Racism and Meritocracy (Engineers Don't Blog)

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By Hadiyah Mujhid (Co-Founder, Black Founders) It was never my intention to write about racism and meritocracy. Mainly, because I hate “talk” and prefer to “do”. Not saying that “talk” and discussion isn’t helpful, but its never been my thing, I “do”. So it slightly pains me to add to the “talk” with another blog post about racism and meritocracy.

First, my opinion on the media frenzy (CNN Black In America, Arrington, etc) that has taken place in the last month. Honestly, many of the points covered, (in blog posts and interviews), miss the mark and are shameful attempts for media coverage. However, like the rest of America, I tuned in. Which, I guess, was the only positive outcome, visibility to a problem.

A couple of my favorite articles on this race and meritocracy debate include Tristan’s interview with CNNMoney and Scoble’s thoughts on Black In America. The most hurtful piece I read was Arrington’s post on racism. Mainly because I have a lot of respectful for Arrington and his contributions to the tech community. But his post really revealed the lack of understanding of the problem, and instead focused too much on verbal daggers in some form of retaliation.

So, what has me eager to add my two cents? I just read Eric Ries’ “okay” post on TC titled Racism And Meritocracy. Again, I have a lot of respect for Ries and his contributions to the tech community, but I believe most people fail to see the root problem.

First, this is America. The country which was founded on liberty and equality, then implemented a system of slavery and inequality. Yes, no one wants to talk about our country’s origins, it always makes someone uncomfortable. But we have to deal with the fact that this country has a foundation of inequality. Yes, we have made great progress towards equality, but we have not arrived. So, how do you have a conversation about meritocracy, when this country can not guarantee education equalities. And the lack of educational inequality largely impacts minorities. I believe that there ARE opportunities in the United States to overcome a place of inequality. But most of minority america does not believe it. Couple this with natural behaviorial pattern recognition equals dangerous cycle of inequality.

How do we break this cycle of inequality? First, to those who represent the part of america that isn’t traditionally disadvantaged. Just be aware that we (all humans) have cultural biases naturally. Understand what that may mean for you and your cultural background. It may mean that you see a young white or asian male, computer science major and think genius. It may mean that you think the female in the office must work in hr or finance. Basically just be aware, and in every attempt, challenge your natural bias. In addition, support organizations whose mission addresses the issue of inequality. (For those in tech startups, shameless plug for Black Founders, NewME, and Women 2.0)

My second piece of advice goes to those who represent traditionally disadvantaged america. This is OUR problem. Our problem, not because we’re in this alone, but OUR problem because it ultimately impacts and hurts us the most. We know that we live in a place of inequality, yes sad, but true, so let’s pull ourselves up and break this cycle. How? By doing and being better. It is culturally known in some African American circles that being good isn’t good enough, you have to be the best. Yes, its unfair, but we’ve already talked about that. We do, do better, and reach back to others to inform them of the same. This is my personal manifesto. In addition, we have to be the face of our own success, so that others may see. (Re: post on Black Zuckerberg)

The wrapup: racism and meritocracy is the age-old problem in america. It’s not exclusive to tech, silicon valley, or startups, they just happen to have the media spotlight right now. There is not an overnight solution to this problem. The problem is systematic, and people have been working on the solution since the beginning. So, we should continue to work the solution for continual progress in the hopes of equality. Now its back to ‘do’.

This post was originally posted at Hadiyah Mujhid's blog.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Hadiyah Mujhid is an entrepreneur and software engineer currently working on early stage startups in San Francisco. She co-runs Black Founders, an organization that promotes diversity in the startup ecosystem. Hadiyah blogs at Hadiyah.me. Follow her on Twitter at @hadiyahdotme.