Robert Greenfield is the CEO of Emerging Impact, a benefit corporation that supports NGOs and government agencies to leverage blockchain technology in social protection. Previously he was head of Social Impact & Diversity Programming at ConsenSys.
Here we are again. Another unarmed, defenseless black man killed by the police.
Another wave of protests against police brutality and systemic racism.
Another wave of actionless, apologetic cries, willfully ignorant excuses and political re-directs about the real problem.
Since the 2012 lynching of Trayvon Martin, we have been in a cycle of videoed black murder porn, criminal immunity and corporate cowardice. In America today, being black can get you killed for driving, jogging, sleeping, yelling, parking, babysitting, sitting in a van, selling CDs, even eating ice cream in your own house.
See also: Preston Byrne - Bitcoin Doesn’t Take Sides: Why Apolitical Solutions Are the Internet’s Future
This is not because black people are more “prone to criminality.” Rather, criminal activity is a complex socioeconomic phenomenon proven to be closely related to poverty. The rate of violence is actually higher among poor, urban whites. And “black on black crime” is not out of control. Most victims of crime personally know their assailants. While this is a truth across racial boundaries, no one ever talks about “white on white crime.”
It is because black Americans are 2.5 times more likely than whites to be killed by police. It is because the U.S. has been built on institutionalized racism, using slavery to build the global economy to institute oppressive policing policies via the “War on Drugs” and “War on Crime.” It is because major companies, government institutions and influential people rarely speak up and actively support systemic change.
These protests are combating the unarmed murder of innocent black men, women and children. We are asking to be able to live – not asking to vote Democrat or Republican. We are asking for equality, equity and justice.
Responses to the #BlackLivesMatter protests have followed a familiar refrain. Some have taken the “diversity is already solved” position. Yet, in a “post-Obama” era, black employees make up only 3% of Google, 6% of Apple and 3.8% of Facebook’s respective workforces. The blockchain and crypto ecosystem inherited a lack of diversity from legacy tech, from hiring to funding founders of color and highlighting black and brown voices in conferences and press. Even so, there has been a market-wide unwillingness to publish diversity reports and open investor networks.
What about the distribution of cryptocurrency ownership? Though there have been few studies, we do know the majority of Bitcoin and Ethereum nodes operate in regions such as the U.S. and Europe. If we look at crypto exchanges, many are quick to equate international trading volumes as a mark for success in diversity, obscuring the way large holders could easily be responsible for an entire country’s cryptocurrency trading volume, given the nascent state of the market.
Even more disturbing reactions to the current #BlackLivesMatter movement have come from well-followed individuals in the space such as Nick Szabo, who has readily retweeted positions in the victim-blaming camp for George Floyd’s fate. Worse, Szabo has retweeted threads claiming black intellectual inferiority, such as this one.
The crypto community is conveniently selective about what aspects of society it wants to change. Many libertarians were drawn to the ideas of disintermediating government and financial centers of power. In the face of the current president of the U.S. using tear gas against protesters and sending in unmarked security officers in riot gear, many of these same libertarians have been very quiet about this profound display of fascist overreach.
The truth is most major blockchain companies and crypto personalities refuse to publicly stand in solidarity against police brutality and racism, fearing the retribution of white supremacist trolls more than valuing the lives of their black colleagues, friends and employees. The issue of “black lives matter” is treated as a subjective and politically divisive topic rather than a well-documented and well-researched fact of American history. It shouldn’t be controversial that efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in corporate executive teams can result in up to 30% more profitability.
At this point, even executives at the highest levels of Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase, organizations that Bitcoin and Ethereum maximalists incessantly demonize, have come out in solidarity. If they can risk that much business I think crypto startups, many that do not serve white supremacist consumers, can take a risk, too.
Where is the crypto community now?
As someone passionate about blockchain technology, it has been increasingly difficult to ignore the cultural hypocrisy in our ecosystem. Crypto community members of color have had a constant internal battle as to whether or not we should even address this issue, many of us choosing to leave blockchain altogether instead. I have personally wondered:
Why isn’t the work of people of color highlighted at conferences and in the press? Why don’t we see more people like myself at these crypto startups? Why is there so much nepotism masquerading as meritocratic hires under the guise of "We only hire those that are qualified"? Why is it there are so few women of color in the "women in blockchain" events and leadership talks?
What would happen if I spoke out? Would there be retribution? Would I be labeled as the "angry black guy" of crypto? Am I selling out by not bringing these issues to the forefront?
Many of you can identify with these questions, each representing a small, frustrating moment pre-empting a larger, more important question, “Why does nobody seem to care?”
We have heard nothing from the Ethereum Foundation, which continues to espouse the desire to support global adoption and operate under a subtractive mindset. How can you say ‘fight for change’ at Devcon but not take that same action yourselves? Why has the Hypeledger community via the Linux Foundation taken a stand, but you cannot?
We have heard nothing from the Libra Association, whose mission it is to provide people everywhere access to affordable financial services. Is positively impacting people of color not a part of your goal for financial inclusion?
We have heard nothing from the Web3 Foundation, whose mission it is to nurture cutting-edge applications for decentralized web software protocols. Are we to believe all the applications needed to make real change in the world won’t need essential contributions from people of color?
We have heard little from Coinbase (not just Brian Armstrong), whose mission it is to build an open financial system and increase the amount of economic freedom in the world. Are black and brown lives not a part of that world they seek to change?
We have heard nothing from the Maker Foundation, a direct beneficiary of increased awareness of the world’s first cryptocurrency-backed cash assistance program. (Project Unblocked Cash, co-led by Sandra Hart and myself leveraged dai in communities in the Asia Pacific.)
In fact, we’ve heard and seen the opposite. I have seen crypto layoffs nearly eliminate the entire black employee community of multiple organizations. I have seen and heard of disastrous “all hands meetings” at many of the world’s largest crypto companies where executive teams fumble over the decision to simply tweet “Black Lives Matter” and ignore the voices of even their white employees pleading to make a change. I have heard that employees have had to fight company leadership just to put out a post on social media in support, even through the veil of performance activism.
This is not to say I don't greatly admire each of these organizations; it is to say I admire them so much I expect them to do better.
If the crypto community wants to truly use this moment to change, it needs to recognize the problem first and pledge actionable ways to correct it. Thus, I have created a #CryptoForChange Pledge to motivate our community to stand in solidarity against police brutality and systemic racism.
Leading blockchain organizations have already agreed to take a stand, including Althea, Gitcoin, cLabs (Celo), The Giving Block, Sempo, Amentum and Storj – many of them led by people of color. In fact, The Giving Block has gone one step further and waived all monthly subscription fees for civil rights-related nonprofits as a part of the #CryptoForChange campaign.
The pledge, which you can find here, is a promise to the community that you will take substantive action against police brutality and systemic racism as a member of the crypto community. Actions must be taken in the next 90 days for companies and 30 days for individuals. I know we all want the best for our communities, and we’d love for blockchain technology to serve as a mass-adopted tool to realize such change. To do so, we need to actually put in the work.