Evaluating the Promise of Big Tech in Black America
Mitchell comes from a Black family with an entrepreneurial spirit. When he was a teenager growing up in New Haven, Connecticut, his mother and grandmother opened a bakery called Smith Family Bake Shop. Mitchell himself enjoys making a red velvet cake that he still enjoys baking every now and then. But the store closed after a few years, in part because of his family’s lack of experience running a business. He decided he would go to school to get some knowledge that wasn’t in his predecessor, eventually graduating from Temple University with a degree in human resource and, afterward, from Harvard Business School.
Mitchell’s job in HR brought him to Singapore, where he worked as a recruiter for Citigroup. There he spent his early years at the Black Lives Matter movement, observing from afar how the conversation about race in America was changing. He also knows how bad his experiences as a Black man in Asia are different from what he sees at home. “Most people in Singapore just treat me like an American,” he said. “There’s no second guessing or unconscious bias that’s part of the daily experience. It’s like walking around with a 200-pound-weight vest lifted.” When he returned to the U.S., he knows that fighting racism will be a priority for him. ”It’s kind of like, I can’t not Make this work as part of my job, ”he said.
Shortly after his return, Mitchell got a job in HR at Netflix. The streaming giant has a poor work culture that emphasizes autonomy and transparency at all costs. Some staff have previously described it as bad, full of fearless public firing and performance scrutiny (any staff can criticize the rest). But Mitchell, a full -fledged musician, likens Netflix’s corporate structure to a jazz band, where creativity and adaptability are important. The lack of company hierarchy allowed him to continue what he called his “jazz solo” when he began researching Black banks.
The first person Michell reached out to after his April dinner was Bill Bynum, who provided some broad insight into the importance of both Black banks and CDFIs. Mitchell also picked up Mehrsa Baradaran’s book The Color of Money. Examining its 384 pages, he was surprised to learn how many laws and regulations have been imposed over the centuries to prevent the attempt to build Black wealth. These barriers, he knows, date back to the original Freedman’s Bank, where Black people finally saw their deposits raided by white managers for risky investment. “Until I read the book, I thought it was a much easier problem to solve,” Mitchell said. “You can’t really help until you know the complexity of the problem.”
Baradaran’s book, along with other works such as Richard Rothstein’s book The Color of the Law, given reasons for how discrimination is not an expression of bigotry held by individual persons or organizations; it is tightly woven into the laws and incentive structure created by government agencies. The problem is systematic; solutions are necessary as well. “The thing my book shows, hopefully, is that you don’t have to put up with racism to get rid of racism,” Baradaran said. “The structure we have in it can produce racism unless you really mean how to solve it.”
Mitchell decided to reach out to the author. Baradaran has sent out numerous consulting requests from companies looking to whiten their brands in the face of the changing American career situation. However, he was willing to take Mitchell’s call because he felt that Netflix was already making a good effort in good faith to operate with diversity in mind. The company has a larger percentage of Black workers, at 8 percent, than Facebook, Google, or Microsoft. The streamer has also invested a significant amount of money in developing a wide slate of productions featuring black artists and directors such as Ava DuVernay and Spike Lee, who have praised the company. “Netflix makes stories,” Baradaran said. “That’s the Netflix market, and in that market they do well in representation and diversity. That’s what I would say for other businesses-look at your market and see how you can make changes. -or there. ”
Baradaran also felt a warm desire in Mitchell to help small Black businesses like his family’s bakery. So she volunteered to help him shape his proposal. “He’s the one who inspires us to think a lot more,” Mitchell said. At Baradaran’s input, Mitchell began drafting a two-and-a-half-page memo outlining his vision for how Netflix could support the Black banks. From the beginning, he was married to the idea that some dedicated balance of Netflix money should go to the effort. “Taking 2 percent means that, as we grow as a company, our commitment to these communities continues to grow,” Mitchell said.