Nerd Gang, Homie. (In Response to Christopher Fan)


I read something today. The following rant is the eventual digestion of this piece by Christopher Fan for the New Inquiry. In the interest of context and accuracy, I’d rather you read it than to provide a TL;DR for you lazy motherfuckers.

I respect the work that Christopher Fan has done for Asian-American progress. Hyphen magazine is a good read from time to time, and his prose is definitely eloquent and uses all the pretty words that make it enjoyable to read. I think he’s an amazing writer and I think he has a lot to contribute to the conversation of race, specifically as it applies to my checkbox on a DMV form.

But the problem I have with his latest piece is that he deems it necessary to racially charge the demographics of the major tech companies of Silicon Valley. He’s dressing up the local controversy on the tech industry and the transplant/native tension in San Francisco in white robes to shock the reader into making a conclusion. He even puts up a hastily-made burning cross allegory to enrage the reader against the faux-nerdisms of the tech industy.

Bro, that’s cheap, and you’re wrong.

Fan gets the demographics right for the most part. I’ve met a grand total of six black colleagues and peers in three years of working in San Francisco’s tech industry. I’ve met more Latino cleaners than I have Latino engineers. But it doesn’t surprise me, seeing as how I went to college at some point, as well as seeing college as the major pipeline of talent into the tech industry in the first place*.

*Or any fucking industry for that matter.

Let’s use my alma mater as an example. UCLA posted a 73% combined population of non-Hispanic White and Asian students in 2010. Latinos made up 14.4% of the student body, while the historically underrepresented Black population made up 4.3% of the student body*.

*The rest are rounded out by a negligible Native American student populace, as well as Foreign nationals of unknown ethnicity and students who chose not to fill out this info.

Now, you can compare the 73% combined population of non-Hispanic White and Asian students against the 90%-ish supermajority found in the big five tech companies in the Bay Area. The 17% gap must be evidence of racist hiring practices.

It could be, or it couldn’t be. The only thing for sure is that the gap doesn’t conclusively scream “RACISM.” That gap between student body and tech employee base could also be explained by the type of employee tech companies need to survive: technical employees with technical education. The Science and Engineering majors that overwhelmingly make up the coders, product managers, and CTOs are overwhelmingly Asian. 49% (3,693) of incoming Asian freshmen at UCLA declared that they would major in a S&E field*.

*In my time in college, I called these Asians “suckers” and laughed at them with my lighter English major workload. Now that I’m an adult, I call my younger self an “idiot.”

As for the rest of the demographics, 1 in 3 White, Hispanic, and Black freshmen chose S&E majors. 814 Black freshmen enrolled that year, making that 268 incoming Black freshmen applying to S&E fields. 2,908 Hispanic freshmen enrolled in UCLA in 2010, making that 959 Hispanic freshmen choosing South Campus. 5,911 Non-Hispanic White freshmen enrolled at UCLA in 2010, with 1,950 of those freshmen choosing an S&E major.

So if you add 1,950 White freshman to 3,693 Asian freshman, you get 5,634 combined White and Asian S&E freshmen. Compare that to the combined 1,227 Black and Hispanic S&E freshmen. That’s 92% combined Asian/White freshmen against 18% combined Hispanic/Black freshmen that choose to go with S&E majors, the kind of majors that tech companies love to hire from.

The demographics of the pipeline INTO tech companies directly mirrors the demographics of tech companies. That’s novel.

Now does this mean that colleges are inherently racist institutions? I can’t definitively say yes or no, but I highly doubt that admissions would make it a point to discourage all incoming Black and Latino students from choosing CS.

But maybe I’m dodging the ultimate point here. Fan dedicates a lot of words to arguing that Asians are at the mercy of their racist White nerd overlords, which I guess makes my statistical pontificating moot. What he fails to realize is that it makes his core reference moot as well: the overall lack of diversity beyond White/Asian employees at the big five Silicon Valley tech companies. Seeing as how he used THAT point to springboard his ultimate argument, it’s much easier to refute the entirety of the article.

In my personal experience, my employers have dealt with boards that are Chinese, Indian, and White (not too many Latinos or Blacks), but let’s just run with Fan’s argument that the White man continues to hold us down (shout out to Jerry Yang) through tech.

Even if the tech industry was found to be naturally discriminatory at its core, it’s not something that’s unique to the tech industry. Boardrooms in general are mostly made up of White males. Cheryl Sandberg being the CEO of Yahoo! was a big deal, not just because she’s a female CEO of a tech company, but she’s a fucking female CEO to begin with (shout out to Meg Whitman too).

Inequality is a problem, that much I can agree with. It’s insulting how little opportunities are given to American Latinos and Blacks as a whole, but that’s also indicative of the wider (and way more serious) inequality problem in wealth and education across racial lines. And to argue that White CEOs continue to exploit Asian and Indian coolies that clack away on computers, fueled by free Red Bull and cute bundles of stock, really doesn’t reflect the actual dynamic of tech companies to begin with.

Yes, startups like mine work their employees very hard, our foot is constantly on the pedal and we’re expected to regularly stay late to hit constantly aggressive deadlines. But that’s how startups work, the entire company is trying to grow at an abnormally fast rate to make our vested options worth as much as our effort. In reality, we’re not new slaves throwing dynamite down a tunnel for an eventual explosion of valuation. Our engineers (or as Fan calls them, “coolies”) are encouraged to chase their own entrepreneurial dreams, many of whom already have. The CEO of my 9-5 was a former engineer himself at a big tech company, and yes, he’s not White.

This knee-jerk article is arguing a right point the wrong way. There are two things I agree with in this article: the tech industry is driving this whole transplant/native tension in the City, and racism exists in America in a far deeper way than most of America either knows or cares about. White people continue to enjoy privileges that aren’t available to any other minority, with the biggest losers being Latinos and Blacks. This is not new news, nor does Fan’s article do anything to further the narrative.

Mr. Fan, you’re doing great work in furthering Asian-American profile in today’s America, and I really appreciate you for it. But it’s clear here that you know next to nothing about the tech industry outside of what you read in Gizmodo and what’s bandied about in the popular press. To make assumptions and give credence to stereotypes is the same kind of behavior that you’re trying to combat.

And that’s bush league. Like, Ebola African bush league yo.


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