Serena Williams Engaged To Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian: Black Woman In Tech, Thankfully
Serena Williams is engaged to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. First, congratulations to both Ms. Williams and Mr. Ohanian. Second, thank you, very much, Alexis for proving what I have said for some time: that the best way to end the tech diversity problem is for white men and women in tech to date blacks in, and in this case out of, tech.
Let’s face it: the tech diversity problem wasn’t just white guys selecting people who looked like them to work with, it was white women (in and out of tech) seeking out white men in tech, too. Take the classic example of Gawker’s once-favorite subject Julia Allison, who was known for her trips to tech shin-digs ostensibly to report on them, but really to allegedly hook up with a white tech guy. If you’re a black guy in tech, like me, the one constant you experienced was the silent ostracism from white women at a tech party.
(And if it wasn’t that, and you’re a black person who’s an early-adopter of tech, then it was being ignored by white tech guys at firms building social media platforms, where they didn’t place you on their suggested users list because you weren’t a rapper or an athlete. That happened to me, too – and others complained about it.)
While the good news is that the problem is less today than it was when Julia was ruling the party scene (and to be fair she took issue with my observation, even though I stood by it, still do, and it was echoed in other publications), it is still an issue as of this writing. The fact is white guys in tech as much picked out a white woman to be a part of their group, as the white woman presented herself to be a part of that group.
There are many examples of tech couples formed from a white guy in a company dating a white woman in the same organization. Some of these couples have went on to start other tech companies.
And if the woman wasn’t white, then she was Asian, and the same dynamic applied, and still does: an Asian woman seeking out a white tech guy, who in turn also wants Asian women.
This racial dynamic, much talked about but seldom covered in media, forms the under-pinning of the tech diversity problem. Who a person in a tech organization chooses to be-friend, or date, or marry, says as much for who they will seek out to hire to be a part of their firm as anything else.
And that’s why Serena Williams getting engaged to Alexis Ohanian is such a huge deal. It sends a powerful signal that blacks are part of tech. Now, everytime a Reddit event happens, there will be a large number of people wanting to get a glimpse of the couple. And when they do, the symbol of them out at a tech even together will be all that’s needed to stop the segregation that’s plagued the startup community, particularly in San Francisco.
The other powerful signal here is that no one person, man or woman, is ‘owned’ by those who share the same skin type. Thus, white women in tech can’t lay claim to white men. White men in tech can’t say that white women in tech belong to them. And black men in entertainment and athletics can’t lay claim to a black woman like Serena Williams, either.
And still another powerful signal are to Asians in tech – and specifically women: white tech guys aren’t sitting around waiting for them today as much as in years past.
While some may find my take racist, it’s not – it’s race conscious. It reflects what I’ve personally seen in the same San Francisco Bay Area Tech Community that Alexis is a part of and Serena is joining. It points to the heart of the problem of diversity in tech. Serena Williams will not necessary be a protestors of tech firms that are not diverse, but considering that she’s not silent on the problem of police killings of young black men, she just may say something that points to the need for tech to be more inclusive of blacks.
Remember, the WIRED magazine edition she guest edited in 2015? The one titled “Serena Williams helping shift diversity-bias in the tech industry”