Technology has given us the ability to communicate more broadly, for better or worse.
My open letter to Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham a couple weeks ago was intended to be a respectful conversation regarding the most productive approach to economic inequality.
To my surprise and great appreciation, Graham was kind enough to take the time to reply to my criticisms, and in so doing, won me over on the essence of the topic. He pointed to the common ground we share on how to find real solutions.
I hope this post can be seen as an attempt to attack a specific bad cause: The inherent racism found in the dark corners of the Internet.
When people can humbly receive criticism rather than be threatened by it, I believe we all benefit. When we acknowledge that we are in this together, all simply doing our best to improve the conditions of our neighborhoods, country and our world, technology becomes a gift to human progress. It values and encourages honest debate, it forges new relationships when common ground is discovered among people, organizations and movements who have the means and influence to be agents of change.
The Internet is to us what the printing press was to humanity roughly 500 years ago. Through information sharing, our collective conversations can be aligned as a force for good. We can be inspired by the realization that there are others just like us, who feel the same about real issues when it seems like we’re the only ones challenging the status quo.
The most impactful part of Graham’s response was his encouragement to “attack specific bad causes.” At first, I read this as a rather predictable anecdote and somewhat of a cop-out. But then I started noticing an interesting development in this story, as friends sent me screenshots of the unfortunate side of the Internet. For example, a post by Derrick Wilburn on Allen West’s website, and the incredibly toxic comments his audience produced. One Twitter user compiled several screenshots.:
“Put a bullet in his head”? That would certainly get your point across, Shaun Davis, but I’m not sure it would move the discussion forward.
Everyone knows there are trolls on the Internet — but what is really shocking is the silence that prevails by Allen West, a prominent black public figure, on the blatant, ongoing racism that takes place on his platform. It doesn’t appear to just be a couple of bad apples — it pervades his website.
When comments like these go unchecked by anyone, let alone someone like Mr. West, it appears to condone such behavior. When these comments are actually perpetuated and essentially encouraged, when they are promoted or swept under the rug, I’m afraid we have a bigger problem than I originally set out to address, and I’m calling on West to directly condemn the widespread racism on his website. Its unthinkable to me that this would be received as a challenge, so I will extend the benefit of the doubt that this request will be easily addressable, and until now it simply has been a lack of awareness.
While this story has taken an unexpected turn, I hope the spirit of the discussion Graham and I have engaged in can be used as a force for good. I hope this can be seen as an attempt to attack a specific bad cause: The inherent racism found in the dark corners of the Internet. Comments such as these are like the “whites only” signs that used to hang in store windows. It’s time we said “no more of this,” and put an end to this venal racism that is perpetuated on the Internet.
If we are to attack the real issues that plague economic inequality, we must become aware of the nature of the hearts that disagree, and those who lend credibility to such hatred with their inaction. I remain undeterred, and infused with urgency that the mission of Greater, a nonprofit organization I co-founded, is even more critical than I initially thought.
I urge everyone reading this to get involved, by shutting down racism on the Internet and working in their communities to provide opportunities to everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
At Greater, we continue to be dedicated to working with existing community programs and institutions to challenge the lack of access in our technology ecosystem. We work with community leaders to engage young people in building their own futures. I urge everyone reading this to get involved, by shutting down racism on the Internet and working in their communities to provide opportunities to everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
Technology has given us the ability to communicate more broadly, for better or for worse. I choose the better. But it is clear to me that coming together in person is crucial to addressing this issue in a constructive manner.
I know I share these goals with a diverse set of people in the greater Seattle area and beyond, and look forward to working on the solutions.
Warmly, Russell Okung
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Russell Okung is an offensive tackle with the Seattle Seahawks. Selected sixth overall in the 2010 NFL draft by the Seahawks, Okung has earned his way to a Pro Bowl and two Super Bowl appearances, claiming a victory and the World Champion title in 2014. Off the field, he is passionate and active in his community, investing in the lives of kids and championing social innovations through startups. He founded Greater, which partners with community organizations to foster the next generation of leaders. While focusing on the needs of at-risk youth, Greater is committed to expanding their access to the technology economy. Reach him @RussellOkung.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.