Black History Month Heroes: August Gorman from "Superman III"

Finally, Superman delivers a Black computer programmer. No more waiting!

NASA shouldn’t have to go to the ends of the earth to find a capable Black scientist. Hollywood has already given us Miles Dyson from Terminator 2; Dr. Ed Brazzelton from The Core; the genius Black hacker from Die Hard and the computer hacker from Transformers; not to mention Luther Stickell from Mission: Impossible.

Weren’t they based on real people

Yet less than one quarter of one percent of the computer science professors in America are Black, a cause for major concern over the future of computing in general. The lack of Black participation in the creating of computer science is, of course, never brought up in polite conversation, for – paradoxically – their being non-participants wasn’t a hindrance to its creation.

It’s still a crisis that we must take seriously. Data on diversity in undergraduate degrees awarded in computer science can be found here, with links to post-graduate information here.

The great search for a Black scientist should start and end in Hollywood, an incubator for creating a false paradigm of positive Black intellectual giants pushing the bounds of man’s perception of technology. Color Monitors: The Black Face of Technology in America is a book that discusses this very theme:

Following up on Ralph Ellison’s intimation that blacks serve as “the machines inside the machine,” Color Monitors examines the designation of black bodies as natural machines for the information age. Martin Kevorkian shows how African Americans are consistently depicted as highly skilled, intelligent, and technologically savvy as they work to solve complex computer problems in popular movies, corporate advertising, and contemporary fiction. But is this progress? Or do such seemingly positive depictions have more disturbing implications? Kevorkian provocatively asserts that whites’ historical “fear of a black planet” has in the age of microprocessing converged with a new fear of computers and the possibility that digital imperatives will engulf human creativity. 

Analyzing escapist fantasies from Mission: Impossible to Minority Report, Kevorkian argues that the placement of a black man in front of a computer screen doubly reassures audiences: he is nonthreatening, safely occupied—even imprisoned—by the very machine he attempts to control, an occupation that simultaneously frees the action heroes from any electronic headaches. The study concludes with some alternatives to this scheme, looking to a network of recent authors, with shared affinities for Ellison and Pynchon, willing to think inside the black box of technology.

 Race in American Science Fiction is another (brand-new) book that discusses similar themes. The small percentage of Black students who actually take the AP exam in computer science, calculus and physics notwithstanding, one can imagine what a minute number of Black students across the nation have ever had a Black professor of computer science in college. If less than half of all Black college students have had a Black college professor (Black professors are normally clustered in Afro-American studies) one could logically surmise that less than one percent of one percent of Black students enrolled in computer science have had a Black computer science professor.

Those Black students who attend Auburn University help bolster that number significantly.

With lower scores on the mathematics portion of the SAT, Black students are at a severe disadvantage that no amount of proper cultural infusion through hip hop could ever remedy. Could this be why Black people aren’t found in Silicon Valley?:



Saying the Silicon Valley tech industry needs to do a better job of hiring native-born blacks, Latinos and some other minority groups, minority leaders picketed Google’s Mountain View headquarters [Thursday], asking the Internet giant and other large valley companies to disclose their workplace diversity data,” Mike Swift reported Friday for the San Jose Mercury News.

The protest, organized by the Black Economic Council, the Latino Business Chamber of Greater Los Angeles, and the National Asian American Coalition was sparked by a series of reports in the Mercury News last year.

“Hispanics and blacks, the newspaper found, made up a smaller share of the valley’s computer workers in 2008 than they did in 2000, even as their share grew across the nation.”  

Jorge Corralejo, chairman of the Latino Business Chamber of Greater LA, told Journal-isms that the group had met with members of Congress and with U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and intended to continue to press their case in those quarters.

Faith Bautista, president and CEO of the National Asian American Coalition, said in a news release, “On the surface, everything is well for Asian Americans at Silicon Valley since up to 50 percent of their employees are listed as Asian Americans. Sadly, up to 90 percent are improperly classified as Asian Americans but, are in fact, H-1B visa workers from abroad.”

The Mercury News story continued, “The protest drew about two dozen people to the Googleplex, as minority leaders criticized Google, Apple and 20 other Silicon Valley tech companies that refused to share their workforce diversity data with them. The leaders called on the federal government to review the H-1B work visa program that tech companies use to hire engineers from abroad, unless the companies comply.
“The groups are filing a complaint with the federal government, saying of 34 Silicon Valley tech companies from which they requested workforce data, just 12 agreed to share it. The groups are asking the government to force the companies to disclose their data. They said they singled out Google for Thursday’s protest because of its growth and visibility.”

As reported last year, the American Society of News Editors, recognizing that Internet companies are increasingly hiring journalists, added “online-only newspapers” to its annual diversity census of print newspapers. A Yahoo spokeswoman later told Journal-isms flatly, “We do not release our diversity statistics.”

The nondisclosers are not all in Silicon Valley. Huffington Post did not participate, and neither did AOL, MinnPost.com, Salon.com, Talking Points Memo (TPM Media LLC), the Daily Beast, Bloomberg or Politico. All but MinnPost.com are based on the East Coast.

In its news release announcing the demonstration, the groups said, “The available data demonstrates that no industry may have a worse record in California in the hiring of Blacks, Latinos, Southeast Asian Americans and women than Google, Apple and Oracle. Based on data from the 12 Silicon Valley companies that [publicly] released their EEO-1 data, the minority groups’ expert states that Google’s Black employees, for example, could be at just one percent, Latinos at two percent and women at the 20 percent level. In contrast, Stanford, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, has an entering freshman class that has 17.2 percent Latinos and 11.1 percent Blacks.

How in the world can we ever expect to have advanced technology – courtesy of Black people in Hollywood blockbusters – if so few Black people are employed in the private sector helping bring innovation through diversity that is so sorely needed?

That we have reached a world blessed with the technology we have today despite Black participation in the creation of these technologies is a miracle. Silicon Valley’s lack of Black people is an obvious indicator of culturally biased education system that will always be Waiting for Superman. Without Black people how can we expect to have innovation in Silicon Valley?

All of the great inventions – including the Super Soaker – are courtesy of Black people. Right? That’s what movies have taught an unsuspecting American population through an ingenious form of behavioral modification.

Remember Superman III? That’s okay, most people don’t. Richard Pyror, one of the top entertainers of the day, starred as, well, a bumbling idiot who had an uncanny knack for computer programming:

August “Gus” Gorman (Richard Pryor), an unemployed ne’er-do-well, discovers a knack for computer programming. After embezzling from his new employer’s payroll (through a technique known as salami slicing), Gorman is brought to the attention of the CEO, Ross Webster. Webster (Robert Vaughn) is obsessed with the computer’s potential to aid him in his schemes to rule the world financially. Joined by his sister Vera (Annie Ross) and his “psychic nutritionist” Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson), Webster blackmails Gorman into helping him.

His scheme is described in greater detail here:

He develops a piece of software that activates whenever the company makes a payment that involves a fraction of a penny. The program rounds the payment down to the nearest cent, and shuffles the fraction into Pryor’s secret account. Across the entire company, the fractions divert thousands of dollars into Pryor’s hands. Managers at the company discover the scam, but conclude that its designer is so clever he would probably never do anything to reveal himself. At that moment, Pryor arrives at work in a brand new Ferrari. (This process — called salami slicing because you steal only a tiny slice at a time — was recycled with hilarious effect in the movie Office Space, which every manager ought to see if only to inoculate themselves against turning into Initech Division VP Bill Lunbergh, pictured.)

Gorman’s scheme is apparent because he got “nigger rich” and showed it off. In reality, setting himself on fire with  crack pipe was the pinnacle of Mr. Pryor’s real-life technological ability, a move that made Prometheus cringe.

There are of course Black students who excel at math and enter into a career in computer science. That number is low.

There are a lot of popular movies that highlight this small percentage of Black computer scientists in prominent roles. A lot.

August Gorman is one of those Black Fictional Heroes that help paint a false picture of the world. Movies play an important role in behavioral modification; and any time a dearth of prominent Black dentists, scientists, medical doctors, computer programmers or all around nice guys are depicted on the big screen, trouble ensues.

As to the question of why there are so few Black super villains, the answer to that should be obvious. Black people are always good!

Richard Pryor’s Superman III scene is found here.

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