As one of the Elders of the Soul Review Board shows the regard we have for the caliber of human beings involved, but when one of them presents material we have to share, we're happy to do so. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the words of Ms. Sonya Donaldson.
Since the airing of Black in America 4: The New Promised Land, I have been contacted by many people asking me to speak about it—from tech entrepreneurs to social media specialists to observers on the sidelines. In truth, I did not watch the CNN broadcast. I have not watched an episode of BiA since the first one aired, and there was nothing in the pre-show conversations that convinced me that a "tech" version would be any different. I appreciate the invitations to comment specifically on this BiA, but I won't.
Although BiA can serve as a point of engagement, it isn't the issue around which I would want to center this very important discourse.
As a few readers know, I have been a technology journalist for some time now. I have written about everything from the first iPod (mine still works) to business tools to entrepreneurs and start-ups—and a host of other topics about which I will not bore you.
Quite frankly, CNN cannot tell me in an hour or two what I have researched, written about, taught, and lived for the past 15 years. In contemplating a story of Blacks in technology that begins with a narrative of lack and ends with a consummation in the so-called "promised land" of Silicon Valley, I am reminded of novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TEDTalk on the Danger of a Single Story in which she notes "how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story."
I applaud the entrepreneurs featured on BiA for making a bold move and for bravely venturing into Silicon Valley; I think they have taken an important step. However, CNN's "Black lack" and "promised land" narrative simply runs counter to what I know of the many entrepreneurs I have interviewed, written about, invited into my classroom to share knowledge, and with whom I have built lasting professional relationships.
As the Root.com's Joel Dreyfuss rightly points out, there is a strong history of Black folks in tech—launching companies, developing ground-breaking technologies, educating, mentoring, surviving, and, yes, failing. There have been serial entrepreneurs and solo fliers. Folks who grew large companies and then cashed out. Sometimes this has occurred in Silicon Valley. Sometimes it has not. It's important that we know our history; it's important that we know the successes, disappointments, and challenges of others who have gone before us. These people have not always been famous or celebrated. This might have given us the sense that they did not exist at all. But they existed and created and have made it possible for us to engage some critical issues in the tech start-up space, particularly those that involve race. They still exist.
While Black in America highlights a central problem in terms of access to capital, to resources, to mentoring, and to spaces (as I gleaned from the vigorous conversations online)—like its other siblings, it doesn't speak to a broad understanding of Black lives in multiple contexts. It cannot. And we should not expect it to. We should take BiA for exactly what it is (and is meant to be): a way for CNN to grab ratings and advertising dollars at the expense of Black folks who thirst for positive images and stories; a series that preys on our desire to see ourselves and our lives represented as we know or imagine them to be. It makes promises. But …
It is not a ride out the wilderness …
I won't speak about the issues of access, because I think there are folks better qualified than I to do so. Like Jabulani Leffall. And Chris Rabb. And Mary Spio. And Amos Winbush. And Jacqueline Beauchamp. And Colin Hill. And a host of others.
And speaking of Colin Hill. I met Colin back in 2000 when he had just launched Boston-based GNS Healthcare. A start-up. He has since grown the company steadily (and smartly). For entrepreneurs who want to begin the conversation with him, check out his new blog on Forbes.com.
But back to BiA … and my not talking about it. I will probably watch it at some point. But I will watch it with the understanding that the strength of CNN (itself an innovative company back in the day) does not lie in its ability to provide a narrative reflective of Black life per se (or even a decent documentary); rather, these products (BiA) can give us a sense of the dusty and distorted lens through which snapshots of Black life are viewed and disseminated.
The real question is: knowing this, where do we now go?
[Source: Tech & Sensibility]