An Open Letter to Joe Lonsdale re: Racism in Venture Capital

Alicia Kenworthy
3 min readDec 30, 2021
Photo by Benjamin Child on Unsplash

Hey Joe,

I couldn’t sleep last night and found myself mired in your Twitter exchanges at 3 AM, and I woke up thinking about them this morning.

Can I say off the bat: I sympathize with your intent, and generally agree that overly-simplistic social justice rhetoric, especially when it weaponizes terms like ‘racist’ and ‘privilege’ in 280-characters isn’t always helpful. We can debate what’s in people’s hearts and minds for days and no one wins. I agree with your assertion that we should all aim to be more kind and inclusive.

I’ve worked in tech for years and sat in many a room with venture capitalists. I even count a few as friends! Ha. I don’t believe most of them/you have any fundamental problem of heart and mind. We’re all products of our culture and upbringing and human experience.

I think that’s the lens you’re taking to this conversation: you know your own heart and mind, but you don’t fundamentally have an emotional, lived experience of what it’s like to be Black in America.

Most of us don’t. I don’t.

What helped me better grasp our country’s fraught race relations, fundamentally — and I don’t think this is ‘woke,’ just a natural side effect of loving a Black man and learning along the way — is actually studying and witnessing the impact of our ‘justice’ system, over-policing, and mass incarceration on Black communities.

Regardless of whether or not your average white collar professional is actively ‘racist’ today, we all live with an ongoing, ever-present legacy of slavery through our criminal justice system. There are lawyers and scholars who can break it down much better than I — check out Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, for a start — but our systems continue to function exactly as they were designed centuries ago, to criminalize and — still today — enslave Black people by one means or another.

Well-documented racial disparities in policing, incarceration, and sentencing explain why more Black men are caged and living a modern-day form of constitutionally-condoned slavery under the 13th amendment than actually survived our country’s original sin in the first place. It’s…

Alicia Kenworthy

📬. Writer & Storyteller ⚖️. Outspoken Advocate for Criminal Justice Reform 🎙 Developing a podcast on incarcerated love: