Touching on race as it relates to socioeconomic status and equality can be a particularly sensitive issue. Personally, I think the only way to have a true discussion about race is as authentically as possible, and I think our recent #Shift speaker Baratunde Thurston, author of How to be Black, would agree.
Closing the diversity gap in technology and technology entrepreneurship is of paramount concern.
For many, technology presently serves as the final frontier. Let’s consider how former frontiers have impacted disparities in wealth. In a very simplified history, the gold rush and land snatching early years of America created the beginning of an initial social gap, in socioeconomic status at least. This gap, of course along with slavery and other societal and governmental prejudices, fostered the continued disenfranchisement of minorities. The control of wealth by a small percent of the population helped fuel a cycle of capitalism that has slowly depleted the middle class and landed the US with one of the highest gini coefficients amongst developed nations (an economic measure demonstrating the difference between the wealthiest and poorest in a country). In other words, today technology has become the gold of the old Wild West.
Closing the diversity gap in technology is largely a proactive mission to establish minorities in a position of promise. Placed ahead of the curve, rather than trailing behind. The demographic in the tech industry as it stands today is a troubling one. “Only one percent of web-tech startups are started by African-Americans,” states Wayne Sutton partner at NewMe Accelerator in a Mashable interview. He continues describing that what really needs to happen is a mindset or culture change from finding work to creating work. Furthermore, within the tech industry, “Latinos were employed in only 5.5% of information technology jobs nationally and only 5.8% of key non-IT high technology jobs,” says the Latino Technology Alliance.
It’s this vital need for change that brings Baratunde into the conversation. Ever embracing technology, Thurston’s book incorporates the new medium of social tech thoroughly. Whether in his live-blogging-esque publishing style or the hashtags scattered throughout the book indicating “the conversation around a phrase,” Baratunde breaks down racial barriers in a refreshingly real way. He draws from massive twitter conversations, forums where everyone can state their opinion to him at his @baratunde feed. Combining ideas and building a book from conversation proves profoundly positive, as everyone who wants to can get involved with the conversation. Especially when, “Continuing the conversation,” is half the battle, according to Sutton.
Thurston is a bridge in the efforts to close the diversity gap surrounding technology, but these efforts require continued communication on all our parts. To use Baratunde’s words, communication, with the help of technology, “allows us to see ourselves in others so the other becomes less other.” Read more about Baratunde and our other #Shift speakers from #ShiftSXSW, and remember everyone can play a part in removing barriers from each other in our society.