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Tech Firms Have 'Legal And Moral Obligation' To Diversify, Rev. Jesse Jackson Tells KERA

Technology companies have a "legal and moral obligation" to be transparent about the racial makeup of their workforces, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told KERA Thursday afternoon.

The longtime civil rights leader spoke with KERA 'Think' host Krys Boyd about his efforts to diversify Silicon Valley companies. He also reflected on his lifetime devotion to the civil rights movement. Jackson worked with Dr. Martin Luther King to organize marches in the 1960s and ran for president in the 1980s.

The Associated Press reports on Jackson's efforts to diversify tech firms:

Google is just one of many high-tech companies that are pledging to diversify their workforces this spring under pressure from the Rev. Jesse Jackson.  ... Google's efforts come amid a renewed bout of advocacy from Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, which have been leading delegations to shareholder meetings this spring at such companies as Google, Facebook, eBay and Hewlett-Packard, decrying "old patterns that exclude people of color and women from opportunity and advancement." Jackson said that he hopes others will follow Google's lead, and that this time he is redoubling his efforts here.

As KERA marks the50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer, an effort to get blacks registered to vote in Mississippi, Boyd talked with Jackson. The interview reairs on KERA 90.1 FM at 10 p.m. Thursday. Or listen to it now:

KERA Interview Highlights: Rev. Jesse Jackson on ...

... Diversity in the tech industry

“If you have these political rights … and you don’t have economic participation, then something is grossly missing.”

“We evolved to focus on Silicon Valley – it’s the No. 1 growth industry and by and large we’re vast consumers of that industry yet we are not allowed to participate.”

To those who say there aren’t enough minorities interested in tech work, “60 percent of those who work in Silicon Valley are not tech. They do IPOs; those are not engineer jobs, they use lawyers and advertising and marketing.”

“We decided to take on this industry and say ‘Let us in.' We have something to offer. We have money, market, talent, location. If the South is a better South because we opened up the doors, high-tech industry will open up if we open up the doors.”

"There’s no shortage of people who can serve on those boards and in those C-suites."

Re: diversity in the tech industry: “The numbers are so bad. They are embarrassed about making them public.”

Tech firms “don’t want to make hiring transparent. They have a legal and a moral obligation to make the records public in the shareholders’ meetings.”

... Education

“If we don’t have enough high-tech workers, then train them.”

“You plant apple seeds, you grow apple trees. You grow what you want. If you want more blacks and Latinos and women who can become high-tech, then train them. We’re educable. We’re able to fight war. There’s nothing we can’t do given training, given opportunity.”

“When the walls came down, we all began to grow. … Dr. King and those who marched pulled down those doors and when the doors replaced bridges, we all became stronger.”

... Requiring voter IDs

“In Texas you can use a gun registration to vote, yet you can’t use a student ID, that’s unkind. That’s not good for democracy. When you shorten the number of days [to vote], that’s not good for democracy.”

"These schemes make voting more difficult. There’s no evidence of fraud. … This is just bully suppression tactics."

... Civil rights

On his role in the civil rights movement: “In a long battle, I’ve been blessed. … You strike out some times, you get homeruns sometimes. … I’ve been blessed to watch America grow. And all of our warps and sometimes false starts, when Dr. King gave his speech on Washington in 1963, Texas, across to Florida to Maryland, we couldn’t use a public toilet. The day he gave that speech … we were in the throes of rigid racial apartheid. …When the walls come down … there’s more abundance.”

On his early experiences with race: "You learn the dos and don’ts early on. You learn the racial etiquette. You learn to go to the back of the bus. You learn not to use that public toilet or not use that public park. … why you can’t swim."

On seeing minorities play professional sports: “I know that that’s because of the civil rights movement.”

"Segregation doesn’t hurt so much as it limits. If you live within your capsule, you can go to church, you can get a job, you can have a house, you can have a family. You can do a lot of stuff that takes away the sting. What segregation does is it limits your view of the other side of town."

Young Americans and their understanding of the country’s battle with race in the 20th century: "They don’t understand, but neither do adults."

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.