The Crypto Community Needs To Stand Up And Fight Racism (#GotBitcon?)
Robert Greenfield is the CEO of Emerging Impact, a benefit corporation that supports NGOs and government agencies to leverage blockchain technology in social protection. The Crypto Community Needs To Stand Up And Fight Racism (#GotBitcon?)
Previously he was head of Social Impact & Diversity Programming at ConsenSys.
Here we are again. Another unarmed, defenseless black man killed by the police.
Another wave of protests against police brutality and systemic racism.
Another wave of actionless, apologetic cries, willfully ignorant excuses and political re-directs about the real problem.
Since the 2012 lynching of Trayvon Martin, we have been in a cycle of videoed black murder porn, criminal immunity and corporate cowardice. In America today, being black can get you killed for driving, jogging, sleeping, yelling, parking, baby-sitting, sitting in a van, selling CDs, even eating ice cream in your own house.
This is not because black people are more “prone to criminality.” Rather, criminal activity is a complex socioeconomic phenomenon proven to be closely related to poverty. The rate of violence is actually higher among poor, urban whites. And “black-on-black crime” is not out of control. Most victims of crime personally know their assailants. While this is a truth across racial boundaries, no one ever talks about “white-on-white crime.”
It is because black Americans are 2.5x more likely than whites to be killed by police. It is because the U.S. has been built on institutionalized racism, using slavery to build the global economy to institute oppressive policing policies via the “War on Drugs” and “War on Crime.” It is because major companies, government institutions and influential people rarely speak up and actively support systemic change.
These protests are combatting the unarmed murder of innocent black men, women and children. We are asking to be able to live – not asking to vote Democrat or Republican. We are asking for equality, equity and justice.
Responses to the #BlackLivesMatter protests have followed a familiar refrain. Some have taken the “diversity is already solved” position. Yet, in a “Post-Obama” era, black employees make up only 3% of Google, 6% of Apple and 3.8% of Facebook’s respective workforces. The blockchain and crypto ecosystem inherited a lack of diversity from legacy tech, from hiring to funding founders of color, and highlighting black and brown voices in conferences and press. Even so, there has been a market-wide unwillingness to publish diversity reports and open investor networks.
What about the distribution of cryptocurrency ownership? Though there have been few studies, we do know that the majority Bitcoin and Ethereum nodes operate in regions like the U.S. and Europe. If we look at crypto exchanges, many are quick to equate international trading volumes as a mark for success in diversity, obscuring the way large holders could easily be responsible for an entire country’s cryptocurrency trading volume, given the nascent state of the market.
The crypto community is conveniently selective about what aspects of society it wants to change.
Even more disturbing reactions to the current #BlackLivesMatter movement have come from well-followed individuals in the space, like Nick Szabo, who has readily retweeted positions in the victim-blaming camp for George Floyd’s fate. Worse, Szabo has retweeted threads claiming black intellectual inferiority, such as this one.
The crypto community is conveniently selective about what aspects of society it wants to change. Many libertarians were drawn to the ideas of disintermediating government and financial centers of power. In the face of the current president of the U.S. using tear gas against protesters and sending in unmarked security officers in riot gear, many of these same libertarians have been very quiet about this profound display of fascist overreach.
The truth is most major blockchain companies and crypto personalities refuse to publicly stand in solidarity against police brutality and racism, fearing the retribution of white supremacist trolls more than valuing the lives of their black colleagues, friends and employees. The issue of “black lives matter” is treated as a subjective and politically divisive topic rather than a well-documented and well-researched fact of American history. It shouldn’t be controversial that efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in corporate executive teams can result in up to 30% more profitability.
At this point, even executives at the highest levels of Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase, organizations that Bitcoin and Ethereum maximalists incessantly demonize, have come out in solidarity. If they can risk that much business I think crypto startups, many that do not serve white supremacist consumers, can take a risk, too.
Where Is The Crypto Community Now?
As someone passionate about blockchain technology, it has been increasingly difficult to ignore the cultural hypocrisy in our ecosystem. Crypto community members of color have had a constant internal battle as to whether or not we should even address this issue – many of us choosing to leave blockchain altogether instead. I have personally wondered:
Why isn’t the work of people of color highlighted at conferences and in the press? Why don’t we see more people like myself at these crypto startups? Why is there so much nepotism masquerading as meritocratic hires under the guise of ‘we only hire those that are qualified’? Why is it that there are so few women of color in the women in blockchain events and leadership talks?
What would happen if I spoke out? Would there be retribution? Would I be labeled as the ‘angry black guy’ of crypto? Am I selling out by not bringing these issues to the forefront?
Many of you can identify with these questions, each representing a small, frustrating moment pre-empting a larger, more important question, “Why does nobody seem to care?”
Since the 2012 lynching of Trayvon Martin, we have been in a cycle of videoed black murder porn, criminal immunity and corporate cowardice.
We have heard nothing from the Ethereum Foundation, which continues to espouse the desire to support global adoption and operate under a subtractive mindset. How can you say ‘fight for change’ at Devcon but not take that same action yourselves? Why has the Hypeledger community via the Linux Foundation taken a stand, but you cannot?
We have heard nothing from the Libra Association, whose mission it is to provide people everywhere access to affordable financial services. Are positively impacting people of color not a part of your goal for financial inclusion?
We have heard nothing from the Web3 Foundation, whose mission it is to nurture cutting-edge applications for decentralized web software protocols. Are we to believe that all the applications needed to make real change in the world won’t need essential contributions from people of color?
We have heard little from Coinbase (not just Brian Armstrong), whose mission it is to build an open financial system and increase the amount of economic freedom in the world. Are black and brown lives not a part of that world they seek to change?
We have heard nothing from the Maker Foundation, a direct beneficiary of increased awareness of the world’s first cryptocurrency-backed cash assistance program. (Project Unblocked Cash, co-led by Sandra Hart and myself leveraged DAI in communities in the Asia Pacific.)
In fact, we’ve heard and seen the opposite. I have seen crypto layoffs nearly eliminate the entire black employee community of multiple organizations. I have seen and heard of disastrous “all hands meetings” at many of the world’s largest crypto companies where executive teams fumble over the decision to simply tweet “Black Lives Matter” and ignore the voices of even their white employees pleading to make a change. I have heard that employees have had to fight company leadership just to put out a post on social media in support, even through the veil of performance activism.
This is not to say that I don’t greatly admire each of these organizations; it is to say that I admire them so much I expect them to do better.
If the crypto community wants to truly use this moment to change, it needs to recognize the problem first and pledge actionable ways to correct it. Thus, I have created a #CryptoForChange Pledge to motivate our community to stand in solidarity against police brutality and systemic racism.
Leading blockchain organizations have already agreed to take a stand, including Althea, Gitcoin, cLabs (Celo), The Giving Block, Sempo, Amentum and Storj – many of them led by people of color. In fact, The Giving Block has gone one step further and waived all monthly subscription fees for civil rights-related nonprofits as a part of the #CryptoForChange campaign.
The pledge, which you can find here, is a promise to the community that you will take substantive action against police brutality and systemic racism as a member of the crypto community. Actions must be taken in the next 90 days for companies and 30 days for individuals. I know we all want the best for our communities, and we’d love for blockchain technology to serve as a mass-adopted tool to realize such change. To do so, we need to actually put in the work.
Blockchain Community Sounds Off In Support Of Juneteenth
The Blockchain community sounds off in support of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the USA.
Juneteenth, a day which marks the end of slavery in the United States, has been commemorated every June 19 since 1867. It is especially relevant today, amid a wave of protests against racism following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other innocent people of color.
Blockchain Community Praising The Day
Many in the blockchain community have extolled today’s significance in history.
Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse spoke on behalf of the company in declaring the date a corporate holiday:
“Recognizing and celebrating #Juneteenth today. It’s striking how many of us weren’t taught about this historic day growing up. Today, @Ripple is making Juneteenth a company holiday to acknowledge and take action to root out systemic racism. This is long overdue.”
Isaiah Jackson, the author of “Bitcoin & Black America” and also the co-host of the YouTube show “The Gentlemen of Crypto,” highlighted a Forbes interview in which he is featured promoting his book, “Bitcoin and Black America.”
During an interview with Cointelegraph, Jackson stated that establishing economic strength could help the black community in ways protesting on the street can not.
Multi-cryptocurrency ATM network, Bitcoin Depot, praised the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth as well. On Twitter, the company made reference to Juneteenth as “a historical day of remembrance and freedom.”
Calling For Donations
ConsenSys spoke favorably of the date as well. They invited people to donate their crypto to organizations that fight against racism, such as CCR and Black Girls Code:
“At ConsenSys, we’re observing #Juneteenth globally. It’s a day for reflection, education, and supporting Black lives everywhere”
‘Satoshi Was A Black Woman’: Blockchain Entrepreneurs Talk Financial Inclusion On Juneteenth
Racial diversity and financial inclusion are good for cryptocurrency and blockchain – and the industry has work to do.
Juneteenth is the celebration of June 19, 1865, when the last group of enslaved African Americans were made aware of the Emancipation Proclamation that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln had signed two years earlier.
While America’s education system has left many ignorant of the origins of Juneteenth, there has been a revived interest in turning the day into a national holiday after protests sprung up around the world in response to the May 25 police killing of an unarmed Black man named George Floyd.
In a wide-ranging conversation Friday, panelists at the event said crypto has the potential to allow citizens to opt out of what they described as a racist financial system on Wall Street. That said, the panelists added, Black people and people of color must be part of the development of the technology for that to happen.
Isaiah Jackson, founder of KRBE Digital Assets Group and author of Bitcoin & Black America, said he believes that Black investment in digital assets would create a more resilient system than Black Wall Street, a Black business district that was burned down by white mobs during the Tulsa race massacre of 1921.
“You can’t burn down cryptocurrency and blockchain technology,” Jackson said. “I want to encourage everyone to stay vigilant and make sure you start to move your money and savings out of this failing system. … We need to make sure we use censorship-resistant and scarce-money systems such as bitcoin.”
Sinclair Skinner, the co-founder of pan-African bitcoin remittance firm BitMari, agreed, saying the ethos of bitcoin and the ethos of the Black community are aligned.
“We say that Satoshi is Black,” Skinner said. “But Satoshi was probably a Black woman because a man would have never been able to walk away and not take credit.”
More Work Needed
Despite crypto’s potential, however, the industry is not immune to the same societal ills that have affected the broader world, Skinner said.
“Blockchain is full of racists,” he said. “It’s just like the rest of society.”
In the fight for venture capital, blockchain enthusiasts should remember that cryptocurrency entrepreneurs and Black founders face the same issues – being turned away for being different, Mesidor said.
In turn, entrepreneurs should choose investors that have diverse funds, said Jalak Jobanputra, founding partner of Future\Perfect Ventures, an early-stage fund investing in blockchain technology and machine learning.
“We have to make sure that diverse voices are represented unlike what happened with the internet 20 years ago when it was really created by one demographic for one demographic,” Jobanputra said.
One source of funding that crypto entrepreneurs could be tapping more is Black family offices, said Genevieve Leveille, CEO of AgriLedger, a U.K.-based blockchain firm trying to ensure pay equity for farmers.
“We are going to a technology which is very nascent and many people do not clearly see yet the opportunities,” she said. “There are plenty of Black family offices and we should be tapping into that network.”
Crypto is also another way that Black entrepreneurs can achieve economic equality, said Jomari Peterson, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University focused on empowering underrepresented communities through microlending and gaming.
“We cannot wait until it’s too late and those systems are already around us,” Peterson said.
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