Jesse Jackson on Silicon Valley’s ‘apartheid’

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is back in the valley.

The renowned civil rights leader told the Mercury News editorial board Thursday that his Rainbow PUSH Coalition plans to revitalize its Silicon Valley project and make its case to the region’s top tech firms that “we need to democratize the economy.”

Dai SuganoThe lack of minorities in Silicon Valley’s upper echelons is symptomatic of an economic apartheid that is less visible than the segregation of half a century ago but just as pernicious, he said.

“This valley is driving the industrial growth of America – in fact, it’s driving global growth,” Jackson said. But while people of color constitute a huge part of the marketplace for tech products and services, he said, they’re woefully underrepresented in the sector’s executive offices and boardrooms.

“To make America America, all of us must play,” he said. “This is not about diversity as much as it is about justice.”

It’s not a new theme. The Rainbow PUSH Coalition in 1999 bought stock in 50 Silicon Valley companies so it could have a say at annual shareholder meetings. Later that year, it announced the opening of an East Palo Alto office to highlight the disparity between Silicon Valley’s richest and poorest residents and advocate for more training and hiring of minorities and women at high-tech companies.

Jackson at the time ended up in an op-ed war with Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers, who contended the tech industry was a meritocracy offering equal access to anyone with the talent, education and ambition to succeed.

The public exchange got incredibly nasty. “Once, the civil rights movement was led by a great American who stirred the conscience of the nation,” Rodgers wrote at the time. “Today, its most visible spokesman is a hustler who exploits white shame for his own financial and political ends.”

Jackson on Thursday contended minorities still are being shut out of many of Silicon Valley’s opportunities. He scoffed at the idea that there aren’t enough minorities entering the industry with appropriate training: “It’s almost insulting to suggest they can’t be found.”

“We can’t go on this way,” he said, adding the coalition will reach out to the region’s leading employers and arrange meetings either individually or en masse. “We must begin to take these numbers back across the country to make people aware of who are partners and who are not.”

Reminded about his war of words with Rodgers, Jackson smiled and asked: “Is he still around?” Assured that he was, Jackson quipped that he wouldn’t mind meeting up with Rodgers — perhaps for a round of golf “one night.”

We would like to caddy.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Jesse J is right on! He loves quotas and wants to see them everywhere

  • Elwood

    My favorite Jive*** Jesse Jackson line:

    “Inevitably, Jesse Jackson showed up to make matters worse.”

    If Jesse Jackson is a “renowned civil rights leader” I’m the Empress Ninny.

    Jackson is a race faker who keeps thing stirred up for the greater glory of Jesse Jackson. I’d love to see him and Al Sharpton in a steel cage death match for exclusive rights to the title “renowned race faker”.

  • JohnW

    Need to make that golf outing a foursome, adding in Al Sharpton and Tom Perkins.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Apartheid is used so loosely these days it will soon be cited as grounds for divorce

  • JohnW

    By “minorities” and “people of color,” I assume he means African-Americans and Latinos. I don’t think there is a shortage of Asians at any level in the Valley. They are under-represented in Sochi too, but I don’t think it’s due to bias. The path to the Valley starts when people are about three years old, not 25.

  • Willis James

    I hope Jessie takes on the Scripps National Spelling Bee next.

    Nine of the last 13 winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee have been of Indian descent.

    They get a unfair advantage from the day they’re born because they get so much practice just spelling their own names.

    Rageshree Ramachandran
    Pratyush Buddiga
    Anurag Kashyap
    Sameer Mishra
    Kavya Shivashankar
    Anamika Veeramani
    Snigdha Nandipati
    Arvind Mahankali

  • Malik Brown

    Jesse Jackson is not my favorite civil rights figure, but he is very much correct in his critisism, to say the tech jobs in the U.S much less the silicon valley are merit based shows that T.J Rodgers is usually his previlage as a higher income citizen to neglect the socio-political, economic, and cultural issues at play before a prospective minority candidate even turns in there resume. I’m sure people do far less discriminating when picking candidates for tech jobs. But the tech industry should look into funding, promoting, and establishing a presence in high-risk schools in the valley. The money is there and more important the talent is right under their noses.

  • Elwood

    Malik, you should see if Jesse has any job openings.

    But first, you might want to take a remedial English course.

  • Malik Brown

    I have a job Mr. Elwood and it would be nice if you had a comment that pertained to the article or the substance of my opinion. Failure to object to my points means you agree by default, all of this grammar critique is semantics. Its okay if you disagree buddie…express that….no need to be petty.

    But to add clarity my points are:
    1. The CEO is displaying white privilege
    2. The CEO is displaying Class privilege
    3.Tech industry should invest in high-risk neighborhoods in the valley or even the bay
    4. There is hidden talent in high-risk neighbor hoods that tech companies can exploit.

  • Elwood

    Dear Mr. Brown:

    You are seriously delusional.

    Good luck.

  • JohnW

    I agree with the suggestion that tech companies invest in some of the activities you mentioned. Enlightened self interest. I may be wrong, but I think some of them are already doing that — both as companies and through personal philanthropy by individual tech community leaders. But it is a heavy lift to achieve significant progress against seemingly intractable problems.

  • Malik Brown

    Mr. Elwood,

    I am a political scientist and happen to live and work (teach) in high-risk areas. I am also well versed in the institutional and historical racism found in western societies. I am also a captain of a nationally ranked college debate team. I happen to believe in all Americans especially the ones that live in under privileged communities. There is no need for name calling. One of the reasons i used the term “high-risk” is because these communities are not only economically marginalized but the youth of these communities suffer from educational inequity. Obviously you might not understand “White privilege” or “Class privilege” and how these terms might apply to the contents of this article. Nevertheless, there is no need for name calling. I must admit that i find this tactic used by people who feel threatened. Calm down bro, I am just expressing my opinion about something i am passionate about. The terms i have used are academic. The solution i suggest has been tested with great results (STEM Programs, etc.)

  • Malik Brown

    Thank you Mr. John W for staying on topic

    I am sure that some companies and leaders give back to communities. i agree that the “intractable problems” in high-risk neighborhoods are daunting. I would also suggest that politicians create more incentives (tax breaks, project proposals, ect). I am of the attitude that if we can continue to invest in the youth of these neighborhoods both monetarily and culturally the situation can be a win win. The problem was not created over night so there will not be any easy solutions. But to stay a little more on topic do you agree with my criticism of the CEO? And do you feel that there is a minority issue that tech companies should address?

  • Elwood

    “I am a political scientist”

    ” I am also a captain of a nationally ranked college debate team.”

    Well, good on ya, mate!

    That and $2 will buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks!

  • JohnW

    This particular CEO is not on my “would like to have a beer with” list. I think he’s got an attitude! But I do think that the Valley is very much the ultimate “meritocracy.” They don’t care much about what degree you have, or if you have any, or whether you got it from Harvard or Chico State, or who you know. It’s a spectacularly high energy, sink or swim, Darwinian environment. I don’t think you can just drop somebody into that and expect anything good to happen. Whatever can be done to increase equality of opportunity has to start way early in life.

    Don’t mind Elwood. He pokes holes in those of us who sometimes take ourselves too seriously. We, in turn, poke holes in his “facts.”