In a previous article, “When Tech Disrupts Black Culture,” I discussed some of the cultural barriers that may contribute to the lack of black people in tech. By blending historical thoughts on respectability and black corporate culture, I argued that tech culture contradicts the way most black people have been socialized to think about their careers.
In this article, I extend that discussion.
It Was All A Dream
When I first got involved in Silicon Valley’s tech and entrepreneurship community, something about it instantly clicked. I did not know what it was, I could not put my finger on it, but I knew there was something about it that attracted me.
I found out that I thrived in this community. The people I met were extremely smart, thought about solving some of the world’s biggest problems, and believed all of their hopes and dreams were well within their grasp. I resonated with their disregard for “being realistic,” their ambition to change the world, and their resilience in the face of doubt.
For the first time, I felt true passion for the work I could do one day.
Then, something happened.
While taking a tech entrepreneurship class at Stanford, I finally found the words to justify why I felt so at home in this space. Our professor, Tom Byers, paraphrased a definition of entrepreneurship popularized by Harvard professor, Howard Stevenson, that deeply resonated with me:
Entrepreneurship - the pursuit of a goal without regard to current resources.
To our class, entrepreneurship was not about starting a billion dollar company or reaching a liquidity event. Rather, it was about one simple idea: pursuing a goal you have no business pursuing.
In the moment I heard that definition of entrepreneurship, everything clicked. Entrepreneurship became something tangible to me, something that I could reach out and grasp. While it was difficult to fathom what it meant to run a world-changing organization, it was easy to understand a pursuit. Based on that definition, I came to an important realization:
my entire life had been an entrepreneurial journey.
Time and time again, I lacked the resources to justify my pursuits. Sometimes that pursuit was figuring out how our family would eat dinner without money in the house. Other times, it was envisioning myself in a place outside of my 5 block radius. My life was filled with these scenarios where I just had to figure shit out, and that is why I felt so intensely about the industry.
When I took a step back and looked at the bigger picture, I thought about all the people with similar narratives. I was not the only person who was forced to figure things out from a young age, nor was I the only person who pursued big goals in spite of having limited resources. I realized that, if framed the right way, people like me may resonate with some of the same ideas that struck a chord with me.
Undoubtedly, all groups of people have their own stories of overcoming. Everyone, in some aspect of their person, faces challenges unique to their experience that others may not relate to.
But as a people, the one commonality that links black people across the entire diaspora is this narrative of a pursuit. Whether you are talking about black Americans who fought for fair opportunities during the Old Jim Crow Era, Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian leader who led the only successful slave revolt in human history (not that he needs validation, but Ben Horowitz takes leadership lessons from him), or South Africans who overcame apartheid, “pursuing goals without regard to current resources” has been fundamental to the narrative of what it means to be black on this planet.
And therein lies the irony of Silicon Valley’s diversity issues:
the most marginalized groups of people, who exhibit the exact characteristics that predicate success in the Valley, remain a persistent anomaly.
The tech community prides itself on ideas like “be lean” (do more with less), “survive,” and “adapt quickly”. Yet, these are skills that black people learn as a direct result of our marginalized existence in this world.
Once I realized I just had to translate the pursuits of my life into a professional context, I saw I could do anything in this industry. Once I realized we just had to translate the pursuits of our history into a professional context, I saw that we could do anything in this industry.
I believe that as more people come to that realization, we may start to tell a different story about diversity in the Valley.
Truth be told, we were made for this shit.