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Ric Oberlink: Big Tech should stop the hypocrisy and hire Black workers

Ric Oberlink: Big Tech should stop the hypocrisy and hire Black workers

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Ric Oberlink

Ric Oberlink

In a famous 1895 speech, Booker T. Washington castigated white industrialists for favoring European immigrants over Black laborers in their new factories. “Cast down your bucket where you are… among the eight millions of Negroes” to find workers, he declared.

The expression came from Moby Dick, wherein Melville related the tale of a distressed ship in the Atlantic whose crew members are dying of thirst. When they spot another ship, they signal their need for water and receive a reply to cast down their bucket where they are. Eventually they comply and are amazed to find their bucket full of fresh water.

The ship is now at the mouth of the Amazon.

Washington was not the only African-American leader to note that immigration was inimical to the interests of Black workers. W.E.B. Du Bois, commenting on the immigration reductions enacted in the 1920s, said, “(T)he stopping of the importing of cheap white labor on any terms has been the economic salvation of American Black labor.”

Frederick Douglass stated about free Blacks in the pre-Civil War North, “(E)very hour sees the black man elbowed out of employment by some newly arrived emigrant, whose hunger and whose color are thought to give him a better title to the place….”

Big Tech has been quick to issue woke statements of support for Black Lives Matter and banalities about valuing diversity, and equally quick to condemn President Donald Trump for suspending H-1B visas. When it comes to tech companies actually hiring African-American workers, that’s an entirely different story.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said he was “deeply disappointed” by Trump’s decision because Apple “has always found strength in our diversity.” Diversity at Apple means that 6% of its tech workers and 3% of its leadership personnel are Black.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said, “Disappointed by today’s proclamation, we’ll continue to stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all.” Google translates “opportunity for all” as hiring Black workers for just 2.4% of tech workers and 2.6% of leadership positions. For Latinos, the figures are 2.6% and 3.7%, respectively.

The visa suspension “is a full-frontal attack on American innovation and our nation’s ability to benefit from attracting talent from around the world,” according to, a lobbying group founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to support increased immigration and more visas.

Perhaps Facebook should try attracting some homegrown talent. Just 1.7% of its tech employees are Black and only 4.3% are Latino. Black workers hold 3.4% of leadership positions, while Latinos hold 4.3%.

The H-1B visa program was designed to provide businesses with specialized workers unavailable in America. Instead, tech companies have used contrived worker shortages to convert the program into, in the words of Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, one that is “plagued with fraud and abuse and is now a vehicle for outsourcing that deprives qualified American workers of their jobs.”

There are 600,000 H-1B workers in the U.S., but since many “temporary” workers were able to change their visa status and remain, the number of lost jobs exceeds that. Moreover, some workers learn the job and then return to their homes, taking the job with them.

The program is an integral part of deliberate efforts to outsource jobs.

One can only wonder how differently America’s past century and a quarter might have developed had the corporate elite heeded Washington’s “cast down your bucket” admonition. Our future remains uncertain as tech companies insist on importing foreign workers instead of hiring Americans from our Black, brown and underserved communities.

Big Tech offers us buckets of meaningless platitudes and empty rhetoric.

Ric Oberlink is the executive director of the nonprofit group, Californians for Population Stabilization.

Featured video:

On Sept. 11, the Tulsa World Let’s Talk virtual town hall and the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma cohosted a town hall forum on State Questions 805 and State Question 814.


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