This is both sad and interesting

A story and learnings from the other side of the world

I’m based half a world away, literally. Approximately 11,000 miles away, in the U.K. I was born here in the late 70's and lived here near enough all my life. Back in the 1980's, as a kid of single figure years, I experienced a lot of the same sentiments you experienced and present in your article. This included the physical attacks (one time an 18 year old kid called me the P-word before punching a tooth out), the public racism (countless, wherever I went. Day-in-day out. School, clubs, public transport, neighbourhoods, in the street) and sometimes the experience of desperation as a kid that some adult in these places wasn’t stepping in to help.

Like you, I’ve sat on buses as a youngster half your age, and watched as folk were racially attacked. Trying to stay out of the way as the racists got off the bus for fear of being punched in the face as another immigrant p**i. It didn’t seem the appropriate time to have the debate with them about the genealogical and ethnic differences an Arabic heritage, nor the geographical one.

Over a period of about half my life again, this reduced. By my mid teens, I had myself resorted to playing games to get back at bullies or over-dominate particular contexts, because the lesson I seemed to learn was that you can’t rely on anyone but yourself. For all the physical and racial abuse I suffered, nobody, not teachers, not the police, did anything at all.

Aged 14 I had more or less developed an alter-ego. A totally evil psycho-clown I kept in a Jack-in-the-Box, who would appear out of nowhere and start fights at the drop of a hat, from the first day in a new school, with anyone, including teachers, for whatever provocation, however small. I’d already started weight training by then and used that presence as much as I could. I’d keep it locked away outside school or whatever contexts, keeping myself quiet, since I was still quite the vulnerable kid inside. It was only of use in contexts I could engineer. At the time, it didn’t work too well in surprise attacks, but those were getting fewer and further between.

The Interim

Then for 20 years, I experienced literally nothing. Not one iota. In that time I finally had the chance to develop genuine friendships, could let my guard down, lock the box on the alter-ego and start trusting people…

…or could I?

There have been some strange experiences in my life since then, from Oxford University and the reason for the existence of their Black prospectus to strange, feeble excuses in the employment and business spaces for rejected my applications (tier-1 investment bank and front office work).

That said, I wasn’t really too concerned. Work life was going well and I was more concerned I had peaked too early. In my early 20s I was lucky to get in with a large corporate employer who valued what I did. I always saw the world of work as a meritocracy (oh how naive) and this really good employer did nothing to expose me to the harsh realities of the jobs market when you have prejudicial employers or those with a heavy dose of politics. They weren’t positive discriminators. They just cared about getting stuff done well.

I got promoted twice in 9 months, in part due to a slightly maverick ‘get it done’ approach seeping in from the alter ego over the years, and I achieved at 23 what I thought I would achieve at 35. I was managing £400+ million corporate projects, I had very high productivity and my boss, who regarded me as a maverick genius, put me forward for promotion to the “ivory tower” architecture team, and I got it.

The Quiet Gap

Fast forward to 2016. It’s over 15 years since that time and 3 decades since I experienced any racism whatsoever. In the interim, I had tried setting up businesses in the U.K. Some did OK, most bombed. It started to become clear several years before, that two very important “sales” rules were having adverse effects on myself.

“People buy from people they trust”

“People trust people just like them”

There are particular contexts where, despite what the rules will tell you, people, investors and organisations actively or passively discriminate on diverse issues including gender and race. This is probably most prevalent in the stories we are finally starting to hear appearing from within organisations like Uber.

Some of it isn’t conscious. A kind of institutional racism that’s happening without the perpetrators knowledge nor intent and is more often than not, relatively harmless. It applies in everything from work to dating. Yet, there was something else at work.

Unleashing forces: The EU Referendum

23rd June 2016. The U.K. votes to Leave the European Union in a shock referendum result of 51.8% to 48.2%. Many reasons were given for leaving. Some of them couldn’t be more ludicrous and many people swallowed it.

“We send £350 million a week to Europe”

This one was even plastered on the side of a bus. £18 billion a year? Totally fake news. We don’t give half of that to the EU. The £11.8 billion we do give, only makes £7 billion difference, since we get another £5 billion back.

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“Immigration is a drain on our economy”

Errr… No there too.

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Some even shout “Immigration to stop P***’s coming into this country” and last I checked, Pakistan wasn’t in the EU.

The referendum was divisive. Make no mistake. But what it also showed, or rather confirmed to me, was that the 90's racism, which was suppressed through equal opportunities and inciting racial hatred laws, simply went underground. Back in 1995, aged 18, I remember thinking to myself “Well, these anti-racism laws are all very well, but all this will do it push people underground. To require prejudice to be insidious and happen behind closed doors, or within people’s minds. To breed like a bacterial virus within those who obsess over it. We saw what this could do when the life of Jo Cox was taken by right wing terrorist Thomas Mair during the Brexit campaign.

The pollsters got it wrong? I don’t have much faith in the act of polling, since in this day and age, we shouldn’t need them (they’re not experts in stats nor research — a survey is not a scientific study — startups 101 :) because what people say and what they do are two completely different things. When asking people questions who are paranoid about voicing their real response, the answer is unreliable data. It is statistically unsound. Yet, spending a lot of time on social media during the campaign and crunching the rise of UKIP in the UK based on general election data, there was at least one person who predicted the outcome. I did.

Peeking over the garden wall?

I’m apolitical. Politics only exists due t incompetence somewhere in the system. Yet I got involved in this because it was a topic that wasn’t political, but became politicised. I was constantly actively trying to get folk to think about the real terms losses but more importantly, realise their vote on their own agenda, cannot be separated from every other facet of EU life (they thought they could, but they can’t).

  • A vote to leave the EU is a vote for racism.
  • A vote to Leave the EU is a vote to destroy the NHS staff base, an organisation already on its knees, on two different fronts (EU applications and UK nursing bursaries)
  • A vote to Leave the EU is a vote to increase trading tariffs, which affect the UK disproportionately, since we carry a negative trade balance (i.e. we import more than we export, so are more susceptible to the UK government taxing us more, than foreign governments taxing their citizens on our exports — after all the EU is 27 other countries anyway, we will absorb all of it ourselves)
  • A vote to Leave the EU gives the UK government free reign to do what it wants over its populous without recourse to a higher court for anyone needing to keep the government and it’s lawmaking powers in check. Having recently passed both the most invasive cyber-hacking rules in the world, the UK government have tossed privacy out of the window and anyone caught up in anything, including any mass surveillance has to recourse to the European Courts.

Yet, despite all this reasoning, people assumed it was an election for a local MP. It was the perfect storm of volume of lies, a politically apathetic and ignorant population, a Mathematically and analytically illiterate population, an active disinformation campaign (which would be illegal in other democracies as defined by the United Nations – it is not illegal in the U.K.), racism and xenophobia, political manoeuvring, a “stick it to the man” attitude and silo thinking (all diverse groups voting to Leave all voted for their own agenda, each of which assumed the other agenda would not be affected – hello, what? The ballot paper was in or out).

Racism Exposed

Time

And time

And time

Again, I was shown that the prediction I made 22 years ago about racism going underground was absolutely spot on! But then, I’m rarely wrong.

Advice

I probably don’t need to tell you this Deanna, but the reality isn’t pretty. History and stats are against you, both as a woman and as an ethnic minority. 1% of YC funding goes to ethnic women. As a startup founder, you’ll have no choice but to work 10 times harder than even me (as I’m an ethnic male - I’ve never felt more “ethnic” in my adult life). All the startup advice you see about “keep hyper local”, “work closely with the community” etc. all crap! Or rather, it doesn’t apply to us. We are on the wrong side of Simpson’s Paradox. You and I aren’t part of the local community, whether we like to be, want to be, try to be, thought we were, or not. I say this as someone who’s run charities in a local communities for 8 years in parallel with trying to run my own business at the same time. You will be betrayed and betrayed badly. Your ideas will be stolen and your copyright infringed without impunity, your ideas pulled away to be given to someone else to realise or copy. Each action will be disguised under the cut-throat umbrella of “it’s business” but your treatment will be worse than others. Some of these people are the same sort of folk who caused and contributed to Uber’s gender and racial diversity problems.

Bigger Worlds over Smaller Minds

However, there is advice I can give and I’d argue you’re on the right lines by looking at exploring your heritage. It’s that the world is bigger than the small minds inhabiting your residence. Forget the idea of hyper-local. For us, it’s a task of playing the numbers game and remembering to be strategic enough with it to live to fight another day. Startups have an astonishing failure rate. in the UK and US 90% will fail within 2 years and 97% failing within 10. Canada bucks this trend massively, with only a 30% failure rate in 2 years and 50% failure rate in 5 years and does so regardless of founder origin. The support they receive as startups, both in mentoring, product development, funding, access to skills etc. is amazing! Everything is polished. The UK is a disaster by comparison, despite a meteoric rise in the number of startups after the financial crisis.

Hence, my advice is to find receptive, supportive markets and move your operations there (probably easiest in ethnically “close” nations, but if you can find a spot in places like Canada, consider it). If you “go home”, in a way, this gives in to the racists. However, the last laugh will be on you. Not only are you more likely to make money in a 100x larger economy, with a 250 times bigger market, which itself then exports to other market around the world, including New Zealand, but you have a higher probability of each sale and you’re then also taking your millions in corporation tax (or the New Zealand equivalent), and the jobs you could create, out of a country that doesn’t want you anyway. The latter I’m good with. If they want to keep your tax dollars, they act on racism and xenophobia to encourage people to stay. Simple as that. It is something the UK and USA governments don’t care about one iota at the moment. I wasn’t so vindictive in early 2016, but I definitely am now. It’s that psychopath in a box popping up again and I’m going to let him run around a bit for now to dust off the cobwebs.

Summary

I very much wish you the best of luck. It’s a depressing read if you’ve read this far, but in a receptive environment, I think you’ll have the best chance of flourishing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to be a spectator…or referee.

E

Written by

EA, Stats, Math & Code into a fizz of a biz or two. Founder: Automedi & Axelisys. Proud Manc. Citizen of the World. I’ve been busy

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