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Silicon Valley’s cocaine problem shaped our racist tech

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If ever there was a white paradise, it was Silicon Valley in the 1980s. We called them geniuses and wizards. Inventors and entrepreneurs. Industry titans, and even a few free-thinking hippies who believed they were gods, powerful enough to shape technology to their will.

This white cast of characters populated the world’s largest high tech hub at a rate of nearly 75%. Absorbed 80% of the area’s generated income. Owned the vast majority of its homes. Commanded double the per capita income of black people living in the area.

And they needed endless fuel to power their high tech dreams.

Cocaine was tailor-made to fit the valley’s technological and entrepreneurial ethos – endless workdays, relentless competition, the obsessive need to innovate. The drug traded hands as quickly as the latest packet-switching technology. IBM, Lockheed, Syntex, Hewlett-Packard – the “white lady” was passed around the iconic tech companies of the time by bathroom attendants, shoe shine boys, mailroom clerks and sometimes even a stranger with a pager from off the street. In broad daylight they distributed so much cocaine – DEA agents in the Valley seized 374 pounds of cocaine in 1986 and 1,000 pounds the following year – that insurance companies raised the premiums of high-tech workers in order to cover the additional health risks.

But that was only one part of the story of cocaine in Silicon Valley in the mid 1980s. In the same period, the Valley became the hub of an international cocaine trafficking network that shaped American society in profound ways. And at the heart of the almost unbelievable and largely forgotten history of that network is the deeply troubling intersection between technology, race and racism – a phenomenon I refer to in my scholarship as Black Software.

Continue reading Silicon Valley’s cocaine problem shaped our racist tech on The Guardian’s website.