Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of WRAL.com.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Vivek Wadhwa, a former high-tech executive in the Triangle who now teaches and writes globally about innovation and entrepreneurship, stirred up a racial hornets’ nest with his latest column.
Writing in The Washington Post, Wadhwa called for a “black Mark Zuckerberg,” referring to the founder of social media giant Facebook.
But putting more of a minority face on Silicon Valley triggered quite a backlash.
“Many nasty emails, Tweets, and online comments already,” Wadhwa said in an e-mail sent to colleagues and friends. “Shows the level of racism in this country.”
The column ran June 24 and sparked a firestorm of criticism. Wadhwa is no stranger to controversy. His calls for U.S. immigration policies to help encourage more foreign students and entrepreneurs to remain in this country has made him a target for a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric. He also has worked with students at Duke University and elsewhere to publish research about engineering education that has not set well with some people. Those reports and his outspoken columns at TechCrunch, Bloomberg Businessweek, WRAL Tech Wire and elsewhere have made him a frequent target.
But this time, Wadhwa, a native of India and a U.S. citizen, was caught off guard.
“The piece … has created more controversy than I expected,” he wrote. “I didn’t even say anything controversial in this.”
Some highlights from the column:
• “The level of diversity in the Valley is unlike anywhere else in the world. But look deeper and you begin to notice that something is missing: Blacks and Hispanics. According to the San Jose Mercury News, as of 2008, blacks and Hispanics constituted only 1.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively, of the Valley’s tech population—well below national tech-population averages of 7.1 percent for blacks and 5.3 percent for Hispanics. And the Silicon Valley numbers were declining while national numbers were rising.
• “It is worse in the ranks of tech company founders.”
• “We can both improve the quality of U.S. innovation and uplift disadvantaged communities by mentoring minorities.”
• “Think of what Mark Zuckerberg did to computer science enrollments – they skyrocketed after the success of Facebook. Imagine what a black or Hispanic Mark Zuckerberg could do for innovation.”
Read the full column here.
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