I had been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to watch CNN’s new documentary on race and Silicon Valley.
In 2007, as a junior in high school, I was honored with a CNN Hero Award for working to combat the racial achievement gap in Los Angeles public schools.
So I knew that Black in America: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley was going to hit close to home. But after watching the show, I couldn’t help but hang my head in disappointment. CNN really blew it.
For her fourth Black in America documentary, [Soledad] O’Brien asks why, according to industry analyst CB Insights, less than one per cent of all venture capital money went to digital startups with African-American founders in 2010…
This is an alarming statistic. And it was incredibly inspiring to hear how Angela Benton and Mitch Kapor are working to address it. But CNN’s exposé is sensationalized.
Instead of tackling the issue head-on, Ms. O’Brien falls back on emotive anecdotes to fuel racial fires. She highlights the fact that one of the black entrepreneurs was stopped by local police while walking home late one night. But if we are trying to understand why so few African-Americans run venture-backed startups, what does racial profiling by a local police unit tell us about the funding landscape?
And why does the show feature footage of an Indian entrepreneur explaining that he hired a tall, white male to be the public face of his company? Was his sermon illustrative of the larger problem? The industry insiders interviewed by Ms. O’Brien didn’t seem to think so. They unanimously agreed that the problem was that so few minorities were walking through the door, not that overt prejudices were holding them back once they got inside.
That is why I found the documentary to be so disturbing. CNN could have used this opportunity – the extensive press coverage and Thanksgiving Day spot – to highlight the socioeconomic and structural inequalities that are holding minorities back.
Instead, they panned between shots of the swanky Googleplex and struggling black entrepreneurs crammed onto blow-up mattresses and called it an investigation. What a shame.
Tens of millions of viewers watched black entrepreneurs fumble pitches and Michael Arrington struggle to name an African-American CEO. To what end? What did this accomplish? CNN’s cameras could have been comparing computer clusters at the Menlo School with those of public schools in inner-city Oakland.
But the racial achievement gap isn’t as sexy as the lack of a “black Mark Zuckerberg”. So Soledad O’Brien’s investigative report amounted to nothing more than CNN’s version of the Jersey Shore. Look no further than the overly-dramatic trailer for proof. And are they seriously mad that Silicon Valley celebrities aren’t tweeting about the show? The documentary’s call-to-action should have been donations to MOUSE not the #BlackInAmerica hashtag.
Congratulations, CNN. Viewers of The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley will walk away mad that PencilYou.in didn’t secure venture financing. Thanks for doing your part to expose the tragedies of racial inequality in our society.