Ferguson? Who is that?
As one of the few Black employees in Silicon Valley and a part of the 1 percent of African-Americans who work at Pinterest, Justin Edmund was bothered by Silicon Valley’s response to what happened in Ferguson.
Ferguson is the name of the city in Missouri where unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer after the teen allegedly had his hands up to surrender.
As far as many of the people in Silicon Valley were concerned, however, Ferguson might as well have been the name of the happy-go-lucky elderly man who walks the streets of Atlanta handing out inspirational quotes to people as they walk by.
Edmund, who is a designer responsible for the look and feel of certain features on Pinterest, asked himself why nobody in the tech industry seemed bothered about the unrest that plagued Ferguson.
Even more troubling, he wondered why most people didn’t even know about it.
When one of Edmund’s co-workers lamented that the tech world didn’t care about Ferguson, another employee responded by saying, “I don’t even know who that is.”
According to an essay published by Edmund on Medium, there was only one reason why Silicon Valley seemed completely unaware of what happened in Ferguson.
“At most major technology companies, an average 2 percent of their workforce is African Americans – we’re talking tens of people at companies employing thousands of people,” he wrote. “At my own company, it’s even worse at only 1 percent. I can count us all on one hand.”
While Pinterest does have fewer Black employees, the company is also much smaller than tech giants like Facebook and Google.
He also pointed out that Pinterest has shown interest in working on increasing diversity, and several of his colleagues have pushed for such a cause.
Even then, however, he doesn’t feel any more comfortable about being a Black man in the tech industry — nonetheless a Black man in America.
“In today’s America, I could walk to the store right now and be shot dead in my tracks because of a misunderstanding, or perhaps for no reason at all,” he continued in the essay titled Growing Up. “There are people in the world that will never see past the color of my skin. Instead, they will shoot me dead for walking home from the corner store with Skittles and Arizona iced tea.”
The quote was a clear reference to the death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old unarmed Black teen in Florida who was fatally shot by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in 2012.
With so many racial tensions already plaguing the country as a whole, it’s even harder for Black tech employees like Edmund when they don’t see anyone who looks like them in their place of work.
“It’s hard to aspire to be something when you don’t see people in that role who look like you,” Edmund told USA Today.
It’s even harder to aspire to be those things when you don’t even have access to the type of education that would prepare you for that career.
Edmund acknowledged that he was quite privileged and didn’t face the same obstacles that other African-Americans face when it comes to entering the technology field.
“Having grown up in New York, I was fairly privileged, but there are lots and lots of people that, you know, weren’t as lucky as me that are probably extremely smart but didn’t realize that they can download a program and start making code and start building things,” he said.
Edmund also believes there needs to be more efforts to introduce younger students to computer science.
“Inspiring people when they are young and showing them like, ‘Hey, you like Vine? You like Instagram? Cool, you can actually work on those things if you start now and you work on these kinds of problems and you take this kind of path,’” Edmund said. “That kind of awareness will go a long way.”