OoTheNigerian

sometimes, I make a lot of sense.

Hackernews And The ‘dirty’ Black Founder Question

21 March 2011 by Oo Nwoye

Ever since I wrote my post about absence of high profile startups with black founders, my antennas are always alert whenever I see anything on the topic.

Something happened on Hackernews that made me conclude on what the real issue is as regards to the absence of black founders.

It seems to be a dirty topic no one wants to discuss therefore ensuring if there is actually an issue, it will be a really long while before it gets near sorted.

Someone asked* earlier on HN if YCombinator had ever funded a startup with a black founder. Take a look at the image below

bfounder

It is quite weird that a post with 124 points and 121 comments in 4hours would be so far down below. See a bigger screenshot to have an idea of the stats of posts ahead of it.

From my understanding of how HN operates, there are two possibilities to explain this anomaly

  • It was moderated by the admins (Which I do not believe was the case)
  • It was flagged seriously (which I believe was the case)

So working with the theory of my belief, I am wondering why people will so eager to flag it. Judging from some of some the responses, it is assumed the topic is ‘not appropriate’.

However, the discussion about the dearth of female founders is very ok.

I will have to say this again. questions on race do not equal Racism.

But it seems people would rather not discuss it. When I wrote my last post, I exchanged an email conversation with a very popular HNer who essentially said he would best avoid the topic.

I exchanged emails with a TC writer who preferred to simply suggest one popular founder and sweep the discussion under. (The writer wrongly thought Tristan Walker was a founder of Foursquare).

So if people are comfortable with discussing women why not blacks?

My guess is although both parties have endured discrimination for so long, one is far more emotional than the other.

Because of this ‘sore point’ there is always a kind of suspicion whenever this kind of questions are raised. The whites think they are subtly accused of racism and basically ignore while the blacks think the whites are insensitive for ignoring or becoming defensive.

Why I have used HN for my illustration is because it is the largest community of startup founders and lovers. As YCombinator is a symbol of everything good and top-notch happening in the ecosystem; it cannot avoid being used as a yardstick every-time.

The way forward

The mutual suspicion has to stop. People like PG Fred Wilson, Scobelizer, Mike Arrington and other powerhouses in the startup world should feel as comfortable talking about it as they do, talking about the absence of women in technology.

Top notch black guys/girls  like my role model from afar Tristan, should find a way to speak at high profile events.

High profile and connected black founders should endeavour to speak about this issue. My post last year only got traction after a Retweet from Tristan Walker.

The truth is that a vast majority of my tech friends in Europe are white (obviously) and they are some of the nicest people I have met (The co founder of my last startup Joel  is actually British). They are extremely helpful and I have NEVER noticed any form of discrimination. i assume it is the case in the US too.  Which is the reason I am a bit confused as to why discussing this issue is a problem.

Hopefully all of this will be in the past very soon.

 

*The answer is yes. There is no idea of how many though.

There are 12 female founders in YC.

Top black tech executives in the valley

The discussion on HN should be here.

 

PS: Please clarify from me before you make any assumptions.

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I am a founder of Fonebase Labs, a Nigerian technology company. Our products are Fonenode - a telephony API, Callbase , a virtual contact center and WriteRack the best way to tweetstorm. Feel free to holla at me (ositanwoye@gmail) if need be.

22 comments | Categories: Technology | Tags: , , ,

  • As always, great post. I am not very familiar with the HN algorithm and I was also confused why this was buried so far below the rest of the topics. Regardless, it’s great that we are having these discussions and I think a lot will come from them.

  • Maybe blacks don’t want to found companies! 😀

  • Anonymous

    Oo – you make a great point.

    We have the governments of the west, the media and ourselves to thank for this issue becoming a don’t ask/don’t talk subject.

    The best way to get it talked out is… let’s form a Renowned Internet Startup and people will talk about it.

  • You’re making a VERY wild assumption here that many HN users purposefully downvoted/flagged a story specifically because it was about a black founder. I don’t know where you get your data from or how you came to that conclusion, but I VERY highly doubt that the HN community would act with such prejudice against race. Additionally, the story DID get a lot of attention and a significant amount of time on the front page. I MIGHT agree with you if it had hardly any votes or fewer comments, but the evidence here makes you like you’re just trying to sling mud. (Further, this is not the first time you’ve victimized black people.)

    I much prefer mikesutton’s approach. Invest your energy into your own development and righting whatever injustices you feel exist through your actions instead of your words.

    • If you read the post, you will see the reason I believe it was flagged is people feel uncomfortable talking about it NOT just because it is about black dudes.

      Comments in that post justify my position about the discomfort of discussing race posts NOT because of the particular race.

      I am not stupid enough to make such a claim in a community I am a part of. If you or anyone still assumes your position, I hope I have clarified my stance.

  • mosburger

    I recall seeing it with a much higher ranking on the front page earlier in the day – I agree with your assertion that there’s a certain unnecessary, strange “taboo” about the question of race that doesn’t exist for women. I also think the question of why there aren’t more black founders is an interesting question to ask.

    However, the assumption, that the story had a low ranking because it was flagged seems pretty unwarranted. I think it’s more likely that it just drifted down on the page as all articles do eventually.

    • “However, the assumption, that the story had a low ranking because it was flagged seems pretty unwarranted”

      If you see the stats of those ahead of it, you will know it drtifted down quite quickly. People have offerd the reason was it being a text post.

  • Anonymous

    I will offer an explanation of how discussions of race and sex are different.

    The problem with talking about race as a white guy or talking about sexism as a man is that it’s like crossing a minefield voluntarily. If you choose to participate in the conversation, the best case scenario is that you don’t blow yourself up. The worst case scenario is that you blow yourself up. Worse yet, it’s much much easier to blow yourself up. Participating in race and sex discussions only has downside for white males.

    That being said, discussions about race that are specifically about black people are a minefield where the ordnance you are trying to tiptoe around or diffuse is much more powerful. Instead of losing some toes or a foot, you can lose a whole leg.

    A good number of people participating in HN conversations are Americans, and like it or not the issue of race, specifically with regards to black people is a national wound that has not healed and may never fully heal and talking about it often results in pain (i.e. conflict), thus most people prefer to willfully ignore it because it hurts and because they don’t believe that talking about it is likely to make it any better.

    Sexism on the other hand is not a national wound, or at least it’s not perceived to be one. In fact, it’s probably the fact that most men don’t think it to be a problem that makes the topic so easy to discuss and why the situation keeps getting better.

    Finally, I think it’s the fact that sexist attitudes are considered forgivable that make it easier to talk about. When you say something that is perceived to be sexist, you have more of a chance to explain your views and correct people’s perceptions on what you were trying to say. On issues of race anything you say that is not intentional and shows you in a bad light is often treated as “the cat is already out of the bag, it’s no use trying to put it back in”. If you make any missteps in conversations about race, you are basically put in a position where it’s better to keep your mouth shut than to try to dig yourself out of a whole.

    At the university I went to, I was trained as a race relations facilitator and the one thing I learned is that typically the only discussions about race that are productive are ones where there are moderators, because moderators create an environment where white people feel safe venturing into a minefield.

    I’m not justifying the status quo here on topics about race. I’m just trying to give some perspective.

    With respect improving race relations, we are indifferent because the upside to the discussion doesn’t play to primal urges like improving sex relations do.

    Personally, I think there are huge advantages of having more women and minorities on teams. I think they bring much needed perspective to product creation and direction. That being said, I think that having points of view from both women and men adds more value than points of view of people from a variety of races. The reason for this is because women in general are more empathizing than men. I personally cannot pinpoint some characteristic such as ’empathy’ where I believe that someone by virtue of being of another race would be better at it than I.

    I feel comfortable in saying that women are better than man with respect to empathy. I can’t say that a black or hispanic person is any better or worse at something by virtue of their race. Instead I feel that I can only judge them by content of character. In fact it may be because people from different races are so equal in ability and character that we don’t want to discuss race. There’s no perceived upside to including a minority because we see them as equals. The fact that women aren’t perceived as equals in all respects for better or for worse may be the very reason we as a group are more willing to discuss their role in startups and computer science in general.

    It’s not really about being male or female at all in the end, it’s about testosterone and it’s impact all aspects of human personality and ability.

    Finally, sex may also have something to do with it. Any male nerd in CS agrees that we’d love to have more women in CS, thus we are willing to discuss anything and everything that may lead to more women in our profession. Crossing the sexist discussion minefield has the prize or at least the perceived prize of more sex waiting on the other side. Men will do risky, stupid things to get laid, including participating in discussions on sexism.

    • ab

      The problem as talking about race as a white guy is that YOU are unprepared to listen or accept that you are not an expert
      (By you, I mean many white people)

      If you chose to participate in such a topic, then you are making a choice to accept some hard truths which and realise that anti racist work is hard and takes time.

      you said this:
      ‘ I was trained as a race relations facilitator and the one thing I learned is that typically the only discussions about race that are productive are ones where there are moderators, because moderators create an environment where white people feel safe venturing into a minefield.’

      Do you realise how unbelievably horrible this is.

      Black people are unsafe to even express the fact that something ontoward is happening, yet the key for productivity according to your training… is to make the victims ensure that those more likely to commit an offense are feel safe.

      Utterly ridiculous.
      But then again I expect nothing less.

      Your entire post is completely unbelievable and quite frankly an insult otherwise known as hipster racism.
      Jeez and you were a race facilitator!.

      Oo the Nigerian is being beyond generous in not really tackling this cluster of nonsense.

      But then, he has to. Doing anything else would be UNSAFE for him. As he will be forever tarred as some ingrate who didn’t know his place and dared to complain.

      But then as you have so eloquently pointed out… during discussions like this, his safety isn’t considered, its all about the safety of your precious white folk.

      • Anonymous

        If anything you just proved my point about race being a minefield. I tried to participate in this discussion, one in which I have nothing to gain from by participating, and I received an ad hominem as a response.

        Your reaction is the exact type of reaction that might prevent me from participating in this discussion at all the next time it crops up.

        The reaction you’ve exhibited is common in race discrimination discussions and rare in sexual discrimination discussions.

        Also, it is not about the safety of “your precious white folk” as you decided to put it. It’s about maintaining civil discourse on a highly emotional and explosive issue.

        The only way the status quo regarding race is going to get any better is going to be via discussion. Discussion is only going to happen if people choose to participate in the discussion. People are only going to choose to participate if the discussion remains civil.

        Can we return to civility?

        PS – Btw, it wasn’t an act of generosity that lead him not to tackle “this cluster of nonsense”. In fact, Oo the Nigerian appreciated my response and tweeted at me to ask me to make it into a blog post.

        PSS – I fully admit that I chose my words poorly when I wrote “moderators create an environment where white people feel safe venturing into a minefield.” I should have instead written “moderators create an environment where people of any race feel safe venturing into a minefield.’ If anything, your reaction illustrates how carefully one must choose their words to be able to participate in race discussions without getting blown up, because with race discussions anything say will be used against you as you’ve demonstrated.

        PSS And just to be very clear, when I say “you”, I mean you AB, the individual who authored the response to my comment. Race is an issue where the default mindset is often “us vs. them”, so I want to make clear that the “you” that I have used in my post is the singular “you” and not the plural “you” referring to a group of people. The ambiguity in the word “you” makes this topic that much more dangerous for anyone to participate in.

        • ab

          If anything you just proved that you are UNABLE to take correction and have an obsessive desire to be right about something you obviously have no real knowledge about.

          This is the real world. We black people are living way beyond your theoretical fantasies and your guilt ridden complex and need to be right.

          Exactly how civil are you being?. You fully stated that white people need to feel safe to enter into discourse of race. Whilst completely overlook the fact that black people feel unsafe about expressing the true legacy and effect of systematic and institutional racism.

          I was civil to your lack of civility or due care to the very people who are victims of your ‘throw away behaviour’.

          So, your words were ugly and poorly chosen. Why can’t you accept that as the reason you got the response you got. oh no. You would rather we pat you on the head and say ‘oh thats okay.. you can pander and tell us point black that we need to appease white people in order to get them to actually treat us with respect they afford to animals…. and expect everyone to smile and agree with you.

          Notice how, you had to first attempt to blame my reaction to your obscene words rather than say.. jeez! I really messed up and said something silly.

          I said it in my first sentence. People like YOU will never admit that you are wrong, or that you are not an expert and do not know.

          Thank you for trotting out your mixed race co-founder. It adds nothing to the conversation.

          You are like a bull in a china shop, instead of apologising for breaking the china, instead you are blaming the shop owners for saying anything about your carelessness in the actual shop.

          Race might be a none issue for you.. thats cool.
          Guess what?. It is an issue for us who have to deal with it IN REAL LIFE every single day. From the moment we step outside our doors.

          Anti racist work is not easy. It is really fucking hard and requires that you not only admit to your lack of inherent knowledge but that you humble yourself and acknowledge not only when you screw up but when you say real offensive stuff which dehumanises black people even when you were trying to be helpful.

          Obviously you can’t seem to do that. Good luck to you.

          Thank you for telling us about your ‘minority blood’ and your ability to grow an afro for a white guy.. again what in the heck difference does it make.

          You said some pretty offensive stuff, and now you want to lighten the mood without an adequate apology.

          Look, the world is filled with people like you.
          Unwilling to actually accept that ugliness of their words and all to willing to blame the reaction to it.

          If you decided to not engage, it would be no great loss. Like I said, the world is filled with the likes of you. It’d just make you a heck of lot more honest and easily identifiable.

          What is really shocking is the incredible dog whistles you keep throwing up in order to avoid the fact that you are wrong and you said some really fucked up stuff.

          whatever.

          • Anonymous

            First, I would suggest you stop thinking in terms of “people” and start thinking in terms of “individuals”. The entire basis of the race argument and race issues is due to people thinking in “people” terms.

            It’s not about white “people” feeling safe to enter into a conversation. It’s about an individual entering into a conversation, any conversation on any topic, and feeling comfortable with the decision to participate. It doesn’t even have to be a conversation about race. I’m talking about something much more basic about human nature and conversations. People generally don’t like confrontation and like to be attacked even less, regardless of what the topic of discussion is.

            I fully admit that I don’t have intimate understanding of the race issue and I will never be able to see your point of view, but I know that I understand human beings in general more than most and my original post was about human beings and their feelings. I’ve lived enough to be able to have empathy for a human being, but I haven’t had experiences to fully empathize with the experience of black Americans or the experience of women. I probably never will.

            That being said, I can empathize with the people who would enter into a conversation with someone with a chip on their shoulder and angry at the world. I don’t need to understand why you are angry to empathize with with the counter-party to any discussion you are part of. I lived most of my life with one particular family member who regardless of the context was often still angry/bitter about something that happened in the past because they couldn’t forget. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that I avoided conversations with that family member when I believed they were still angry and emotional about something. If I did enter into a discussion with them when they were still angry and emotional, the conversations were invariably unproductive. Thus, they were not worth having at all.

            It doesn’t matter how carefully I chose my words, you would have found something to attack among them, because people are fallible and somethings we don’t say exactly what we mean. Language is an imperfect tool for communications and most human beings are imperfect at wielding that tool.

            You want people to enter in a discussion, with you, ab the individual, then be prepared to forgive the imperfect usage of a person’s language and instead look at their intentions.

            You’re right. It is a non-issue for me. You’re right. I don’t have to deal with it every day when I walk out my door. If race was a non-issue for everyone else just like it’s a non-issue for me, then you wouldn’t have to deal with it everyday when you walk out the door. Isn’t that what you want? After all aren’t we having these discussions because of our concerns about the future status quo and not the past status quo. The question you need to ask yourself is if you want the future to be a better one where race is a non-issue or if you simply want to keep harping on about the past and demanding empathy. I’m not going to empathize with you about your past experiences. I’m not going to feel guilty. I’m not going to feel sorry. Why? Because I’m fundamentally ill-equipped to empathize with your past experiences. Trying to me feel bad or guilty about things for which I bear no responsibility for is no way to get me to empathize with you. If anything, it only generates antipathy, because humans don’t want to feel bad and they don’t like people that make them feel bad. Did you feel good when you were a child and your teacher scolded you for something regardless of whether you were responsible or not? Did the scolding make you like your teacher more or less?

            If you are familiar with social psychology, then I assume you will be familiar with the fundamental attribution error. It is my awareness of the fundamental attribution error that affords me the intelligence to ascribe your asshole behavior to you, ab, the individual and not to some group of people defined by physical characteristics they share with you.

            When you, ab the individual, understand that these conversations are first and foremost about the psychology of individuals and the psychology of groups before we even get to the issue of race, then you’ll understand that your posture adds absolutely nothing constructive to the discussion.

            Race discussions (and all discussions) are about human beings first and only incidentally about race.

            This conversation with you “ab” the individual quite frankly is not worth having because if you replace your words so that your conversation is about something other than race, such as “What color should we paint the bikeshed?”, then your posture is really no different than that of the common Internet troll.

            At this point I don’t care if you, ab, are black, white, red, green or orange. I don’t care what you have to say. I don’t care what your opinions are. I don’t care about your individual experiences are. Why? Because you’re an asshole and I don’t care to participate in a discussion with an asshole. You, ab the individual, are the reason nobody feels comfortable talking about the race issue. This isn’t about race, this is about you being an asshole. Nobody cares about the opinions of assholes and no one empathizes with assholes. So if empathy was what you were looking for, you’ve done a stellar job.

            There you go. There’s my ad hominem attack.

          • ab

            Again with the arrogance. Don’t suggest anything to me. YOU are not an authority. Which part of that do you not understand?

            You don’t get to make a ridiculous statement and then get offended cos it didn’t go down well.

            Jeez.. take a damn look at this http://theangryblackwoman.com/2009/09/22/the-bingo-project/ and you just made a #fail

            You can call me all manner of names you want.
            The fact is,
            1) you said something completely and utterly despicable.
            2) instead of owning it, you trotted out your trophies as
            2a) a race relations ‘expert’
            2b) your mixed race friend
            2c) your pretty fly afro for a white guy
            2d) your possibility that you are mixed
            2e) the fact that you think Americans take race ‘too seriously’

            Then you did the ultimate. You trotted out the ‘white guilt syndrome’ and answered a question I didn’t ask, just so you can make a point that you want to make anyway (so transparent)

            I never asked you to feel guilty, I didn’t ask for your sympathy and I’ll posit that, that fact is what scares and makes you feel outraged. You had to resort to an ad hominem. (smh)

            Quite frankly I don’t particularly care about you and people like you. (And that is people who say horrible crap, then get defensive.. refuse to apologise and trott out their ‘equal ops/race work qualifications). Instead of apologising.

            You had to resort to an ad hominem attack because you actually can’t defend what you said and still cant. You can go round the horses all you want. Your words are in black and white and they are really disgusting.

            Incase you forgot this is the internet lol. If you think I’m losing sleep over your silly little tirade lol. you have been staring at your machine too long.

            You keep trying to TELL me what I want, instead of asking. And I have told you exactly what the issue was, but you NEED TO BE RIGHT so you simply can’t accept that someone pulled you up on it.

            Look, I’ll give Oo his blog back, I could give a rats ass what you feel about me.
            I did what I wanted to do.. which was point out the ridiculousness of your statement.

            Now you can go back to your race relation trophy and colour blindness whilst the rest of us go back to the reality of the world and keep working towards the day when we don’t need to feel part of any community you belong to.

            Do what you want… I’m eating breakfast and laughing my head off at your denial.

          • Anonymous

            DNFTT

        • ab

          All this to you is theory. I dare you to confront someone who has just had their house burgled and tell them they need to make the burglars feel safe in order to discuss why stealing is wrong….

          And then wonder why they do not respond well to you.

          You are wrong. What you said was appalling.
          That is simply a fact

          • Anonymous

            So let me see if I got this right, you are now comparing ALL white people to burglers.

            The situation you described is about individuals and not groups of people. It’s also a fallacious strawman argument

            Let me rephrase your statement so it is in fact analogous to our discussion:

            “All this to you is theory. I dare you to confront someone who has just had their house burgled by a white burgler and tell them they need to make the all white people feel safe in order to discuss why stealing is wrong….”

          • ab

            no don’t rephrase my statement. I said it like I meant it.
            This is really extremely arrogant of you. If you have issues comprehending.. you really should just ask.

            And no duh. I did not compare all white people to burglars. you know that. I know that. You are simply trying to play semantics to prove a point. which is to be right. when what you said was wrong. SO carry on with that. Cos honestly.. I’m bored.

          • ab

            Actually on second thoughts you really cannot be that simple minded.. can you? You really don’t understand the analogy O_O.
            Dang..and you really are trying to teach me something?!
            Bwaaahaaaahaaaaa.

            No Sir. you must seriously be joking.

      • Wow! Surprised that things have really gotten heated here. This was obviously not the intention of this post. Discussions on race are very sensitive and ALL participants should have extrapatience and treshold. Before going on the offensive, I recommend ALL parties to ask for clarification which is what i did at the bottom of the post. Issues like this heated thread is unecessary and leads to personal attacks and it is not good for ALL of us. I am now wishing I did not write this post.

        Let us be civil and make no assuptions. Let us refrain from saying “you people”. Personal;y, I took no offense in Andrew’s comment and actually ‘liked it’. I have no reason to believe he had any cruel intent. I guess he should not have said it needed to be safe for whites alone. but we should not use the poor choice of a single word to destroy what would have been a heathy conversation.

        I hope we are all good now. 🙂

        • ab

          Oo no heat from me.. I was just saying it like it is.
          People in the West make the most ridiculous excuses for themselves and are very fond of doing and saying really despicable things, then saying…
          ‘only tell me off nicely or I will simply just be openly despicable or racist’.

          Andrew didn’t make a poor choice of words… he solidified it in his further discussions…
          It is typical. Sometimes I say something.. sometimes I don’t.

          I had free time, I dealt with it. Since I deal with stuff like this on a daily basis, its not a big deal.

          Anyway.. I’m done. Sorry for diverting your blog.

  • Tosin

    00, Weldone boss. I have noticed this trend about the publicity and acknowledgement given to a topic as this. Also I will submit that its all about the colour, not that the ‘black’ issue is a topic nobody wants to talk about. The solution, let’s build our own ecosystem where we get our recognition and attention. Or maybe these guys knows our abilities and capabilites to rule the world of tech if our guys show so level of committment. Thanks

  • ab

    @Michael Greenberg
    What absolute nonsense. Your hyper sensitivity is showing, it would be nice for you to ‘read’ and comprehend what is written instead of slinging accusations and completely missing the point.

    Whilst you might VERY highly doubt, thankfully many black people don’t have your naivety to rely on. We have actual experience in THE REAL WORLD. not your theoretical un-failing belief that the HN is devoid of the same prejudices which are widely available.

    You can afford to stick your head in the sand and sing la la la.. I can’t hear you.
    I bet that coat of denial feels mighty warm.