Digital Revolution Is Leaving Black Americans Behind

Black Americans are frequent users of technology, and have helped build social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram into the giants they are today. But they aren’t reaping the same economic benefits of the tech boom as white Americans, and low rates of black employment in the tech industry are a large part of the reason why.

A new study released on Friday sheds light on this issue. The State of Black America 2018, a report published annually by the National Urban League, compares how black and white people fare in a number of areas, including housing, economics, education, social justice, and civic engagement.

This year’s report pays particular attention to black Americans’ access Digital Revolution is Leaving Black People Behind to jobs in the tech industry and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The study reveals that while black people are one of the racial groups most likely to use smartphones and have created thriving communities on platforms like Twitter, those high rates of usage haven’t translated into employment.

“And this is largely because the tech industry has failed to hire black STEM grads and transition them into careers in Silicon Valley, where many of these jobs are basedIn the vast majority of [social media and tech] companies, fewer than five percent of the workforce is African American,” the authors of the report note. “By contrast, at least half of the workforce in these companies is white.Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, notes that this isn’t new — black Americans have repeatedly been left behind when America’s technology makes a leap forward, be it when slavery and Reconstruction blocked black people from the benefits of farming technology, or when technological revolutions in the North were less accessible to poor black people fleeing the South. Over generations, the effect of this lack of inclusion has compounded, leading us to the disparities that exist today.

And, as the report indicates, none of this happens in a vacuum. When black workers are shut out of higher-income jobs, like in tech, it adds to the already significant income gap — the median income for white households is $63,155, while it’s only $38,555 for black households. There’s a persistent wealth gap as well, which hasn’t improved much since the 1960s.

“We’re trying to shine a spotlight on the fact that this is an area where the country has to improve,” Morial says.

Silicon Valley has faced mounting criticism for its lack of diversity

Unfortunately, the tech world’s lack of diversity is a stubborn problem that doesn’t seem to be going away. Despite media attention and criticism, top companies continue to hire small numbers of black employees. At companies like Uber, Twitter, Google, and Facebook, fewer than 3 percent of tech workers identify as black.

In 2015, the Congressional Black Caucus launched an extended effort to press Silicon Valley to boost its black employment numbers, with several members of Congress traveling to meet with various tech industry leaders. The efforts have led to some change — the 3 percent figure above actually reflects slight growth at places like Facebook.

The caucus has continued to pressure tech companies to improve further. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill last month about Facebook’s ability to protect users’ privacy, black lawmakers took him to task for his company’s persistent lack of diversity, saying that Facebook “does not reflect America.”

And on April 30, lawmakers traveled to Silicon Valley for a third time to engage in a series of discussions with tech companies. Some members, including Rep. Maxine Waters, have threatened that lawmakers could introduce stricter measures to regulate the industry if companies can’t improve on their own.

The CBC members argue that efforts to increase black employment are not simply due to the economic opportunities presented by a high-paying tech job but are also about increasing protections for minority users. Black people are often targeted on social media and other internet-based platforms, facing racism on Twitter, discrimination from Airbnb hosts, or exploitation from fake Facebook pages.

Morial argues that while the tech industry has said promising things about improving diversity, it needs to do more — in hiring as well as in increasing training and investment in black students and improving educational pipelines.

Perhaps another “Inconvenient Truth” as Al Gore would say!

Ray Myers

Advertisements

It’s Not Magic, It’s Science  

Last Saturday in Washington, D.C. (and in more than 600 cities worldwide) Bill. Nye, the Science Guy, was one of the Leaders of  the nationally-organized March for Science (technology a strong enabler).  He addressed the crowds this way: “Greetings, fellow citizens.  We are marching today to remind people everywhere, our lawmakers especially, of the significance of science for our health and prosperity.”  Meanwhile in the White House, a few hundred yards away, “so-called President” Trump was putting the finishing touches on a one-page news bulletin detailing the tax benefits and major reductions for the wealthiest Americans in his new plan.  I don’t think he was as concerned about insuring continued scientific progress that would advance Americans’ “health and prosperity.”  To the contrary, he was still working on how to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Trump would have us all believe that our planet is NOT environmentally endangered.  Unfortunately, he is also being supported by a rise of anti-scientific notions – the anti-vaccination movement and climate-change denial in particular.  Nye argues that “When you become scientifically literate, I claim, you become an environmentalist.  Somewhere along the way, there has developed this idea that if you believe something hard enough, it’s as true as things discovered through the process of science. And I will say that’s objectively wrong.”

Thank you, Bill Nye.  May we all “Live long and prosper!”  🖖

Ray Myers 

Teaching Methodology for the 21st Century in Vietnam

For technology to have an impact in Vietnamese classrooms, the path of least resistance appears to be in the vocational education classrooms around the country.  Vocational training courses are on the rise, and vocational schools had an eighteen percent increase in attendance from 2011-15.  The Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training is perhaps the biggest booster of change of educational focus.  Ministry leaders are convinced that schools should take the initiative and work with enterprises in developing new training models and renewing curricula.  Let’s just say that in this part of the world these words are more than simply “suggestions.”

So when the Ministry says that new teaching methods are needed I think they are also taking aim at the teacher training colleges that already appeared to have graduated an overwhelming surplus of teachers who can not find jobs (70,000 estimated).  To teach in Vietnam, you may just simply have to learn a new set of skills.   That is not just the case in Vietnam as we all know well.  Here is what the Deputy Minister of Education and Training had to say about all this.

“Global integration and the movement of Vietnamese labourers to other countries and foreigners to Vietnam because of the Association of Southest Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community and international trade agreements, requires schools to renew curricula and methodology for a new age.”  Now that sounds better!

Ray Myers

Hanoi

A Child White House Science-Advisory Committee?

I am not really that sure how to comment on what this all means (and I apologize for the lateness of this blog on a M0nday night in the U.S.).  But I am fascinated about the concept of having child White House Science Advisors, particularly since the one recommended by President Obama was fortunate enough to have an iPad in his hands as a toddler.  As an adolescent, he has now been successful in making toys and miniatures on his 3-D printer.  

What’s not to like about all this?  Mostly, there is a lot to like, and this story should be an inspiration to us all.  But why do STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) success in the early academic grades warrant a presumption of better preparation for livelihood in the twenty-first century?  Some might say that we are limiting our children’s futures with such early predeterminations.  And as a parent in the end of the last century and now a grandparent in the current one, I continue to believe that all of our current school-age students will probably need some facility in STEM subjects, and many others as well.   I think the real challenge is to prepare these students to be much broader and curious learners.  The world is changing much too quickly.

Our children need to feel that they contribute in many varied and meaningful ways.  STEM subjects may be the routes for many bright students, but there are also many other avenues for future learning and success in this century.

Ray Myers