IT Profession: Peril or Opportunity for African Americans?


I've written fairly extensively about African Americans in IT over the years, not because I claim to have any brilliant insights about the challenges faced by African Americans in this industry, but because I feel strongly that the topic warrants a lot more attention than it tends to get. So when I came across a blog post that lambasted "racism, prejudice and oppression" not just in IT, but specifically in social networking and cloud computing, my interest was piqued.


The post was written in November by a blogger in New York identified only as "Socialforce." Assuming the photo on the blog is of himself, Socialforce is an African American male who appears to be in his late 20s or early 30s. Here's an excerpt:

The Information Technology, Social Media Marketing, and Cloud Computing [sectors have] become a White only Club, that will accept a foreign employee before an African American professional with the same qualifications, experience, certifications, and interpersonal skills. In 2010 we have seen racism, prejudice, hatred, and oppression within the Information Technology, Social Media Marketing and Cloud Computing sectors on an all time rise. As we approach 2011, things are not looking much better. Let's take a closer look at the situation. There are many African Americans with IT Certifications, College and University degrees in Computer Science and Management Information Technology (MIS), however, they are not being hired into IT firms. Many companies say that there are not enough African Americans that pursue degrees and obtain certifications in the Information Technology Sector. This is just not the case. Many companies seek any reason they can not to hire African Americans into their companies, which is [worse] for African American men. In addition, many IT companies don't want African Americans to come into the sector out of pure fear, prejudice and hatred. The Information Technology sector is, more often than not, seen as a European American only 'club', indeed the IT sector became the 19th and 21st centuries breeding ground for racism, prejudice and oppression.

Now, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that Socialforce's assessment is a little over the top. As I've written in the past, the disproportionately small percentage of African Americans in IT is detrimental to the profession, as is the racism that undeniably exists, however subtly or aberrantly, within it. But I have to wonder how constructive Socialforce's post is, given that it's really nothing more than a blanket accusation with no substantive information to support its extreme contention. If we want African-American kids to consider IT as a career so we can do something about the disproportion that exists, is this post more likely to help or hurt that effort?


So I was especially heartened when I subsequently came across an article in the Winter 2010/Spring 2011 issue of "Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology." The article, headlined "The Job Market Is Improving for African Americans in IT," quoted Wayne Hicks, executive director of the BDPA Education and Technology Foundation:

The beauty of the IT industry as we move further into the twenty-first century is that it truly rewards those with skills, talent and creativity. There are objective criteria for being strong in the mathematics and logical thinking that permeates most careers in the IT industry. As such, I think that this industry is wide open for college graduates of African descent.

The article went on to profile African Americans who are enjoying successful IT careers at Citi, BNY Mellon, IBM, Ford, New York Life, Wal-Mart, Los Alamos National Lab, WellPoint, CVS Caremark and GE Healthcare. I wonder how many African American kids who are interested in pursuing a career in IT read that and were not only heartened, but exhilarated.


I'm not saying we need to sugarcoat anything. Like any discussion, this one should be open, candid and free of falsehood, including false promises. But negativism taken to an extreme, or to exaggeration, is counterproductive. Let's encourage our kids to excel in IT, not to excoriate it.