Words

Think Black

A father, a son and the technology giant between them

Attend

What: Think Black Launch Party

When: 4 pm Sun., Sep. 15

Where: Village Books

Info: http://www.village
books.com

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

“Double-consciousness lies at the heart of a basic question asked over and over again by members of racial minorities: Is what is happening to me because of who I am as a person, or who I am as a person of color? …What pathology, then, arises when the soul’s dogged strength alone cannot keep these warring ideals apart? What happens when that measuring tape of contempt turns inward as a yardstick by which one gauges oneself? It becomes the ‘internalized racism’ that my father struggled with throughout his life.”

Clyde Ford explores that life, amplified against his own narrative as a boy in the Bronx walking around in his father’s shoes, his father transplanted to Manhattan to toil as an executive at one of the foremost technology firms in the world.

In 1947 his father, John Stanley Ford, went to work at International Business Machines as the first black software engineer in America. He was personally hired by IBM’s daunting leader, Thomas Watson Sr.

This was the year when Jackie Robinson was breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, brought on personally by Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey.

First specializing on the IBM 407, John Stanley Ford, who died in 2000, was literally present at the dawn of the Digital Age. He worked at the company for 37 years.

Kirkus Reviews judges Ford’s new book, Think Black, published by Amistad/HarperCollins, as among the most anticipated nonfiction books this year. It is surely that, and more. Part searching memoir, part meditation on race, society and technology, in searing and provocative detail this book from the award-winning Bellingham author is essential reading.

An IBM veteran himself, Clyde Ford runs a small software firm in Bellingham. He is also an insightful psychotherapist and expert in transformative mythology. An author of many books, his latest is transcendent.

Think Black started out as a ‘hidden figures’ story about my father as the first Black software engineer in America at IBM,” Ford relates. “I thought I would be writing about the ‘Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson’ moment that happened between my father and Thomas J. Watson, and everything that flowed from there.”

There’s still some debate, Ford tells us in early chapters, whether to call the IBM 407 the first true computer or the last of the programmable accounting machines.

“It’s a safe bet to trace the origins of modern digital technology as least as far back as the IBM 407,” Ford notes, “IBM announced the model in 1949, not long after my father began his career. The company trained him to operate and program the machine. So it’s a safe bet to say that my father was present at the dawn of the Digital Age….

“My father understood the code, and before he even began working with computers, he understood the power of any code to create, shape and transform the world,” Ford writes.

Transformative as that code was, another transformative code—a social one—was rewriting American life as people of color began moving with accelerating frequency into roles formerly the exclusive domain of the overclass. Yet the trauma, the deep divisions and barriers remain.

The elder Ford’s success at IBM came at a price. He internalized the racism he encountered in the workplace and brought it home to unleash on his family.

“My father developed a unique form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of being the first black systems engineer at IBM,” Ford writes, “one known to many who are racial, ethnic or gender ‘firsts’…a reaction to feeling ‘under a microscope,’ ‘always on display’ or ‘representing one’s race.’ ”

As much as Ford’s book is about his father, it is also a book about himself, his own journey in parallel and in contrast to his father, and in the ferment of the nascent Civil Rights movement.

“I read ravenously of the accomplishments of Black women and men throughout history,” Ford relates. “I promoted passionately the ideas of Black Power and Black nationalism. I believed that Black women and men could accomplish anything they set their minds to, that skin color had nothing at all to do with intellect. And I still believe firmly in those ideas. Even though as a young person, a radical young Black man, those beliefs set me at odds with my father.

“My father’s deep wound of ‘racial inferiority’ only deepened during the years he worked at IBM,” Ford relates. “As time wore on, and my father witnessed himself passed over for promotions, or placed in the position of training men who would ultimately become his superiors, something gave inside of him.

“After returning from the March on Washington, where he stood with millions of other Black men and women listening to Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, my father returned to New York City to help found the 100 Black Men’s Club. Even more astounding to me, he began an ‘Underground Railroad’ helping promising young Black men and women get into IBM.”

When Clyde’s moment arrived to step into the shoes of his father and go to work as a software engineer at IBM in the early 1970s, he found it was not a forever fit.

“I unearthed a revolting story about the dark side of technology and race,” Ford relates. “IBM was centrally involved, and deeply engaged, with some of the worst racial atrocities of the modern era. Eugenics, the Holocaust, and apartheid. And, more recently in developing facial recognition technology for enhanced racial profiling.”

Writing the book, Ford came to a personal reckoning.

“One route toward this reckoning is resignation that being Black in America will always mean facing brutality and oppression, whether in chains from a slaver or cuffs from a police officer predisposed to violence against people of color. While I can never ignore or forget the brutality perpetrated against people who look like me,” he writes, “I am not ready to define myself solely in terms of this brutality and oppression. Doing so, I believe, leads down the road to victimization.

“‘A Black man has to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as Whitey.’ I grew to greatly resent this notion,” Ford relates, “even as I learned to accept its truth.”

His book stands as a triumphant rebuke to that.

More Words...
Climber's Corner
The highs and lows

You may have heard that it’s Whatcom County Library System’s 75th anniversary year, and to celebrate we’ve created the Read & Share program featuring Leif Whittaker’s excellent memoir My Old Man and the Mountain

Whittaker is the son of “Big Jim” Whittaker, the first American to…

more »
Kate Tempest
A way with words

Warning: If you’re on a tight schedule, don’t search for Kate Tempest on Youtube. If you don’t heed this admonition, there’s a very good chance you’ll spend the next hour—or however long the clip is—watching the mesmerizing performer bringing her fascinating stories to life with a…

more »
Deep River
Epic action on the Columbia

In his debut novel, Matterhorn, based on his experiences as a Marine in Vietnam, Pacific Northwest author Karl Marlantes established himself as a master of evocative settings and characters developed over time. Deep River, his second novel, is a sprawling family epic set along the mouth of…

more »
Events
Today
Fall Lynden Craft and Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

My Fair Lady

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Spokes

7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Mixtape

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Gore and Lore Tours

6:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Anacortes Vintage Market's Evergreens and Icicles

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center

Scream Fair's Camp Fear

7:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Matilda the Musical

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre

Hellingham

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Squawktober

8:00pm|Old Main Theater

Community Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Blaine Senior Center

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Orca Recovery Day Work Party

9:00am|Nooksack River

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Yoga and Detox

9:00am|Community Food Co-op

Blanchard Beast Trail Race

9:00am|Blanchard Forest Lower Trailhead

Twin Sisters Farmers Markets

9:00am|North Fork Library

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Bellingham Comicon

10:00am|Ferndale Event Center

Steam Expo

10:00am|Lynden Middle School

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Your Life is a Story Writer's Group

10:30am|South Whatcom Library

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Fall Festival

11:00am|Camp Korey

Kraut-chi Ferment Class

11:00am|Chuckanut Center

Winter Warmth Drive and Pickup

11:00am|Assumption Church Gym

Art Therapy Workshop

1:30pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Telling Tough Stories

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fables and Tales Upcycle Runway Challenge

6:00pm|Settlemeyer Hall

Concrete Ghost Walk

6:00pm|Concrete Theatre

Brew on the Slough

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Bellingham Hoptoberfest

6:00pm|Civic Way Sportsplex

How I Learned I'm Old

7:00pm|Village Books

Take Me to the River Live

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Skagit Symphony presents Highland Heritage

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Tomorrow
My Fair Lady

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Spokes

7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Matilda the Musical

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Trails to Taps Relay

9:00am|Depot Market Square

Birchwood Farmers Market

10:00am|Park Manor Shopping Center

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Wild Mushroom Show

12:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Community Building

Harvest Festival

1:00pm|Centennial Riverwalk

Skagit Topic

2:00pm|Skagit County Historical Museum

What If We All Bloomed?

4:00pm|Village Books

Murder Mystery Dessert Theater

6:00pm|Christ Fellowship Church

Monday
Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Housing Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Northwest Paella

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »