April 1, 2021

Durham Gets “Googled” – What Will Be The Impact On Communities Of Color?

But how should Durham and the Triangle area of North Carolina respond?

It sounds like fantastic news for the Triangle region of North Carolina. Google is coming, and to Durham in particular, home of a historic Black Wall Street, a Universal Basic Income pilot program and state of the art academic institutions and resources.

The message from the Google & Alphabet group CEO Sundar Pichai in a blog post was of Google wishing to be a “part of” the economic recovery thru their $7 billion investment across the United States. His choice of words is important as it illustrates the challenge faced in the 4th Industrial Revolution for towns and cities. There is a desire for investment that will provide as many as 10,000 jobs across the USA, including Durham and increased revenue streams for a post-pandemic world. However, how can towns and cities like Durham, NC ensure an open and honest process in the face of a tech giant such as Google?

Who will these jobs go to? How will the public know who they go to? What will be the impact on communities of color living in the Triangle area?

The process must address these issues, meeting the needs of average people living and working in Durham and its surrounding areas. There is also a necessity to deliver on equity, race and gender for the huge investments being made by Google.

As far as employment is concerned, Google has a dismal record for Black and Brown communities in the USA, as does much of Big Tech (e.g., Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft etc.) Since annual reporting began in 2014, these technology corporations have barely moved the needle on the numbers to employ a diverse workforce. Whilst numbers for Asian Americans remain relatively high (over 40%) across the board at Google, the number of Asian Americans in leadership lags well behind (below 30%). Latinx Googlers number close to 6% of the entire staff but less than 4% in leadership positions. The numbers for Black staff remain stubbornly low, with less than 4% across the entire 118,000 Google staff and less than 3% in leadership positions.

In 2020 Google and other corporations sought to deliver on a corporate social responsibility agenda reflective of the Movement for Black Lives in the aftermath of the deaths of Ahmad, Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black people. This resulted in a $12 million investment in civil rights organizations that sought to reflect a commitment to allyship and racial justice, but the numbers tell a different story. Google earned an estimated $30 billion in profit in the Covid-19 pandemic year of 2020.

The $12 million to civil rights organizations doesn’t appear to be much more than the loose change down the back of the sofa for a multinational conglomerate like Google.

So, what, in fact, does Durham need in the face of this opportunity for investment-driven change? Well, firstly, the people of Durham must be consulted and given access to those executives at Google driving the Durham project to a finish. This consultation must be broad-based, including civil society organizations, religious groups and those in politics. Secondly, the under-representation of communities of color at Google needs to be acknowledged and addressed in the commitments that are made not just in Durham or the Triangle but across the entire state of North Carolina. These steps will begin underwriting the process of Google coming to Durham with the types of long-term measures that can address the significant challenges of the 4th Industrial Revolution. This will build trust that will help with the needs of rural and under-served communities, offsetting the effects of poverty, systemic racism and sexism. When this initial consultation is complete, a regular independent audit should be a key part of the agenda to monitor progress against plans.

Also, Google’s $7 billion commitment most laudably include investments in affordable housing on the West Coast, so why not in Durham, North Carolina? Gentrification and the lack of affordability in the housing market remain huge challenges for all communities seeking to live and work in the Triangle area. Google should commit to a social and environmental impact analysis to provide the transparency that will deliver improvements in the lived experiences of those who call Durham their home or workplace.

Whilst the ‘ally-ship of big corporations during the #BlackLivesMatter protests over the summer of 2020 was cautiously welcomed amongst African Americans; there needs to be substantial investment accompanied by community agreements that pay respect to the proud people of Durham and North Carolina as a whole. This will mean that when we look back on this landmark 2021 investment in a decade or so, all the gains will not have gone to the wealthiest and most connected people in the state but will have been shared fairly.

This article was written by Femi Hwesuhunu and originally published on Medium
Femi Hwesuhunu

A Mancunian based in the Triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill in North Carolina keeping an eye on the US and the UK.

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