By Evette Dionne
Tech companies have rushed to offer empty statements of solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement, after police officers unleashed fatal bullets into Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two innocent Black men, in the span of 24 hours.
Google offered a similar statement of support on Twitter, saying "We stand in solidarity for the fight for racial justice." Even Twitter, the platform used most often to mobilize protests for racial equity, issued a statement of support. "We're sick of seeing names trend because they were killed brutally and unjustly. We demand change," the official Blackbirds page tweeted.
Twitter even revived the #BlackLivesMatter emoji, so three multi-colored fists appear alongside the hashtag whenever a user tweets it.
These statements are important: Google, Twitter, and Facebook are tech giants. Collectively, they're able to participate in the shifting of a cultural narrative. Instead of telling victims they must be perfect and unblemished to prevent the wrath of an officer's gun, they're joining the fight to place the onus on officers -- and a racist system -- to stop killing us.
However, there's a glaring issue with tech's support for racial justice: It's sparing, only deployed when the bullseye isn't on them. They're cherry-picking when racial justice matters, especially as they displace communities of color, contribute to the erasure of culture, and refuse to create diverse workplaces.
San Francisco, home of Silicon Valley and the booming tech industry, has a housing shortage. This isn't ordinarily an alarming issue, since many larger cities, like New York and Chicago struggle with housing populations that are continually swelling.
However, in the past decade, San Francisco has become one of the most unaffordable cities in the United States -- and it's mostly thanks to the encroaching presence of tech companies.
A June article from Inc. found that a person needs to make $119,570 annually to live in San Francisco, which is $30,000 more than San Jose, California, the second most expensive city in the country. The average home in California costs $459,000, which is double the national average, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Combine this exorbitant cost of living with a housing shortage, which The Los Angeles Times estimates would take 13,000 homes built every year for the next three years to overcome, and San Francisco's undergoing a vast transformation that's shafting poor people of color.
Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, posted a statement to his personal page, urging for peace and understanding. The company also posted a massive Black Lives Matter sign outside their offices, which is comprised of the names of multiple police shooting victims.
For example, a 2013 Census report found that the average African-American family earns $34,958 per year. This makes it nearly impossible for a Black family to survive in San Francisco, according to a 2001 report from The New York Times. Bayview, San Francisco is the perfect example of this lack of affordability: The community had been 33.7% Black since the 1950's, when white flight left the city in disrepair. Yet in 2014, The San Francisco Business Times reported that rent had risen 59% in two years, which led to a mass exodus.
Of course, this is due to multiple issues, including landlords raising rental costs and pushing low-income tenants outward. However, it is most due to the presence of the tech industry, which has led the population of African-Americans in San Francisco to drop from 60,500 to 48,000, according to The IB Times.
The tech industry has remained alarmingly silent about this growing issue, which even impacts schools.
Pushing people of color out of San Francisco has led to the resegregation of schools, according to The San Francisco Public Press. The newspaper found that in 2010, six in 10 schools in San Francisco are dominated by one race. This makes the schools racially-isolated, according to the San Francisco Unified School District.
Much of this resegregation is due to wealthier families isolating their children in private schools, which leaves public schools in economic disarray. This matters.
As The San Francisco Public Press explains: "Recent studies from Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, show that many students do much better on tests when placed in integrated classrooms, and that all kids are much less likely to grow up with racial stereotypes and prejudices. Far from being opposed to each other, excellence and diversity go hand in hand."
Teachers are also struggling with this housing and education crisis. An April report from The Mercury News found that teachers are unable to afford to live in the cities they're teaching in. For example, The Mercury News reports that the average monthly price for a studio apartment in San Francisco and the Bay Area is $2,137 with two bedroom apartments going for upward of $2,850.
If a teacher makes $73,000, the average salary for a teacher in the Bay Area, housing will eat up 30% of her income. Being unable to live on a teacher's salary means of course, less teachers.
"Every year we have a problem. It's always a challenge to make sure that the schools are staffed," Jody London, an Oakland Unified school board trustee, told The Mercury News. "But with the rapidly rising housing market, the fact is it's crazy right now. And it's getting harder for teachers to stay in Oakland."
These complications have an impact on student achievement. Education is a racial justice issue, and the tech industry is complicit in both crises -- and it may be due in part to another glaring issue within the tech industry: the lack of people of color at their companies, to begin with.
In 2015, Google, Apple, and Twitter released the dismal demographics of their workforce. Out of 41,000 available tech jobs at these three companies, only 758 -- or 1.8% -- are filled by Black employees, according to Mother Jones. Since then, African-Americans have become 7% of Apple tech employees, but that's still an overt racial gap.
Numbers from the United States Census Bureau confirm this problem. As The New York Times points out, African-Americans are only represented 11% of the total science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce in 2011, though they comprise 6% of college graduates with degrees in computer engineering and tech.
Tokenism is also rampant at these companies, according to The New York Times, leaving many graduates wary to join them.
"Any student of color looking at the numbers from the tech giants is going to be turned off and wary about taking a job there because it tells you something about what the climate is," sociologist Maya A. Beasley told The New York Times. "They don't want to be the token."
Of course, all of these issues are not at the feet of the tech industry. Housing and education need federal and state legislation that protects the working class and people of color, but silence equals a willingness to be complicit within a system that oppresses and silences the most marginalized and vulnerable among us.
Racial justice must be a set of political commitments, not opportunistic status updates. Until Silicon Valley addresses the issues in their own companies, and realize they're all interconnected with the Black Lives Matter movement, their messages of solidarity are as empty as the fancy emoji-hashtag.