[EDITOR'S NOTE: Angela Benton is the founder of BlackWeb 2.0 and the new web business developer for Black entrepreneurs, the NewMe Accelerator. InteractiveOne, the parent company of NewsOne, is a supporter of the NewMe, and has given this platform to Ms. Benton to respond to a growing controversy about a preview of an upcoming episode of CNN's "Black In America" series that covers NewMe's recent program in Silicon Valley. In the preview, TechCrunch founder and former editor Michael Arrington says that he "doesn't know a single Black entrepreneur" in Silicon Valley. That sparked a flurry of social media outrage at Arrington, and more back and forth. Here now we present Ms. Benton's response.]
See Also: Black In America 4 Exclusive Trailer
You know that I must have a lot on the brain if I’m coming out of hiatus from writing.
I just wanted to address a few things, mainly because I feel like the potential for overwhelmingly negativity associated with being black in technology (and in silicon valley) is looming. When we were organizing the NewME Accelerator we got an enormous amount of positive support about the mission and people really stepping up to the plate. There were a few bad apples but I make it a habit not to pay attention to those. Those that supported were people who likely hadn’t heard about me or the work that I have been doing for the past 4 years here. Just about everyone we contacted wanted to be involved which was great. The success rate for gaining both sponsorship and mentorship was off the charts. Not only that, living in the house with the Founders and being able to experience their ups and downs, my own, and their growth has been one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my life. That said I’ve kinda been on Cloud 9 since we began this thing. That is until now.
I feel grateful that we are able to share the experiences of the Founders and the program on such a huge platform like CNN. It seemed that they really got what we were trying to do and the people involved with it’s production were beyond cool. But, they are here to do a job… and that job is to make good TV. Before I go on let me note that I haven’t seen the documentary yet so some of you have a leg up on me. However, what I do know is a lot of the back story which nearly all of you don’t. Having someone film you everyday and debrief you… on camera… even about the minutia of your day is enlightening to the process of how traditional media works. There is no way any of that could possibly be captured in a 40 min documentary. That said HUNDREDS of hours of footage were captured. They interviewed Mike Arrignton, if I remember correctly, for 3 hours or so. What you are seeing or will see is a sliver of his interview, mine, others interviews, and the stories of the Founders. I have to go on record to say that I don’t think Mike Arrington is a racist. And when I first read his comments I took them as him being excited to put someone on stage NOT that it was some sort of act of affirmative action. [Disclosure: The person he was referring to on stage was Clarence Wooten and his new start-up Arrived. Clarence has been a long time friend and advisor at Black Web 2.0. I also am a supporter of Arrived and have an equity stake it in.] While I do think it was a bad choice of words (clown show comment) that doesn’t make him a racist. It makes him unprepared to answer questions that often have a bad way of going south. I made the same mistake this summer, the only difference is I got several opportunities to clarify on camera. While I’ve only met him once I am a fan of his work and don’t know him to be a liar. I wholeheartedly agree with what Hank Williams, a participant in NewME this summer recently wrote (Note: Hank has seen the doc):
Mike said a few very clear things about his view of the state of diversity in Silicon Valley.
- its true that there are very few African-Americans in Silicon Valley
- despite this, Silicon Valley is a pure meritocracy
- you become successful because you have a “big brain”
First, let me say, I think Mike truly believes everything that he has said about the tech world being a meritocracy. Lots of people believe that.
But I do not believe Silicon valley is a meritocracy. I would more properly say that tech *markets* are a meritocracy. There are very few businesses where a single individual in her bedroom can create a piece of software that can potentially touch millions of people without any additional capital. No matter how talented you are, if you want to open a hot new restaurant or a shoe factory, you need lots of money before you start. Not necessarily so with software.Consumers and businesses, for the most part, don’t care what the ethnicity of their software or Internet service vendors are. Users want solutions. And so if an entrepreneur can get a great product completed cheaply, in many cases they can compete on totally even footing. Even if they ultimately need capital, explosive initial success knocks down all known barriers.
But the market *makers* operate in a world that is not particularly even-handed. The market makers are the folks that help new young companies and entrepreneurs by providing insight, mentoring, capital, and relationships. And this part of the tech world is driven by all the same types of biases that exist in the non-tech world. And it is *much* harder for even the most talented African Americans in the tech world to gain access to influential, insightful, connected mentors, let alone investors.
Please read Hank’s full commentary, it’s a great read.
It’s clear there is a problem with race in the technology industry, if there weren’t we’d see more diverse Founders and success stories. And to say that it is based on merit alone you may as well go ahead and say that those not represented today are incapable of producing great companies… we all know that isn’t true. But to make 1 person out to be a racist and that represents the whole industry is something that is distrubing and I don’t agree with. Not only that, to see so many people that I respect online gravitate to such a small portion of the documentary and literally overshadow all the positivity of the program and what the Founders are doing is disgusting. It also hurts the program. My vision for the program was always to give minorities a way to learn from EVERYONE who had means to teach and had been successful in their own right. But what people don’t realize is race IS such a charged conversation that those that aren’t minorities don’t want to labeled as racist, sexist, agist, etc. and often times tip toe around giving really great feedback that can help someone to avoid being labeled this way. I saw that first hand this summer and THIS HELPS NO ONE.
Lets go back to basics… what the documentary is showing is a story. Every story needs to have a beginning, an end, a plot, and antagonist, and a protagonist among other things. And in this day in age with reality TV dominating air waves it’s inevitable that any programming will always include some drama as well.
Let’s all look beyond the drama and the carrot that is dangling in front of us and get to work. Let’s kick some ass and build great products, launch great products, be great Founders, and continue to do so so that no one can deny you anything. And after that lets give back and make it easier for those who will come after you. I know that myself and others are committed to do all that we can to make sure that those that aren’t represented today are represented tomorrow and have the resources (funding, mentors, knowledge, and a network) to succeed.