“All I See Are White Men”: Confronting Racism in Silicon Valley

Eric Ries wants to talk about racism in the start-up world—without hand-wringing and with an eye towards achievable solutions.

Originally posted as “Racism and Meritocracy” on TechCrunch.


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t have missed the recent dust-up over race and Silicon Valley. Like almost every discussion of diversity and meritocracy in this town, it turned ugly fast. One side says: “All I see is white men. Therefore, people like Michael Arrington must be racist.” The other responds, “Silicon Valley is a colorblind meritocracy. If there were qualified women or minority candidates, we’d welcome them.”

I’d like to say a few words about this, but I want to do so under special ground rules.

I want to make an argument, step by step, that I hope will convince you to care about this issue, but that doesn’t presuppose that you already agree that diversity is important. And it will explain how it is possible for both sides to be mostly correct – and that we still have a problem.

So the rules are:

  1. No political correctness. Let’s speak the truth no matter where it leads.
  2. You don’t have to believe that diversity is an end in itself. In fact, I will argue that is important as a means to an end.
  3. Meritocracy is a good thing. Whenever possibly, people should be judged based on their work and results, not superficial qualities.
  4. We should use science, whenever possible, rather than anecdotal evidence.
  5. No hand-wringing. There’s no point discussing this problem if we can’t do anything about it.

So – no hippies, no whiners, no name-calling, and no BS. If you want to make Silicon Valley – and startup hubs like it – as awesome as possible, pay attention.

What accounts for the decidedly non-diverse results in places like Silicon Valley? We have two competing theories. One is that deliberate racisms keeps people out. Another is that white men are simply the ones that show up, because of some combination of aptitude and effort (which it is depends on who you ask), and that admissions to, say Y Combinator, simply reflect the lack of diversity of the applicant pool, nothing more.

The problem with both of these theories is that the math just doesn’t work.

It’s a fact that the applicant pool to most Silicon Valley startup schools and VCs is skewed. Could this be the result of innate differences between white men and other groups? The math simply doesn’t hold up to support this view. Think about two overlapping populations of people, like men and women. They would naturally be normally distributed in a bell curve around a mean aptitude. So picture those two bell curves. Here in Silicon Valley, we’re looking for the absolute best and brightest, the people far out on the tail end of aptitude. So imagine that region of the curve. How far apart would the two populations have to be to explain YC’s historical admission rate of 4% women? It would have to be really extreme.

There is some research on the differences between men and women, and it has shown some differences in both average aptitude and the standard deviation of aptitude (i.e. that men have more extreme outcomes in both the positive and negative direction). But these differences are extremely small, nowhere near large enough to suggest a region on this curve with all men and no women on it. If you’d like to examine the math involved, check out this excellent slide deck courtesy of Terri Oda:

What is true for aptitude is also true for interest. Some populations are more interested in science, in math, in business, and in taking risks than others. But all of the research I am aware of suggests that these differences are extremely small – not nearly big enough to explain what we’re observing in places like Y Combinator.

This is why I personally care about diversity: it’s the canary in the coal mine for meritocracy. When we see extremely skewed demographics, we have very good reason to suspect that something is wrong with our selection process, that it’s not actually as meritocratic as it could be. And I believe that is exactly what is happening in Silicon Valley.

There’s plenty of good research on the subject of team performance that shows that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams on many different kinds of tasks. The problem is that this research doesn’t argue for demographic diversity, but rather for a diversity of perspectives. So, again, racial or gender diversity is not an end in itself. But we have to ask ourselves: if teams are consistently being put together with homogeneous demographics, what are the odds that they also will contain a diversity of perspectives? Shouldn’t we be worried that the same selection process that produces homogenous results in one area might be accidentally doing the same in the area that we care about (but that is harder to measure)?

Does that mean that the racism theory is necessarily correct? I don’t think so. I’ve certainly heard my share of sexist and racist jokes in Silicon Valley, but hardly enough to believe that people like Michael Arrington or Paul Graham are lying when they say that they are colorblind. I think that – in the absence of any counterevidence – we should take them at their word. Besides, we don’t need racism to explain these results. Now that we’ve clarified the question to be “how do we build a meritocratic selection process?” we can look at a wealth of research that has been done in this area.

And there’s good news here. Wherever selection processes have been studied scientifically, errors have been found. These errors are called “implicit bias” in the research literature, which causes a lot of confusion, because the word “bias” connotes malevolence. But let’s leave that connotation behind – we’re entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers, for goodness’ sake. We can talk about bias like grownups.

And what the grownups have discovered, through painstaking research, is that it is extremely easy for systems to become biased, even if none of the individual people in those systems intends to be biased. This is partly a cognitive problem, that people harbor unconscious bias, and partly an organizational problem, that even a collection of unbiased actors can work together to accidentally create a biased system. And when those systems are examined scientifically, they can be reformed to reduce their bias.

The most famous example of this comes from the world of musical orchestras. Until the 1970s, almost every professional orchestra in the world was all-male. All experts in the musical world agreed on the reason: male performers had superior aptitude to female performers. They gave all kinds of explanations for why, that had to do with men’s allegedly superior skill, hand-eye coordination, interest in music, and their willingness to sacrifice so much to become a professional musician. And yet, by the 1990s, these ratios had changed dramatically. No conductors went to political correctness anti-bias training camps. No hand-wringing was needed. They hit upon a solution – by accident – that practically changed orchestra selection overnight: they had performers audition behind a physical screen, so that the judges could not see their race or gender while they played. When rating performers anonymously, it turned out that men and women played equally well, on average.

If you’ve seen the movie Moneyball recently (or read the book), this should sound familiar. The whole premise of Moneyball was the triumph of science, data, and reason over the gut feelings and beauty contests of baseball scouts. Think of the famous scene in which the scouts are sitting around a table debating which prospects had “the right look” – and Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are calling BS. Which side of the table sounds more like the admissions process to a Silicon Valley startup school, where they are often “looking for people like us?”

According to the research on implicit bias, our selection processes are making some huge, obvious mistakes. The Y Combinator partners conduct short ten-minute interviews where they make snap decisions about candidates on the spot – sometimes in as little as sixty seconds. This process, while efficient, is the exact opposite of musical performances happening behind a screen. They are even moving towards video interviews – which would bring this visual bias even earlier into the process.

Now think about the countless VC pitch meetings and “get to know you” mixers and coffees and lunches. These are all opportunities for VC’s to use their vaunted pattern recognition to try and spot promising entrepreneurs and companies early. But pattern recognition is just a fancy word for bias. And if you look at the research on implicit bias, you will find that bias is a necessary consequence of using pattern recognition, it’s part of how the brain works. We literally think faster when we see something that matches the pattern, and have to slow down to process something that doesn’t match. I think Michael Arrington provided a fascinating first-hand account of this cognitive process in action, when he described his experience struggling to name a single African-American entrepreneur. He couldn’t come up with one on the spot, but not because he’s a racist.

None of this is meant as a criticism of Y Combinator, VCs, or anyone else. It’s meant to point out that even though our current selection process is pretty good, and pretty meritocratic, it still contains bias. We can do better. And, if we do, we will make all of Silicon Valley more successful.

So how can we do better? I believe there are several relatively simple changes we could make right away.

I previously described on my blog one simple change I made to the hiring process at my last company. I asked all of our recruiters to give me all resumes of prospective employees with their name, gender, place of origin, and age blacked out. This simple change shocked me, because I found myself interviewing different-looking candidates – even though I was 100% convinced that I was not being biased in my resume selection process. If you’re screening resumes, or evaluating applicants to a startup school, I challenge you to adopt this procedure immediately, and report on the results.

Startup schools are an exceptionally good laboratory for testing these ideas. In fact, if anyone out there wants to put this idea to the test, I suggest the following experiment: for your next batch of admissions, have half of your reviewers use a blind screening technique and the other half use your standard technique, on your first screen (before you’ve met any applicants). Compare the outputs of both selection processes. I predict they will show different demographics.

Of course, this doesn’t address the whole problem. Remember, part of the defense against the racism theory is that the applicants are already skewed before any selection is done. Once again, this sounds like something you can only throw your hands up about: if it’s not a problem with innate differences, it must be a problem with our education system or some other “pipeline” problem.

So let’s take a look at this problem, too.

I once spent time with a promising entrepreneur who was not a white man. Because their startup sold a product that a lot of tech entrepreneurs buy, many of their customers were graduates of Y Combinator. So I asked if they were planning to apply. Their response: “oh, no, it’s a waste of time. Y Combinator doesn’t accept people like me.” Where did they get that idea? Surely not from YC’s partners, who as far as I can tell are scrupulously fair in their dealings with entrepreneurs. Rather, they got that impression by inferring that there is probably implicit bias in YC’s admissions process, and that they’d be better off spending their time doing something else other than applying to YC.

We all know there is a huge gender gap in computer science. But that gap means that women receive only about 30% of degrees in CS. But 30% is a lot larger than 4% – and that’s a big math problem for advocates of the pipeline theory.

Imagine that you were a professional musician thinking about which orchestra to audition for. You have a choice between an all-male orchestra that conducts interviews out in the open, and a mixed-gender orchestra that conducts auditions behind a screen. Which would you choose to apply to? Wouldn’t your answer be different if you were a man or a woman?

I think thought experiments like this are helpful for suggesting an alternate hypothesis to the pipeline problem: that there are qualified minority applicants who are choosing – rationally – to invest their time and energy elsewhere. I am not aware of any scientific study that proves this hypothesis is correct. But I have seen enough existence proofs to believe it is likely.

For example, I have been a mentor for several years in the Founder Labs program, which was originally created by Women 2.0. It’s a pre-incubator program, that helps potential founders figure out if they should become entrepreneurs. They created it as a way of encouraging women to apply to startup schools and create companies. But they took a novel approach to this problem. They did not advertise the program as being about diversity. Instead, they adopted a minimal rule: each founding team had to have at least one woman, and they privately reached out to talented women in their networks and encouraged them to join.

I remember the first time I spoke to the Founder Labs teams. I kept asking: who are you and where have you been? It was unlike any other audience I’ve seen at any other startup school: 50/50 men and women, with a surprising amount of diversity. The participants included chip designers and hard-core engineers, the kind of people that have the aptitude but don’t apply to most startup school programs or pitch most VCs. I believe the reason they came to this program was that they believed its selection process would be more meritocratic.

Groups that make a conscious effort to become more meritocratic are able to make meaningful changes in the diversity of their participants. One of my favorite examples is the San Francisco Ruby Meetup, which spent a year making the effort to improve the number of women who participate. The steps they took required effort, but not rocket science. They didn’t have to get sixth grade girls interested in programming. You can read more about it here.

There’s one last piece to this puzzle that science can help us with. It goes by the rather unfortunate academic name of stereotype threat. But a confusing name doesn’t make it any less real. It turns out that when people are in a situation that defies stereotypes, reminding them of the stereotype diminishes their performance. In one study from NYU, students were given a math test. Asking men and women questions about their gender beforehand increased the performance gap substantially. “Priming” students with questions about other aspects of their identity, did not. This result has been replicated in many, many studies.

I think this helps explain why asking more minorities to apply to these programs doesn’t work. Consciously thinking about proving a stereotype wrong impairs performance. So it’s entirely possible that a completely objective assessment of the performance of candidates in an application process will show minority candidates doing worse, because they are literally cognitively impaired.

And this brings me back to the no hand-wringing rule. Most people interpret this finding as bad news, but I think they have it backwards. It’s actually really good news. If you look at the studies, what they show is that the performance gap between groups can be mostly erased, if candidates are primed in a merit-focused way. Explicit diversity programs have the solution exactly backwards. What we need to do is to build meritocratic selection processes, and then go our of our way to tell people about them. We should emphasize the objectivity of the selection process and our efforts to weed out all forms of bias. I believe this is why certain programs, like Founder Labs and 500 Startups, that boast of their meritocratic “moneyball” approach to admissions have more diverse applicants – and participants.

When it comes to meritocracy and diversity, the symbolic is real. And that means that simple actions that reduce bias, such as blind resume or application screening, are a double win: they reduce implicit bias and they help communicate our commitment to meritocracy. As a startup ecosystem we are in the meritocracy business. This is the path towards making Silicon Valley – and every other startup hub – even more awesome.


photo: nagobe/flickr


Eric Ries is the author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. You can follow him on Twitter @ericries. He is a frequent contributor to TechCrunch, where this article first appeared.


  1. wellokaythen says:

    To me this raises the question about the relationship between racism and online communities. A lot of business and business communication happens online today. It may be more difficult today to “tell” the race of the person you are communicating with over e-mail or on a blog, so person-to-person racism may be less possible (in SOME ways) on the internet.

    I’m not declaring that the internet has destroyed racism, and of course most business meetings are still in person or with a video connection. I’m just suggesting that racial prejudice may be muted somewhat when you can’t see or hear the person you are communicating with. And, there may be more people of color you meet online than you might think.

    At the very least, I would caution anyone about coming to any conclusions about someone’s race or ethnic background based on the name or username listed in the e-mail. Don’t assume because you see few messages from someone with a “nonwhite” name (whatever the heck that means) that the person sending the message is therefore white. Don’t make the error of assuming people are white until proven otherwise.

  2. Let’s see -from 1978-1998 Silicon Valley and IT were 98% white American males. The economy boomed. While the rest of the lazy world was sitting around laughing at us, we invented a $14 trillion industry. The rest of the world couldn’t have cared less – until we created awesome, high-paid jobs and started making tons of money. The “Triumph of the Nerds” enraged all the lazy people – and all the pretty people. While they were out partying we were working 16 hour days for decades creating this industry. Around 1998-1999 all the losers began to flood in and that’s when things started to go south.

    Perhaps all you see is white men in Silicon Valley (which isn’t true – the place is flooded with Indians and Chinese also), for the simple reason that we are the best at IT. We invented it, we’re best at it, you’re not – no matter how much you want to be.

    Would you want Japanese as NBA players?

    How about Eskimos at making wine?

    Get over it you losers – white American males are and always will be the best at IT. You didn’t (and can’t) put in the effort we do, so just give it up and go back to your jobs as radiologists or receptionists, or whatever. You’re just not good at IT and that’s just the way it is. Stop being jealous and stop being someone you’re not because you obviously can’t do IT the way we do.


  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    It doesn’t take much of a difference in the mean of two bell curves to have the extreme ends of the tails show substantial difference, especially if one has a flatter curve.
    We need something written by an archangel on stone proving all races are equal in everything before we can guarantee that every difference–that is disadvantageous to minorities–is a matter of racism.
    I do recall when the Pistons were at the top of the NBA, they would have been entirely diverse except for Bill Laimbeer. The NBA, come to think of it, is a meritocracy. Complaints, anybody? Didn’t think so.

  4. OK, but Silicon Valley is where South Asians prosper. Many of these South Asians might have come to the United States as students of mathematically inclined fields, and were then attracted to Silicon Valley’s lure. Many of them work at Silicon Valley, and then relocate to India to start up their own tech ventures: Vinod Kholsa, Kanwal Rekhi,Naren Bakshi. and Azim Premji. Moreover, due to America’s illogical immigration policy, many are not allowed to stay in the United States and so return to India. No matter, why are these people not mentioned? Why are not the bright Chinese-American, Korean-America and Japanese-American kids who work in Silicon Valley also not mentioned? Why not celebrate Silicon Valley’s capacity to attract the brightest and best from all over the world. Is this not diversity?
    Furthermore, men with Central and Northern European Jewish last names seem to be very well represented in Silicon Valley-and I am not alleging some stupid some Jewish conspiracy. Rather, I am referring to Europeans’ persecution of the Ashkenazi Jews’ high incidence of exceptional lawyers and scientists, which “is the result of natural selection for enhanced intellectual ability.” So, says The Journal of Bio Social Science quoted in The New York Times. Why should I allow a person of lesser intellect negatively alter this pool of exceptional brilliance? Diversity? Give me a break!

    • “OK, but Silicon Valley is where South Asians prosper.”

      They prosper by taking over jobs and industries created by white Americans. Apple is still mostly white Americans and it is booming. All the other tech companies taken over by Indians are dying.

      “Many of these South Asians might have come to the United States as students of mathematically inclined fields, and were then attracted to Silicon Valley’s lure.”

      Or they might have come with fake degrees, got trained by white American IT workers and then took over their jobs. Google “PhDs for sale in Punjab”.

      Please name one *profitable* IT company founded *entirely* by Indians that did not have at least one non-Indian founder. You can’t because THERE ARE NONE. I’m not talking about the companies that run on America’s VC money for 5 years and then go home. I mean real, stable, profitable companies. There aren’t any.

      “Many of them work at Silicon Valley, and then relocate to India to start up their own tech ventures”

      I think you mean many of them come to Silicon Valley to clean out tech companies and then return home with their loot.

      “Vinod Kholsa” (Sun which was taken over by Indian and Chinese workers in 2001) would have gone out of business had not Oracle bought them. And all Oracle really wanted was the Java technologies which were invented by a white man, James Gosling.

      “Kanwal Rekhi,Naren Bakshi”

      Who did exactly what in Silicon Valley?

      “Azim Premji”

      Who got rich by jamming millions of Indian workers into American companies which then collapsed when Indians couldn’t do the work. GM and Lehman were just 2 such companies – both hired huge numbers of Wipro employees.

      “Moreover, due to America’s illogical immigration policy, many are not allowed to stay in the United States and so return to India.”

      Illogical? Indians have collapsed the US economy. When white Americans were running the economy 13 years ago (the same year Indians began flooding in), the economy was BOOMING. Indians are returning home now because they’ve strip-mined the US economy bare and there is nothing here left for them to take. They’ve made off with the wealth of the US, which has now all been sent back to India and that is why they are going home. There are no jobs left for them here BECAUSE THEY’VE DESTROYED THEM ALL. Indians love the US when Americans make the economy boom and times are good but the instant hard times set in, they flee. So much for “helping America”.

      “No matter, why are these people not mentioned?”

      Because they are all conmen who have destroyed the US economy. Sun was founded by FOUR people and the founding CEO, Scott McNealy was a white American for 25 years. Bill Joy, another white American architected Solaris. Andy Bechtolstein, a German designed the SPARC hardware. As for what Khosla actually did at Sun, that’s anyone’s guess. Most likely he was merely along for the ride and in the right place at the right time. Sun was destroyed by Indian and Chinese workers.

      “Why are not the bright Chinese-American, Korean-America and Japanese-American kids who work in Silicon Valley also not mentioned?”

      Can you name them and what their accomplishments are? If not, maybe they’re not quite as bright as claimed.

      “Why not celebrate Silicon Valley’s capacity to attract the brightest and best from all over the world. Is this not diversity?”

      It’s collapse. CA is going bankrupt. In 1998 when Silicon Valley was 98% white American males the CA and US economies were BOOMING. Since 1998 it’s been nothing but decline in the US. We’re not bringing in the best and brightest. We’re bringing in wannabes, many of whom have never seen a computer, we’re plopping them down in office chairs and then we’re telling white American IT workers to TRAIN them before being laid off. Stop the lies. Diveristy had destroyed Silicon Valley. If not for Apple it would have died long ago. In fact until 2008 or so Silicon Valley WAS dead.

      “Furthermore, men with Central and Northern European Jewish last names seem to be very well represented in Silicon Valley-and I am not alleging some stupid some Jewish conspiracy. Rather, I am referring to Europeans’ persecution of the Ashkenazi Jews’ high incidence of exceptional lawyers and scientists, which “is the result of natural selection for enhanced intellectual ability.”

      Because white males are the best at IT. Japanese and Germans are the best at making cars, the French and Italians the best at wine. Igloos? My bet is on the Eskimos. How many people here want more diversity in the NBA? Why are there no Japanese nationals in the NBA? Damnit! I want more Japanese NBA players! LOL.

  5. What a mind-numbingly moronic column. Look, I’m guessing you get paid to say things like “stereotype threat”, so whatever gets you paid, I guess. Step back and look at the big picture. What is even one large-scale civilizational success of any population of people derived from traditionally African-ancestral origins? Can you name one? It doesn’t exist. Yep, there are isolated instances of individuals, sure.

    Look, the evolutionary divergence of African and European populations is several thousand generations, and those clearly distinct populations have spent about a hundred thousand years in vastly different evolutionary environments. Evolutionary geneticist Gregory Cochrane pointed out that it never was even plausible that different populations would exhibit identical behavioral characteristics after that sort of ecological divergence.

    Geez, give it a rest. You’re never going to close the gap. It’s not even theoretically plausible.

    • Wow, you are a complete moron. Evolution? Do you even know how long that takes? People from Africa and people from Europe are not different species… or even different subspecies. They are the same. Literally. You can have someone from Ireland have more genetic similarity with someone from Angola than two people from Angola who are neighbors. The current genetic characteristics of humans around the world were already set well before the first migrants left the mother continent.

      So you’re a moron on biology.

      You’re also a moron on history.

      Egypt, Axum, Nuba, Great Zimbabwe, Ibo, Yoruba, Ethiopia, those are all the names of dynastic empires that ruled different parts of Africa from ancient times to pre-colonial. The reason much of Africa these days is blighted because of ecological disaster, not because of innate human deficiencies. Most of the Sahara desert used to be lush green land. But because human beings have existed in Africa longer than any other place in the world (since that is where we as the human race originated)

      You are completely ignorant and proud of it, it seems.

      • Why do you comment on matters you know nothing about? Two Irishmen are of course always more similar to each other genetically than to anyone from Angola. If you believe that the “current genetic characteristics of humans around the world were already set well before the first migrants left the mother continent”, how do you explain the differences in appearance (to say nothing of other genetically based differences) between people from different parts of the globe?

        • No, you’re wrong. The differences in appearance are actually *extremely* superficial adaptations to the level of direct sunlight where one lives. If you know knew anything about anything that much would be obvious.

          “The proportion of human genetic variation due to differences between populations is modest, and individuals from different populations can be genetically more similar than individuals from the same population.”

          -Genetic Similarities Within and Between Human Populations
          D. J. Witherspoon,* S. Wooding,† A. R. Rogers,‡ E. E. Marchani,* W. S. Watkins,* M. A. Batzer,§ and L. B. Jorde*1

          • Like I said, you should not comment on matters you know nothing about. The very paper you cite thoroughly refutes the notion that, say, Irishmen could be genetically more similar to Angolans than to other Irishmen. It’s clear that you have not even read the paper. Let me quote from it:

            Thus the answer to the question “How often is a pair of individuals from one population genetically more dissimilar than two individuals chosen from two different populations?” depends on the number of polymorphisms used to define that dissimilarity and the populations being compared. … [I]f genetic similarity is measured over many thousands of loci, the answer becomes “never” when individuals are sampled from geographically separated populations.

            Thus it’s not possible for an Irishman to be genetically more similar to an Angolan than to other Irishmen, and vice versa. In other words, what Witherspoon et al. demonstrate is that the finding of some studies that there’s genetic overlap between racial populations is an artifact of using too few markers.

            Differences in appearance-related characteristics such as pigmentation and body form are not “superficial”. They, taken together, involve hundreds of genes, have been under very strong selection, and thus have been of great importance in evolution. Through pleiotropy the causal genes probably affect many other characteristics aside from those we can easily see. Moreover, the vast between-race differences in allele frequencies entail that the genetic architecture of complex multigenic traits like intelligence cannot be the same in different races.

      • Evolution can happen very quickly. According to Edward O Wilson complete speciation can happen in 30 to 40 generations, while Europeans and Sub Saharan Africans are probably six to seven THOUSAND generations divergent. Another thing is that you can see selective pressures in the genome. Consider that there is overwhelming evidence for widespread selective pressure amongst European populations inthe past thousand years. Are you saying that the exact same selective pressures exerted themselves in African populations during that time. Recent selective pressures, by definition, require that our genetic profiles were not set in stone 100 to 150 thousand years ago.

        Next, the ancient Egyptian populations weren’t what we now call “black”. They were Euro-Semitic. Most of the evidence indicates the same for pre-Antiquity Ethiopia. The other entities you mention do not rise to the level of civilization we’re talking about, most were agglomerations of tribes without even the technology of reading and writing.

        I suggest you wiki “lewontin’s fallacy”. Behavioral traits are not linear, they are combinational, so, there is rarely such thing as a “gene X for behavior Y”. Relatedness shows up in gene combinations, not in single genes, and, no, someone from Sweden is not as likely to be as related to a random Swede as to a random Nigerian. Your science is at least twenty years out of date.

        Also, no one called anyone “deficient”. Africans evolved in the past 100 millenia in an environment pastoral, polygynous illiteracy, which is what that overall lineage creates. That’s their ecolocial niche. Africa’s “problems” result from access to Western technologies, which alllowed massive population growth, not supported by the ability to manage those populations.

        Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario where sub saharan africa had never had any contact with the outside world. Any existing populations would be undeniably far better than they are today. They would also be a tiny fraction of what they are today. Relative to the abiility of native populations to socially manage themselves Africa is probably overpopulated by a factor of twenty. So, if ninety five percent of all existing Africans were to die off the remaining five percent would be far better off than they are, today.

        Now, who are gonna be those five perrcent …

        • Next, the ancient Egyptian populations weren’t what we now call “black”. They were Euro-Semitic. Most of the evidence indicates the same for pre-Antiquity Ethiopia. The other entities you mention do not rise to the level of civilization we’re talking about, most were agglomerations of tribes without even the technology of reading and writing.

          I posted this, not as a reply to Asher, but to answer those undecided who think Asher may have a point.

          I remember reading a book about the Ancient Greek knowledge of the world, by Herodotus. The Ancient Greek descriptions of Ethiopians and Egyptians have the same phenotype as today’s population in those countries (in today’s Egypt, the population of the south). Egyptians had varying racial mixtures. Ancient Ethiopians on the evidence of their own art etc did not have ‘ Euro-Semitic’ appearance.

          Is reading and writing necessary for a civilisation to become at least a mid level one?
          The Celts, for example had writing but had little use for it, preferring to use their memories (well, writing does weaken the memory, like clothes weaken the body to cold). And our Modern Western Civilisation does not have a feature glaringly common to most other midlevel and above civilisations – high grade aesthetically pleasing architecture. Does that mean we are not a high civilisation (complex civilisations with scientific systems eg. Greece, Rome)? No.

          What is even one large-scale civilizational success of any population of people derived from traditionally African-ancestral origins? Can you name one?

          From memory, there were some African civilisations that were high civilisations, or at least at the Charles Martel Frankish Empire level of civilisation. ? has already given pointers, wiki has quick links to African Empires . I had a quick scan of some of the links, the Mali and Songhai Empires certainly were high civilisations – Astronomy, writing, science, universities.

          In 500 BCE, 0CE , 500CE or even 1000CE this is what someone from the ‘temperate climate zone of civilisation’ could have asked, “What is even one large-scale civilizational success of any population of people derived from traditionally Northern European-ancestral origins? Can you name one?”
          You see this question being asked about Northern Europeans by Ancient Greeks, Romans, Middle Easterners when they looked at the Celts, Goths, Germanic tribes etc. The Ancient Greeks, Romans, Middle Easterners thought that Europe was too cold for high civilisation to flourish and Africa too hot(they must have mentally excluded the Nubians, Ethiopians, and Egyptians from this list) . And that the inhabitants of Europa and Africa were congenitally stupid, dull witted and very aggressive.

          In 100CE, If you had asked someone from Greece, from Rome, from Egypt, from Iran (or India or China) which region of the world would advance science, technology, medicine to today’s state. History and experience would have told them, that only the countries in their ‘temperate zone’ were capable of ‘high civilisation’. They would have fell about laughing – Hysterically – if you had suggested that a ‘high civilisation’ arising from Northern Europe!?! would do it.

        • 1.) If you had any clue you’d know that the more complex a creature is the more time it takes for speciation… cannot compare invertabrate insects with humans.

          2.) Different species cannot mate and produce offspring with one another. All human populations in the world have no trouble doing so. Therefore… not different species.

          3.) Superficial adaptations are not the same as speciation. Ie. people around the world getting dark skinned at the equater and lighter at the poles. It’s just reaction to level of sunlight. Those adaptations are even present within a single person’s lifetime. If a European goes tanning 24/7 for 365, their skin color will change and get darker. It’s not a ‘genetic’ divergence that really makes much of a difference. Someone who is blond as a child can even become naturally brunette by adulthood. Visual markers are extremely superficial in the grand scheme of things.

          4.) Ancient Egyptians weren’t significantly non-African until the Hyksos invasion and the beginning of Ptolemic dynasties, by this time… all of the pyramids, all of the ‘peaks’ had been reached. They were indeed black Africans, they are portrayed thusly in their hieroglyphics. There is a famous hieroglyph where they depicted the ‘races’ of the world. They had a white person (signifying Europeans and Middle Easterners), a medium brown person (themselves), a super dark person (the Nubian of Sudan).

          5.) I am Ethiopian. And all of the artwork of antiquity portrays Ethiopians as Black Africans from the very beginning. You’re ignorant if you think otherwise and haven’t seen any of the native artwork of it’s antiquity. East and West Africans have different characteristics, yes (because there is a huge diversity of peoples in Africa), but they are both Black African people. And if you ever traveled there you’d immediately know it.

          LOL at lumping all ‘Africans’ as anything. There are literally hundreds of thousands of languages and cultures. Some are very sophisticated and written down for millienia… like the ancient Ge’ez language of Ethiopia which is now a religious language only like Sanskrit or Latin. Others like the Bushmen are not written but primarily oral. Some are polygamous others are strictly monogamous. Some have high literacy others do not.

          You have no idea what you’re talking about in terms of the living conditions in Africa. The reason there is blight is because *people* not anything special to Africans or the way they do things… have been weeding, tilling, irrigating, sowing, and farming that land and literally changed the landscape over hundreds of thousands of years. The dry savannah is not a natural phenomenon. It was a human created landscape made by burning away bush and creating farmland. Also, other places, water simply ran out.

          You’re deeply ignorant about a lot of human history.

      • “You’re also a moron on history. ”

        Watch your choice of words on here, there are moderators who will chastise you for violating commenting policy.

  6. wellokaythen says:

    I don’t understand how someone could look around the software industry and only see “white” people. Unless you are counting all those people from South Asia and East Asia as “white.” The wealthy Seattle suburbs have large populations of very successful, quite wealthy Asian immigrants working for Microsoft. (Maybe they aren’t the ones who are the elite venture capitalists, but they sure are making big bucks.) If anyone thinks that “racial biology” is a determining factor, don’t assume that it’s “white” people who have the advantage over all others. If some races really are superior to others, there’s no reason to assume that white people are the most superior….

    (I put all these things in quotes because there’s no real biological or other scientific basis for racial categories, and “white” is a really blurry category that’s always changing.)

    • Yes this is another problem with the article. I worked in Silicon Valley. There were a lot of Iranians, French (some of whom were black), Arabs, Chinese and Indians I worked with. Most of the valley is Indian. I believe the author is referring only to startups at Y combinator and a few other specific places.

      • I think what is going on with this article is that so many white Americans who created Silicon Valley have been driven out by Indians and Chinese that NASSCOM and India, Inc. are now running massive PR “news” stories claiming the valley is “mostly white” and racism is rampant.

        Is it racism to demand that as a US citizen you get to work in your OWN country before foreigners do?

        Is it racism to demand that TEMPORARY guest workers go home as they agreed to in 1998 once the dot-com and Y2K booms were over?

        Americans have been driven out of Silicon Valley and are being deliberately excluded from the workforce by jealous foreigners. That is why NASSCOM has to run “racism” articles like these trying to case Americans as racist when all they are trying to do is demand that India stick to the agreement we originally had 13 years ago.

    • hear ye hear ye says:

      I don’t work in the software industry, but based on one of my positions at a small size corporation – I can tell you racism is alive and well.

      When I was hired by this corporate company, I naively assumed there would be diversity in the workplace – because heck, they hired me right? My first week there it became apparent I was one of two persons of colour; the other person was a black male, an accountant. This company has a staff of 180. Shocking isn’t it? For more emphasis: out of 180 employees, only TWO were visible minorities! How does our government allow such biases to flourish? And why are upper management and especially hiring managers (ie. HR) mostly or always Caucasians?

      Very early in my employment I discovered and learned that management and staff were all of Christian faith (by the way I’m non-religious). It was “accidentally” pointed out to me, that the President of this company also moonlighted as a Christian Church Pastor. I could see how he ran his company as though it were a religious establishment and staff was his congregation – reflecting the same faith and race as himself. This realization made me sick to my stomach. I wanted to point out my observation, the lack of diversity…but thought better of it; management and colleagues have eyes, not just me. Luckily, I’m no longer at this company – that leaves one person of colour working there, out of a staff of 180.

      • OK, so you realized that the upper management were all Christians, but so what? You submit no evidence that these Christians discriminated you. Were you fired/ terminated because you were not Christian? If you were, you have not given evidence.

        • hear ye hear ye says:

          I sense a lot of anger, bitterness from you (but so what?) and disbelief at my account and experience with that company. I have good reason to believe that you did not read much of what I said, because your response shows a lack of reading comprehension.

          “Very early in my employment I discovered and learned that management and staff were all of Christian faith…”

          Reread my post. It’s management and STAFF…the company employs180 people; I was one of two employees of visible minority. This is not evidence? I think your head is not screwed on right – that I can’t help you with.

          They must have been desperate to fill in my position to have hired me – a colored person; I say this because my job had a high-turn over rate and the company is composed of all whites (two colour exceptions) — more importantly I was aware that they had hired two white girls who had worked my position within a year or so prior to me coming on board (one girl worked six months, then skipped, the other I was told was like 3 months). The boss was a twit – he had only been in his new position under two years and couldn’t do his job, but since he’s been at the company like forever…he just kept getting promoted but not having the right qualifications to handle being a manger or understanding the needs of his underlings. He was a two-faced people pleaser, and is an ass kisser with upper management and was terribly disorganized and forgetful.

          • hear ye hear ye says:

            I also should add that:

            I had applied for and was interviewed for a manager role. Another woman applied for and was interviewed for a coordinator role (lower rank than manger’s); I found this out when I was hired the same time as she.

            However, when I got offered the job…they offered me the coordinator role and the other woman was given the manager’s role. This woman was white who got the manager’s position that I had applied to and interviewed for. She told she had only applied for the coordinator’s role and had no idea they were also looking for a manager. This white woman still works there as a manager. I had to work with her in my department. She’s snotty as hell and always had this air of superiority towards me; probably aided by the fact, the company swap roles between us.

      • Upper management are mostly Caucasians because all the companies run or taken over by non-caucasians all go out of business. You are probably a very small minority in the company because the whites who work there know there is a economic war on against whites in this country by minorities. Go to Silicon Valley and take a look around. It’s mostly Indians and Chinese. Where is the gov’t on that? Especially since the foreigners were only supposed to be here for the dot-com and Y2K booms. You can’t have it both ways. What goes around eventually comes around. Stop whinning and go create your own company an employ all non-whites if you are so upset – if you can make it profitable and keep the doors open, that is.

      • Foreigners don’t seem to understand how America was founded. It was founded by WHITE CHRISTIANS who came to America to start a free country and escape religious persecution. So America is a WHITE CHRISTIAN COUNTRY. And this was so for 506 years – until 1998. That was when all the multiculturalism crap started and the foreign non-white, non-Christian invasions started from other countries. India threw the white British out and made sure Britain was only “dark Indian”. China threw the British out of Hong Kong in 1997. But you don’t seem to have a problem with THOSE countries being racist, do you? Try going to India as a white person and getting an IT job there. Try it. You’re delusional. The only people who have any legitimate claim to the US are white Christians and African Americans who BUILT THE PLACE. All the other hangers-on, wannabes, parasites, invaders, usurpers, and takeover artists all need to go home. The vast majority of Americans do not accept the multiculturalism crap. The rest of the world just wants to come here because of the wealth Americans created. America is a white Christian nation. Just accept it.

    • Microsoft was built by 2 white men. So was Apple. Until 1998 nearly every IT company in America was staffed by 98% white males. And the economy was booming. Asians got “wealthy” because they moved in and took over a pre-made industry built by whites. Give me a free valuable industry to walk in and take over and I can become rich too. Can you name one new industry or even one new major modern invention to come out of India or China? No, you can’t because there are none. White Americans invented nearly everything the world enjoys, we did the hard work working 16 hour days for decades to create IT but the rest of the world has all the jobs now. Don’t mistake mere takeover and wealth transference for real growth or creation. MS isn’t doing to well right now BTW and the stock is 1/4 what it was when white Americans were running it.

      There is a small metal bridge over a river in the rust belt with a big lighted sign that read “America makes, the world takes”.

      Wake up to what is really happening.

  7. Aaronovitch says:

    If this country is so racist then why do Asians excel at science and business? Why do Asians have the highest income, highest proportion with households above $100K?

    • And are approved for loans at higher rates than whites are.

      • I think it’s because they are known to repay debt much quickly than whites. They also hate carrying balances and paying interest. Most of them are either first generation or second generation immigrants – they know the value of a dollar.

      • And have all their loans go bad at higher rates than whites had. The banks were stable, the economy booming and there were no foreclosures back in 1998 when whites were running the economy. Now that Asians are running it, look at the mess they created.

    • Immigrants, including Europeans, come to their new homelands with strong work ethics and highly value public and higher education for their children. They see this as a way to escape poverty and give their loved ones a brighter future; these opportunities aren’t available where they have come from.

      Plus immigrants often arrive to their new countries with little or next to nothing, so personal sacrifices they must make. Most fore go birthdays, Christmas, entertainment, and other social and fun activities in order to save and build up their wealth – also noteworthy is that many send money back to their home countries to help family members who are struggling.

      Immigrants seldom receive enough credit or admiration. They’re often seen as stealing jobs and are the brunt of a lot of hostility towards them – which is just misplaced jealousy and/or racism. Most immigrants take on menial jobs (some of whom have degrees and doctorates), sometimes handling two full time jobs; jobs which most find denigrating ie. worm picking (yes worms for fishing lures), taxicab drivers, nannies, janitors, labourers, fast food etc.

      • You’re right – all those Indians and Chinese who have taken over silicon valley (which was built by whites) step off the planes with their fake degrees from Punjab into menial jobs – you know the ones in CS that pay $150K a year. You’re living in 1906, not today. Today’s immigrants who are mostly from Asia hate America and hate whites due to their long history with the British and its colonization of those countries. Up until 1998 immigration to the US was almost entirely European. In the 13 years since the Asian invasion began it has been nothing but downhill for America. These people are siphoning our economy.

    • Because they took over all those $100K a year jobs from the white Americans who created them. From 1978-1998 IT was 98% white American males. Only after we created all those great paying jobs did Asians start moving in to take them over. Oh wait…. the economy is faltering now. LOL.

  8. “Could this be the result of innate differences between white men and other groups? The math simply doesn’t hold up to support this view. Think about two overlapping populations of people, like men and women. They would naturally be normally distributed in a bell curve around a mean aptitude. So picture those two bell curves. Here in Silicon Valley, we’re looking for the absolute best and brightest, the people far out on the tail end of aptitude. So imagine that region of the curve. How far apart would the two populations have to be to explain YC’s historical admission rate of 4% women? It would have to be really extreme.”

    Ries pulled a switcheroo right there. The Arrington brouhaha was about why there are so few blacks in Silicon Valley. That could be due to there not being many blacks with high aptitude. However, instead of discussing the existence and implications of the black-white aptitude gap, he points out there’s only a small gap between men and women, as if this proved that the gap between blacks and whites (and Asians) could not be large, either. However, the black-white gap is in fact sizable according to lots of data. For example, we can look at the results of the math SAT:

    “But only 1,132 African-American college-bound students scored 700 or above on the math SAT and only 1,205 scored at least 700 on the verbal SAT. Nationally, more than 100,000 students of all races scored 700 or above on the math SAT and 78,025 students scored 700 or above on the verbal SAT.

    “On the math SAT, only 0.7 percent of all black test takers scored at least 700 compared to 6.3 percent of all white test takers. Thus, whites were nine times as likely as blacks to score 700 or above on the math SAT. Overall, there were 45 times as many whites as blacks who scored 700 or above on the math SAT.

    “If we raise the top-scoring threshold to students scoring 750 or above on both the math and verbal SAT — a level equal to the mean score of students entering the nation’s most selective colleges such as Harvard, Princeton, and CalTech — we find that in the entire country 244 blacks scored 750 or above on the math SAT and 363 black students scored 750 or above on the verbal portion of the test. Nationwide, 33,841 students scored at least 750 on the math test and 30,479 scored at least 750 on the verbal SAT.”

    Source: http://www.jbhe.com/features/49_college_admissions-test.html

    Therefore, if it is true, as Reis says, that only “the absolute best and brightest, the people far out on the tail end of aptitude” end up in Silicon Valley, then the scarcity of blacks follows quite naturally from the fact there are very few African Americans with high math aptitude.

    “What is true for aptitude is also true for interest. Some populations are more interested in science, in math, in business, and in taking risks than others. But all of the research I am aware of suggests that these differences are extremely small – not nearly big enough to explain what we’re observing in places like Y Combinator.”

    I doubt that. Sources?

    • Allow me to further explain standardized testing to you. When you see differential performance between blacks and whites, it is because there is *socioeconomic* difference and educational preparation difference, not IQ difference. If you are wealthier, you are more likely to have have gone to better schools and to have taken a test prep class or received tutoring, thus jacking up your scores over those without that luxury. So you see, JL, the deck is often stacked. Ever read that book “How to Lie with Statistics?” It’s a golden oldie I read in grad school and you have just illustrated the point.

      Once given equal access to educational opportunity, the differences between the races disappear.

      You should do your homework before writing such long and ill-informed comments…which are also racist.

      Lori Day
      Educational Psychologist
      M.Ed., Ed. S.
      (Where does your expertise come from???)

      • Lori,

        Respectfully, there can be IQ differences. This is because IQ is often dependent upon nutrition during childhood, and childhood nutrition is often at risk at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. This is why programs like Head Start often focus on providing breakfast: it makes a HUGE difference. This does mean the deck is still stacked against the lower-end of the socioeconomic ladder, but it also means you replied to a hasty post with a hasty answer.

        Also, with equal respect, the average undergraduate economics or statistics major is required to take many more statistics and math classes than the average masters of education or specialist in education degree ever calls for (most programs require at least 1 level beyond Calc 3, usually analysis in Rn, as well as proof-based statistics, econometrics, and an advanced econometrics or time-series econometrics class). Please think about that before pretending to be an expert on statistics.

        PS – I do not mean for this to be an ad hominem, but I do believe that Lori’s snark deserves a response.

        • Mike, I don’t think nutrition is a major factor influencing cognitive ability in the developed world. Even the poorest of the poor are generally fell-fed in the West. Head Start has failed to produce lasting gains in IQ.

      • Lori, where did you get your degrees from? I would have thought that everyone who has studied the black-white gap even a little bit would know that socioeconomic differences do not come anywhere close to explaining the gap. Had you read the article I linked to, you would have known it, too. Let me quote from the article:

        But there is a major flaw in the thesis that income differences explain the racial gap. Consider these three observable facts from The College Board’s 2005 data on the SAT:

        • Whites from families with incomes of less than $10,000 had a mean SAT score of 993. This is 129 points higher than the national mean for all blacks.

        • Whites from families with incomes below $10,000 had a mean SAT test score that was 61 points higher than blacks whose families had incomes of between $80,000 and $100,000.

        • Blacks from families with incomes of more than $100,000 had a mean SAT score that was 85 points below the mean score for whites from all income levels, 139 points below the mean score of whites from families at the same income level, and 10 points below the average score of white students from families whose income was less than $10,000.

        I will also note that the black-white gap exists before children start school, and its magnitude does not change much across the school years. Moreover, even if the gap was caused simply by differential access to good schools and tutoring, this would be irrelevant from the perspective of investors and employers who want people who have actually demonstrated a high level of aptitude, not people who could possibly have been contenders under different circumstances.

  9. “No political correctness. Let’s speak the truth no matter where it leads.”

    I believe it when my earlier comment makes it out of moderation.

  10. That is the problem with modern “EQUALITY”, they only look upwards, not downwards. IOW< they only look at those that have an advantage when those people are not in the group we shall call "protected groups", i.e. women, people with disabilities and visible minorities.

    So no one looks at (and passes laws to correct) those areas where men, white people and able bodied people are at a disadvantage, i.e. homeless, injuried on the job.

    Recently I had the 'pleasure' to talk to an MP (member of parliment) for my area regarding the status of my disability pension from my job, he claimed some interesting facts to me. (Canada)

    1) Women and Men are injured near the same amount on the job

    2) Women only make 51 cents as much as men after factoring in all the factors that effect pay

    I had my tablet with me, when to the Canada Health and Safety website, and showed up that men actually make up 94% of the injuried on the job and also showed him the Stats Canada on Pay, which show 78 cents on the dollar BEFORE altering for factors such as education, job danger etc.

    The look on his face was priceless, especially when he got booed by the audience.

  11. For a theory on WHY there is much higher variance in male intelligence, see http://precedings.nature.com/documents/3238/version/1/files/npre20093238-1.pdf

    • The math presented on men and women is flawed.

      Yes, yes, men and women on average have the same intelligence, but men are still going to be over represented at the high end of the intelligence scale, for the same reason that there are 40% more male retards than female counterparts.

      I can’t believe that a math major like Terri Oda (whose graph is included in the article) can’t figure this out. Did she not take a basic statistics course?

      It’s variance! If we continue discussing why men dominate fields like computer science, we should at least discuss why men also dominate arson, murder, suicide, and all manners of mental illnesses. What goes for the left of the mean will be true for the right of the mean, otherwise one is simply cherry picking data.

  12. This is a great article, I love that you’ve offered practical solutions. The example of the orchestra auditions is fascinating, it’s amazing that such a huge disparity would become apparent so immediately!

  13. I have a few problems with this article.

    1) Racism is not the only explanation. Culture is important. And all cultures are not created equal. Culture is also correlated with race. For instance, where I came from Chinese tended to do extremely well in math. This was because they spent their summers in Chinese summer schools learning math. This is a part of their Chinese immigrant culture.

    2) You can’t measure risk-taking and entrepreneurship in a lab. I am quite prepared to believe that there are far more men willing to take big risks as tech entrepreneurs than women. I think men are much bigger risk-takers in a lot of areas than women are in general. If there is research that shows this not to be true than I think the research is garbage.

    3) When you model something as a bell curve you aught to be very, very careful about the tails because you basically have almost no data in the tails. So your model probably really sucks out there unless you have extremely strong a priori reasons to believe it doesn’t. Its quite possible that men and women don’t show much difference in intelligence or other factors on average. But when you head out into the tails you are talking about 0.0001 of the population. Your whole bell curve model completely breaks down at that point and you can’t really be sure about the validity of any model.

    I think your math and science arguments sound scientific but they are really badly thought out.

    • ” If there is research that shows this not to be true than I think the research is garbage.”

      Yes, those darn facts… if they contradict your preconceptions… THEY MUST BE WRONG.

    • Bill Gates & Steve Jobs were both college dropouts. Math skills have very little to do with success in IT. This “math mystique” is a load of crap.

      Google “Duke Asian cheating” and you’ll see how the Chinese get their good math grades.


  1. […] mean — check out some of the post titles: “All I See Are White Men:” Confronting Racism in Silicon Valley,” “Non-Monogamy,” and two of my personal favorite posts: “Mostly Straight, […]

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