I Have A Dream ~ Equal Opportunity And The American Dream In The Silicon Valley
I HAVE A DREAM… I have a dream that all people will have access to fair employment and their desired standard of living, that all people will treat each other with love and respect, that all people will see each other as they really are and not through the eye of hate, stereotypes and misinformation. That all people will treat each other as equals as we go about our day-to-day lives… I Have A Dream!
It’s 2011 and I can tell you within my lifetime I’ve personally experienced what racism has to offer for the African-American here in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. As a youngster growing up in Berkley, Oakland, San Francisco, Stockton and Daily City I can tell you what it feels like to have someone tell you “we don’t allow any niggers here”. I can tell you what it feels like to have someone tell my mom “get those niggers out of here”. Coming from a mixed marriage (mom white, dad black) I can tell you, with all good intention, my mom entered a mixed marriage and found way more then she expected on her plate; eventually leading to her seeing myself and my younger brother through the fearful eyes of her community – we became throwaway children like so many in our neighborhoods ending up in juvenile hall and foster homes as young teenagers.
Had it not been for a wonderful teacher and mentor at Edison high school in Stockton California I might be still caught up in the system. Through his connections I came out to San Jose Job Corps where I went to Heald Technical Institute and started a 20+ year career in the Silicon Valley. When I started work there was lots of opportunity out here and there were laws in place that kept Equal Opportunity at the forefront of employer’s minds. As I started my rise into the engineering departments at companies in the Silicon Valley I quickly realized that I was most often the only one; occasionally there was another or a token. I became a senior consultant helping whole engineering teams resolve problems that PHD’s couldn’t solve. Educating whole departments on design, debug, process and methodology – at every company on every project, sooner or later there was a hater, someone who was uncomfortable with a black man as a coworker.
I’ve consulted for companies such as Sun Micro Systems, Dolch Computing, Network Appliance and Juniper Networks to name a few. At first I perceived that the racism I was experiencing was a company thing but as I’ve embarked on a path of personal growth I’ve come to believe it’s an individual thing associated with people. From an employees perspective your boss and coworkers are your world; their personal beliefs will define the experience you have within the company. One of the things that became apparent to me working in the Silicon Valley is; it’s not a matter of if you will experience racism from an individual, it’s a matter of when you will experience racism and if that individual has the power to affect your job.
Recently president Obama met with Silicon Valley business men to discuss how they can improve employment conditions. Did they discuss racism and the fact that if you are East Indian, Asian or Caucasian you will be embraced by the Silicon Valley network known as the technical community? In the 80’s African Americans had a network of technical people built up at IBM and a few other companies. Like the laws of that era those networks have been eroded and displaced. If this is my experience after a 20+ year career in the Silicon Valley what are other people struggling with in other parts of the country? To those people who can make a difference I hope we can get together and build a better community. America has been the pillar of development and ingenuity, let’s keep the dream alive!
Question; are we in need of better “Equal Opportunity” laws to ensure fair employment in our community? Because of the personal fortitude and great contributions from people like Dr Martin Luther King Jr, The Kennedy’s, Malcolm X, Minister Luis Farrakhan and many others we are one of the most divers communities in the world. Let’s do unto others as we would have done to ourselves… Stay tuned for our multipart series called “Racism in America” were we’ll talk to Americans who have been directly affected and connected. Peace and respect…
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Image: Anji Clark