Breaking Brown

October 29, 2011

limiting opportunity in silicon valley; michael arrington’s forgetting problem

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the firestorm set off by Soledad O’Brien’s interview of blogger turned investor Michael Arrington:


The twitterstorm that followed has surely damaged relationships on both sides of the issue.

My initial thought was that this wasn’t about image or proximity (“I don’t know a single black entrepreneur”), but that it was, and is, about competitive advantage. When you parse through the history of the world, especially as it relates to people of color, powerful countries and people have always secured their interests by rationalizing and justifying behavior that locks minorities out of life, liberty, and/ or opportunity. This is their STANDARD for doing business. Whether in King Leopold’s Congo, France’s equatorial territory, Germany’s Nambia, or in America’s newfound land, superiority is always used as an excuse for exclusion.  It’s always about what the privileged class didn’t know and what they will apologize for 100 years later. Saying that you don’t know a black entrepreneur lays the groundwork for a mostly white, mostly male, tech scene. It’s a strategy for limiting access.

That was my initial response. Since then, Arrington has blogged his side of the story, rife with accusations of muckraking and trickery. Here’s Arrington in his own words:

In fact, CNN went to great lengths to hide the truth about the topic of the interview, as you can see from their email above.

So I sit down in the chair, with lights on me from everywhere and Soledad in my face and she starts asking me why there aren’t any black entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

It took me a while to catch up.

Very early in the interview she asked me to name my favorite black entrepreneur. I thought about it, and I drew a complete blank. Nothing. So I answered honestly. “I don’t know a single black entrepreneur,” I said.

See, my brain database doesn’t categorize people in terms of skin color. Or hair color. Or sexual orientation. When I queried that database, under stressful circumstances, I got zero results.

The interview went on for 45 minutes or so after that, and I amended my statements. I talked about Clarence Wooten, the CEO of Arrived. Wooten has been my friend since the mid 90?s, and I was his lawyer for his first startup, a wildly successful company that made Wooten rich. I’ve followed his career and I’m now a shareholder in Arrived. And tons of other friends and acquaintances who are black popped into my head as well.

CNN has apparently edited most of that out. Or at least they’re not highlighting it along with the gotcha statement.

My first thought is, what’s with all the shock and awe over  CNN not disclosing their agenda and editing the tape to suit their promotions angle?! Is that news, really? If I’m interviewing you about your clown phobia, I probably wouldn’t approach you from that angle. I’d probably contact you under the pretense of discussing growing up in the south, or some other such nonsense, and then come in through the back door. Why? Because folks have their guard up as it relates to predefined topics.

And let’s be honest here, it took Arrington to the end of the interview to rethink and amend his previous statement. At no point did his brain, as he was saying that he didn’t know a single black entrepreneur, shout, “hey, hey! that can’t be right!” My guess is that Arrington was covering himself because he’d gotten a whiff of what Soledad was cooking.

If Arrington were smarter, and less arrogant, he would already have apologized. He offhandedly, and rather dismissively, said that he knows no black entrepreneurs when in fact, if you believe his amended story, he knows several.

At the end of Arrington’s article, he references the following tweet:

Michael Arrington tweet





Yeah, Arrington not only knows black entrepreneurs but funds them. Damn shame he couldn’t remember that when it mattered.



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