Full Transcript: Backstage Capital Founder Arlan Hamilton On GHOGH Podcast
In the third episode of the GHOGH podcast with Jamarlin Martin, Arlan Hamilton discusses Backstage Capital, the venture capital fund she dreamed up while she was homeless, and how she made it a reality.
The discussion includes controversial names in the Silicon Valley establishment such as Doerr, Moritz, Zuckerberg, Sandberg, and Andreessen. They also discuss Tamika Mallory attending Saviours’ Day with Louis Farrakhan.
You can listen to the entire conversation right now in the audio player below. If you prefer to listen on your phone, GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin is available wherever you listen to podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud.
This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jamarlin Martin: This is Jamarlin Martin, we’re talking to the founder and CEO of Backstage Capital Arlan Hamilton. Let’s GHOGH! Arlan, last month in Miami at Black Tech Week, we’re on a panel together and I left with the impression that, wow, this is a real leader. You know, I’ve been around a lot of people, but I felt like you have a lot of promising things ahead for you, but thanks for coming on our podcast. I want to start with the fact that you mentioned you were homeless at one point where you were really started from the bottom. Can you talk about starting from the bottom?
Arlan Hamilton: So I am 37 and for probably eight of those 16 adult years, I have been in some form or another without a home. So it wasn’t that I just decided to become a venture capitalist and I was going to do anything I could to get there and then I just put everything in storage and, and you know, took that risk. It was just my circumstances in general were already like that. But at the same time, I got the mission in me to start Backstage. So what I’ve also learned in the last couple of years is that somehow you have to justify what homeless means to certain people. And I certainly don’t take away from people’s opinion of that, but I have never slept on the concrete out in the outside. I’ve never done that. And to a lot of people that’s like, oh, you’re not homeless. But there is a hidden group of thousands and thousands and thousands of people. Most of them are women and children who sleep in cars and they go to work. You don’t know that they sleep in cars or sleeping in different facilities or places, kind of hide out and do that or who are in shelters. And they are without an address. And so the most recent would have been about a year and a half stretch where I was with my mom who was in her sixties, is still is in her sixties. We got kicked out of our apartment that we had gotten together, in Houston, and again, that’s like 34-year-old living with her mom, because I was broke and she was broke and I couldn’t let her be broke on her own. She wasn’t staying with me. So I was like, if she’s going to go through that and I’m going to go through it, we’re going to go through that together and make sure I can see that she’s OK every day. So it went from, we had a place where we’re good and then we couldn’t afford it anymore. And then we were like living day to day and we were both working and we would put together money and we were staying in a motel, and then in a room and then it got to the point where we had a couple of people along the way that helped us out for sure. So we had good times, bad times, but we got to a point where we just, we just didn’t know if we’re going to eat that day. We didn’t know where we’re going to sleep that day. And it was acute.
Jamarlin Martin: And where was your dad at this time?
Arlan Hamilton: At that time he was in Jackson, Mississippi, but we’ve never been close. He’s passed since then. But yeah, he was in Jackson. We’ve never been close.
Jamarlin Martin: What’s your academic background?
Arlan Hamilton: Well, mostly the hallways of high schools. I did not go to college. I did a few courses at community college in Dallas where I grew up and I had been accepted into a couple of colleges and I was always in the accelerated courses, always in the honors class, always doing well academically in high school, junior high, all that. But I was also always sent out of class for disrupting, for being too talkative, for asking too many questions for being too, to be honest, for being too tall and black and a woman basically because I was (five foot seven) by the time I was 13 I think. And so until we really hit puberty, I was always the tallest person in the class and so taller than the guys who were in classes where it was probably 30 percent black and Hispanic and 70 percent white probably. And I was always getting kicked out of classes for asking too many questions and being aggressive and I’m telling you, I’m asking him questions like, ‘can we dive deeper into A Wrinkle in Time in the fifth grade? Can we dive deeper because I don’t understand this particular point?’ I’m asking questions that are like beyond, but to the teachers, it’s, you’re my same height. You’re a black girl and you’re getting more attention in the class than I am. And so that won’t stand with me. So there were several people who who would kick me out. That’s why I spent a lot of time in principal’s office. And then I had a couple of teachers who just got it and who are fantastic actually.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. That leads into how would you explain your alpha or you know, the distance that you have in terms of your success with launching Backstage. You’re now working on your third fund. I know folks who went to Ivy League schools, they have some type of financial institution experience, but they haven’t really been able to get to the point where you are today. So they have all the credentials, the establishment, they’re very black and safe, they fit into nice little boxes but you don’t see them out there doing anything like what you’re doing in terms of touching so many of our people and our founders. Like how would you describe your spread against the consensus out there that hasn’t been able to do that?
Arlan Hamilton: So you’re specifically talking about black and brown folks?
Jamarlin Martin: I want to be a successful angel investor. I want to be a successful VC.
Arlan Hamilton: I think about that a lot because a lot of times people compare me to white people like they compare me to my struggle against the white man, because that’s what I do. That’s when I talk about all the time. And a lot of times they do miss out on that. The fact that there are a lot of other black people who are in this space but are kind of hidden figures basically. I think it has to do with me having, like when I’m in a group of black people and have been historically, like even in school I was still the odd person out. I’ve never been someone who had a tribe, had a clique because I was always something different in that group too. So I think there are a lot of people who get in to the different rooms and it’s like you say, safe, and they don’t want to lose that. And sometimes people think it’s a zero sum game. If they bring somebody in, then they miss out or they lose their chance.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. Going back to our experience in Miami at Black Tech Week, some of the black founders were asking should they add a certain amount of white executives to the team to get a fair look. But you know, what I noticed is that a lot of people think that being safer and trying to fit into these boxes, they’re going to be more successful that way. But when I look at you, you’re like, hey, if you bring the real, you’re bringing the real. That’s how you’re going to be successful. You’re not going to be successful trying to be like everybody else and fit into boxes.
Arlan Hamilton: That’s it. That’s a hundred percent how I feel about it. That’s what I try to get across to founders when they raise fundraising. I don’t want to stand on a kind of pedestal. Because I don’t want to say that my way is the right way, but I do see that a lot of people play it safe and maybe they have to, you know, they may have a situation where they like the health insurance and they like knowing where they’re going to be five years from now and what that ladder looks like for them and they don’t want to rock that boat. But as I said, and I said this in a black enterprise about two years ago, I said, I’m doing the bankhead bounce on the boat. I don’t care. I don’t, I care about people and I care about what I’m doing and I take what I’m doing very seriously, but I don’t care about making people uncomfortable because we have been uncomfortable for so long.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. I see folks who are looking to advance their career, looking to get companies off the ground, looking to get the venture capital operations off the ground, but they’re still trying to fit into the existing box. You’re creating your own box. What percentage of your capital for your three funds dollar for dollar comes from black investors.
Arlan Hamilton: So we have about 50 investors. It’s a small pool of funds, so it’s less than 5,000,000 total. Top of my head, I would say percentage of dollars would probably be less than 10, but that is probably spread over more people per amount, if that makes sense. So there the check sizes are smaller from black and brown investors in our fund, but we try to get as many as possible, if that makes sense. So yeah, dollar for dollar.
Jamarlin Martin: How much of that statistic is a cultural versus a resources where, you know, I’m thinking that some investors, hey, you know, I haven’t had much exposure to an illiquid asset class, usually I want to hold on to my money tight. I would want it to be liquid, but to get outsize returns, usually illiquid assets are going to outperform liquid assets. But do you feel like there’s a cultural thing?
Arlan Hamilton: It’s a mixture. I mean, it’s nuance because it has been about my network on top of all of that, like who I’m talking to. I think it’s a mixture. It’s kind of like rate when you’re raising friends and family, if you try to raise friends and family, there are some people who would but cannot. And those are the people who lead. If they had it, they would, and then there’s some that can and will not and they, I haven’t experienced, where there are people who are accredited. Accredited means you make 200,000 a year or you have a million dollars in assets. That’s a lot of money. But when you think about it you have to take a 10th of that or a fifth of that and put that into one fund. That is difficult if you’re just on the cusp of being accredited. So, I think it’s a lot, a lot of things. It’s probably people not wanting to stick their neck out too much. I guess I’ll put it like this. The people who write a check who are black to Backstage, when people write a check with a black, I’m not looking at the amount because I say everything I would say to everybody else, you should put in what would put in to the next person. Don’t make us a charity case. That’s how I look at it. So whatever that number is to them, that’s how I look at it. But it’s the ones who are kind of, you ever been on a Southwest flight, you know how you have to pick your own seats. So you’re sitting there, I get the window seat and the first thing you do is kind of look down because you don’t want anybody to sit in that middle seat next to you. You don’t want anybody sitting next to you. You want people to keep going. So hopeful that seat isn’t booked. That’s what’s happening a lot with black investors. To me, they are like clapping on the sidelines, but they’re like, ‘I don’t know if I can put myself out like that and give you money. I hope you don’t look in my direction.’
Jamarlin Martin: And how would you look at, in defense of, let’s say there’s a wealthy black investor. Looks at the mainstream institution as a longer track record or the manager has a longer track record. So my dollars are going to go with the manager with a longer track record. I’m not going to inject any cultural or racial priority in terms of how I’m looking at my allocation.
Arlan Hamilton: To each their own. I don’t judge that. No. I had the same kind of conversation with Wayne Sutton, who is a good friend of mine and he is on the other side of that. He thinks that it should be judged. He thinks if you’re black, you should be writing those checks to black people. And I say to each their own, I honestly don’t like to spend too much time trying to convince somebody to roll. I know in my heart of hearts that we are going to be successful here. And so I look at it more like, OK, you have a chance to multiply your money. OK, fine. You know, I do think it’s interesting just on us on a philosophical side of things. I think it’s interesting that we have very few black investors when there are so many who could, and so many out there who could, even if they did it anonymously.
Jamarlin Martin: Like, you guys are talking a lot of this stuff, but I don’t see any checks being written.
Arlan Hamilton: Yeah. And I can’t speak for them. So I can’t tell you why they’re not, and I don’t want to offend them without having that conversation first. But what I can say is that it is odd to me that I have not been reached out to by more black investors to say, look, you’re doing it, you know, here’s some change. It’s been more like I have to go into these rooms and I feel like I’m alone a lot of times when it comes to that. I don’t feel alone when it comes to our founders and our on our team and the community. But when it comes to me having to think about the burden of all the expenses, I do feel quite alone a lot of the time.
Jamarlin Martin: What is your targeted annualized return for your third fund?
Arlan Hamilton: I actually can’t say that. I certainly can’t say it publicly. And I actually share a range. So I’ll do it more on cash. Like if we 3x our funds over seven, 10-year period, we do better than 85 percent of all venture capital to outperform that.
Jamarlin Martin: You mentioned in Miami that Backstage was working on a study evaluating endowment and pension money grossly neglecting underestimated founders, in terms of, you know, we don’t really see mandates out there where two percent of our money out of CalPERS or the Harvard endowment, Yale endowment, two percent of our VC money needs to make it to black founders. Right? You’re working on that, can you talk about that?
Arlan Hamilton: Yes. I was approached by a couple of people who work on these types of things in general, friends of mine. I’m not going to mention who just yet because I don’t know are if they want to be outed yet. Yeah. I tend to go to the people who are already doing things. Like I don’t try to, I stay in my lane even though I have several lanes stacked, I do stay in my lane. So I was approached by a couple of women who are doing it and they say they spend a lot of time talking, and not even like I’ve seen even more on the pensions. The pensions to me are so interesting because there are so many people of color and women who are putting money into it, it’s on their backs basically, that money is there and they were supposed to be making a profit for them, working for them. But then it doesn’t get represented across all classes. So the idea is to take a lot of the research that has already been done and consolidate, put it together and make a case so that we can walk into, we’re starting in California and, I believe, Pennsylvania, walk into some of these places and say, these are the facts and this can be righted, is that a word? This can be made right. Just the same way that enough pressure made some of them get out of tobacco and maybe we can do the opposite.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you believe there’s a lot of what I would call diversity activism? There’s too much energy going into, hey, you know, let’s get some more black people in the pipeline. Let’s get Google and Facebook to hire more black employees, but not enough at the endowment and pension level where a lot of money is flowing to back entrepreneurs through institutional venture capitalists. Do you believe that there’s too much emphasis on this kind of employee stuff, but politically, uh, we need more people active in terms of questioning the pensions and endowments and I believe that there’s a public policy aspect, particularly the Ivy endowments where it’s essentially tax free and there’s a public policy consideration where it’s not just private, they can do their own thing.
Arlan Hamilton: I think your question was do I believe there’s too much on the employee side and that there should be more emphasis on that? I would break those two apart because I don’t agree completely. I think both. I don’t think there’s too much on the employee side because I don’t think there’ll ever be enough until there’s parity.
Jamarlin Martin: But if you have a hundred hours in a day. And you have a team. What percentage of that time?
Arlan Hamilton: That’s a different question though because there are enough of us to do both and other people do things very well and that’s why I spend my time doing on the venture side. My answer to you is that, and I’ve said this many times publicly, so I don’t mind saying it, we have LPs that are from Facebook. We have LPs that are from these other companies. I don’t care if Facebook becomes more diverse. Personally, I’m not looking at that. I’m not trying to make Facebook better. I’m not trying to make Google better. I’m trying to help enable black and brown people to do their own, have their own culture to create from the beginning, from scratch and to create legacy. It’s just not my interest to care about the DNI efforts at Google. That’s not where my effort is going. I do think that both need to be happening at the same time though, because there are a lot of people who are not going to start companies. They’re going to be working at companies.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you think about and question whether it’s progressive for black people to want to push more of our best into institutions such as Facebook in terms of their values. And in my view, there is an extreme focus on greed and making money. Culturally do we want people even having to work their way up in an institution like that?
Arlan Hamilton: I think about that all the time. I don’t have the answer for that because my answer internally changes from day to day. Not that I don’t have a strong opinion. It’s just that I have both opinions. I look at the micro and the macro because I’m looking at when you look at both at the same time, it’s hard to say which one is more important. Like I’m looking at my impact and my legacy being about generational wealth and us being able to in 50 years look back and say, you know, are hanging on the walls at these banks and the banks that we’ve created and the institutions we’ve created. That is what I’m interested in every day. But at the same time, if a black woman can not only pay her bills and pay for any of her and your family needs, but can shine and can do six figures by leveraging her talent and skill that she worked very hard to acquire at a Facebook. I don’t know if I have it in me to say that she shouldn’t be on that track, you know. And I’ll tell you an example of where that question happens all the time for me is Uber. I have not met Bozoma, like I haven’t met her, but she’s a powerhouse. She’s very talented and I feel like she’s too good for Uber. You know what I mean? I feel like I want to root for her, but I don’t want to root for Uber. So I feel like they are the only ones benefiting from that in my opinion. She can tell me, please come find me and tell me I’m wrong.
Jamarlin Martin: Kind of like Black Panther and Disney?
Arlan Hamilton: Yeah. We had that conversation, you and so, and that’s why I said both. I said both of the time. You want to explain what that, what we were talking about your take on it was, you know, it’s all well and good, but the people that are going to be making the most money and getting the most benefit from it will be white men at the studios. And then I countered that by saying, but also enjoy yourself in the theater and you know Wakanda forever. I see both sides of it and I don’t think…
Jamarlin Martin: Meaning that you’re rooting for her at Uber. And short Uber. That’s it essentially. In an ideal world, she would be at a place like Backstage where the proportionately the returns on her talent and her leadership is closer in terms of impacting people who look like her.
Arlan Hamilton: Yeah. And not only that, I’m not trying to say what she’s doing is not impactful because she probably can’t affect change.
Jamarlin Martin: She’s definitely making a big impact, but you know, that impact most likely it’s going to commercial, you know, a lot of different areas. But you know, what would happen if the impact that our talent generates such as black power, the billion dollars, the revenue doesn’t go to Disney. The revenue goes to something that looks like Backstage.
Arlan Hamilton: Yeah, I mean that will be great. I take myself out of it being objective and I’m not. So that’s where I have the challenge with something like that. Just to kind of close the loop on that. I’m not saying that what she is doing is not, is not right or it’s not respectable. What I’m saying is I feel like, you see what I’m doing right now is doing the same thing to her that people have done to me in the past. I should probably stop because she knows what she’s doing. She knows she’s doing, she knows is right for her. And all I’m saying is just like I thought Obama was too good for presidency. I think Oprah’s too good for the presidency and I think she’s probably too good for Uber. That’s all I’m saying, right?
Jamarlin Martin: While we’re on the presidency. Tamika Mallory, she has been an activist with the women’s march on gender equality, racial equality. She’s been going hard across the board. She’s being attacked by Fox News, Jake tapper on CNN. She has been fighting for women across the board. There hasn’t been an issue with her leadership and activism, but recently she attended Savior’s Day in Chicago listening to minister Farrakhan, I guess someone’s surfaced a picture of her with minister Farrakhan. They’ve also attacked black congressman Keith Ellison where a picture surfaced with him and Farrakhan. Do you believe black leaders should be pressured to denounce Farrakhan?
Arlan Hamilton: I do remember seeing this story. Tell me the one thing that he…
Jamarlin Martin: The media, I think, takes a lot of the statements out of context. But the particular statement that Jake Tapper is really focused on is, hey, there’s good Jews and there’s, in Farrakhan’s words, satanic Jews. Farrakhan, he said this in Chicago at the event, he said that there’s good Jews and there’s satanic Jews, and the satanic Jews who hold powerful positions are leading America into hell. I don’t have the verbatim words but essentially the media really rally around that. He used ‘satanic Jews’, but he also said there’s good Jews. He always, at least in my experience, when I listen to him, he’s very critical of black people. There’s bad black people and there’s good black people. There’s evil black people, there’s devilish black people and there’s good black people. I believe he’s been pretty consistent on that. But do you believe when the media goes to a black leader, they should denounce Farrakhan for that type of language?
Arlan Hamilton: Do I believe when the media goes…
Jamarlin Martin: They’re going to black person one, black person two, why aren’t you denouncing this leader in your community? We need you to denounce him. You guys are talking about all this other racism, but you go ahead and clean your house.
Arlan Hamilton: I think so. I’m going to start by saying that I don’t know enough about this and I don’t feel comfortable enough to speak completely on him if we don’t have the exact quote, but I am someone who definitely believes that people should be held accountable for things. If … devilish Jews. I wouldn’t want to stand next to that.
Jamarlin Martin: But what about him in terms of media reports?
Arlan Hamilton: I really don’t know much about him. I’m happy to learn, if I had the time. I’m happy to learn. I just don’t know enough about that in particular.
Jamarlin Martin: But the idea, do you have a problem with the way I framed it where it’s not really about what Farrakhan says, it’s more about elites in America. Going to the people on the bottom who are suffering, who are facing a lot of racism, oppression, exploitation, and say, you got to speak for this dude. This guy over there. He’s getting loud and controversial things. You poor people. You oppressed people. You guys better shut up. You guys better denounce him, get away from him.
Arlan Hamilton: I see what you’re saying. I think where the gray area is, is that if she attended this and whether a picture is one thing, but if she says amen, then that’s when there’s a question on that particular issue. Yeah. I do believe it’s about your company you keep, but at the same time, if I were being held accountable for everybody that I was ever taken a picture with or that I ever liked a tweet or that ever even was on my LP list, the rest of my life having to defend these people.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. I never heard of the media going to people to condemn all the people who were at Trump’s inauguration. I never had anybody go to the Trump inauguration. You should go to announce that person who…
Arlan Hamilton: Well Fox News is…
Jamarlin Martin: Well Jake Tapper’s on CNN, he’s going super hard on this issue.
Arlan Hamilton: Really? What’s his problem?
Jamarlin Martin: I think he wants to be looked at as, ‘hey, I’m not on either side, fair and balanced, like I’ll get at these people over here and I’ll get at the people who really have the power’.
Arlan Hamilton: That’s interesting. That’s a tight rope that he’s walking. That doesn’t work, that’s not gonna work out for him.
Jamarlin Martin: I’m gonna ask you a few quotes out of the Silicon Valley establishment. The first quote is from John Doerr. He’s speaking about his experience with successful entrepreneurs. ‘That correlates more with any other success factor that I’ve seen in the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. If you look at Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos or Netscape founder, Marc Andreessen, Yahoo co-founder David Filo, the founders of Google, they all seem to be white male nerds who dropped out of Harvard or Stanford and they absolutely have no social life. We hear this talk about pattern matching and this and that’s how the VC game works.’ What’s your response to an influential figure like that saying those words?
Arlan Hamilton: Oh, internally, I cussed him out when you read that, internally. I was cussing him out just because I don’t like to curse too much. I will say it’s bullshit and I guess I just contradicted myself, but it’s so dangerous and it’s so irresponsible, but this John Dewar, I don’t hold him up to any standard. I have no standards for him. So it doesn’t sadden me to hear him say that because I don’t feel like he deserves much of a pedestal to fall from.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you believe that quote is a contradiction of establishment saying we don’t inject race in how we look at entrepreneurs?
Arlan Hamilton: Absolutely. Yeah. Because that’s what’s really in their minds. He’s Trumping it, he’s just saying what everybody around him has been thinking when he doesn’t know what’s supposed to be inner monologue and what’s not.
Jamarlin Martin: The second quote is coming from Sequoia Capital’s Michael Moritz, who’s also a power player in the Silicon Valley establishment. ‘We are gender blind, race blind, everything blind. I like to think and genuinely believe that we are blind to somebody’s sex, to their religion, to their background. We probably have more different nationalities working at Sequoia. It’s a very cosmopolitan setting. The fact that we’ve embraced China, embraced India, operate in Israel for a long time.’ This is, of course him saying that from his perspective, from his bubble. We don’t see any of that stuff. You guys are talking about fair, and then he goes on. He’s being interviewed by Bloomberg’s, Emily Chang. She talks about what’s up with female partners at the firm, ad he responds: ‘We’ll hire women. We just don’t want to lower our standards. In fact, we just hired a young woman from Stanford who’s every bit as good as her peers and if there are more like her we will hire them. What we’re not prepared to do is to lower our standards.’
Arlan Hamilton: I’ve heard that before and I’ve actually seen him speak and that’s how he talks. People like that are not going to, in my opinion, have some come-to-Jesus moment where they get it, where they all of a sudden change their thinking. This is how he thinks. He thinks from his perspective that he is doing someone a favor if they are not a white male that’s affluent, by the way, he would do the same thing to someone who has a poor white male. He thinks he’s doing them a favor by simply letting them breathe the same air as him. And my reaction is to start Backstage. That’s my reaction.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re not here to be complaining and criticizing, you going out there to do the thing.
Arlan Hamilton: Yeah. And I will talk about it all day because I like to dissect things and analyze things, but that to me is fuel because it’s so blatant. It’s so obvious. It’s so ridiculous and absurd. And I want us to be the counter of that. Like the way this is that is to me is a disease and we are the antidote.
Jamarlin Martin: The next quote is from a Silicon Valley legend. Many would argue that he could be one of the most powerful leaders in Silicon Valley. He is also on the board at Facebook, Netscape co-founder. So he put out a tweet in 2016 after India rejected Facebook’s application for free basics. Where Facebook wanted to come in and kind of control where the Indians getting free internet could go. India pushed back, denied Facebook’s application, and here is Marc Andreessen’s response. This is in February of 16. ‘Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?’ Many, including myself, saw this as a pro-white supremacy, pro-colonialism position where the colonialists, Facebook, they want to come in, they want to control what type of content people can access in India and India said no, we’re not letting you guys in. So how would you respond to that? And by the way, Mark has invested in Backstage?
Arlan Hamilton: He has, he’s in LP in all three of our funds, and I’m going to be really honest with you because I always am, when that happened in 2016, I don’t think I understood it as much as I probably should have. I don’t think I understood what he was saying and how dangerous that was. This is a case where I do email back and forth with Mark. We don’t do Thanksgiving dinners together, but I consider him someone I can reach out to and he’ll get back to me within 24 hours. I don’t agree with his statement. I denounce his statement. I think that is aberrant, what he said, and now that I understand that completely, that’s how I respond to that particular question. Happy to delve in deeper too.
Jamarlin Martin: Peter Thiel, another member of the Silicon Valley establishment and mafia. Here’s a guy who wrote a book when he was a student at Stanford, essentially attacking affirmative action, multiculturalism, big Trump supporter. Some of you may know Thiel as being the person who financed a Hulk Hogan after Gawker Media exposed Hulk Hogan for making racial comments. Peter Thiel financed Hulk Hogan’s litigation against Gawker Media. They worked together to shut down the business.
Arlan Hamilton: It was actually over a sex tape. The actual lawsuit was over a sex tape.
Jamarlin Martin: Correct. The lawsuit was over a sex tape, but I believe that there’s stuff on the back end that drove a lot of the stuff.
Arlan Hamilton: Yes, a hundred percent. You just want to be clear that you’re saying that that’s how it happened.
Jamarlin Martin: True. Correct. So, Hulk Hogan, Gawker has a tape, a sex tape, but I believe before that Hulk Hogan was outed for making racial comments about his daughter Brooke’s boyfriend. Also Gawker is one of the few publications that exposed hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of losses at Peter Thiel’s Clarion Capital, a hedge fund that no longer exists because of the poor performance and Gawker gave Peter Thiel a very hard time. Mainstream media did not. So the narrative is Gawker outed Peter Thiel as being gay, and that’s the driver, Thiel most likely did not appreciate Gawker’s coverage of his performance at Clarion Capital. So he’s on Facebook board. Until recently Facebook’s boardd was all white. This is Mark Zuckerberg defending Peter Thiel. ‘And I personally believe that if you want to have a company that is committed to diversity, you need to be committed to all kinds of diversity, including ideological diversity. I think the folks who are saying we shouldn’t have someone on our board because they’re Republican, I think that’s crazy. I think you need to have all kinds of diversity if you want you to make progress together as a society.’ What’s your reaction to that?
Arlan Hamilton: Do you know anything about my history with Peter Thiel?
Jamarlin Martin: No I do not. Yeah, I’m ignorant on that.
Arlan Hamilton: So yeah, I don’t think we have enough time on here to talk about it, but I am not a fan of Peter’s and…
Jamarlin Martin: But let’s focus on Mark. So, Mark backing Peter Thiel and explaining, hey, stop, you guys stop voicing your concerns about who we have on our board. Peter Thiel’s here because he has diversity of thought, cognitive diversity.
Arlan Hamilton: So my reaction to that. OK, Mark Zuckerberg, I don’t know him, never talk to him. I think he’s done a lot of really interesting and great things for the world. I do. I think that he’s also a privileged dude, who right out of college became a billionaire and the people around him, that helped make that happen are going to be his best buddies until they’re not, He’s a very black and white, binary kind of person, which is interesting. It’s the same thing, like all these people you’re quoting. I don’t think that they relate to them and I don’t think they relate to many other people, it is a bubble. It doesn’t hurt Mark Zuckerberg. It doesn’t affect him in a negative way to back Peter Thiel. So it doesn’t hurt anybody that he cares about. And so there’s no risk for him. These people made him who he is.
Jamarlin Martin: When I listened to Sheryl Sandberg on Bloomberg and on other outlets, she says women and minorities, which was like, ‘hey, we’re doing this for women and minorities’. We need to improve with women and minorities. Just when a white executive like that says women and minorities, do you think that’s an effective way to communicate what they’re trying to address?
Arlan Hamilton: Be more specific.
Jamarlin Martin: Should black people who are descendants of slaves, we have a unique history in the United States. Should we be lumped in to women and minorities or should we be given priority because our experience is different than all these other categories?
Arlan Hamilton: I see. That’s another one of those. It can be both to me because if it’s anybody who’s not straight white male, you know that because I’ve been asked that question about the Lgbtq part of what I do. Should they even be, cause you can’t compare being gay to being black. You can pass as straight. You can’t pass as not black. You know, I’ve had that argument too. This intersectionality for me is real. And as a woman I can’t just say that, no, it shouldn’t be lumped together because I don’t look like other…
Jamarlin Martin: But, women or minorities. Do you hear black people in there? How loud is the black in there, when a person like Sheryl Sandberg says women and minorities?
Arlan Hamilton: I feel like when she says it, she means black people. I personally don’t even like the word minorities. I don’t like when people say blacks with the s on the end. I don’t like it. I can’t stand it. It makes my skin crawl to hear someone say all the blacks in the room or blacks love me or, it just makes me want to jump into a freezing ocean.
Jamarlin Martin: Based on the history in the United States. Should powerful white executives out of Silicon Valley call out black specifically, or do you think it’s just more efficient? You know, ‘hey, you know, we’ve got to reach everybody. We can’t call you guys out anymore. You guys are not really a priority and it’s all about everybody’.
Arlan Hamilton: I mean, if we’re talking about should, then sure, you know what I mean? Like if were talking about should, there’s a lot of things they shouldn’t be doing, they shouldn’t even be sitting up there talking and they shouldn’t have said, let’s go find a black woman to sit here in my place and talk. There’s are a lot of shoulds, I think the reality is for a few more years it’s going to be women and minorities, that’s going to be the angle because they’re checking off a mark. It is an HR category.
Jamarlin Martin: The word diversity, at least to me, is very ambiguous. Now. Black people were fighting for economic justice. Should those people be using the word diversity based on how it’s been weaponized and used?
Arlan Hamilton: So that’s probably something I need to think about more before answering definitively, but I will say probably as a wrap up, I’ll tell you that I made a statement that I will not do any more diversity and inclusion panels or firesides or talks, starting in 2019. That’s all I’m invited to and I won’t do it starting January 1. So I don’t know if the word should be used by black people. I don’t know. Honestly, I haven’t had enough time to think about it, but I do know that I’m at the end of my bandwidth on…
Jamarlin Martin: Doing diversity stuff. Don’t put me in that box.
Arlan Hamilton: Well I also feel like how I said that, I can’t remember where I said this, I think it was in London. I was just, I was done. I was like, how much longer do women of color have to spend all our time explaining ourselves to other people? When do we get to participate? When do we get to just be, and just do, you know, that is the sum of how I feel about it. It’s not just me that I’m saying, it’s kind of a symbolic thing for not doing these diversity. I won’t judge someone else who does it. That’s not all day, but I am tired of being willed into a place and like in a barrel and dumped onstage and ‘you fix it, fix it for us. You black women, fix this for us. Black people fix this diversity problem for us with this hour, this day of programming that we’ve sponsored with our big logo behind us. We’ll take a few pictures and then we won’t do anything that you said. We won’t put any money behind it. We won’t. You know, raise up anyone’. That doesn’t happen a hundred percent of the time, but it happens majority of the time. So I’m done with that. I’m over here. I’m trying to make some money for me and for mine. That’s it.
Jamarlin Martin: A big thanks to Arlan Hamilton, founder and CEO of Backstage Capital. We really appreciate her coming on the show here in Austin at South by Southwest. Let’s GHOGH!
This interview has been edited for clarity.