A few weeks back, I participated in two events hosted by the Black Googler Network, a Google group designed to encourage more African Americans in the tech industry.
On the first day, I headed to the College of Charleston for #YTBlackVoices, a panel discussion featuring seven bright, beautiful, and intelligent black men and women who have made a career for themselves via YouTube, which is owned by Google. We were, according to the event description, supposed to learn how the local community could "reclaim [our] voices on issues facing Charleston and the broader African-American community in the digital space." None of that happened.
After the panel discussion, I asked a few of the attendees their thoughts. Every person responded with their own version of "Meh, I didn't learn anything new, but it didn't kill any brain cells. Plus I got a picture with (insert favorite black YouTuber here) so it's all good". Like them, I was a bit unsatisfied, but my enthusiasm for the Goodie Hack a few days later kept me in good spirits.
Facilitated by Atlanta-based nonprofit Amplify 4 Good, the Goodie Hack was marketed as a hackathon of sorts in which "you'll actually see your ideas come to life and make a difference in the community." That sounded like a wonderful idea, so I signed up. Once we arrived at the event, teams were created — I was on Team Nine — and then charged with the task of creating an app that would help solve the problem we were given. But something didn't quite make sense. For starters, Goodie Hack wasn't a hackathon in the traditional sense. We didn't create an actual app as many of us expected. Instead we were given three hours to develop a presentation for an app — a presentation?! This was baffling.
While this was a bitter pill for some of the 100-plus black attendees to swallow, it didn't really matter because by that point, we'd all signed a waiver so any ideas we created, good or bad, belonged to Google.
Another attendee asked if the projects we worked on would be made available for the public. At the very least would we be able to share our presentations with the other people in the room perhaps to use what we had come up with as a starting point for our own projects? While we were told that might happen, I've yet to receive any notification from Google that I now have access to everyone else's presentations.
I came to be a part of those Black Googler Network events because I was under the impression that Google was sincerely trying to build some type of infrastructure in the African-American community. Whether it be a pipeline for information, a source for funding, a conduit for communication, or all-the-above, I assumed that they were trying to sink roots in the black community, something that none of the other large corporations have seemingly done since relocating to the Lowcountry. I know for a fact that's the reason some of the other attendees came as well, because I asked. Granted, very few of us non-Google employees had any background in technology, but we were all invested in the growth of Charleston's black community. And while we weren't looking for Google to be our savior, we certainly hoped that they would become allies in this new-look, post-massacre Charleston. But in the end, I left these Black Googler events feeling like Google wasn't there to do any of that. Instead, they were more than satisfied with just looking like they cared.
I have no reservations in saying that I feel like we were played. Google and Amplify 4 Good said all the right things and flashed pretty smiles, all while making promises that they seemingly didn't intend on keeping while taking our ideas in return for nothing more than a free lunch.
Afterwards, I reached out to both Google and Amplify 4 Good to express my concerns. I asked both of them why the events didn't deliver what each had promised? Amplify responded, noting that the Goodie Hack event was their idea, but they were there just to facilitate the event. At the time of this writing I have yet to receive a response from Google.
Just as I was concerned that the sense of urgency to address our racial issues would fade away the further we got from the Mother Emanuel tragedy, the Black Googler Network has given me yet another reason to stay on my toes. Charleston, especially its black denizens, will be prime targets for corporations that want to profess their love for the black community. We will become nothing more than a glorified photo-op for people that want goodwill but don't want to put in the work to truly deserve it.
When it comes to these Black Googler events, they truly missed an opportunity to build something real, something lasting. This was an opportunity for them to become a leader for social good in a city that could use all the goodness it can get.