Critics Accuse CNN’s Soledad O’Brien of Ignoring History of Blacks in Tech

Here's who they missed.

By Jorge Rivas Nov 11, 2011

CNN will premiere a new installment in its "Black in America" documentary series this Sunday called "The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley." Hosted by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, Sunday’s show will follow eight black entrepreneurs trying to make it in a predominantly white tech world.

The show hasn’t even aired yet and it’s already stirring up controversy. One of the talking heads in the documentary, Michael Arrington — who founded the influential blog TechCrunch — declared "there just aren’t any" black influential leaders in the Silicon Valley.

Arrington’s TechCrunch covers the Internet startup industry and he was not able to name a single black CEO or entrepreneur.

"The rarity of blacks in current tech startups is indisputable, but both Arrington and O’Brien’s documentary leave you with the inaccurate impression that there are no black tech entrepreneurs at all in the Valley," Joel Dreyfuss wrote for The Root. "Today a number of companies founded by blacks are thriving, despite Arrington’s ignorance."

Arrington wrote about the interview experience on his blog Uncrunched. He writes that he doesn’t think in terms of color, so when asked about black entrepreneurs he couldn’t come up with anyone. "See, my brain database doesn’t categorize people in terms of skin color. Or hair color. Or sexual orientation. When I queried that database, under stressful circumstances, I got zero results," Arrington wrote on his blog.

Arrington says that midway through the interview he started coming up with names, but he believes CNN edited most of that out. "The interview went on for 45 minutes or so after that, and I amended my statements. I talked about Clarence Wooten, the CEO of Arrived. Wooten has been my friend since the mid 90?s, and I was his lawyer for his first startup, a wildly successful company that made Wooten rich."

TheRoot’s Joel Dreyfuss has a few names for both Arrington and O’Briend to consider:

One of the Valley’s most famous startups was Silicon Graphics International, a company whose powerful workstations made possible the spectacular special effects that have become standard in today’s action films. SGI’s advantage was a specialized graphics chip largely based on the Stanford University doctoral thesis of Marc Hannah, an African American, and other students of engineering professor James Clark. Clark and his students left Stanford to found SGI, where Hannah became chief scientist. He now works in real estate development.

David Drummond is the chief legal officer at Google. Morehouse Man Paul Q. Judge (No. 87 in The Root 100 for 2011) is the chief research officer at Barracuda Networks, a leading provider of security and anti-spam services for companies.

Shellye Archambeau is a classic Silicon Valley startup entrepreneur whom Michael Harrington should know. Archambeau is the founder and CEO of MetricStream, whose software helps large financial, health care and insurance companies cope with governance, risk and regulatory compliance issues. Archambeau, a former IBM executive, has grown her 8-year-old Palo Alto company to more than 400 employees and could eventually take it public.

Read more from Dreyfuss’ story at The Root titled "Silicon Valley’s Invisible Blacks."