracy theorist (today), but it can feel as though those at the top are explicitly excluding us for fear of what our wealth and advancement might do. Maybe that’s not 100% true, but I can say with full confidence that part of the problem is how comfortable privileged folks are, and how they don’t feel the need to change their existing environment. Moreover, I find that white people complicit in the suppression of Afro-tech don't understand three fundamental things:

  1. You need us. I promise you having more (any?) POC in the room would have stopped that horrible mistake, Pepsi. I promise if you had asked a woman about your questions before posting them she would have told you not to, Ashton. When you come from a place of privilege you are not accustomed to stopping to consider whether or not you understand the perspective you are trying to advertise to or advocate for. Social media has contributed to this in some way: 1) people feel entitled to present themselves as subject matters experts based on articles read or posts scrolled through and 2) it’s very easy to  feel you understand the interests of the whole based on hashtag trends. I like to believe that none of my greatest accomplishments will be carried out by just me or 100% on my own. I think companies should take the same standpoint. Stop shooting yourself in the foot and hire diverse employees.  

  2. This is not a hand-out or Affirmative Action. There’s no debate to why POC are needed within any industry. If you can’t find qualified POC, evaluate your recruiting division. Qualified doesn’t mean they meet your xyz elitist standard. Let me pause here because I quite obviously meet that standard given I graduated from Harvard. But just like any person coming from a place of privilege, it’s my responsibility to call out “isms” when I see them. Elitism is fundamentally racist because every elite institution, educational or otherwise, is predominantly white and built off slavery - its labor and its wealth. Considering a candidate that does not fit the “stereotypical profile” (read: white and an Ivy league graduate) means recognizing that while the curriculum or experiences may be different, the candidates can still perform and if the candidate demonstrates the ability to “catch up” and close the gap within 6-9 months, they are qualified.

  3. Creating a space of inclusion is required and is not “extra work.” Twitter is a trip. I mean I love it and I get so much of my information on this platform. I also see a lot of “free speech” that blows my mind, including stories of people openly asking why it’s their responsibility to make women or POC feel safe if they (read: women & POC) wanted the job so badly. I have to do breathing exercises just writing about this. It is not “extra work” to create a safe space for your employees or coworkers. If companies are being graded on whether or not Women and POC feel comfortable coming to work, 100% of the people saying yes would count as “meets requirements.” Where I’m from, meets requirements is a “C.” Feeling comfortable coming to your job is a requirement of doing productive work and a requirement for job retention. If a personnel team feels overloaded in ensuring the company feels safe, you need a bigger team.

I was so close to mentioning something about reparations but I decided against it. Instead, I’ll wrap this up by saying thank you to Jay for explicitly calling it like we all see it. For the people in varying positions of power and/or privilege, we got work to do.