After the murder of George Floyd, the Internet saw an upheaval on their social media timelines like never before—Black squares, hashtags demanding justice, and guides on how to support the Black community. Shortly after, we saw releases of employee memos, donation matching programs, and official statements by Big Tech about their stances on fighting racial injustice. Apple CEO, Tim Cook, condemned Floyd’s killing and acknowledged racial injustice in America, saying the company will “reexamine our own views and actions in light of a pain that is deeply felt but too often ignored.” Other tech giants released statements echoing that sentiment. Facebook and Amazon each donated a whopping $10 million to organizations working towards racial justice. Microsoft and Airbnb matched employee donations to eligible organizations, while Lyft donated $500,000 in ride credits to Lake Street Council in Minneapolis to help volunteers in rebuilding efforts as protests ensued. But what more can the Silicon Valley do to sustainably support Black Americans now that timelines have settled, and what changes have these companies implemented since their official statements?
With Americans feeling the brunt of COVID-19, the political unrest over systematic police brutality, and the upcoming November election, activists are urging eligible voters to show up to the polls. From Tik Tok dance videos to Instagram infographics explaining what’s on the ballot, people are using their social media to encourage their followers to vote—not just for the next President of the United States—but also for their equally important local and state representatives. Big Tech has jumped onto this trend. Yelp and Instagram are using their platforms to integrate features promoting civic engagement, such as voter registration portals and ads.
While it is no dispute that voting has the power to yield dramatic change, reversing decades of deeply embedded structural inequality often takes decades. For this reason, activists are also encouraging everyone to contribute to the economic enrichment of Black Americans by supporting Black-owned businesses.
Although we’re seeing an upward trend in Black-owned businesses, they face a number of obstacles stemming from centuries of enslavement, Jim Crow laws, and historical divestment. A Brookings and Gallup study found that Black people represent 12.7% of the U.S. population but only 4.3% of the nation’s 22.2 million business owners. Of that 4.3%, only 1% of Black business owners obtained loans in their founding year compared to 7% of white business owners. This equates to a loss in annual business revenue of approximately $3.9 billion.
To address systemic underinvestment in Black businesses, Silicon Valley needs to step up with actionable change that directly influences the economic mobility of Black entrepreneurs, and some important players are taking noticeable action. SoftBank announced a $100 million investment vehicle, the Opportunity Growth Fund, which will invest in companies led by founders and entrepreneurs of color. This is a step forward in rectifying the economic imbalance for Black entrepreneurs, as just 1% of VC-backed founders are Black. Facebook initiated similar efforts, and pledged to invest “over $1 billion to support Black and diverse suppliers and communities” in the U.S. through grant programs and to direct commerce with Black-owned small businesses. Facebook also created Lift Black Voices—a space curated to amplify Black-owned businesses, fundraisers, community voices, criminal justice reform, and more. These types of investment in Black-owned business and communities, among many other initiatives, are essential in Silicon Valley’s duty to fight racial justice.
Nothing can undo the lost lives of the countless Black Americans due to police brutality.
George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. Oscar Grant.
What the country must do to move forward is not only contingent on grassroots organizers, Americans’ civic engagement, or our elected officials, but also sustainable change from Big Tech. This requires change beyond corporate outrage and donations; the movers and shakers in Silicon Valley can and should work towards remedying the economic disparity of Black Americans through meaningful action.
To directly support racial justice organizations working towards the social and economic mobility of Black Americans in the Bay Area, consider getting involved and setting up a monthly donation to OCCUR and East Oakland Collective.