IT pioneer Earl Pace on racism in the IT workplace

Early in his career, Earl Pace went to a computer conference in Arizona where there were 200 attendees, of which he was the only black person. Well aware of the opportunities in the exploding industry, he decided this needed to change.

Share

I would conclude from what you're saying that your son has fewer scars. To what do you attribute that?

The environment that he grew up in - he interacted in more of a multicultural environment. Mine, growing up, was much less. For my mother and father, it was much less than mine. And some of the things that we ascribe to each other because of history don't appear to him.

On the one hand, you're saying that racism is as much of a problem as it ever was, and on the other, you're saying that your son has fewer scars because of the more multicultural environment. How do you explain that apparent inconsistency?

My son grew up and lives in an environment that is different from that of quite a few, and maybe even the majority, of African-American youth his age. My son grew up in Howard County, Md., a stone's throw from [the affluent community of] Columbia. He went to a high school that was a mixture of everybody. So his interaction with other students was not based upon separation and segregation. His friends are white, Hawaiian, African, African-American, everything - everything has come through my house. Perhaps if he went to school in the District of Columbia, his experience might be very different.

What does the election of Barack Obama say about the state of race relations in the US, and what's your response to someone who maintains that the election demonstrates that we can finally move past the race discussion?

The election of Barack Obama tells me that we have overcome a significant impediment in the United States, that there was enough openness or need on behalf of the voters that they could look past skin colour to what the potential was of the candidate. I hope that he is not being looked at as a Moses who is going to save everybody, so that people become complacent and figure that we've overcome these problems and now the racial divide has been crossed.

He is an agent of change who can inspire people. But unless we now double or triple our efforts to effect those changes, we will be deluding ourselves. There's much, if not more, work that needs to be done to benefit from this perceived change in attitude in the United States. It could be that things are just so bad that [his race] didn't matter.

What has to happen in order for there to no longer be a need for an association of black IT professionals?

Parity. During the '60s and '70s, in the civil rights era, [it was said that] along with your civil rights, you have to achieve your "silver" rights. Economic benefit gives you the power and ability to effect change. My contention, and maybe it's why I'm in business, is that if there is a foundation of business people and business entities that African-Americans and other minorities can use as the basis for building their economic power, then these other impediments will drop by the wayside

What I would like to emphasise, though, probably more than anything else, is that professional organizations are very, very necessary, particularly for African-Americans and other minorities. The necessity doubles when you get into economic circumstances like what we're in now. A professional organization gives you an opportunity to develop skills that you'll need in your workplace but does it in an environment that is supportive, as opposed to combative.

Now, with things economically going south, the network you develop within an organization like BDPA will help you survive these downturns better than if you were out there doing it by yourself.

Find your next job with computerworld UK jobs

"Recommended For You"

How Harvard Business School hires its IT staff Google to put guards on payroll, amid concerns about inequality