Like so many black Americans, I have been inundated with a deluge of emails, letting me know that I am supported and cared for by the corporations and people that surround me in Silicon Valley.
This is my response to one of those emails from AngelList. AngelList is not the only one, but it presents the quintessential example of the lipservice we feel when receiving “emails of support” from the same companies, funds, firms, and people that routinely overlook and underestimate us. I have included the email below for reference.
I really had to think long and hard about whether or not to respond to this “email of support.” Like so many black Americans I have been inundated with emails feigning support for us, our communities and our plights. We are overwhelmed with the everyday burdens of being black, and now we feel obligated to congratulate the rest of society for finally waking up. When support is genuine, we genuinely feel the love. However, when it is inauthentic, it is even more hurtful than saying nothing.
One of the things that is so offensive is that so many of these emails have come from the same people and organizations that have systematically overlooked and underestimated us. I found your AngelList email particularly egregious. Although I recognize the intent, I resent the reality. Expressing your outrage is not enough. Hiring a black or brown face to manage your Diversity & Inclusion team is not enough. Directing people to other organizations that are actually trying to solve the problem is not enough. We don’t want your sympathy, we want you to say something. We don’t want a free pass, we want funding. We don’t want your charity, we just want a chance.
When you rattle off stats about the country, crime statistics and diversity in venture capital, as if it is new information to us, but fail to acknowledge the severe lack of diversity amongst your own pool of founder-investors (Spearhead 1 & 2), it is offensive. It would be better to just say nothing. I remember applying to these same Spearhead funds, and despite my engineering degree from Georgia Tech, MBA from Stanford, speaking fluent Mandarin and three successful exits before 35; despite being an alum of both Techstars and YCombinator, you looked at me and said, “he doesn’t seem qualified…let’s pick another face that looks just like the others.”
Please don’t talk about “democratizing access to startups.” Democracy is supposed to be about merit and not pattern matching. If you were honestly pursuing that goal, your funds would at least begin to look like America rather than a spread for Hollister Co. You might be able to tell me that I am just not as qualified as the other candidates, and that might be a fair assesment. However, if you try to tell me that out of the 7.8 billion people on this planet, it just happens that none of the best qualified are black or brown, then you loose all credibility.
So, please don’t talk about the pipeline issue, because black people have been standing outside in the rain, knocking on the door for years; hoping that if we get one more degree, one more exit or make one more 20x performing investment, that we might get a chance. But we haven’t gotten that chance, not from you nor many others, and we are still standing out here knocking. So please don’t send me emails of support, open the door.
I hope that you can take this constructive criticism and take some time to reflect on whether or not you really subscribe to these values before sending emails like this.