Reclaiming the American Dream: Why Black Americans Belong in the Crypto Economy
Photo Credit: Tariq Meyers

Reclaiming the American Dream: Why Black Americans Belong in the Crypto Economy

On Oct. 31, 2008, while the United States and global economy were deep in the financial crisis, a white paper published by an author known as Satoshi Nakamoto would make its way around the world and give birth to a movement centered on economic independence for all. It would propose a new system of money: a peer-to-peer electronic cash system that didn’t depend on big banks and private parties to function but gave power and the promise of financial freedom back to the communities that needed it most. 

In 2012, it would also inspire a set of co-founders to begin what would become the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the U.S., Coinbase. 

However, this isn’t where the story begins for me. Growing up, I always thought my grandad looked like a king in his castle. As I would sit and listen to his stories, I imagined they would go on forever in the house that embodied the decades of hard work and sacrifice he endured to achieve the American Dream. 

“One day, this house will be yours,” he told me again and again. 

Grandad grew up the son of sharecroppers, “40 acres and a mule,” he said. “That was our path forward.” 

He was referring to the post Civil War and Reconstruction program initiated by General Tecumseh Sherman that gave recently freed enslaved Black Americans 40 acres of land and a mule as a means of counterbalancing 246 years of economic disenfranchisement. 

He would talk about wealth building and the importance of ownership. If it was a home or a small business, he would pass it along to his children and his children’s children, as a way to build generational wealth. 

While the 40-acre policy never fully came to fruition, he still told me that the American Dream belonged to everyone, including me. I believed him because he was a living example of it — the first in a family to graduate from college, the first to own a home, and one of the few Black homeowners in a neighborhood where the median net worth of an African American household is 8 dollars (not a typo).  

When he would break his gaze and turn to me and say, “one day, this house will be yours,” I believed it.  

In 2008, that all changed. The financial crisis hit, and all that grandad worked for would be lost to a predatory lender. This happened for so many other families and communities of color around the nation. 

I would never see grandad on his throne in that castle again, but he never stopped being royal. I expected this to break him or for him to change his spirits, but I quickly realized he lived through moments like these his whole life. From housing discrimination, gentrification, and the civil rights struggle, to banks becoming check cashing places, to grocery stores becoming liquor stores — grandad had seen it all. He still made me hope the American Dream belongs to me and others like me but issued a sage warning: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

While his words would order my steps for most of my life, it wasn’t until I arrived at Coinbase and understood the power of cryptocurrency that I believed my vision of closing the racial wealth gap was possible and within my reach.

The mission of Coinbase is to create an open financial system for the world. At its core, an open financial system is one that is accessible by all, regardless of where you’re born, what you look like, or what opportunities you had growing up. 

With crypto, we can now empower billions of individuals, connecting them to technology that enables them to save and hold their wealth (without it being taken away). Crypto is borderless, internet-connected, and rapidly evolving, providing a new path to economic freedom right from your smartphone. 

Grandad’s warning was one that I carried with me to Coinbase: I knew that to serve the world, we would have to reflect it. To usher in this new financial ecosystem for our global community, we’ll need a team of learners and doers that mirror the multidimensional diversity of it. The hard truth is that the intersection of finance, technology, and crypto hasn’t always been inclusive or representative of our communities, as evidenced by the economic consequences of finance 1.0. It’s time to change that. 

At Coinbase, we know that talent is equally distributed, but the opportunity isn’t. In pursuit of our mission, we’re committed to doing what needs to be done to find who needs to be found. This may mean we chase the best forever, or we’ll find the best in places where others won’t go. 

As a Black man in tech, I understand that communities of color have heard these promises of “inclusion” before, in the same way, they’ve heard promises of economic freedom over the past 300 years.

I’ve quickly come to realize that the same communities that have been historically excluded from opportunities in tech have since been empowered with “talent power” — or the ability to choose, now more than ever, what communities they want to join. While our industry hasn’t been the most approachable or accessible, we’re taking the steps to build authentic relationships with the communities around us and share why we need every experience to bring our vision of economic freedom for every person and business to fruition. 

Don’t take my word for it, come meet us. On Nov. 7th at Era Bar in Oakland, CA. In partnership with AfroTech, Coinbase will be hosting an evening filled with conversation, cocktails, and crypto as we make our case for why there’s no better time for our community to get into crypto. You can learn more about the event here. 

While we may never know the true identity of Satoshi, given the promise of crypto and the opportunity ahead at Coinbase, I like to think #SatoshiIsBlack or maybe grandad himself.