Zach sits down with Michael Berhane, CEO and co-founder of POCIT and co-founder and co-host of the Tech-ish podcast, to talk about Black experiences in the UK. Zach opens the episode with commentary regarding Meghan Markle and her interview with Oprah. Check the links in the description to connect with Michael and learn more about POCIT and the Tech-ish podcast!
Check out the POCIT website.
Listen to the Tech-ish podcast.
Zach (00:00): Living Corporate is brought to you by The Access Point. The reality is this is the largest influx of black and brown talent corporate America has ever had and as a result of variety of talent entering the workforce are first-generation professionals. The other reality, most of these folks, aren’t learning what it means to navigate a majority white workplace in their college classes. Enter The Access Point, a live weekly web show within the living corporate network that gives black and brown college students the real talk they need and likely haven’t heard elsewhere. Every week our hosts and special guests are dropping gems, so don’t miss out, check out The Access Point, airing every Tuesday at 7PM CST on livingcorporate.tv.
Zach (00:55): What’s up y’all this is Zach with Living Corporate and ooh, you know it’s interesting, right? Like the pandemic or Panorama or Pangea or Pandora or Pathagoros or Plethora, or monopoly, panoply, Prius, pyramid, you know what I mean, it’s had it’s bevy of challenges, of course. I will say there’s been some silver linings for me. One is I get to be a house husband and spend a lot of time with Emery and my wife. As a consultant before I was traveling, getting up at four o’clock in the morning to fly to Kalamazoo, to sit in a very, very grey room and do something I could have done at home and I’m thankful that this time has allowed me space to be home and spend time with family, so that’s one silver lining. Another silver lining is directly related to the show and it has to do with the fact that because I’m able to be at home and I never was a person that really traveled with my mike like that, I would just record continent in bulk, and our content historically has never really been too topical or even like, maybe loosely related to current events, but not really because we were just focused on themes and ideas and we’re still, of course largely focused on that. But again, a consequence of being at home, spend time with my family, hanging out with Emery, hanging out with Candice is I also get to check out current events and speak to them.
(02:24): So that’s, what’s going on, I want to talk a little bit about this incredible and I mean, honestly from like a production perspective, it’s like, if I was a producer, I am a producer, but if I was a producer for CBS, I would just be like, just on the edge. I’m just, I’d be so pleased with myself that Meghan Markle, Oprah, Harry interview, woo, that thing was heat you all, it was heat. I have never been so enthralled for real and when I say this as a [inaudible 00:02:57] head black dude, who will stereotypically, I don’t really keep up with the Royals, I don’t even know, I need like a chart, like I don’t know who these people are, but I’ve found the content so compelling and triggering for a variety of reasons. What I want to do is I want to talk a little bit about some of the things that I noticed in not only the interview, but also like the response to the interview and the way that folks engaged and talked about Meghan, talked about the Royal family, so on and so forth. So I got a couple little points here. So I’m gonna get started and it all ties into the guest that we have, so just rock with me.
(03:40): So the first thing is, is that a fetishization of British royalty is a fetishization of white supremacy. So do you all remember when Meghan Markle was getting married and everybody was like, we have our princess, oh man, we got somebody that’s us. She’s in there talking about she going to have a hot comb because she represents us and folks were really excited and I just, part of it is male privilege, I didn’t see it that way. I wasn’t really enthralled, but then we also see like a bunch of shows that people just love the idea of British culture and royalty and being princesses and Kings and Queens and stuff like that. But the reality is that all this stuff that you’re looking at and that you’re appraising or that you’re yearning after is on the backs or exploit through the labor of murder and colonization of black and brown societies. When you look at the opulent wealth and just the land and all the resources that the British empire has, it’s a direct consequence of imperialism and it’s founded upon white supremacy, this idea that it’s owed to them, they have a right to plunder and steal and take by any means necessary. Yet that’s something that we gravitate to.
(05:14): It’s interesting because we’re only really having this conversation about this moment and about the Royal family and about racism and colonialism because of someone who checked a bunch of boxes and it’s acceptable enough to support. Someone who is white passing, who is thin, very pretty and famous and relatively rich, compared to the average person. So we’re gravitating this but the reality is that black women of all shapes sizes and colors and backgrounds have been talking about imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy misogyny, thought leaders in the UK, not to mention those in America and others across the world, but it’s in this moment that we’ve decided to zoom in on this and that’s also because we’ve been conditioned. I think that’s part of Western thinking to zoom in on the individual. We don’t examine systems, we just don’t. We don’t examine how systems work. We don’t examine patterns of behavior. We don’t examine historical harm, we don’t and I’m glad that we’re here. I’m glad that we’re taking the time to examine this but it’s frustrating that it took a this for us to get here because folks have been having this or been trying to have this conversation. But going back to Meghan, so the other thing that stuck out to me was how Meghan finally, after being silenced, decided to say, I’m about to go and get on this global platform and tell my story and all of a sudden the firm, as she calls it, proactively put out a smear piece on her, essentially calling her a bully, that she bullied staff.
(07:18): So the next thing that again, this points to me is the fact that respectability is a card that whiteness plays to shame and silence black voices. Some say respectability is a card that whiteness plays to shame and silence black voices. So you notice in moments like these, and it happens on the internet too, but it happens in real life, it happens in like real person to person conversations. It’s that anytime black people, especially black women have the audacity to speak the truth, the first thing that they get critiqued on is the way they say the truth, you owe it to me to say it in a way that is palatable and acceptable to me, I need to be able to receive this in a way that doesn’t hurt my feelings or make me uncomfortable and if you violate those rules, then your point is invalid and so as soon as I saw that they were going to drop that little piece, talking about she’s a bully, I said okay, they lost and they let me know what they lost. Now, we’re not talking again, we’re not talking about the system. We’re not talking about the substance of her complaints. We’re not talking about her concerns. We’re not talking about anything that she actually is bringing to the table. We’re now trying to challenge her character. We’re trying to challenge her behavior and it’s something that Americans do too, it happens all the time with black and brown voices. Again, particularly black women. We look to challenge the manner in which they say and not accept the facts that they’re presenting. So then the other thing that stuck out to me that’s interesting is that identity shapes perspective and reality.
(09:19): So identity shapes perspective and reality, Meghan Markle, I’m going to be honest with you, I didn’t even know that Meghan Markle was biracial. I thought Meghan Markle was white and I know that’s a popular take amongst black folks because it’s the truth. A lot of black folks did not know that Meghan Markle was black, her mother is is black, obviously black and her dad is white but we had no idea and on Suits she doesn’t present as a black woman, she presents as a white woman. So it was interesting, we can eventually talk about her naivety as it pertains to her willingness to trust and just kind of go with this what 1200 year old institution that has been responsible for the brutalization and murder of millions of people and I do believe a reason for that naivety is because Meghan Markle does not move and exist in the world as a black woman, Meghan Markle moves and exists in the world as a white passing woman. She talked more recently and recently about being a woman of color but what language or copy have you seen from her that talks about her blackness? I would posit that this entire traumatic, disgusting situation forced her to face her blackness in a way that she may be has not had to face and it’s important to keep in mind the way that we navigate and move in this world directly impacts the way that we see the world and to be empathetic to that, because I saw some commentary from all types of folks, but this idea that she should have known better, it’s like, well, should she have known better? I can’t speak to that because I’m not a white passing person, I’m not.
(11:26): Transparently, most of my friends are not white, I don’t exist as a white person. I don’t move in those circles. I can say that I’m not shocked that this institution is racist but I can say that we have to honor and respect where people are, or at least empathize enough to respect where people are, even if we don’t love where people at, especially if they’re facing oppression and so it is interesting though because Meghan Markle is not, again, she’s not a dark skin, black woman, she’s on white passing, black woman. So white passing, biracial, and in a lot of circles because of the way supremacy is set up, Meghan Markle would be higher on the pyramid but when she’s in a hyper, hyper white space, she’s back on the bottom again, people are acting like she might as well be Grace Jones. It’s interesting how white supremacy works, it’s depressing but it speaks to my last point, which is that all black voices matter, all black voices matter. So I was excited and I’m thankful that Meghan Markle is stepping more, it seems into her blackness and that she’s getting the support that she needs, that’s beautiful, that’s incredible and it’s important that we honor, and we listen to black women, that we listen to women period, but we certainly listen to black women. If you know anything about Living Corporate, we center and we prioritize black women here and so shout out to Meghan Markle and then also shout out to the dozens, hundreds, thousands of black women in the UK who have been putting in that work. You know what I’m saying? I’m not going to say the person’s name, the show that I was watching, but I will say that I saw Dr. Shola [inaudible 00:13:32] oh my gosh, oh boy, she read the mess out of this dude. I’m not going to say his name, you all just look it up, just type it in. She got, ooh, she caught a body.
(13:43): It’s important though, that we honor those voices, but see we’re not going to honor those words like we honor Meghan Markle, because Dr. [inaudible 13:54] she’s not in the same proximity to whiteness that Meghan Markle is, she doesn’t have the shape that we fetishize or that we believe believe that women should have. She’s not the same age as Megan Markle, she doesn’t have the same demeanor. She’s not as quiet as Meghan Markle. Her hair isn’t the same, literally because she is a darker skinned black woman, we’re not going to honor her and venerate her as we should, but all black voices matter and it should not be that when a celebrity who has a closer approximation to whiteness and frankly is like the safest black woman in this moment to support and defend and go through something traumatic that we pause. and we listen, because if you think that Meghan Markle is going through challenges and having pains and issues, imagine what black women who aren’t rich, who aren’t famous, who aren’t white passing, who aren’t then and going through every single day. Some of you all are aspirational allies, ask yourself what your black female colleagues are going through today. There are some people questioning for no reason, they have no facts, they have no evidence, that just not only believe her, you don’t believe her, you definitely don’t believe your black colleagues for sure.
(15:21): Listen to black women, honor black women, respect black women. Now, look I say all this to say, I’m really excited about today’s guest. I’ve been wanting to talk to this person for a while and I’ve been following their platform for again, just a while. Michael Berhane, he’s an author of People of Color in Tech. He’s a co-founder of this incredible platform. They have dope conversations with just incredible leaders. I find his work incredible. He was actually one of the inspirations for Living Corporate, the tech-ish pod, shout out to them but he just has this whole network and it’s based in the UK and so this was like, we recorded this last year and we were talking about blackness across the pond and what people kind of can get wrong and just what are the assumptions people make about blackness internationally and what does it really mean to be black in the UK. I’m excited and thankful for this conversation that we’re about to have and before you all check in with that, we’re going to tap in with Tristan.
Tristan (16:41): What’s going on Living Corporate it’s Tristan and I want to thank you for tapping back in with me as I provide some tips and advice for professionals. I have one question for you, are you treating your job like a marriage? So last week I got an email from L. Michelle Smith, an amazing author speaker and executive coach. In the email, she poses that very question. She also gives some points on what treating your job like a marriage looks like including discussing, looking into other positions like it’s creeping and that not looking around is an act of righteousness. You only share company related posts on LinkedIn as if sharing other content is unfaithful. You won’t entertain recruiters in interview like it’s an extramarital affair. You treat your current position as if you have pledged until death does you part. Does any of that sound familiar? Often we build unhealthy, one-sided relationships with our jobs that only benefits our employer. This mindset allows your employer to reap all the benefits of your loyalty with little to no requirement of reciprocating it. We have to remember that our relationship with our employer is purely transactional. You provide for which they provide pay and benefits. That type of relationship shouldn’t bar you from looking at positions with other companies or feeling like you’re cheating on your employer if you go on interviews.
(17:59): When we begin to value the company’s brand over our own, we tend to lose sight of the value we bring to the company. This leads to our hard work, often going unrecognized and unrewarded, except for those industry standard, 2% raises. You owe it to yourself, your career and your pay range to make external connections and core external opportunities to understand what your value is on the market. By doing this, even if you don’t take the external positions, you develop a pipeline of potential opportunities in case you ever need to jump ship. You also will have a better understanding of what type of positions you qualify for and how much you really deserve to be paid. At the end of the day, companies will always do what’s in their best interest and we should follow suit. People have left actual marriages for less. If you’d like to check out more from L. Michelle Smith, you can check her out www.lmichellesmith.com for more information. This tip was brought to you by Tristan of Layfield Resume Consulting. Check us out on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @layfieldresume or connect with me Tristan Layfield on LinkedIn.
Narrator (19:08): Living Corporate is brought to you by The Break Room. Have you ever felt burnt out, depressed or otherwise exhausted by being one of the onlys at work? You know what I’m talking about. Hosted by black psychologist, psychiatrist and PhDs The Break Room is a live weekly web show on the Living Corporate network that discusses mental health, wellness, and healing for black folks at work. Name another weekly show explicitly focused on mental health, wellness, and healing for black folks at work, I’ll wait. This is why you got to check out The Break Room airing every Thursday 7PM CST on livingcorporate.tv.
Zach (19:48): Michael, welcome to the show, man. How are you doing?
Michael (19:51): Yes, I’m good. Thanks for having me.
Zach (19:52): No doubt. So look, let’s talk a little bit about, about your platform [inaudible 00:19:57] how did it started and what kind of even inspired the name?
Michael (20:02): Yes, so we’ve been around for about five years. It started off just as a blog and I started with a homie of mine who’s based out in New York called Ruth and it just snowballed from there really. We started off doing weekly interviews talking to people in tech. At the time the media landscape wasn’t what it was now. There wasn’t that much, the diversity of tech conversation was ongoing, but in terms of media it wasn’t as focused. So we just found a pocket and wrote it and basically people really liked the stories that we were telling and I think were really engaged and from there we started a newsletter and then from there we started a recruitment platform and then from that we started a podcast. So went on from that kind of initial idea of just kind of telling the stories of people of color in tech.
Zach (20:48): Yes, I was saying before we recorded off mike, I was sharing that when Living Corporate started about two and a half years ago, now we we were looking at different spaces that were even adjacent to what we wanted to do, which is center and amplify black and brown people at work and people in color in tech was at the top of that list in terms of those platforms. So yes, definitely shout out to you all, I love what you’re doing. I know we also talked about, again, the fact that you’re based in London, talk to me a little bit about the black experience across the pond.
Michael (21:29): Yes, it’s a good question really. It’s hard to summarize, I mean, thinking about the black experience in London, where it might contrast with the black experience in the States is that most of us came to the UK or our parents came to the UK from various different African countries or Caribbean countries. So you had the initial migration of people from the Caribbean, which was a British colony back in the sixties, forties, actually, sorry, after the second world war to help rebuild the country, then you have a lot more African migrants that came in the eighties, Nigerians, Ghanaians, and Somalis and I’m Eritrean and we kind of built like a hodgepodge culture in the last kind of 30, 40, 50 years. Maybe similar to what you might have in Toronto, but there is a heavy Caribbean and Jamaican influence, but there’s also kind of an African influence as well. So yes, it’s a very complicated thing. You probably need a scholar on like the black [inaudible 00:22:21], but yes, we built kind of our own thing here, our own kind of culture and slang and our own music scene. But definitely we do look up to the US in that sense where, I don’t think people would want to acknowledge it, but it’s kind of like a big bro kind of thing and we look at what you guys do. I don’t think it’s been a more of a, it’s not a two-way conversation, it’s more of a one-way convo where we’re looking at what you’re doing, but you guys don’t necessarily look at what we’re doing and so much more of a smaller impact right now. Hopefully in the future, we’ve got things like Pop Boy on Netflix that Drake produced and I think that was like the first time people realized there’s kind of kind of black, British subculture that it does exist. I’ll definitely recommend like reach out to like scholars in this kind of sphere of knowledge, but it’s a very complicated topic.
Zach (23:15): Yes, it’s interesting and I think it was a really good idea. I think we will. It’s interesting I asked because you constantly see social media is toxic in a lot of different ways and also it brings people together, it can also kind of help inform, at least at a high level can get discussions and dialogue started and so it’s interesting because every now and then you’ll see like things pop up and it’ll be essentially like diaspora wars where people from the are arguing or trying to compare their struggles with other struggles in other colonized parts of the world. So I just find it very intriguing because like I said, we don’t have a lot of, we’ve had one other person from across the pond who has been on Living Corporate flagship podcast and so looking forward though, when it comes to just like tech, so like we’re in this era right now during COVID-19, because we’re recording this and October of 2020, like considering like the space that you inhabit what are you seeing in the market as it tends to career opportunities and things for black and brown people in tech in this season?
Michael (24:28): I guess it depends what you mean by career opportunities. I mean I’ve been a founder for about five, six years and I’m excited by the fact that it’s never been easy to kind of go out there and do your own thing as well. Build your own kind of platform really, and you don’t necessarily even need to know how to code anymore. I think that was the biggest impediment years ago, the amount of people that would be like, I need a tech but I can’t get started, I need somebody to help build me this platform and they couldn’t get beyond that point because it’s hard to find technical co-founders who are willing to work on your idea and to hire one is really expensive, but now you’ve got proliferation about these no-code tools, which are basically kind of build an early version of your product without an outside developer and then you can start with a newsletter, you can start with an IG page and build a community and then build products on top of that kind of thing. So in terms of career opportunities, I just feel like it’s never been, it still didn’t kind of build a profitable online business essentially and to do it without venture capital, and to do it without a lot of capital to kind of hire and work with a developer. So those opportunities there, I’m really excited by it and I know a few people are kind of delving into that world and it’s not easy, entrepreneurship is hard full stop, I’m not going to paint it like it’s all sunshine and rainbows, it’s not. But I think that kind of democratization pull excites me.
Zach (26:00): And to your point, I think the for Living Corporate, we have a website, we have all these different stuff going on, like a variety of different digital media products and to your point, we don’t have a technical, like I’m the founder and the CEO and started off with a co-founder because it started off with a bunch of folks, folks fell of for various reasons and now when I want to build something, you can also just outsource things like very cheaply. There are plenty of like, if you use Fiverr or, and this is not an ad, which if you could use Upwork, whatever, and you can find people who can build whatever it is you’re looking for because nine times out of 10, whatever you’re trying to build is not like it’s never been done before and so most people can, you can work with somebody and get it at a pretty affordable price and a good quality if you take the time and you source it effectively. So yes, I hear that but I think I’m curious also about what does it look like for you to continue to work with brands through your platform and helping to post jobs and to connect people with opportunities? What does that look like? How did you guys get started? And then what has been, how can you now during this season?
Michael (27:21): Yes. I mean it’s not an easy thing per se because obviously you’re building a community and you want to provide value to that community and at the same time, you want to be able to also monetize what you’re doing so you can have a living and obviously recruitment is the kind of obvious path forward when you build a community of black and brown people in tech, for example and companies reached out to us kind of early from the beginning, wanted to be featured on our newsletter and we later on built a full platform for it and it was difficult because obviously you want to find the right price point and you want to find a way that makes the company sustainable and you want to find a way that brings value to your community. You don’t want to kind of show them rubbish from companies that are not great. It’s a juggling act essentially. Then obviously during the lockdown the first thing that gets cut during a recession or any kind of economic downturn is hiring, people get scared and they don’t want to hire. So we were hit quite badly at that point, we had diversified, so we have a podcast where we have sponsors, we have sponsors for our newsletters. We have other kinds of ways of monetizing. We have a page on where people can support us also.
(28:35): So that helped us go through the rough period and then obviously what happened with the brutal murder of George Floyd really kind of created, I don’t want to say a moment because I don’t want to act like it’s passed, it hasn’t, but it really awoke something within a lot of people in corporate. We’ve got a lot inbound at that point whether we want to analyze that and say, is it genuine? Is it really going to lead to real change? I don’t know, but in terms of from us as a company, it did lead to a lot more interest in a lot of companies saying it is no longer a nice to have. This is no longer, diversity is not option, it’s actually, we’ve got to prioritize it because our companies need to reflect the society in which we serve and that’s what’s happened. So a big situation obviously turmoil and then later on things have kind of gone back to normal and exceeded actually where we were before the knockdown. So it’s been a roller coaster, nobody said this entrepreneurship stuff is easy,
Zach (29:38): Man, it’s interesting too. Then I can relate to to that, the interest and the engagement, since the murder of George Floyd, our podcast and website traffic just went way up. So I think to your point, you said something about a moment, like, what is your gut feeling about what’s happening today? Do you think that what we’re looking at is a moment or do you think it’s a movement?
Michael (30:10): It’s a very good question. I think time will tell, I think it’s so difficult in the, sorry to use the word again, but it’s very difficult in the present moment to know what part of history you’re in and I think in 10 years time, we’ll figure out what does my gut say, it’s difficult. I think I’ve seen things that are really promising, one of the things I really liked actually was I think Netflix, started to put capital in like black owned banks basically in order to kind of close the wealth gap and I think if there was, I read a study where if the top companies in the [inaudible 00:30:40] will put 1% of their capital into kind of black owned banks, you could conceivably close the wealth gap or at least make a massive dent into it and those types of things are interesting to me. But whether this is just all kind of just showmanship from corporate America, I honestly haven’t got the answer. I think anybody who claims that they do is fooling themselves and you. You know what I mean? It’s hard to know. I’m happy though, that people that are kind of people like yourself, people like you are running other kind of similar initiatives, people who are running black owned businesses are now getting support, getting the love that they deserve. In the UK, I don’t think it’s made its way across the pond, but we started called Black Pound Day. So obviously you guys have the dollar and we have the pound here. So essentially on that day, everybody has to spend in a black owned business basically and it got a lot of traction and it was started by a rapper out here of Swiss.
(31:43): I think every two to three months now there’s a specific day where those that spend in black businesses basically and then puts up their receipts on Twitter and show what they bought and whatnot and it’s been supported by a lot of people and not just the black community outside of that as well. So that kind of grassroots stuff is what I’m really kind of vibing with and what I really kind of appreciate. Whether the top-down corporations are actually really about that change, I don’t know. I think it’s up to us to kind of keep putting pressure on them and then also up to us to kind of build our own grassroots movements, like Black Pound Day and like what hopefully we’re doing and build from there.
Zach (32:22): Man, I’m right there with you. So let’s do this man, it has been dope having you on here. I want to make sure that I give the people space to make sure that they know where they can find you, where they can look you up. So man plug your stuff, please.
Michael (32:38): Yes, please. So they can either go to peopleofcolorintech.com sign up to our newsletter, The Public Weekly and we have over 15,000 subscribers and we’ve got like a weekly roundup of news related to POC in tech and then we’ve got a brand new season of our podcast Techish coming back season four, it is coming back soon, like in the next few weeks. And that’s a weekly pop culture and tech show. So everything from Cardi B to C plus plus. So cheers, have fun. So yes, check us out there,
Zach (33:07): Man, thishas been dope, Michael man, I got to thank you again. I’m really excited. I’m thankful that we were able to do this. I’ve been a fan of you and People of Color in Tech and Techish for some years now. So I’m just really honored that you’re able to come on. You know that every single week we’re having conversations, every single week we’re having conversations, real talk in a corporate world, we’re centering and amplifying black and brown offices at work. I’m not going to say all that where we’re at, you know what I’m saying? Just type in Living Corporate, SEO is popping, just type us in, we’re going to pop up. Until the next time. This has been Zach, you’ve been listening to Michael Berhane CEO, founder, podcaster, speaker, entrepreneur, innovator. Peace.
Narrator (33:53): Living Corporate is brought to you by The Leadership Range, a podcast within the Living Corporate Network, hosted by globally certified and fortune 500 executive coach and leadership development expert Neil Edwards, The Leadership Range is focused on having real, raw, soulful and accountable conversations about inclusive leadership, allyship, professional development. Every week is a new episode with new learning and new actions to take on, to grow inclusively. Make sure you check out The Leadership range everywhere you listen to podcasts.
Zach (34:26): Yo, we’re back. I want to shout out Michael again, I want to shout out the entire POC IT platform, People of Color in Tech. I want to shout out the Techish podcast and I’ll also want to make sure I shout out the co-founder of Techish [inaudible 00:34:41] and just thank you all. Thank you so much for checking out Living Corporate. Make sure you take the time, give us five stars on Apple podcasts. Just share Living Corporate with a friend. Until the next time. This has been Zach, peace.