While walking among the 2,700 technology companies and hundreds of thousands of participants at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show two weeks ago, it became evident to me that there were very few African-Americans in the crowd. The majority of blacks I met at the event did not actively work as creative engineers or computer scientists for any of the companies. Most worked as journalists or bloggers reporting on the conference or as marketing and sales professionals; and even in those positions, African Americans were few and far between.
I immediately asked myself, “Who is to blame for this apparent lack of black representation at one of the mainstay conferences meant to inform and prepare the world about the technologies that will shape our future?” Unfortunately, the answer seems obvious. At this point in history, we as a community can blame no one but ourselves. The majority of us have become so enamored with consuming technology that we aren’t making a serious effort to be involved in creating and producing it.
If this phenomenon of black invisibility had taken place 10 or 20 years ago, I would be quick to attribute it to racism. And believe me, I do not underestimate the role that subtle, institutional racism still plays in making African- Americans feel out of place and inferior within the halls of academia, in computer science and engineering, or even perhaps on the HR roles at Google and Facebook.
In my opinion, though, the problem is now more so rooted in our parenting. Black parents are raising a generation of financially and educationally underpowered wimps, who’ve become experts at mastering the inconsequential. That may sound harsh, but look at the facts.
How can it be that African American youth spend 50% more time with entertainment media than whites, but the achievement gap between whites and blacks is almost equal to three grade levels. The majority of black students can’t even get to the upper echelons in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers to prove or disprove that racism exists there because most are struggling to pass algebra, biology, and physics in high school.
With the exception of Hispanic and Asian households, African American households spend more money annually on consumer electronics than whites, according to data gathered by the Consumer Electronics Association (And keep this in mind: African American households have the lowest median household income of all races while Asian Americans had the highest). With all the money we spend on consumer electronics you might think we were running gangbusters behind the scenes as computer scientists, software developers, and engineers. Yet, blacks play little to no part in developing the technologies that we love to spend our money on.
Some people think it’s a victory, that African Americans get more use out of their cell phones than any other race. But my colleague Robin Goode asked me the other day, “How can a race of people who have the highest unemployment rate and lower salaries than any other racial group on all levels of education” afford to purchase more cell phones and collect more data charges than the rest of the country. “What [Blacks] are spending is disproportionate to what we are making,” she said.