In a recent preview screening of a documentary called Black in America 4:
Blogger-turned-investor Michael Arrington ignited a controversy with his comments about the visibility of minority-led companies. In the documentary, which airs November 13, Arrington talked about his difficulties finding African-American entrepreneurs to launch their ventures at his TechCrunch Disrupt conference… “His startup’s really cool. But he could’ve launched a clown show on stage, and I would’ve put him up there, absolutely,” Arrington said. “I think it’s the first time we’ve had an African-American [be] the sole founder.”
This remark was apparently interpreted as meaning Arrington didn’t care about the founder’s merit – just his race. I don’t read this quote the same way – I think he’s saying he doesn’t care if it’s tech-relevant, he would still like to fund an African American startup of any sort whatsoever, which to me is very different. But maybe there was some context the article failed to convey. In any case, let’s go with the way it was interpreted and assume it was reasonable, because that’s not what I wanted to debate. A Twitter eruption followed:
“I don’t want to be funded b/c I’m a woman, and I certainly don’t want ppl to believe that’s why I’m funded,” wrote Katrina Stevens, co-founder of LessonCast, a training website for teachers.
Now, if you follow the link to the article, you’ll find no end of stuff to discuss, because Arrington (a white man) goes on to insist there is no gender or race discrimination at Silicon Valley, and a number of people actually in a position to answer that question say he’s wrong and talk about ways they’ve worked around it (one hired a white man to be his spokesperson). There’s a lot of absurdity.
But what I want to talk about is the above quote by Katrina Stevens. Is it wrong to receive positive discrimination? Should we eschew it and struggle to make it on our own, often with less resources than men get even if we have twice the brains?
I say no, because for years, white men were the recipients of positive discrimination. Employers refused to hire anyone but white men; schools refused to educate anyone but white men and boys; many organizations proved they were willing to accepted the least qualified white guys on the planet before they would hire a woman or minority. It was just normal for so long that we forget it’s really the same thing as affirmative action, but applied to a majority instead of a minority.
If a majority like white guys didn’t shy away in shame or for fear of public ridicule from getting through life on their skin color and gender, should we? I have to admit, no one has ever offered me something just for being female, so I can’t say for sure what that feels like. Perhaps there’s something about the experience that would cause me to reject it (say, a sense they’re trying to use me and figure I’m vulnerable). But in principle, I say white men have enjoyed this for centuries, so there’s nothing unfair about everyone else getting a little for a few decades.