Yesterday I wandered across an article profiling 32 of the hottest Startup CEOs. The CEOs were ranked based on buzz, how much money their company raised this year, and how frequently they’ve been in the news. I was excited to read the list mainly because as a northern California baby, start-ups and technology have always been a part of the world I lived in — and now, anyone can have an app idea that could be worth millions. I read the first few people and found myself impressed with how innovative and creative these people had been. At the end of each CEO’s page would be a number noting how much they had raised for their venture in US dollars, and many have found themselves plenty of hungry investors looking to cash in on the next Snapchat or Tinder. It was all very captivating until around number 26 or 27, when I realized I hadn’t seen a single black face. I flipped quickly through the remaining CEO’s and found myself shocked, and angry – not a single African-American had made the list.
With the recent verdicts in the Ferguson and Eric Garner cases sparking national outrage, my newsfeed has been commandeered with angry black voices rife with sadness and calls for justice. Our “post-racial” society, so united after President Obama took office almost 6 years ago, has crumpled and left in its place a distrust of law enforcement in major cities all across the county. My own mother wrote “it hurts like hell that our young black men are being killed in he streets.” I hear her pain and, in so many ways, I hear a community mourning the unfairness of it all; but in my opinion the problem has less to do about justice, and more to do about access. In other words, could Eric Garner and Michael Brown have found different fates if young african-american children saw faces that looked like theirs on a list of hottest CEO’s? Would their dreams and ambitions be different? Bigger?
Instead of young entrepreneurs we have Oprah, Jay-Z & Beyonce, and with the popularity of Shondaland on ABC (the production company of Shonda Rhimes, the highest paid african-american writer currently in Hollywood), now Kerry Washington and Viola Davis. Currently there are 6 African-American CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies making up for about 1.2% of all Fortune 500 heads. Meanwhile African-Americans make up 8% of Congress, our largest legislative body that currently sits at 530 members. While finding a white man guilty of killing a black man may bring temporary justice, is the black community – my community – missing the big picture? Would our time be better spent focusing on affecting change, breaking barriers, and leading by example?
We oftentimes forget that the Civil Rights movement wasn’t that long ago, that the struggle to gain equality and access to the same things as whites for a better generation is only a few generations gone. There is work still to be done, and by focusing all of our attention on justice we’re arguably sacrificing progress and focus on other areas. The fact is, there are clearly some major injustices and mind-bogglingly unfair events that have taken place. Protesting is of course a great and actionable method of expressing displeasure in an effort for real change, but becoming threateningly angry and creating a narrative that suggests rioting and civil unrest will do nothing but set us back in a major way. The thing that makes me really angry was seeing that list of hottest CEO’s (all between the ages of 25 – 35), and seeing not even one African-American represented. That’s something we can fix, something we can change.
“Hand’s up, don’t shoot” has started an unquestionably historically important movement. While the black community was busy retracing familiar steps, our counterparts are achieving things that will change the face of how we do business, how we get news, how we connect with people, and how we engage in a global economy. That is what we’re up against. We’re missing the boat, and allowing our actions to be decided by emotions from tragic events and wrongful verdicts. We’re missing the bigger picture if we fight for justice instead of for access. Let’s put ourselves in a position to instill permanent, lasting change.