How White Male Tech Writers Feed the Silicon Valley Myth of Meritocracy

Rebecca Greenfield
February 5, 2013

Using such a singular experience as a successful white man to prove a point about a trend with black and latino writers became problematic, to say the least. But it's also upsetting that Calacanis's thesis reflects the general attitude of Silicon Valley, which fancies itself a true meritocracy, as this tweet exemplifies: 

. @jengallardo @jbouie I can tell you the tech industry & tech media space are both largely post-race. Pure meritocracy... Page views rule.

— jason (@Jason) February 5, 2013

Silicon Valley likes to think that it exists as some paradigm for equality, rewarding intelligence and hard work over class, race, sex, and pedigree. But that's not quite true. Rich kids had no problem infiltrating the culture with people like the Mall of America heir and David Tisch buying their way into the club, as chronicled in The New York Times last year. Money and an important (Stanford) education can buy access. Also, think about all the Harvard people Mark Zuckerberg hired to work at Facebook and then think about what it takes to get in to Harvard. Meanwhile, the notable lack of female and black faces out there suggests that other barriers — not hard work and smarts — have limited entry of minorities and women.

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Tech media is arguably even more high-walled — if less high-stakes — than Silicon Valley. As explained by Jamelle Bouie, the author or the original post that got Calacanis going, the unpaid internship or low-paid writing gig are more difficult for would-be black and Latino writers to justify because of social and economic barriers, and they continues to be the key gateway into journalism for many writers. And Calacanis may have used "hard work" to climb the wall, but his experience is a statistical outlier. How many of the names on the mastheads at The Verge, TechCrunch, Engadget, Gizmodo, and other tech blogs put in 10,000 hours blogging before getting a job? Take  Gizmodo Senior Writer Sam Biddle, who came up as an intern, admitted he got there because he could write for free for a "non trivial" amount of time. I had a low-paid Atlantic fellowship for a year before coming on full-time. How many tech writers put in 10,000 hours blogging and never made it? How many black and Latino writers can afford that gamble? 

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To change the state of race and class in tech writing, Bouie suggests the tech blogging world give up this farcical, merit-based system: "The first thing is for tech writers to show that they're aware of the problem," he writes. Today's conversation showed that this step will be tougher to take than anticipated with people like Calacanis refusing to admit that any problem exists in the first place. 

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[View the story "A conversation about race and technology" on Storify]