The Weaponization of Diversity
July 7, 2020 3:43 AM   Subscribe

 
What a JD Vancian pile of bullshit.

His perspective isn't "risky" - it's the status quo that protests are fighting against. He talks about the difference in treatment between Cubans and Mexicans in the US; while ignoring that Cubans benefited from a half-century of government policy supporting them and Mexicans faced government and social persecution. It's not surprising that there is a difference when the government is picking winners.

Worse is the argument that systemic discrimination doesn't exist because that would be irrational and leave talent on the table:
I will acknowledge that stereotypes are out there, and they do impact latinos at the margins, but my own experiences, observations, and reflections make it impossible for me to accept that the dramatic under-representation of American latinos in high-performance industries today is the result of them being discriminated against. The gap is simply too large, and many of these industries are simply too competitive and lucrative for key players to ignore truly untapped talent being kept on the sidelines.
Here's the thing - racism isn't rational. The recent ICE decree that students at universities that have gone fully virtual no longer have valid visas illustrate this - in rational terms, this is an incredibly stupid move that will harm American competitiveness, but the people implementing it don't care - the cruelty is the point.

The sad part is that he's so close to getting it. He talks about how he succeeded by working hard - and then compares that to his Latinx peers, instead of looking at the white peers who didn't have to work as hard as he did. And that's what is so frustrating with this.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:38 AM on July 7 [76 favorites]




If the world I was living in had deep, systemic discrimination against latinos, surely I was an easy target. And yet here I am.

Race is a social construct, albeit one that has long been weaponized into reality against people of color. There is no inherent—inborn—order of inferiority/superiority across racial groups. Meaning that if you see a given industry or test in which people of one race are underrepresented, the conclusion is not “there’s something flawed in these people as a category,” it’s “there’s something flawed with how this industry or test treats these people as a category.”

Of course, it’s typically the people in the overrepresented racial group in a particular industry who insist the flaw is in the people, because it’s another way of insisting on their own superiority. But sometimes there are people in an underrepresented group who work their asses off and make it through the racism filter. And for whatever reason, some of them, instead of looking back at the mountain they’ve climbed and wanting to make the path less treacherous for others, would rather focus on what’s wrong with the people like them who couldn’t make it to the top.

Being white, I can’t speak to that internal belief. I do see it a lot among successful women in heavily male industries, including law: a buy in to the dominant belief system about why those who don’t make it to the top are inferior as a class, a delight about joining into the aspersions cast down on the other. “I am different, I am the special one.” (Guess who gets thrown off the mountain first when layoffs come?)

I can’t tell the author what to think about his own success, and all the pain he faced growing up and being denigrated as a try-hard or a fake. He pins the difference on “culture” rather than genetics, but it feels like a bit of a cop-out to me, when we get down to first and second generation children (“American Latino culture”). But I know that the problem is never with a whole race of people, but with the way a system is created to treat them. If you stick fast to that belief you will see it doesn’t lead you wrong, and that this—many of these industries are simply too competitive and lucrative for key players to ignore truly untapped talent being kept on the sidelines—is just flat out wrong. People and industries have their logic bent far out of shape by racism quite often. I’ve seen countless talented people shelved for transparent and ridiculous reasons, replaced by those who are “a better fit for us.”
posted by sallybrown at 5:11 AM on July 7 [30 favorites]


Shouldn’t the existence of nepotism at the highest levels of many industries give the lie to the idea that talent will win out over tribalism?
posted by Selena777 at 5:18 AM on July 7 [15 favorites]


Yet the data unavoidably shows that, even when controlling for socioeconomic barriers, certain groups still dramatically outperform others on long-term economic outcomes...

...evidence is abundantly clear that no amount of public policy or reconciliation over historical injustices will ever replace the profound, long-lasting impact of private household cultural values...

If the data and evidence is that abundantly clear, why isn't it included in his argument?
posted by justkevin at 5:41 AM on July 7 [21 favorites]


a buy in to the dominant belief system about why those who don’t make it to the top are inferior as a class, a delight about joining into the aspersions cast down on the otheraa

This has been my personal philosophy based on my own upbringing, because the key point to success, esp from my global poc perspective, is the kind of success we're talking about necessitates belief in the system we want to succeed in. It leads to incredible cruelty and rationalisation in the minds of the successful, even if they're barely out of their oppressed class.

These days, I celebrate such people for breaking through but I've stopped expecting them to play the leadership in any radical way. It just doesn't square, usually.
posted by cendawanita at 5:43 AM on July 7 [15 favorites]


From TFA:
With a level of discipline that got me labeled as “acting white” (by other latinos) more than enough times. There was even a special term for it: “coconut.” Brown on the outside, white on the inside.

This is part of what I mean. I quote this also because that's similar to my story. My parents emphasized English fluency because to speak English well is to be successful. It was also another way to demonstrate you have the right class markers (which we were not part of). But if you're too successful at it, you get called 'fake white'. When I was younger I was very arrogant about my language fluency. Why can't other parents be like mine, and make their children speak English to the point of losing facility of their mother tongue (in a non-anglo country!)? Obviously they didn't work hard enough. And this isn't an unusual view in my society, unlike for the author of this piece, so it became a cudgel with which to perpetuate racism and classism.

But you know, I guess I was lucky enough to have discovered the internet and minority voices at a crucial age, because it would have been very easy for me to grow up and be one of the elites of my society with that attitude.
posted by cendawanita at 5:53 AM on July 7 [19 favorites]


The portions of this essay describing attitudes the author encountered while growing up and the emphasis on how local "private household" attitudes connect with a lack of class mobility puts it vaguely in the same ballpark as Paul Willis's classic Marxist ethnography, Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, summarized here. However, I think Willis is a good bit more sympathetic to the double bind many people are in: find ego rewards in capitalist/hegemonic activities and maybe improve your economic status (still a bit of a lottery and even success remains marked for class origins and race/ethnicity), or find ego rewards in working class and/or counter-hegemonic activities and almost certainly remain working class.

Viewed this way, the article's "brain drain" and "psychological resilience" arguments seem problematic--maybe "social class drain" could work, though I'm not sure. And my experience is that most contemporary anthropologists/sociologists tend to avoid old school "cultural values" arguments, which make whole groups of people look irrational and leave unspecified what practicalities shape decision-making on a local scale, where Willis took a closer look at the problem of 'social reproduction,' a.k.a. with some differences 'cultural production theory'--how people wind up adopting, reinventing, or inventing values from generation to generation and/or within circumscribed groups, typically for very understandable reasons.
posted by Wobbuffet at 5:55 AM on July 7 [9 favorites]


I have been reading white men make these arguments since I could pay attention to politics on my own. They are not any better arguments for being made by a latino man. I am not sure what I was supposed to find novel in the FPP.
posted by PMdixon at 5:57 AM on July 7 [23 favorites]


Dude's pretty fucking ugly to his mother too in blaming her failure to translate status from Mexico to the US on "mental illness" because if in fact she became "mentally ill" due to the inability to get the new environment to accept that status that blows up his entire thesis.
posted by PMdixon at 6:00 AM on July 7 [18 favorites]


Zuck and Bill didn’t learn to code during their freshman years.

Indeed. Gates went to Lakeside, an expensive Seattle prep school, and a parent association raised money to buy a terminal and computing time on a mainframe. That's how he learned to code.

Computing used to be scarce. Some white people had the wealth to gain access to it for their kids. That's the story of Bill Gates.
posted by BungaDunga at 6:06 AM on July 7 [25 favorites]


Having been a poor, first-gen-college white kid who lucked into the best academic job in the world. . . I would hesitate to conclude that my profession is in any way fair, even when it comes to poor white kids. I'm told, and believe, that it's astonishingly unfair to many other people who can't put on a sport-coat and pretend to be a rich white guy, as I can. Assuming the opposite seems pretty weird.
We like to think of entrepreneurship, including tech entrepreneurship, as a very democratizing, equalizing playing field . . .
We do? I think this person hangs out with a very different crowd than me. My friends tend to use the word only as a punchline.

The article is interesting and I appreciate reading it. The bits about long term thinking and tokenism are worth considering. On the other hand, when our two Black students tell me they'd really like to see more than one Black faculty member in our department, in more than a century, (unless you include people from India, who our administration classified as "colored" until the '70s, in order to pay them less), I find that very hard to ignore. We can hire non-white colleagues and also fund preschools. Diversity and inclusion isn't enough. But, it matters.
posted by eotvos at 6:13 AM on July 7 [10 favorites]


If the world I was living in had deep, systemic discrimination against latinos, surely I was an easy target. And yet here I am.

"I'm alright, Jack."
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:13 AM on July 7 [10 favorites]


Anyway I'll believe systemic racism isn't real the day there's as many Black and brown failsons in positions of power in America as there are white ones.
posted by BungaDunga at 6:26 AM on July 7 [17 favorites]


What a pompous ass.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:37 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


Good lord. This much grraarrgh at this hour of the morning! Have mercy.
posted by MiraK at 6:40 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


I stopped reading after a few paragraphs because it sounded less like an essay and more like a big excuse for plain old non-humble bragging about his own achievements with a tinge of schadenfreude about others who weren't so lucky. Rather off-putting.
posted by bitteschoen at 6:41 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


Human success is measured on an individual level.

Racism is measured on a societal level.

Cite your sources in a persuasive essay.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:44 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]


modern hyper-competitive entrepreneurship represents the apex of human abilities, creativity, and endurance.

the f u c k ?????


there's like, 25% of a good personal essay in there, talking about how he had access to cultural capital that others didn't, and benefited from having a stable, prosperous extended family that meant he could pursue schooling rather than getting a job -- but boy, it gets lost in a fucking avalanche of that kind of Silicon Valley horseshit.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:44 AM on July 7 [33 favorites]


I think this person hangs out with a very different crowd than me.

It's worth remembering that the author is a VC lawyer who appears to focus on tech. He's very much spouting the company line here, so to speak.

The bits about long term thinking and tokenism are worth considering.

No, they aren't. Tokenism is gooseshit designed to dismiss the value of diversity (yes, even if you're bringing in elite minority candidates, it still enhances diversity because elite minorities still wind up being treated as minorities and bring that experience to the table), and I can get discussion on long term changes elsewhere without the rest of the toxic bullshit the author brings to the table.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:45 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]


I quote this also because that's similar to my story. My parents emphasized English fluency because to speak English well is to be successful. It was also another way to demonstrate you have the right class markers (which we were not part of). But if you're too successful at it, you get called 'fake white'.

From my limited understanding, there's more to it than just demonstrating class markers - there's a sense of worry that this person is choosing to "buy" legitimacy in the social order by becoming an enforcer for that order.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:51 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


modern hyper-competitive entrepreneurship represents the apex of human abilities, creativity, and endurance.

Well, if you limit yourself to the ability to delude yourself and others + projecting confidence in all circumstances....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:08 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


there's a sense of worry that this person is choosing to "buy" legitimacy in the social order by becoming an enforcer for that order

i can buy that, i've also experienced that, but it's more usually seen, felt, and described as betraying your kind in a more essentialist way. being a fake white/coconut/banana is just a shorthand.
posted by cendawanita at 7:11 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


Only a rich man could afford that many unnecessary quotation marks.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:21 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


Among the most zealous are the converts.
posted by bonehead at 7:22 AM on July 7 [7 favorites]


there's a sense of worry that this person is choosing to "buy" legitimacy in the social order by becoming an enforcer for that order

And this is how 'whiteness' is expanded to the next ethnic group, by becoming a reliable voting block for the caste system. Look at the Cajun situation, recently afforded whiteness, around the 1960's. They(/we?) doth protest much, and have elected Clay Higgins to the U.S. House of Reps.
posted by eustatic at 7:25 AM on July 7 [6 favorites]


I will acknowledge that stereotypes are out there, and they do impact latinos at the margins, but my own experiences, observations, and reflections make it impossible for me to accept that the dramatic under-representation of American latinos in high-performance industries today is the result of them being discriminated against. The gap is simply too large, and many of these industries are simply too competitive and lucrative for key players to ignore truly untapped talent being kept on the sidelines.
That's funny, I see the same fact and draw the opposite conclusion. The gap is simply too large to be explained by real statistical variation between groups. I agree with others that the core of this argument is unwarranted faith in meritocracy and the ability of companies to find and hire the "best".
posted by jomato at 7:56 AM on July 7 [13 favorites]


^ Yup.

Worse is the argument that systemic discrimination doesn't exist because that would be irrational and leave talent on the table:
I will acknowledge that stereotypes are out there, and they do impact latinos at the margins, but my own experiences, observations, and reflections make it impossible for me to accept that the dramatic under-representation of American latinos in high-performance industries today is the result of them being discriminated against. The gap is simply too large, and many of these industries are simply too competitive and lucrative for key players to ignore truly untapped talent being kept on the sidelines.
Here's the thing - racism isn't rational. The recent ICE decree that students at universities that have gone fully virtual no longer have valid visas illustrate this - in rational terms, this is an incredibly stupid move that will harm American competitiveness, but the people implementing it don't care - the cruelty is the point.


Even more than that, in this quote, the author is not talking about or demonstrating any understanding of systemic racism - everything about our social, political, and economic structures that goes far beyond individual prejudice.
posted by eviemath at 8:00 AM on July 7 [7 favorites]


I stopped reading after a few paragraphs because it sounded less like an essay and more like a big excuse for plain old non-humble bragging about his own achievements with a tinge of schadenfreude about others who weren't so lucky. Rather off-putting.

If you happen to be a fellow white person here: regardless of the accuracy of this take, we should maybe avoid tone policing people of color, even when they're making bad arguments that support systemic racism?

posted by eviemath at 8:06 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


By this argument, there's no discrimination against women in tech, because "these industries are simply too competitive and lucrative for key players to ignore truly untapped talent being kept on the sidelines." This line of thinking leads you to James Damore style sex essentialism.

the author is not talking about or demonstrating any understanding of systemic racism

Yes, at every single point where he talks about "systemic discrimination" he seems to be talking about pervasive racial animus. Which is not what people mean when they say systemic racism, he's arguing against the usual straw man: many people aren't vocally racist, and when they are, it's often not with actual felt malice. That doesn't say anything about systemic racism.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:06 AM on July 7 [24 favorites]


The author is wrong in dismissing systemic racism in tech. It exists, how can it not? All of society swims in the same ocean.

He does bring up a good point in family culture. The family is an ocean too.

It's somewhat strange to see people deny the power or existence of one or the other. They are two oceans.

Sadly they also reinforce each other. There is the actual family culture and there are beliefs held by the wider society of those cultures. It is tricky to talk about family culture without stereotyping views on those cultures. But if we don't talk about them, we won't be able to understand how it figures into outcomes.
posted by storybored at 8:22 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


I think there is half of a good argument here, especially toward the end of the essay, about the need to fight for equality from the bottom up. Making sure people have their basic needs met so they have the necessary bandwidth to focus on achievement. My inbox right now is full of corporations proclaiming their supposed dedication to fighting racism. Does that mean they'll start paying their employees a living wage and provide them with healthcare instead of cutting their hours just short of full time so their workers' kids can have a chance at a middle class childhood? No fucking way. They might make a show of their minority employees and throw a few slogans around but it's all just empty (and free!) posturing in the end.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 8:29 AM on July 7 [15 favorites]


I’ve learned to not be so offended by weak stereotypes, because given my experiences growing up, I understand full well why they exist. Stereotyping is at some level a normal, even if often unfortunate, function of human behavior. We had plenty of stereotype jokes in our household growing up, particularly about white people. Stereotypes alone do not really make you a racist. They make you human. It’s how strongly you hold onto a stereotype, and your willingness to give individuals the benefit of the doubt, that determines whether or not you deserve the label.

It's not about stereotypes though, it's about the power differential. This is what so many people don't get when it comes to using those sorts of things, even when the aim is endearment instead of hurt. Why? Because if the person is hurt, they don't have the power to address the situation. It's THEIR problem. We see this happen in group dynamics all the time. Humans are literally hard wired to not rock the boat unless things are in truly deep shit. This guy's conduct for instance is exhibit A. He had no power so all he could do was grow a thicker skin. But if some colleague said "oh hey you old w*****k" he'd be livid.

Why? Racism? Systemic discrimination? I’m sorry, but you won’t convince me of that. I will acknowledge that stereotypes are out there, and they do impact latinos at the margins, but my own experiences, observations, and reflections make it impossible for me to accept that the dramatic under-representation of American latinos in high-performance industries today is the result of them being discriminated against. The gap is simply too large, and many of these industries are simply too competitive and lucrative for key players to ignore truly untapped talent being kept on the sidelines.

Yeah. You have to be extremely determined to be successful in any industry. But you have to go above and beyond as a person against systemic racism. A black kid in the hood has poverty. If he has both parents they work 60+ hours a week at minimum wage to afford housing along with feeding kids. He has parents that can't help him as much as a white kid's parents living in suburbia. His parents sure as hell aren't going to be hiring a tutor. He has social pressure from his peers to enter into social structures that are not conducive to succeeding in a 1% type of way. All of this wealth accumulated over time gives all these little edges to kids not affected by systemic racism. THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT.

If you want to argue for strong, systemic discrimination against latinos, you’ll have to explain the very big gaps in outcomes between, say, Cubans and Mexicans. A reflective and honest latino can explain that gap very quickly. Cuba had a “brain drain” thanks to Castro. Mexico did not.

No shit. If you're the perfect immigrant, have value, play the system, and abandon principles and dignity, sure, you can make it in a white person's world. Look at how white supremacists were only happy to take Irish and Italians under their banner once they realized they needed the numbers. Catholics? Not so bad people! If you fail to be useful I can guarantee you will be discarded straight onto the scrap heap. MUCH LIKE YOUR MOTHER WAS TREATED.

China broadly cares a whole lot more about school performance than Mexico does (or anyone else for that matter).

China is also willing to let their people be used as virtually slave labor for manufacturing in order to build the wealth to provide a society which is conducive to school performance. They will make an underclass suffer for the middle class to rise just like capitalism has in the West.

To ignore the reality of cultural values is to cowardly stick your head in the sand, and therefore never fully address the issue.

The way to "fully address" the issue is to make sure everyone has a decent standard of living, that they can choose their own destiny, and work towards it in a fair and equitable way. Blaming other Mexicans for being lazy is not a fucking solution.

Now speaking even more narrowly for the audience that frequents this blog: why are there so few successful latino tech entrepreneurs?

Because they don't have parents and friends that can drop five, six or seven figures on a business when it shows promise. Bill Gates? Million dollar loan from the folks. Bezos? Quarter mil when Amazon was struggling to grow. Jobs? A few friends got him access to a quarter mil line of credit. Zuck? Borrowed from friends. Branson? Borrowed from his mum. How the hell is some Mexican kid out of college supposed to get that kind of scratch together? He and all his family and friends are either poor or are trying to build wealth and typically don't have a lot of surplus.

The evidence is abundantly clear that no amount of public policy or reconciliation over historical injustices will ever replace the profound, long-lasting impact of private household cultural values, including about education and long-term training, on the performance level children are able to reach as adults.

How about we start by making sure parents have the ability to raise their kids in a safe, stable environment free from want along with fully funded schools and then we look at "cultural values" and other assorted bullshit as to why things are the way they are. I think if a black single mother can live in a nice place for 20 hours a week of work (if she wants) and spend the rest of their time helping their kids things would look a lot different. That kid gets help, gets good grades, goes to college, builds wealth. Right now that mother works 50, 60, 70 hours a week, the kid is home alone, the kid is in a school that couldn't give a shit if he fails. The cycle just repeats. And we as a society blamed black people and their values for their own situation for hundreds of years. How have we not come to the conculsion that it doesn't work?

This essay is 100% garbage and is a just a thin veneer on arguments you'd find in "The Bell Curve".
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:30 AM on July 7 [25 favorites]


Systemic racism... I remember hearing Dick Gregory a long time back say (my memory of what he said,) “If all the white people on earth were to suddenly just disappear, I still can’t get a job.”
posted by njohnson23 at 8:32 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


Why is it that we don't criticize rich, white family values and culture every time their elite, "high performing" members avoid paying taxes, engage in insider trading, and hand each other massive no-bid government contracts?
posted by el gran combo at 8:34 AM on July 7 [36 favorites]


I have in my life had contact with a few elite communities and there is no question that being in the Old Boys' Club opens so many doors. To make a very sweeping statement...anyone who doesn't understand that, isn't in the club.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:46 AM on July 7 [10 favorites]


My background isn't too far off from Jose's. I'm Cuban and from a blue collar background. I had the luck to attend some expensive schools for free and built my own company.

I think the issue I have with this essay is that it conflates the achievements of exceptional people with equality. There has always been a place for those who work exceptionally hard, have intelligence and grit. If you study twice as hard, develop unique talents and network like a fiend it's always been possible to win scholarships, receive amazing job opportunities and live a good, fat life.

But to some degree that's the system using you. This company can't be racist. They have a Black board member. The face of this organization is a Hispanic Female - they must value inclusivity. Look at the diversity on this carefully selected student panel. It's tokenism. People with your ethnic background can't be mad. After all, you made it while working from the same origins, so they can't complain because they didn't work hard enough.

However, I believe that true equality has arrived when truly mediocre people are able to have satisfying, middling careers no matter their background. If you have to be exceptional to succeed, if you have to be twice as good, then that serves as a weed out function and keeps plenty of perfectly adequate people out of a comfortable life.

I will say that there is work to do in the Hispanic community, especially where culturally womens' time and education is not valued as highly as that of men, despite good performance records when given resources. However, that still balanced with a broader society that sees Hispanic people as expendable, not worth investment, and is content to create barriers to the connections needed to move forward with careers and education.

Many of us pay a tax, to some degree, because mentors and connections are needed and if you're one of the lucky ones there might not be many other than you in your community to help provide.
posted by Alison at 9:05 AM on July 7 [30 favorites]


To make a very sweeping statement...anyone who doesn't understand that, isn't in the club.

Unfortunately I don't actually think this is true. I think there genuinely a small fraction of people born in the club who really do successfully avoid noticing the people carrying them and persuade themselves that sure they got connections, but that only got them in the door!
posted by PMdixon at 9:29 AM on July 7


Unfortunately I don't actually think this is true. I think there genuinely a small fraction of people born in the club who really do successfully avoid noticing the people carrying them and persuade themselves that sure they got connections, but that only got them in the door!

Yeah, there is some truth to that. I guess what I meant is if you're not in the club to start, and think there's no club, you didn't make it to the club.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:35 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


However, I believe that true equality has arrived when truly mediocre people are able to have satisfying, middling careers no matter their background. If you have to be exceptional to succeed, if you have to be twice as good, then that serves as a weed out function and keeps plenty of perfectly adequate people out of a comfortable life.

this is definitely the pattern I have observed in parts of the tech industry and even among students in technical fields. very few women, Black, Indigenous or Latino people overall, but the ones who manage not to be weeded out tend to be very talented. by contrast there are plenty of mediocre white Europeans and Americans, Indians, and Chinese. Progress will mean mediocrity across all groups.

I think there is a factor of "acculturation" here but I don't think the author's viewpoint on it is that helpful -- I don't think it's a moral, work-ethic kind of thing. I think a big factor is just that it helps when growing up to know somebody who works in a certain career -- you can see what they do all day and imagine yourself doing it. If your community has nobody who works in tech, you are just not likely to even think you might want to work in tech. The same for any other field -- lawyer and doctor families tend to have lawyer and doctor kids.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:42 AM on July 7 [9 favorites]


But to some degree that's the system using you. This company can't be racist. They have a Black board member. The face of this organization is a Hispanic Female - they must value inclusivity. Look at the diversity on this carefully selected student panel. It's tokenism. People with your ethnic background can't be mad. After all, you made it while working from the same origins, so they can't complain because they didn't work hard enough.

This is what I thought the essay would be about based on the title. Very disappointed in the actual content.
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:05 AM on July 7 [9 favorites]


As a Latina (and a mostly white-passing one at that!) I hate this and have dealt with Latinx people who think this way my entire life. I have a lot of feelings and things to say about these attitudes that are probably too "insidery" for a general forum like this (and I feel less comfortable speaking on them here) but I do thank everyone who is pushing back against what this piece says.
posted by primalux at 10:12 AM on July 7 [10 favorites]


If you happen to be a fellow white person here: regardless of the accuracy of this take, we should maybe avoid tone policing people of color, even when they're making bad arguments that support systemic racism?
As one of the offending parties, I appreciate the point. I genuinely can't say whether or not I agree with it. But, I will definitely think about it.
posted by eotvos at 10:16 AM on July 7


I thought this piece was interesting even though I didn’t agree with his conclusion and wouldn’t totally blame his old schoolmates if they read this, tracked him down, and egged his house. (He really really needed an editor, regardless.) I don’t think treating education as a critical variable negates racism at all. In fact it’s plausible to me that education is less a solution to cultural supremacies and more a means by which they sustain themselves.

My background thought process these days is: why do we educate? Why have I spent a year+ fretting about my own kid’s education? Why are we as a culture collectively panicking as we look at another year of inconsistent access to schools? Is it just about childcare (that is clearly a huge piece of it of course), or is there something more that is not about our lives as parents, but is actually about our kids’ lives? It is a hard question for me to answer, because with $LargeNumber years of formal schooling, this is the water I swim in. But I think I need the answer.

Mr. eirias' answer is one I like and I have been sizing up various things I encounter against it to see how they fit: namely, education is (1) a means by which our culture reproduces and survives and, simultaneously, (2) a means by which individuals ensure safety and security for their own progeny, by weaving them into the mass of the dominant local culture. Educational attainment can then be viewed as a proxy for cultural centrality. This piece fits that frame fairly well. The author succeeded where many from one of his cultures have not because he had more access to education within his other, dominant culture, and he had that access because his family was already closer to the center. He was then punished socially by people from his other culture in really specific ways (ways I have never understood before this frame; whiteness is another water I swim in). None of this is surprising if education is a means of cementing cultural continuation and cultural power, and none of his experience has to be wrong for intercultural dynamics to also be extremely relevant to who wins and who loses.
posted by eirias at 10:17 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


Why are we as a culture collectively panicking as we look at another year of inconsistent access to schools?

I'm okay with a gap but I have to tell you that this year has radicalized me about the importance of good education - mathematics, science, and worldwide geography and history in particular. I had no idea so few people understand what exponential growth is. And I struggled in math!

Also, literature - properly chosen, representative literature - to develop empathy and understanding.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:23 AM on July 7 [12 favorites]


Anecdote is the enemy of data and this article is pure anecdote.
posted by simra at 10:33 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


The gap is simply too large, and many of these industries are simply too competitive and lucrative for key players to ignore truly untapped talent being kept on the sidelines.

It's an unproven assertion that the people doing the hiring in these industries can identify untapped talent. I've never seen any evidence that they (or anyone) can do this reliably.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 10:42 AM on July 7 [10 favorites]


Remember when Amazon tried to throw AI at hiring and it was so sexist they had to turn it off?
posted by BungaDunga at 10:43 AM on July 7 [6 favorites]


But just like Cubans and Mexicans, they look exactly the same.

Stopped reading here because I don't even want to know what sort of wrongness made him think that.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:57 AM on July 7 [8 favorites]


Remember when Amazon tried to throw AI at hiring and it was so sexist they had to turn it off?

The reason it was so sexist? They trained it on resumes of current Amazon employees. All the system did was lay bare the existing bias at Amazon, in a blatant "I learned it from watching you!" moment.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:09 AM on July 7 [23 favorites]


Not 100% down with the conclusions drawn in the essay, but the points made about how one ends up with a particular kind of job due to family background are important. Obvious, obviously, but a crucial flashpoint in our current discussions on American racism. Family dynamics are a factor difficult to discuss without pushing the wrong buttons, and the nature of family influence is tough to "fix" from a policy standpoint.

Among my dozen or so siblings and cousins, every single one ended up in one "helping profession" or another. No one in jobs related to business, no electricians or bricklayers, no entrepreneurs. All of our dads were professionals. Doctors/teachers. Not a coincidence.

We are white. Half of us married non-white people. Again, family: they were all mid-century liberal internationalists. Pro-U.N. Not much American flag-waving.

I understand why a lot of us MeFites dislike this essay. But I found it well-intentioned, honest, and only occasionally misguided.
posted by kozad at 11:24 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


Can you even imagine having such a narrow, crabbed, downright lobotomized view of human abilities.

Listen can you figure out how to lose billions of dollars as quickly as WeWork has? Didn't thin kso.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:27 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


News Flash: Tech bros of ALL stripes are insufferably annoying as all hell.
posted by Chickenring at 11:35 AM on July 7


[ One comment removed, please avoid using medicalized language ("lobotomized" in this case) to insult people]

posted by loup (staff) at 11:48 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


this is definitely the pattern I have observed in parts of the tech industry and even among students in technical fields. very few women, Black, Indigenous or Latino people overall, but the ones who manage not to be weeded out tend to be very talented. by contrast there are plenty of mediocre white Europeans and Americans, Indians, and Chinese. Progress will mean mediocrity across all groups.

Quick thing, but it's really weird and dehumanizing to write "people" after "Black, Indigenous, and Latino", but not "Indians, and Chinese".
posted by Ouverture at 11:55 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


The only thing I can think to add here that hasn't been said above is that the author (possibly because he seems not to have gone back and spent any time in Mexico) is totally off-base about the "working class Latino culture" not valuing education. The Mexican revolution was a serious extended disaster, but one of its most lasting achievements was an inculcation of the value of education down to the very last village in the countryside and the determination to provide education, up to and including flying teachers out to those tiny, isolated pueblos in monoprop airplanes.

The success of the system isn't always great (the Tec de Monterrey he says is the MIT of Mexico definitely is the MIT of Mexico, but only passed up other, public universities relatively recently), but that's down to government corruption exacerbated by American neoliberalizing pressures and an American-backed civil war in the country, not to any "working class culture" that fails to value education.

Super quick edit for more than typos: I'm not sure I'd even chalk "valuing education" up to the revolution, but farther back than that and I'm out of my wheelhouse
posted by TheProfessor at 12:23 PM on July 7 [5 favorites]


Quick thing, but it's really weird and dehumanizing to write "people" after "Black, Indigenous, and Latino", but not "Indians, and Chinese".
genuinely confused by this -- it's the exact same usage as "Europeans" and "Americans" in that sentence -- a fairly standard thing for many country adjectives to turn into nouns.
posted by vogon_poet at 12:32 PM on July 7


genuinely confused by this -- it's the exact same usage as "Europeans" and "Americans" in that sentence -- a fairly standard thing for many country adjectives to turn into nouns.

Unlike "Americans" or "Europeans", "Indian" and "Chinese" aren't just country adjectives though. They also describe the racial identities of millions of people who live outside of those countries.

And that's why it sounds as jarring and dehumanizing as saying "Blacks" or "Latinos".
posted by Ouverture at 12:37 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]


This is just "by my own bootstraps, racism edition" and should hold as little weight as any other similar argument.

If you happen to be a fellow white person here: regardless of the accuracy of this take, we should maybe avoid tone policing people of color, even when they're making bad arguments that support systemic racism?

Harmful takes are not a protected class.
posted by simmering octagon at 12:41 PM on July 7 [8 favorites]


I am glad to see that this piece has been rightly and accurately savaged in the comments.

What concerns me is that so many people in the startup/VC world will just see this piece and have it confirm their already deeply entrenched biases and thoughts on "meritocracy".

Ironically enough, if Jose had a more diverse community where he could discuss these thoughts before publishing them, he would have had a much stronger piece. Instead, we get a few decent points, a lot of terrible ones, and some really fucked up messaging about his mother.

There are multiple times where he gets so close to getting it and then having that clarity wiped away with scolding about personal responsibility.

Congratulations to Jose for so clearly demonstrating that intellectual mediocrity isn't just the domain of white tech bros.

This is what I thought the essay would be about based on the title. Very disappointed in the actual content.

God, yes. There desperately needs to be more work on how diversifying the oppressor class has massive downsides for already marginalized people, especially in the world of startups.
posted by Ouverture at 12:51 PM on July 7 [9 favorites]


As a succesful Latinx individual, this essay made my blood boil - and I didn't even finish it.
posted by Drowsy Philosopher at 12:58 PM on July 7 [4 favorites]


Harmful takes are not a protected class.

Sure, and if the comment I quoted and was specifically referring to had excoriated the take and its harms, or mentioned that at all, no complaints here. It didn't. It's like how making fun of Trump for exhibiting symptoms shared by other folks who are disabled but not fascist wanna-be dictators is harmful to the disabled community overall and something we should endeavor to avoid, even though there are very many bad things about Trump overall.
posted by eviemath at 1:36 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]


My job is to make sure my organization is compliant with our diversity laws (in Canada) and articles like this do so much harm. Just because the author doesn't see it, doesn't mean unconscious bias isn't there. Diversity hiring isn't just about representation, it's about access, removing the systemic barriers to employment that prevent people from even getting an interview.

It is sometimes so tiring to work in equity, diversity and inclusion, because everyone says they support diversity until they have to be proactive about it.
posted by aclevername at 2:49 PM on July 7 [9 favorites]


This article was mostly interesting because of the person's personal story, and strange positions.

I was very confused by the fact that he seems to think that grade schools aren't subject to systemic racism, and that culture isn't affected by systemic racism. In my learning about systemic racism in the USA, grade schools are the defining issue, even more essential than real estate in many ways.

Norman Rockwell didn't paint Ruby Bridges going to Harvard, Ruby had to be escorted to the Frantz Elementary School.

There's all this hand-wringing in the essay, about his not being an entrepreneur, that, to me, seems to be his own definition of generational poverty.

He has a theory that class mobility, and gaining more empowered work, takes several generations. But he doesn't think that a process that is generational is systemic. This is very strange to me.

I feel like his personal testimony gives me a lot of evidence for systemic racism in the technology field, even though he takes a different conclusion from his evidence.

Interesting that he identifies as 'Latino' and not 'Hispanic'; fifteen years ago I feel like this essay would have been talking about 'Hispanic' culture and identifying more with whatever white parts of his heritage there are, and everything would have been a bit more 'biological.' I am glad he didn't go there.

Maybe that s just this person, I obviously don't know him, but I also feel like that has been a result of successful latino solidarity and political movement.

I m curious to know what he thinks about Hispanic culture and the Republican party, if I'm being honest.
posted by eustatic at 3:17 PM on July 7 [5 favorites]


WAIT WHAT. Setting aside the ridiculousness of "they look exactly the same" how does his brain drain argument refute systemic discrimination. Does he think economic class hierarchy is a meritocracy in Nigeria or Cuba, and thus those highly educated people who immigrate to the U.S. end up doing better than their fellow "all look same" BIPOC do better because of their "values that generate more positive outcomes" instead of their pre-existing economic advantages? Because he then argues later on that: "Filling your workplace or portfolio with people from objectively affluent and privileged backgrounds" isn't "really putting in effort to level the playing field for people facing real structural barriers."

Sigh.

There is an important conversation about how a one-dimensional racial diversity metric overlooks intersectionality with other dimensions of difference, including class, but he is not making that argument here.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:06 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


Also it sucks to be labeled a coconut (or a banana or oreo) because of your insufficient adherence to some arbitrary set of racial/ethnic identified behaviors. And it sucks that success in the U.S. can require and be perceived to require assimilation to white America. But harboring a grudge as an adult and then writing a lengthy paean to cultural essentialization...
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:17 PM on July 7 [4 favorites]


And his semi-attempt to NOT engage in anti-Blackness really doesn't work when he writes stuff like this: "recklessly and indiscriminately warmongering over diversity is the business world’s equivalent of breaking windows and looting."
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:24 PM on July 7 [6 favorites]


There is an important conversation about how a one-dimensional racial diversity metric overlooks intersectionality with other dimensions of difference, including class, but he is not making that argument here.

If anyone has links to essays that do discuss this issue, I’d like to see them.

I would also be interested to see writing on another related issue. I’m a white woman in a male-dominated field, and it took me far too long to notice how much of my “I’m not like other women” pride was bullshit internalized sexism. (Frankly it took being directly harassed by my advisor before I realized how endemic sexism is in my field). But since then I’ve read some interesting personal essays about other women recognizing and working on rooting out their internalized sexism. I would be really interested in reading similar stories about race— internalized racism, colorism, classism all exist. I’d like to read the stories of those who have recognized these problems in themselves and how they are working on rooting them out.
posted by nat at 5:56 PM on July 7 [6 favorites]


My big takeaway from this conversation has been that the experiences of discrimination and racism differ between the USA and other locations. Industrial slavery and history has much to do with this. Therefore, there will be content on race that will be read and interpreted by those who may be labelled "PoC" in the American context but may have never experienced the American racialization experience nor understand it necessarily at first instance or recognize the gaps in articulation.

It seems to me as though the community on metafilter will need to make an explicit choice as to the norms upheld as the filter for evaluating content - the American lens or the diverse variations of class, caste, creed, and hierarchical divides inherent in most human societies.

Given that I have not come across the framing and the arguments made in this thread in other corners of the world wide web (which I very much appreciate as it has been a learning journey) I am forced to recognize that to continue participating on metafilter I will have to choose to normalize myself to the American racial lenses.

I agree with the comments that the author leaves much to be desired in his inability to admit to the systemic racism, but my own experience of moving to the USA at age 32 informs me of my ignorance of the entire class structure of privileges that is the local culture. It is only now, at 54 that I have slowly come to recognize the exploitative and extractive nature of the American economic system, its dominance of the "world order', its control over technology and currency, the hegemony of the post WW2 order, and in particular the impact of this mindset and its structural oppression projected onto the entire African continent.

That Jose does not choose to publically recognize the benefits of American exceptionalism on the world stage is not his fault. The passport is a globally powerful one, more so for those whose countries of origins may have much less developed passport powers, and are forever trapped in the immigration maze like rats, waiting to be thrown out of the country because a virus made classes go digital.

This means that for "PoC" like Jose, as American citizens, they are exceptional compared to their compatriots, and as someone said above, the born again are zealots. Even if the US were to recover its senses after the elections, and addressed the issues raised by the ongoing protests in the real world, there would remain the danger that the need to exploit and oppress, as a fuel for the design of their economic engine, would mean the conditions would worsen for continents like Africa where 54 diverse countries struggle in their own ways to stand up on their own two legs without their knees getting capped every couple of decades.

Is this divide in worldview and mindset one that can be bridged?

Only time will tell.
posted by infini at 1:22 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I’d like to read the stories of those who have recognized these problems in themselves and how they are working on rooting them out.

This very thread is helping me work on it. For example, my comment in a 2008 thread titled "Carlos is an Asian at Heart", you can hear me make arguments that echo Ancer's. Maybe I say something about the diversity of Latino/Asian experience, but the culture and and working in the fields stuff is BS. (At least Ancer isn't ascribing it to genetics, or all that maize Mexicans eat). My general comment history very much has an individual overcoming barriers bent to it. So I'm thinking over that, acknowledging I'm wrong in a lot of places, and thinking hard about my own experiences.

These issues, like primalux said, can get into some very insider stuff. I'm not going to write about specifics here. MetaFilter's PoC that have written publicly about system racism on this site have really helped me. I'm grateful they've poured the labor into calling out crap comments, or making posts addressing systemic racism.

I do ask specifically for white people to go look through your own comment histories and see where they've supported progressive policies (like Ancer does), and made arguments ignorant of the systemic and institutional racism built into the US. Go read that 2008 thread and see how MeFi wrote similar stuff to this essay (and worse). Rooting this stuff out really takes going back and looking at your personal history and community history. Find out what was wrong, how things are now, and imagine how to be better.
posted by Mister Cheese at 10:47 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


I am forced to recognize that to continue participating on metafilter I will have to choose to normalize myself to the American racial lenses.
In all kindness: the essay was explicitly about the experience of an immigrant to the USA about his experience within the USA. I don't think it is unreasonable for people to approach that through the American systems of race.
posted by PMdixon at 10:51 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Be that as it may, I was also referring to the overall ongoing dialogue across the microsites regarding the conversation on race. See banner links fyi.
posted by infini at 12:29 PM on July 8


This man is purporting to undercut arguments against systemic racism, but is instead illustrating his own conformity to the values of and beliefs of the dominant (white) power structures in America, and how that allegiance has been useful to him as a member of a discriminated group.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 3:26 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Ancer's observations are flawed. I did find this plausible (in those cases where the prerequisite skills are genuinely rare, which I think applies more to several other roles than to the venture capital-related ones he is thinking of):
in a market increasingly looking for these scarcer candidates, those with the most “pull” (better brand, better pay, lower risk) are able to win, and those with less pull lose
I want to keep this in mind as a person who sometimes wants to market various opportunities* to marginalized people, partly prescriptively, to remind me to be strategic about improving the actual and perceivable situations I want to recruit for, and partly descriptively, so I don't blame myself if I do a lot worse than organizations that have more resources and more "pull".

I noticed that Ancer conflates all entrepreneurship with "modern hyper-competitive entrepreneurship". I'd be interested to better understand how different flavors of entrepreneurship (including zebra-style tech startups) in the US are hospitable to different dominant and marginalized groups. For instance, I am a founder of a consultancy. I started a business. I have not sought venture capital and don't plan to. I am the daughter of immigrants from India, and my mom definitely would have loved for me to be working for a large institution such as a Fortune 50 company or a state or federal government, because that seems more stable and less risky to her. But to Ancer, even though I have taken a risk by going out on my own, since I have not started a venture-backed (read: unsustainable) company, I don't particularly count. I've never worked on improving the diversity of the supply of founders of venture-backed startup companies, but I would assume that one major factor would be the pool of existing entrepreneurs who are taking some risks, and who could be persuaded (with sufficient infrastructure** and some modified funding dynamics) to take more.

If you want another perspective on the supply side of diversity and inclusion in hiring, "Waiting for unicorns: The supply and demand of diversity and inclusion" by Vu Le (written in 2015) discusses how nonprofits seeking people of color, especially in executive roles and on their boards of directors, need to work on the supply side. For instance: "Fund leadership programs specifically targeting leaders of color" and "Change inequitable nonprofit dynamics, especially funding dynamics."

* opportunities here meaning, sometimes paid jobs, sometimes stuff like "submit a talk proposal for this conference," "serve on this nonprofit advisory board," "take this free training workshop," etc.

** this might be part of what Stripe Atlas is doing
posted by brainwane at 9:55 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


re: supply side

to share my perspective, and to further clarify the comments I've made here and elsewhere, if you're not aware, back in the early 1970s Malaysia launched a poverty eradication programme, called the New Economic Policy. Due to the socioeconomic correlation between poverty and the native as well as indigenous Malaysians compared to the Malaysians that were mainly settled through British colonial policy, it was basically a population-wide positive affirmative action policy. This was a policy that was designed with a lot of (officially unacknowledged) technical/policy advisory input from the UN via UNDP (I think it was already called UNDP then). iirc South Africa used my country as an example for what eventually became their Black Economic Empowerment policy, and maybe if anyone could speak of the .za perspective that would also be great. (As far as i know there has been at least one comparative econs country study: 'Affirmative Action in Malaysia and South Africa: Contrasting Structures, Continuing Pursuits')

I cannot deny the NEP has been incredibly successful. I literally would not exist if this policy wasn't in place, and my parents, coming from impoverished (dad) or rural (mum) backgrounds, had not been provided the educational and employment opportunities to meet, to keep it real self-centred for a second. But also consider how in a span of generation, having a tertiary education is absolutely unsurprising for the target communities. I remember when being able to go to uni was a thing to be celebrated (you do a big feast, people come over, they slip in pocket money for your travels) to something that was just expected. But, over the years, it is also evident that was initially a left or progressive project has morphed into a right-wing, ethnocentric movement that has both spread endemic corruption AND still kept the same native and indigenous communities poor. And basically, what happened is that initial efforts to improve the supply chain of people who would be able to scale up the social mobility ladder (my parents' generation) has been coopted by the elites of the country (eg the British always made sure the royals received English education and the urban middle class non-Malays had access to secondary-level Anglo education) into only a 'representation project'. It was meant to take a long time, and the 25-year programme was meant to lead to having enough people with enough capacity to elevate their economic condition eg having access to education and starter grants for entrepreneurs. Instead, it's become a policy where publicly listed companies must have 30% board membership from the native/indigenous communities (by hook or by crook) so what ended up is the already rich continue to buy access via proxies.

At the same time, because it is concordant with their worldview, the same native right-wing establishment would prefer to insist that culturally something is lacking in our upbringing and genetic makeup that we must always need something like the NEP for all time. This just continues to affirm the racist stereotypes the British left us in their social organisation of the races, that both natives and non-natives would believe this is why we're 'backwards people', supporting racially prejudiced classist attitudes amongst the rich non-natives - and as always Singapore acts as Malaysia's mirror and vice versa, so feel free to look up all references of 'Chinese privilege', even here on the blue, inc the still-active Singapore general election thread.

And even those who consider themselves liberal, after living with this policy, spout some truly libertarian takes. I can't quite fault them, because we have not been able to have genuinely radical or even progressive conversations for some time now. So a lot of the 'intellectual' takes opposing the existence of NEP would say things about being colour blind or meritocracy, a lot of which IS influenced by white anglo liberal mainstream thought from the 1970s onwards. Unsurprisingly, many of them comes from already privileged class backgrounds, but now inconvenienced and discriminated against based on ethnicity and religion. So it is very complicated because it's not a straightforward settler colonial history and legacy even though we are very much still impacted by it.

that's why i definitely agree with sunset in snow country's comment, because there's actually a LOT of examples now that I would be interested in reading an argument about the dangers of tokenism and how diverse representation at the highest level not only validates a system but does little to improve it, and how to avoid that. i feel like most of the postcolonial world would have something to say about it.
posted by cendawanita at 12:40 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


cendawanita, it was indeed UNDP, one of our close friends who arrived in KL in 1973 to work as 'expert advisor' in NEP was one of the first. Quite a handful arrived later, many from India.
posted by infini at 1:28 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


Further to your note, the British have done this well in their parts of Africa, and it is quite visible in Kenya as well. Truly, they scaled their policies of hampering the progress of their former colonies on their way out and for decades after.
posted by infini at 1:31 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


cendawanita: thank you for sharing that observation about the situation in Malaysia.

I would be interested in reading an argument about the dangers of tokenism and how diverse representation at the highest level not only validates a system but does little to improve it, and how to avoid that.

Same here. My family has benefited from caste privilege in ways I know about, so probably also in a bunch of ways I do not know about. I think I have heard general reactionary grumblings about reservations in hiring and college admissions (US folks: what we would call affirmative action policies) but I do not know the more sophisticated progressive critiques. (Example of the more grumbly style: given how many workers and executives in Silicon Valley are of South Asian origin, when I see a story like this allegation of casteist discrimination at Cisco in California, I find it plausible that one of the things the senior person said to undermine their colleague is a rumor about reservations and their IIT diploma.)
posted by brainwane at 8:22 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


brainwane, I suspect the Cisco thing is only the tip of the iceberg, particularly within the interbred (heavily internetworked) IIT contingents. Even Bangalore engineers had to face accusations of buying seats in colleges aka capitation fees as a caste marker that lowered their value compared to IIT types. They (immigrants) don't leave it behind and their marriages only reinforce the distinctions. GRAR ;p
posted by infini at 10:02 AM on July 9


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