An Open Letter to Usenix Commending Their Commitment to Black People

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I was doing some research off to the side when I stumbled upon the '' website. There's nothing specific that I was looking for on the site, but I did happen to notice an announcement at the top of the page related to Usenix's commitment to black people - so I clicked on the link, bracing myself for potential disappointment.

However, much to my surprise, I was extremely pleased with what I found. To give a brief backdrop, I am a black person. I was born in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States and every member of my family (on both sides) is black as well. I have a black wife and my child is black as well.

Racism is obvious, so I won't even touch on that here. We all know the country we're living in. However, what i do want to mention is the tech space's racism. The irony of it is that it has been masked in supposed "anti-racist" efforts. What I mean by that is that, after George Floyd's public execution was caught on tape and shared around the world, we started seeing the '#BlackLivesMatter' hashtag not only being spread all over social media, but on the face of various tech websites as well (this is particularly popular in Silicon Valley).

As a black person, I found this off (since most of these firms hadn't previously expressed an interest in anything to do with black people), but I'm old enough and perhaps cynical enough to accept the fact that mainstream society generally views this type of support as positive. Again, this is a fact I accept - it doesn't bother me beyond what it would take to make you roll your eyes from time to time.

What does bother me is the fact that tech companies have began spreading this pervasive, harmful narrative that the lack of diversity in tech (specifically black participation), is not a fault of the tech space but rather of society. Specifically, many tech leaders have stated (implicitly and explicitly) that racism is a factor that has contributed to the absence of black faces in tech, but only due to its supposed residual impact on black communities. They then jump from this premise to the idea that most black people are not in the position to apply competitively with whites and others (Asians) for some of the more lucrative / powerful positions in tech.

Thus, the message from tech in 2020 has essentially been: "Yes, we agree there should be more black people in tech. However, due to slavery, systemic racism, KKK, [fill-in-the-blank], there just simply aren't enough educated black applicants out there. If there were, then, no doubt, we'd hire them! But they're all either slinging dope, in jail/prison, or welfare. We don't mean that in a bad way! After all, it isn't their fault they're so stupid, incompetent, tech-illiterate and inferior to virtually any and all other white/Asian applicants applying for a position here, its racism's fault. Therefore, we're going to introduce them to lower tier jobs and internships [vs. CEO / C-suite roles], and we'll throw some money toward some random impoverished inner city commuinty that will allow us to take photos of us visiting the 'hood thta we can put on the cover of a pamphlet at one of our prententious annual conferences next year!"

As you can imagine, not only am I offended, I'm angered - because the narrative simply isn't true. And in my opinion, this philosophy is exponentially more harmful than any other openly racist rhetoric that you'll hear today because someone sreaming, "Nigger!" or saying something like, "Blacks have a lower IQ!", will quickly be disregarded by any decent, halfway-respectable individual in public discourse. We all know that's "bad" to say and that it isn't "right" to think that.

However, this narrative put forth by Silicon Valley is a clever (yet malicious) backdoor to this type of thinking that allows it to once again creep up and pervade public discourse.

It perpetuates the idea that, yes, black people are inferior. But its okay for us to acknowledge and say that because we've given them a viable excuse for being inferior underperformers (specifically on an intellectual level), and - of course - we're not racist because we're going to pledge some trivial amount of money to a random fund / cause / community as the 'cherry on top' to remove all doubt.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with my feelings. Nobody has to like me or even black people. I respect everyone's right to feel how they want about whoever they want - whether I personally consider those reasons to be legitimate or not. The issue here is that this narrative has created absolute inertia in areas where there should be urgent action. Rather than applying extraordinary pressure on tech firms for their failure to hire and include black people in their organizations, society has essentially let them off the hook. Scott-free.

And the only way that can be possible in a world where we have everyone and their mothers screaming '#BlackLivesMatter' is if we've managed to somehow convince the greater public (specifically those claiming to passionately advocate for black rights), that the disparity is due to incompetence versus the reality.

The Reality

The reality is ugly. The reality is that there are plenty of qualified black people. Probably a decent amount that are more qualified than the white or Asian candidate that beat them out for a job.

They just aren't in the position of that white / Asian counterpart because they were simply rejected due to their skin color. Full stop.

I've mused about this phenomenon for quite some while, and have come to realize that there is a strong movement in this country (among whites that either conservative or liberal), to "move on from the past". Whether that be through more crude pleas such as, 'Get over it, already, slavery happened years ago!' or unsolicited declarations such as, 'i don't see any color' (as if invalidating someone's unique identity is a wholesome alternative to not mistreating them for it) or 'Change Now!' posters pasted on the bumper sticker of a college kid's Prius at Berkeley - theme is the same.

"Let's adopt X solution / way of thinking about this so that we can be done with it and move on."

And with that yearning comes a tendency (whether purposeful / conscious or not) to avoid accepting, stating, or embracing realities that undermine the idea of "how far we've come as a nation".

What I described above about the denial of black applicants and would-be black CEOs of tech startups that have been denied venture capital under the same ideals is something that would most likely undermine most of white America's ideals about "where we are as a nation".

Therefore, I commend USENIX's public pledge to not just "support" black people but actually support black people.

I can't speak for all folks, but I can say - for me personally - I'm tired of the symbolic bullshit (pardon the language). I don't care if the words 'master' and 'slave' are flipped to 'parent' and 'child'. In fact, I'm annoyed that such a change was even made now because I didn't even consciously perceive those words (within the context of tech) to be allusions to the plantation dynamic. But now that its been mentioned...I do.

I also still don't care. It does nothing for me.

Seeing '#BlackLivesMatter' does nothing for me.

What I want is a way in. I went to a 4-year university at a reputable institution and, as eye opening and mind expanding as my experience there was, I always tell people that I was never consciously aware of being black until I got there. In other words, i never walked in a room and consciously thought about how others might be perceiving me before I went to that university. I never before felt the pressure to be one of the best / most contributive group members whenever we were assigned to be in one for a class project to offset the inherent assumption that I was going to be the dumbass / lazy kid of the group just there to ride everyone else's coattails.

And in that experience (as well as many others subsequently), I've been able to feel the weight of racism in parts of our society that many often assume would be immune to it. And for me personally, that's what affects me the most.

Sure, being shot by a cop in the street or mistreated by law enforcement sucks. But that's a reality I grew up with. I was never under the illusion that cops were my friends or that I was going to get a fair shake in the justice system. This is as much a part of the black experience as you having a grandparent that faithfully goes to church every Sunday (if you're black & reading this and this doesn't describe you, that's cool - we're not a monolith and you don't have shit to prove to anyone).

One thing I didn't get braced for was the slow sickening realization that all of those jobs you didn't get after you could've swore you murdered the job interview and met everything they were looking for on their job listing might be because you're black. Those opportunities that nobody told you about that may have really helped you get further in life didn't get shared because you were black and the default assumption is that you don't have that kind of aptitude to make use of something like that. Nobody told some of my peers at the university I went to were genuinely under the belief that me simply being there and being from Baltimore and being black could only be true if the university loosened its academic requirements for applicants (SAT scores / GPA) for the sole sake of diversity (because there's no way you "legitimately" got there).

And these things hurt us the most. Because they stop us from getting to that next tier where we can be self-sufficient.

Yes, I said self-sufficient. And the reason why I said it is because this country has made it clear that's how it has to be. Otherwise, there wouldn't be people running around screaming, '#BlackLivesMatter'.

People think that slogan means that our lives matter in the sense that society should be outraged when hearing about casualties of black men at the hands of the police. But that's not what the original meaning of that phrase is. I'm not sure where it came from (honestly), but the first time I heard it was in 2011. My African American studies teacher said it in class. But not within the context of a black shooting, but rather after going off about a stream of things that we have to deal with that others simply don't.

I think the Flint Michigan issue had popped up in the news already. We talked a bit about Hurricane Katrina and how long help took to get there. The condition that some of the Detroit schools were in among other things. And at some point after going down that list, he paused, and he said, "Do you know why these things are like that? Its simple. Its because the life of a black person does not matter in this country."

The statement actually shocked me back then because I had never heard someone say something like that. Remember, when Kanye West said George Bush (just one human being) "doesn't care about black people", this statement was seen as so inflammatory, contrary, and controversial that the broadcast immediately switched from him to another studio. Looking back - based on the reaction of his white co-host (who opened his mouth in shock when he said that), as well as the quick switch over to another studio camera no less than 4 seconds after Kanye had uttered those words from his mouth - we know that such an idea must've been considered inherently ludicrous. So much so to the point where they felt Kanye was liable to do or say virtually anything at that point.

So in 2011, hearing that from my teacher in an academic setting (at a predominantly white institution) surprised me. But then I thought about it. And I mean I mulled it over for a solid 5-10 minutes after he said it and realized he was right.

And in that statement, he exposed to me another form of racism that this country has yet to acknowledge. Apathy.

Apathy is different than an explicit racial hatred. We've classically come to define racism as something along the lines of "nigger", crosses burning in your backyard, Dylan Roof, confederate flags, the picture of the two water fountains with the sign over one of them that says "coloreds only" that's clearly in way worse condition than the water fountain that says "whites only", nazis, and some other flagrantly offensive, extremely overt acts of disrespect and/or violence.

However, this idea of apathy being racist is still somehow going unnoticed.

Now to be clear, I'm not proposing that people run around "loving" black people. As I stated before, one is entitled to feel the way they want. But if there are individuals that are concerned with the state of "society" or improving America that do not factor in the condition of black people in their vision of an improved country, they are inherently racist.

If there are people that consider the lives of white people lost in random acts of violence (i.e., school shooting, Las Vegas shooter), to be a terrible national tragedy, yet turn around and speak with casual indifference when hearing about the same number of black lives lost to some act of violence (regardless of who the fuck did it ; black or white), that - to me - is racist.

When "black on black crime" is brought up as though its some sort of phenomenon to be adjudicated and resolved by the "black community" solely, whilst national trends like opioid addictions plaguing tens of millions of adults in the United States (most of them white & in middle America) is considered a crisis despite the fact that all of the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing and dispensing these addictive drugs are ran by white people is racist (interesting how no one has ever described this as 'white on white crime' or shamed the drug companies in the same way as "dope peddlers" from the '80's).

These are just the end of my thoughts; maybe I'll continue them one day - maybe I won't ; take them for what they are