We’ve long known that Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian rides hard for wife Serena Williams; he’s almost always to be found in the stands at his wife’s matches or front row at her runway shows, loudly cheering her on, and his steadfast support has made him one of our favorite hype-men on social media.
But when it came to stepping down from the board of the online platform he co-founded in 2005 in the wake of the global protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, Ohanian says he wanted to do more.
“I thought about what I could do beyond a social media post; beyond a donation—but really lead,” said Ohanian in an exclusive interview with his wife for her Serena Saturday Instagram series. Positing that “resignation can be a form of leadership,” Ohanian also explained his recommendation that he be replaced by a black candidate.
“[W]e need diversity at the highest levels of business now more than ever...it’s in the interest of every company to make that happen,” he said, referencing the bestselling book White Fragility as he described his own privilege and personal duty “to lean into the discomfort” of acknowledging his place on that once-binary spectrum. “Once I realized why I needed to do it, it became very easy,” he added (h/t People).
Ohanian’s announcement last week was accompanied by news that he’ll henceforth be donating profits from his Reddit stock to organizations supporting the black community and racial equality, beginning with a $1 million pledge to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp. But while wife Serena may be a powerful woman, she claims to have found Ohanian’s departure as “shocking” as the rest of the world, despite the couple having several discussions about race and his place at Reddit.
“A lot of people might think I told you to do something, or I forced you,” she said, before quipping: “[But] he doesn’t listen to me, ever.”
Both Williams and Ohanian are major forces in venture capitalism, an industry where black and Latinx communities are woefully underrepresented. Williams admits to pressuring Ohanian to invest in those communities (she does the same through Serena Ventures), but he also urges industry outsiders to wield influence in exacting change and demanding accountability and representation from large companies; especially in tech.
But it was a factor much closer to home that ultimately helped inspire Ohanian’s major announcement—though at two-and-a-half, daughter Alexis Olympia is still far too young to understand her impact.
“I thought about what those dollars could do for a community that has clearly suffered for far too long, and that I, with my power and my influence and my privilege want to do something meaningful to start to show a change. To make a better world for Olympia,” Ohanian tells his wife. “I wanted to put as much weight behind the gesture as I could because I felt I owed it to you and I owed it to her.
“I was looking at Olympia; she’s two-and-a-half now, and she is such a pure, just blank canvas. She only knows love...There is not an ounce of hate in her body...That’s the crushing thing,” Ohanian continues, later adding: “At some point, Olympia is going to have to have a talk with you—a talk with us, but especially a talk with you—about how she’s going to have to work that much harder, how she’s going to have to deal with this much more. That pisses me off.”
Then, he asks a question we honestly wish more white people would ask themselves before dismissing racism and the righteous anger of Black America—though arguably, many already know the answer: “If I’m this pissed off just now, how have you been able to endure your entire life? How have generations of black Americans been able to endure your entire life? Because if I’m just getting this mad right now, I wouldn’t be able to function.”