Last week, a bit of a row ensued when Tech Crunch Founder Michael Arrington appeared on a segment of a CNN special on black entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, and, under questioning by Soledad O’Brien, said “I don’t know a single black entrepreneur.”
This blogger got wind of Michael’s comments because a friend, Marco Brown, a fellow black entrepreneur who started and still runs retirement software maker Flex Soft. Marco sent a message to me via Linkedin, asking for my comments.
I had to admit I was pretty shocked that Michael said that on television. As a person who’s not a close friend of Arrington’s but does know him, and has for a few years now, I wondered what he’d been smoking that day.
So, I took to Twitter to ask Michael about it, and got the customary non-answer, answer. That’s what Michael does when he doesn’t want to deal with something in the way of an Internet argument. Can’t say I blame him, in this case.
I don’t think that Michael Arrington is racist at all, but I do think Michael was, at one point in the past, that way. From what I’ve seen, he’s grown a lot, and for whatever reason. And I have seen this in his treatment of me as a personal gauge.
When I first met him, I was introduced via a mutual friend at a party in San Francisco during Web 2.0 in 2007. My intent was to talk with him about my company Sports Business Simulations, but Michael was so off-putting at the time, I didn’t expect a call from him, and didn’t get one.
BUT. Michael did take my card and did express interest in what I was doing that evening, and that’s when he was a bit drunk. Point is, I was getting the real Michael, and at heart that person’s fascinated with startups.
See, the overall problem is that when a white person practices elitism, as Michael has done in the past, to many blacks it can come off as racism. That was true for me for a few years, until 2009 and I started a phase of hyper-blogging on SFGate.com and Zennie62.com that continues today, and also because I was showing up at tech social after tech social and being written up in blogs like ValleyWag.
On top of that, I was using my blog to deliberately try to piss off the tech socialite chics who were showing up at these events in search of white programmer-type guys, thinking they were rich.
So, with that, and just trying to run two Internet-based occupations, and an increase in blogging about tech as pop culture, I managed to get a press pass to my first TechCrunch event: The 2009 August Capital Party. That’s where I first interviewed Michael and Robert Scoble, and other people…
..and had a ton of fun. At that point, any issue of racism I may have had went away.
But even with that, I have felt invisible in the past. In the past. I don’t any more.
That’s why I was really hurt, frankly, that Michael would allow himself to say “I don’t know any black entrepreneurs,” because it brought back that outsider feeling I had in the past.
I am an entrepreneur. I’m black.
I think what this shows is that black entrepreneurs in tech are still invisible: not seen by the overall tech community UNLESS our existence becomes a news issue.
That’s on Michael, his words. He can clean that one up. It’s not a matter of being racist, but of being aware of how words can hurt people. Particularly those, like myself, who like and respect Michael.
In his blog, Uncrunched, Michael blamed CNN for not telling him what the program was really about, and then for asking the questions. But the fact is Michael said “I don’t know of a single black entrepreneur,” and regardless of what he blogs, that comment’s going to be his television-communicated meme for the SF Bay Area tech community.