Essentially every form of discrimination on the basis of race in economic matters has been banned by law in the United States since at least the 1960s. That’s sufficiently long ago that the number of people old enough to have living memory of the days when racial discrimination was legally tolerated is rapidly diminishing. Today, nearly every institution of any size in our country — businesses, the government, educational institutions, arts organizations, you name it — not only asserts that it does not practice discrimination, but also loudly proclaims a commitment to diversity and to economic justice for African Americans. And yet, while everyone claims to practice non-discrimination, blacks continue to lag other racial groups in various measures reported in government statistics, particularly income and wealth.
What is the explanation? The one most often articulated at this moment goes by the name “systemic racism.” The theory is that even in the absence of any overt discrimination, there is something deeply embedded in institutional structures that keeps African Americans down. But what exactly? And how can we then identify these racist “structures” and change them? Over at USA Today, they have a piece yesterday with the headline “What is systemic racism? Here’s what it means and how you can help dismantle it.” That sounds like a good place to start. But it turns out that the piece offers only vague generalities as to the alleged racist structures and possible solutions. As to the structures, there is this quote from NAACP President Derrick Johnson:
“This is about the systemic and pervasive nature of racism in this nation that must be addressed.” . . . Johnson define[s] systemic racism, also called structural racism or institutional racism, as “systems or structures that have procedures or processes that disadvantages [sic] African Americans.”
In short, it’s completely inchoate. And when it comes to the promised solutions, the article offers essentially nothing. For example, one guy who is quoted (Glenn Harris of Race Forward) proposes that everyone “demand fundamental change from institutions in their own lives.” OK, but isn’t such unspecific “fundamental change” exactly what progressive politicians have been promising us for decades, even as what they have actually delivered is failed cities like Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis and Minneapolis?
We need some practical guidance here. Fortunately, I know just the place to look. Out there in corporate America there are some hugely successful companies that have also completely gone over to woke progressive ideology. I’m speaking of course about the tech giants — the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple. Obviously, these companies are run by geniuses. We know that because the companies make oodles of money year after year, and because the leaders are committed progressives, which means that they always follow the official prescriptions of the scientists and the experts. Let’s face it, these people really know what they are doing. And as the geniuses they are, these corporate titans also claim the role of thought leaders, instructing the world of deplorables like us how to measure up to proper progressive standards of righteous conduct and goodthink.
Surely then, these people have led the way in being the first to stamp out the “systemic racism.” And, in observing how these people have accomplished this important goal, we can learn the practical steps that we too can take in our own institutions to match their accomplishment.
It turns out that information on the march toward ending systemic racism by the tech giants is readily available. You may recall that as early as 2010 activists had begun pressing big tech companies like Google and Facebook to release data as to the demographic makeup of their staffs; but the companies at first resisted. Then, in the Spring of 2014, Jesse Jackson made the rounds of the annual meetings of many of the companies; and suddenly the dominoes all quickly fell. Essentially all of these companies began releasing annual “diversity reports” starting in mid-2014. For example, here is the 2014 Report from Facebook, issued on June 25 of that year. The sentiments could not have been more noble:
At Facebook, diversity is essential to achieving our mission. We build products to connect the world, and this means we need a team that understands and reflects many different communities, backgrounds and cultures. Research also shows that diverse teams are better at solving complex problems and enjoy more dynamic workplaces.
But you will not be surprised to learn that, from the outset, the data as disclosed were not wholly consistent with the noble sentiments. In particular, the demographic data relating to employment of African Americans at the big tech companies revealed figures lower than almost anyone could have imagined. For example, Facebook (in that 2014 report) disclosed that of its full staff, only 2% were black (compared to 57% white and 34% Asian); and of its “tech” workers, only 1% were black (versus 53% white and 41% Asian).
At the other companies in 2014, it was a similar story. For example, Google also reported only 2% blacks in its full staff. Google’s public statement in 2014 did not separately break out the percent of blacks in its tech staff, but that was undoubtedly even lower. At Microsoft, the percentages of blacks were stated to be 3.4% in the full staff and 2.3% among tech workers. Apple claimed 7% of workers on its full staff as black, and also 7% blacks among tech workers. That might sound impressive compared to its tech rivals, but even at 7% the figure comes to barely over half of the percentage that blacks represent of the full population, which is about 13%.
Anyway, we are now six years on, and these tech titans have had those six long years to demonstrate their progressive bona fides by teaching the rest of us how the true geniuses can eliminate the pre-existing systemic racism. The companies have recently been releasing their reports covering the year 2019. Have you read about them? I didn’t think so. You might expect that this would be big news, but in fact I hadn’t seen anything about the subject until a reader sent me this link to a CNBC piece on June 12, which is the only summary article on the subject that I can find in the media at this point.
So what are the data? According to a chart in the CNBC piece, Google’s percent blacks (in the full staff) had edged up from from 2% in 2014 to about 4.5% in 2019 (but this report from Google itself gives the percent of blacks in its full U.S. workforce in 2019 at only 3.3%); at Microsoft, per CNBC’s chart, the 3.4% in 2014 had gone all the way to 4% in 2019; at Facebook the 2% in 2014 was still under 4% in 2019; and at Apple, the 7% in 2014 had gone to 9% in 2017, at which point Apple had stopped reporting. What’s going on at Apple? Well, there’s this:
Apple’s workforce is 9% Black — but . . .[I]ts share of Black technical workers remained flat at 6% from the end of 2013 through the end of 2017, the last year Apple published diversity data.
The 6% of blacks among tech workers reported by CNBC for Apple in 2017 is even lower than the 7% claimed by Apple at that link above for 2014. The difference may be due to rounding, but in any event, from its first report in 2014 until it stopped reporting in 2017, there had been no increase whatsoever in the percentage of blacks among tech workers at Apple.
How are the other companies in this space faring as to blacks among their tech workers? In Google’s report covering the year 2019, they don’t give that figure. I guess that tells you what you need to know. Facebook’s report does give the figure. It’s 1.5%. Wow. Microsoft claims 3.3%. Almost as wow.
I would say that that is beyond embarrassing. And now we have the George Floyd killing, and all the associated disruptions and upheavals. These enormously profitable tech companies would seem to be soft targets for attack on obvious grounds. Surely their brilliant executives will need to say something. How will they react? The answer: it’s time to buy indulgences. From the CNBC piece:
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post that the company “needs to do more to support equality and safety for the Black community through our platforms,” pledging to donate $10 million. . . . Apple CEO Tim Cook promised the company would make donations to several groups such as the Equal Justice Initiative and match employee donations, while Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pledged $1.5 million to several social justice organizations, adding the company will be using its platform to “amplify” the voices of its Black workers.
Meanwhile, did you notice the flood of articles in the media excoriating these tech giants for their abject failure in eliminating the “systemic racism” in their organizations? Neither did I. I guess they must be on the right team.
Having been in the position for some 40 years of working at a major law firm and being involved in trying to do everything we could to increase our numbers of African American lawyers, with very modest success, my initial inclination would be to have some sympathy for these tech companies. In the real world, this is a very tough challenge, and there is only a certain amount that any one organization can do. But then, my law firm — unlike these tech companies — did not pretend to be the most woke among woke progressives, and did not lecture the world on our superior morality and goodness.
But as obnoxious as these tech companies are, I do not doubt that they are making a serious and sustained effort to increase the numbers of African Americans in their ranks of employees, including among the those in the tech field. The fact that they are having very limited if any success in the effort tells you that there has to be something else going on here besides “systemic racism.” I don’t claim to have all the answers, but “systemic racism” is at most a very small part of the reason for underrepresentation of African Americans in tech companies, and in American business more generally.