The Rev. Jesse Jackson, "the conscience of the nation" and the "Great Unifier," according to his Web site, came to Silicon Valley this month to wipe out the "digital
divide'' - the prejudice that causes "many black and brown professionals (to) say they
are being locked out of the industry, despite receiving training from the best
universities." Jackson says minorities should "be shareholders, not sharecroppers."
His claims are ridiculous. The only sharecropper I know is my dad, who worked on an
Alabama cotton farm from 1926 to 1941. My company, Cypress Semiconductor, has 35 percent minority employees - every one a shareholder. And at the top, four of our nine executive vice presidents, or 44 percent, are minorities.
Cypress's overall employment statistics are typical for Silicon Valley. I invite the Rev.
Jackson to send me the resumes of those disenfranchised people who've received
training from "the best universities." With 115 open positions, we could use them. We
hire 500 people per year and still never fully meet our needs - just like most other
Silicon Valley companies. Why would my company hire 35 percent minority employees
and then refuse to fill an additional 115 positions with minorities? Prejudice? Hardly.
Despite our excellent overall record, Jackson indicts Silicon Valley on two
sub-categories of race statistics: that Silicon Valley hires African-Americans at a 4
percent rate vs. an 8 percent Bay Area population, and Hispanics at a rate of 7 percent
vs. a 14 percent population. Of course, it was Jackson who "rainbowed" the once-black coalition to gain clout. Now, he has to ignore the success of Asian-Americans - 28 percent of all Silicon Valley jobs - to save his statistical argument for prejudice.
Even the statistics for African-Americans and Hispanics don't hold up to scrutiny.
Silicon Valley's hiring base is not the African-American population at large but those
whose education qualifies them for high-tech jobs.
The most recent U.S. Education Department figures, for 1995, show that
African-Americans received 5.3 percent of all U.S. college degrees in engineering and
computer science, a figure in line with their representation in the Silicon Valley
workforce. That workforce is based upon the valley's common practice of hiring on merit, without regard to race or gender.
In 1995, African-Americans accounted for only 1.2 percent of doctorates in engineering
or computer science. African-Americans garnered about 12 times more medical degrees and eight times as many education doctorates as engineering doctorates. If top
African-American students Choose to be doctors or educators instead of engineers, why blame Silicon Valley?
If the Rev. Jackson really wants to help solve problems, why doesn't he attack the three to five-year education gap that African-American 12th-graders suffer in math and
science, according to National Assessment for Education progress scores? He knows
that gap can be closed because the Dunbar School in Washington, D.C., a 100 percent
African-American school, routinely outscored all-white schools in the city for decades.
Jackson gave us an answer to this question in an interview this year on his Wall Street
Project: "The wealth is in the private sector … indeed the power is in the private sector.''
Fixing education is a tough job that doesn't pay much. Jesse Jackson is more
interested in the power and money in companies.
When Jackson settled the Texaco discrimination suit for $176 million, 1,400 ""offended''
employees received a check and an 11 percent raise; minority law firms and ad
agencies associated with Jackson got new contracts; minority businessmen received
Texaco franchises; and African- American periodicals received direct grants. It was pure patronage politics - the group in power doles out the rewards. Also on the Jackson hit list were Coca-Cola, Seven-Up, 7-Eleven, Coors and even Boeing, which paid $15 million to settle its discrimination suit but denied ""any pattern or practice of racial
Doesn't it sound just like one of Bill Lerach's shareholder lawsuits, where a high-tech
company (wrongly) pays millions of dollars to settle an expensive, time-consuming
lawsuit, but admits no wrongdoing? Jackson runs the discrimination-lawsuit business
just like Lerach runs the shareholder-lawsuit business.
I asked Gerald Reynolds, an African-American and former president of the
Washington-based Center for New Black Leadership, why CEOs are so deferential to
Jackson. "It's simple," he told me. "Jesse is a race hustler who makes his living
shaking down corporations. Whites would rather be accused of being a child molester
than a racist. Jesse's got the power to make corporate chieftains cower."
I know from personal experience that Jackson will use the "R" word for leverage. After I publicly criticized his trip to Silicon Valley, the spokesman for a local organization that
co-sponsored Jackson's trip issued a press release calling Cypress "a
white-supremacist hate group."
Jackson himself is no paragon of non-prejudice. In 1984, he called New York
"Hymietown," and last year he called Ward Connerly, the author of California
Proposition 209, a "house slave," according to 1997 column in the New York Post. No
CEO's job would have survived either of those comments.
When the Great Unifier came to San Jose to make his demands, he said, "If negotiation
works, there will be reconciliation. If it fails, the Rainbow/Push Coalition will call for
But why should Silicon Valley companies be forced to deal with Jackson? He is an
economic train wreck who recently wrote, according to his Web site: "Deregulated
capital markets, free trade, floating currencies - these are simply mechanisms, not
measures of virtue." And when the markets aren't free anymore, who will determine what is virtuous - Jackson?
His plan is to buy a token amount of shares of high-tech firms, and then ask not only
the usual questions about the racial composition of the board and top employees, but
also, as he has stated, "Who is managing our 401(k)?" and "Who are our attorneys and
advertising agencies?" I'm sure he has a list of "suggestions" if our choices are not to
In Jackson's view, the blitz of mergers and acquisitions of communications and Internet
companies ought to be scrutinized for their racial component: "We demand that these
mergers should be judged not only by the standards of efficiency and economies of
scale, but also by the principles Of inclusion and expanded opportunity," said a
Rainbow/Push Coalition press release this year. Translation: I won't label your merger
racist if you make these few concessions.
Shelby Steele is an African-American scholar at Stanford University's Hoover Institution
who studies the economics and politics of race. He labels Jackson an "extortion artist
for the grievance elite," but cites Jackson's biggest failing as the corruption of race
relations in America.
"Martin Luther King told people they had to take on the responsibility - and risk - to gain their freedom," Steele told me. "Jesse Jackson tells them that they are weak, victims of prejudice, that have no responsibility for their situation, and that they should rely on him to get the concessions that will improve their situation. In my opinion, that message of 'victimhood' is a bigger barrier to progress than prejudice itself."
Steele is right. Compare the morale impact of the CEO who says or implies, "Many of
you are here because of quotas," to that of a CEO who says, "You are here because
you are the best. Period." We should not tolerate any degradation in one basic value
that drives Silicon Valley meritocracy ... despite Jackson's criticism of it as "an oozing
ideology that needs to be addressed."
Once, the civil rights movement was led by a great American who stirred the
conscience of the nation. Today, its most visible spokesman is a hustler who exploits
white shame for his own financial and political ends.
Silicon Valley is a great place to work because of its meritocracy and free markets,
which lead to a delightful diversity and prosperity. The last thing we need is the ugliness
of divisive, Washington- style race politics forced on us by Jesse Jackson.
If the Rev. Jackson would like to engage me in a public debate on racism in Silicon
Valley, we have been invited by the Cato Institute to do so at noon on Thursday, March
18, 1999, in Washington.
T.J. Rodgers is president and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor Corp. and a Member of
the Citizens' Initiative on Race & Ethnicity, a national national group dedicated to
race-neutral policies. He wrote this article for The San Jose Mercury News's