Being a black entrepreneur in America is difficult, hell being a black person in America is difficult. Yet when it comes to the startup world,a space which prides itself on agility and the art of the pivot has failed to pivot to the most glaring opportunity that few have chosen to tap in to. Black Founders. Let’s be honest, if we’re not singing, dancing, rapping or doing something with a ball most of those with money don’t take our efforts as seriously as they should, despite the blood and sweat we’ve poured into our businesses or crafts. This includes VC’s…
Many black entrepreneurs can attest to feeling dismissed before they get the chance to make a pitch as though they have nothing to offer. This leaves many of us wondering if we would have our foot in the door had we been white. As harsh as that might seem, we cannot turn a blind eye to the institutionalized racism that exists in both the startup and corporate business world.
Despite the fact that no one seems to be calling a black entrepreneur or corporate professional the N-word doesn’t mean we don’t experience microaggressions and/or cultural isolation daily. If you’re a black startup founder it’s the demeaning remarks from venture capitalists, insinuating that black entrepreneurs are not as competent as their white counterparts, and if you’re a black corporate professional it’s the constant reminder that you’re the ONLY black voice in the room given the fact that you’re the only black person in the room. I couldn’t tell you how many times my white colleagues would make cultural references as innocent as the shows they watched the night before on tv that i had never heard of. They’re asking me about “that episode of Seinfeld when Kramer did this or that episode of Friends when Phoebe said that”. What if I were to ask them about “that episode of Martin when Jerome won the Playas Ball or that episode of Chappelle’s show when Charlie Murphy kicked it with Prince”. This might seem like nothing but it further exposes cultural disparities that are never balanced out with more people of color. It wouldn’t be as bothersome getting asked about shows I know nothing about when there are people around that I can talk to about shows I do like. Dismissing these incidences as ignorance prevents us from truly addressing them in order to move forward and develop solutions for this problem. Instead, it puts us at a disadvantage when we have to answer questions about our hair or find ways of dealing with the backhanded comments that seem to only be reserved for black entrepreneurs and professionals. To be black and achieve upward mobility, is to learn how to live with microaggressions and be unapologetic about chasing your dreams.
A lot has happened since the global Coronavirus hit us. The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back regarding the plight of black people. In a society built on a system that became lucrative off the backs of black suppression, we march in #blacklivesmatter protests to demonstrate that we have had enough and demand that the system be fixed.
Black voices are finally being joined in record numbers by Asian, White, Middle Eastern and other ethnic and racial groups in this discontent as evidenced by the number of people who turned up in support for the #blacklivesmatter marches daily. The show of solidarity was not limited to marches as it went online with #blackouttuesday and many calling for the removal of both officers and others who held influential positions in society who have been blatantly biased or unscrupulous.
This is definitely not the time to be quiet because, as black entrepreneurs, we need to make sure our voices are heard. Many entrepreneurs now realize that they can use their platforms to talk about race. As a startup in America, I cannot afford to ignore what is happening, and as a black person, it’s hard to pretend this isn’t happening.
Contributing to the black lives matter movement needs to go beyond hastily arranging successful donations without really talking about the race issue and taking actions to fix it. As black people we’ve always been told how actual change takes time and intentional awareness, but if we’re asking for the same exact systemic changes in 2020 that prior generations asked for then i’m sure you’ll excuse us if we seem to have lost patience.
The recent murders at the hands of police have awakened people from different races to the realization that #blacklivesmatter is not a movement reserved for only Black people. However, in the startup community, we can do more than march and stand in solidarity with fellow black folk and it comes down to being intentional about supporting black-owned businesses with more than just tweets. This also means hiring black employees to ensure no one is left behind. Our energy is better spent lifting our own, rather than waiting for someone to fix it for us but to do that effectively, we need a level playing field.
In the spirit of leading by example, I’ve always been intentional about having an all black team here at Kompass Events. Both myself and my co-founder are black. The VP of Community Affairs attended Clark Atlanta graduate school with me. Our CTO is among one the top development minds in Atlanta (yup, he’s black)and our management team is rounded out by our CFO who brings multiple skills to the table as he is also a very skilled iOS developer (damn right..he’s black too!). We are all black men and any one of us could’ve been George Floyd.
The skills are not the issue when it comes to hiring black, the issue is equal opportunity, which is why, as we pointed out, we need a level playing field to create opportunities for each other. Build each other by creating and opening doors for the upcoming generations that were either closed or didn’t exist for us. Together we can ensure that the black race overcomes institutional, cultural, as well as personal racism within both the startup world as well as corporate america..
For many of us, the recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor is a reminder that we still have a long way to go. A big step was recently taken in my home state of Mississippi. The confederate flag is finally coming down and a new flag that will help to unite all Mississippians will soon fly. While this is an important moment, let’s not be fooled. This decision was fueled by economics rather than ethics. We must not and will not let the idea of symbolic gestures deter us from the economic and systemic justice that we are due.