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We Need to Talk About What It Means to Be ‘White-Adjacent’ in Tech

Privileged, yet excluded. Activists Ellen Pao and Tracy Chou explain the double-edged sword — and how to use it in the fight against racism.

Co-authored by Tracy Chou, Founder and CEO, Block Party; Co-founder, Project Include and Ellen K. Pao, Co-founder and CEO, Project Include

Photos courtesy of Tracy Chou, Founder and CEO of Block Party (left) and Ellen Pao, Co-Founder and CEO of Project Include (right).

The zero-sum structures in many institutions force competition between communities for limited resources and opportunities.

Disaggregating data shows even more disparities among the diverse AAPI community. Burmese Americans had significantly lower incomes of $44,400 than Asian Americans overall at $85,800, and compared to the average U.S. household at $61,800; 25% of Mongolian Americans live in poverty. In 2017, Asian immigrants comprised 14% of the 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Source: Washington Center for Equitable Growth
Source: Washington Center for Equitable Growth

It’s that mix of privilege and exclusion that gives us just enough power to speak up but not enough to gain equitable access to opportunities and safety.

From our position of privilege, we often exclude others, complicit in using the model minority myth as a tool to limit Black and Latinx progress. We hold down members of other races and ethnicities — and we even erase the socioeconomic and other struggles that many AAPI communities experience. The colorism and racism in Asian communities extends deep into anti-Blackness. The assumption that working hard leads to success, and the internalization of racist stereotypes of Asians as hard-working and other groups as lazy, can cause Asians to buy into the racial hierarchy in the race for proximity to Whiteness. The zero-sum structures in many institutions force competition between communities for limited resources and opportunities.

Co-Founder and CEO of Project Include. Author of Reset. Angel investor.