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Jack and Jill 

Two readers square off on the digital divide.

This morning, I had two e-mails about the digital divide. The first was unsigned, questioned my sanity and said I told a "blatant lie" when I wrote that minorities need equal access to technology to compete for scholarships and jobs and to stay off the welfare rolls. I hit delete, ignoring the next 10 paragraphs. (Call me a liar or crazy, and I stop reading. I'm sensitive.)

I clicked on the other, figuring it was another crazy-gram from his other account. Nope: It referenced a story I wrote about Jesse Jackson pressuring Silicon Valley companies to recruit more minorities. I quoted Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers calling Jackson "a hustler who exploits white shame for his own financial political ends." Silicon Valley, Rodgers argues, hires plenty of minorities, thank you.

"Mr. T.J. Rodgers is inaccurate in this statement," this (signed) e-mail stated. ... "I am a minority computer consultant. I make over $120,000 per year. Currently, I am (a) project manager for ... one of the U.S.' largest telecommunications companies."

Call me biased, but I figured this guy had something to add (and he didn't call me crazy). I kept reading. Jack (name changed) said he started consulting, "because a lot of corporate jobs are closed to minorities." He has been in the industry 15 years, has an economics/business degree and worked as a systems analyst for many large Fortune 500 companies for years.

"I have always had a record of excellence, outstanding reviews, letters of recommendation and praise for my work. But when I would inquire about management positions, I would be discouraged by supervisors. I was told outright, 'There are no management positions for you.' After 10 years of discouragement, I became a 'hired gun' contractor/consultant."

For fun, I decided to fish in the trash for the first e-mail from, oh, we'll call him "Jill" for symmetry. First, Jill said his brother makes more money than he does working in a Ford plant (which presumably has no computers, Intranet or Internet access). "And many jobs where computers ARE used require skills that can easily be taught on-site," Jill wrote.

Unless, of course, you're too stupid. "As for scholarships, many people who do not have computers lack them, because they do not have the aptitude to efficiently learn the skills in the first place, and it is no surprise that these same people often cannot compete for scholarships!" Jill continued.

Back to Jack, who as a staff consultant for a huge "white firm" as he called it (he named it) has to stay out of sight and let the company make first (white) contact with customers and act like they're steering his work ("much like the NFL and minority quarterbacks," he said). "I have attempted to go out on my own but have always had the doors shut in my face because of color," he wrote.

Jill: "If I bust my tail to get a degree and have a better life, I deserve a higher wage than someone who doesn't. ... Your assertion that minorities having poor access to technology is also false. ... A disproportionately higher number of minorities spend money on electronic gadgets like pagers, cell phones, etc. I don't need stats to see this for my own eyes, living my entire life near blacks."

Jack: "Technology is very easy to grasp. Access is the problem that many minorities have. ... It is equivalent to slavery; we were not allowed to learn to read and write as slaves. ... Someone has to do something about all this. The economy is doing well; unemployment is down. We are lulled into a sense that everything is great. It is not."

Jill on poor minorities: "Figure out WHY and solve THAT problem, instead of turning my country into a socialist nanny state. ... Removing barriers so that they have a fair and honest opportunity to pick themselves up and learn skills is obviously a better solution." Huh?

Nice to see we all agree on something.

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