The Tech Pioneer Who Dared to Speak Out Against Racism in IT

Don Tennant

This week, a technology pioneer is being honored as an inductee into the IT Hall of Fame, in recognition of his lifelong contribution to IT innovation. Yet chances are, you've never even heard of him.


The IT Hall of Fame, which is administered by the IT trade association CompTIA, has bestowed the honor on Earl Pace, co-founder of Black Data Processing Associates and chairman of the board of trustees of the BDPA Education and Technology Foundation. I had the pleasure of conducting an in-depth interview with Pace a couple of years ago, and I was heartened by the fact that he had no inclination to steer away from the issue of racism in IT.


Pace said it's probably more subtle than it used to be, but it's still very much a problem that confronts the IT community:

It manifests itself in promotions. It even manifests itself in the way in which companies interact with BDPA. We have companies who are very anxious to come to BDPA's conferences because they want to hire our technical people. But they are loathe to come to a BDPA conference to demonstrate their software or hardware, to deal with us as a high-technology organization where the people who are moving through our expo are people who can and do influence purchasing decisions. It is not less of a problem. It is, perhaps, more subtle or sophisticated. There are some promotions that have occurred. There are probably more African-Americans and other minorities that have been promoted to senior-level positions than existed in 1975 when BDPA was formed. But the impact of those people at higher levels is marginal with respect to bringing other African-Americans up the pipeline to replace or to supplement them.

Not surprisingly, that outspokenness raised the ire of some readers who steadfastly denied the existence of the problem. One reader branded Pace as just another "race peddler":

Once again you have the media trying to drum up controversy and ease a fictitious guilty conscience of "white America". Come on does anyone believe this? I put Earl right up there with Jessie Jackson and all the rest of the race peddlers of the world. It's like saying racism exists in the chicken business because I, as a white male, work at Popeye's but am the only white employee. Get out in the real world where people are hired, as long as affirmative action is not forced, for their talent not their color or nationality. If, as it's appears in my part of the country, that the majority of brain surgeons are of Indian decent, does that mean the brain surgeon community is racist??? No it simply means that a certain race excels in that field, their parents MADE them study long and hard or other races just haven't had the desire to go into that field. Do you hear the white mid-western farm boy complaining that he can't get a starting spot on a college basketball team or a NBA bencher moaning about how 90% of the people he is around are black? Think about it.

Another reader dismissed the matter as a simple fact of life that didn't warrant discussion:

Like it or not, people of all skin colors are biased, and tend to consciously or unconsciously favor people they consider to be like themselves, over people unlike themselves. It may be skin color, religion, intelligence, football teams, or the kind of car you drive, but no one is exempt from discriminating against those who are "different". So [Computerworld], and particularly Mr. Tennant, how about "we" get off our high horse about equality and [get] back to business.

Yet another said Pace was merely engaged in a self-justification exercise:

[People] like this guy look under every rock to find even the hint of racism to justify their existence. There are CERTAINLY racists in this world and there will always be to some degree. But, to suggest it's endemic in IT is sickening. The vast majority of us are just trying to keep our jobs-not "keeping the black man down".

That so much of our nation continues to be in denial about the pervasiveness of racism, however subtle it may be, is exactly why the topic cannot be allowed to be swept under the rug. And yet the sweepers persist-sometimes well-intentioned, sometimes not. Fortunately, Pace has maintained the strength to lift up that weighty carpet.


Congratulations, Earl. And thank you not only for your decades of service to the IT industry and profession, but for your courage in reminding us all that we still have a long way to go in our country's struggle against racism.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 6, 2011 11:09 AM Warior Warior  says:

I don't know what is going on about racism at work place but I do know Indian workers are the worst racist people on earth. They on prefer their own people only as I told in the past no matter how good you are they only prefer to hire their own kind.. Sad and shameful for those racist slumdogs around US companies ..

Apr 7, 2011 6:28 AM IndianTechie IndianTechie  says: in response to Warior


So let me get this straight..Indian workers want to hire Indian workers.

American managers want to hire only Indian workers..

Poor you..broad minded non-rascist American. Who is going to hire u..?

Apr 7, 2011 9:31 AM Warior Warior  says: in response to IndianTechie

American hire all the qualified candidates. US companies force American managers force to hire unqualified slumdogs for cheaper price. Slumdogs  hire slumdogs only ... That is the different !!!

Apr 8, 2011 1:21 AM Gabe Gabe  says: in response to Warior

I'm all for freedom of expression, but can we agree that just hurling epithets around like a racist bigot is wrong, and get ITBE to ban Warior from posting here?

A little moderation. Please.

Apr 8, 2011 1:37 AM IndianTechie IndianTechie  says: in response to Warior


Ok u are a troll posing as an American. Judging by ur english u probably are a dropout whichever nation u came from.

This is problem in most boards. Trolls posing as a certain race and trashing up the board.

Apr 8, 2011 3:01 AM Warior Warior  says: in response to Gabe

Just let you know I ain't no racist. I have many good indian friends OK. Some good and bad indians out there. I have seen some bias at work place created by those indian workers. It is real and it is already happened to me in the past. Even IndianTechie agreed with me that Indian workers want to hire Indian workers only.

Why don't you read the news carefully before calling me a racist OK. It is the true fact Indians are lining up to get H-1B visas to get to USA for better life. Let the readers here judge me OK.. Don't use the word racist to accuse people like me OK..

Apr 8, 2011 3:33 AM Warior Warior  says: in response to Gabe

What do you think about this indian guy "Vineet Nayar" said ?

"When questioned about his firm's US hiring, Information Week reports that Vineet Nayar, the CEO of the Indian outsourcing giant HCL Technologies, telling an audience in NYC that most American tech grads are 'unemployable.' "

Do you think this guy a racist ?

There are bunch of guys posted here called indians as slumdogs but nobody says anything. It seems Indians are untouchable, when you deface the bad Indian workers they call you a racist !! What a ridiculous thing I have ever seen ! I posted here with fact and truth. American Managers force to hire unqualified Indians due to cheaper commodity, it is the fact and truth. Indians dream to come to US to get good jobs and making better life, it is the fact and truth. Can you tell me anything here is racist and bias ??

Apr 8, 2011 11:05 AM Warior Warior  says: in response to IndianTechie

Ok Slumdog, I have nothing to say, you can say whatever you want slumdog !

Apr 8, 2011 11:14 AM Warior Warior  says: in response to IndianTechie

If India is so great ? why so many slumdogs want to come here to beg for food ?Don't your guys have no shame at all ??? Yours have nothing to offer man but cheap commodity that is ...

Apr 10, 2011 9:17 AM Gabe Gabe  says: in response to Warior

I used your words -- which I very much found hateful and bigoted -- as a single example of a problem that is, as you pointed out, considerably more systemic in these comments. That said, I did point you out specifically, because you turned from advancing the conversation while being an ass to just being an ass in a single post that was meant to do little more than cause conflict:

"Ok Slumdog, I have nothing to say, you can say whatever you want slumdog!"

While I don't believe that "slumdog" is considered a racial epithet just yet, I'm pretty darned certain you're using it as one, and as such, its use is unfounded and utterly wrong. By you, and by anyone else.

Now, I recognize that I've pulled things way off the tracks here, and I apologize. But my request stands: Can we get even a LITTLE moderation in here, if only to stop the use of racist terms? It feels like the prevalence of hatred drives away folks who might otherwise be more inclined to speak up.

Apr 11, 2011 6:38 AM Aby Aby  says:

Hmm, that old bugbear called racism. Specifically on Indians being racist, we havent had the chance to act like "real" racists the way whites did - stringing people up trees or making them sit at the back of the bus. We had our caste system which was equivalent and thousands are fighting to change that. We have positive discrimination (close to 50% of seats in engineering colleges and govt jobs are reserved for lower castes in india) so we are working on that one. As for indian companies not hiring whites, i work in the European HQ of an Indian company and more than half the employees are white. What is more, they only talk to each other, havent seen much of socializing between them and us..should i call them racist because they dont talk to us? Terms like racism are loosely used by people who dont know what it means (I am a brown and i have not faced it overtly yet despite years in the west, so even i cant be an authority on it) to be at its receiving end. Grow up everyone.

Apr 28, 2011 12:19 PM can't find anything can't find anything  says:

Well when you look at the unemployement rate for Black Men with no criminal record and a college degree and at least 4 years of exp and find that is over 7% you know something is a play.

Do American companies want to hire Indians? All I know is that they do. What I have seen now is that the decision makers or hiring managers are Indian as well. I have notice in my interviews and day-to-day dealing with Indians is that, if you're an American you have to know everything, if you're and Indian you don't. You get a change to learn on the job.

Apr 29, 2011 9:22 AM Julius Julius  says: in response to IndianTechie

Hello IndianTechie,

My name is Julius Clark and I am the President of the Charlotte chapter of the BDPA. I would like to share with you that the BDPA welcomes talented people from all walks of life into our IT organization. We have students and adult members who are of Indian decent, White, Asian and others; not just of African American decent. I hate to see ugly and hurtful comments about any race of people who only want to contribute where opportunities exist. There is a crisis in America due to many students not wanting to study STEM fields to fill IT careers. Due to this, corporations are looking at all talented and qualified individuals and using multiple piplelines to find qualified individuals who are excited about careers in IT.

As technology has made opportunities global, we all must have a global mindset. This is a great time to be alive if you are in the IT field, we all need to learn from each other and offer help when requested; good things come back to you when you operate like this.

Jun 22, 2011 4:41 AM em1lyoea em1lyoea  says: in response to Julius

You always come up with the best and original ideas! Christian Louboutin Sale

Jan 1, 2013 5:14 PM ugotitright ugotitright  says: in response to can't find anything
"can't find anything" got it so right. I went to an interview recently where it seemed they tacked on this extra guy from a lateral group to cross-tech me. He was firing questions at me like it was his job to humble me. His questions, however were largely silly. One was how to change the default privs set up by the 'mkdir' command? My answer was I wasn't sure of an explicit means to do so but the implicit means was that mkdir created dirs with privs of parent dir. Why would such a silly question have great merit? (turns out umask does this.) But the guy was besides himself with joy. I rank that question a 2 of 10. This same joker later asked me what a quant was because "you referred to this on your resume) as if I was decorating my resume with exotic buzz words for which I had absolutely no idea their meaning. I gave him an explanation that he would need to go an research himself to understand since by his own behavior the word must have been scholarly. Yes, "can't find anything", Indians will bring in a (junior) Indian quick-fast because in their cultural system, they can put him/her on bottom and their (corporate) caste system is rejoined. Reply
Mar 2, 2013 5:02 AM yup yup  says: in response to can't find anything
This is true. This is why an Indian can get a job with little to no experience. Being hired, that Indian is immediately placed on the bottom on the totem pole at the firm - as he/she should be - but that person is expected to pay respect to his seniors and be beholden to his seniors as well. This too, is as it should be. However, there is something more at work. The social ties that bind Indians together are also excluding others. The value placed on newly added Indian social capital is inordinately more valuable to them than what you (a non-Indian) will bring to a group. I suspect it greatly increases and solidifies the power of the local Indians at the top. This is very anti-american in principle and in practice. So the problem is Indians perform this kind of comfort and self-serving hiring in disproportionate numbers than other groups though it might be argued that this is little different than how white males were hiring in pre-90s eras. What irks many americans, of all walks of life, is that its not easy to break through the Indian great wall. They have immigrated in such rapid numbers that they had virtually no time to be absorbed into american culture. Reply

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