How Alexis Ohanian recognized his privilege with help from wife Serena Williams

Reddit co-founder on plans to fight racism
Reddit co-founder on plans to fight racism 07:50

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who resigned from Reddit's Board of Directors on Friday and urged the board to replace him with a black candidate, said he made the decision for his 2-year-old daughter with wife Serena Williams. 

"I didn't arrive at this easily. It was absolutely a hard decision," Ohanian told "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King in an exclusive interview. "But thinking back, especially on the position our country's been in, and then especially in the last few weeks, I realized I needed to look at myself, look in the mirror and see what I could do to help contribute some real positive change, so that I could look my daughter in the eye when she's a little bit older and she asks me what I did to help make this country and this world a little bit better for her and for a whole lot of people who look like her."

On Thursday, Reddit got the message and added tech CEO Michael Seibel to the board.

Ohanian, who had served as executive chairman since 2015, also promised to donate future gains on his Reddit stock to initiatives that support the black community.

Read more of his conversation with King below.


Gayle King: I'm struck, you just said it was a hard decision. … What was the hardest thing about it for you?

2019 Hopman Cup - Day 6
Alexis Ohanian, husband of Serena Williams, holds their daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. as Williams competes in women's singles at the 2019 Hopman Cup on Jan. 3, 2019 in Perth, Australia. Getty Images

Alexis Ohanian: You know, Reddit was my first child. I started it right out of college. ... I was a kid who walked out of an LSAT to go to a Waffle House and decided he wanted to become an entrepreneur. ... But looking inward, it was a hard decision until it was a really easy one … when I remembered that my greatest creation is not and never will be Reddit. It's my daughter, and I want her to be proud of her father.

King: Well, you've certainly done that. And I will say, listen, your skill set is vast, including braiding your daughter's hair. Every time I see that picture, it just makes me smile.

Ohanian: That's growth. And I think whether it's learning how to braid my daughter's beautiful hair, or whether it is growing to accept my own blind spots ... that growth mindset is so important.

King: But couldn't you have, if you'd wanted to, just said, 'We're going to add a black person to the board'? Did you have to step down?

Ohanian: I think there is something symbolic about someone in my position stepping aside as a way to say, we're not just going to make sure that you have a seat at the table. I'm going to give up my seat so that you can have it. … I do believe in what that represents. … And I hope it makes boardrooms all across the country look around the table and say, "Who are we serving? Who is our community?"

Ohanian said more diversity is in the best interest of Reddit, and the tech industry more broadly. Reddit has faced criticism because hate speech has not been moderated in the message boards on the platform. But Ohanian's venture capital company, Initialized, has been investing in new startups that will target hate online.

Ohanian: I think if we follow this drumbeat of support, both offline and online, I think we're going to see more and more tech businesses in particular taking more responsibility over not just the content on their platforms, but also the diversity of their workforces.

King: As you know, there are very few black faces in the boardroom. So you thought about that too? ... And your own experience, Alexis, in a boardroom?

Ohanian: There's this striking double standard because I have never walked in a room and not felt 100% confident to be there, not felt 100% welcomed there, at times when I really shouldn't have been because of my inexperience or because of my youth or because of my whatever. But that is the privilege that I have walked my entire life. … There are things that I do that my wife checks me on that I am doing with the best of intentions, but still, require me to feel that pain … and then dig deeper.

King: I'm wondering, what does she help you see that you didn't see before?

Ohanian: There are situations where I default expect to be heard because all of my life when I bring something up, I'm generally in a position where someone is going to hear me, take my side and trust what I have to say, and I take that for granted. … It's not until I'm, you know, talking to my wife about things that I really understand that that is not a luxury she has had.

King: Do you think that you would've come around to this way of thinking if you had not been with Serena in particular?

Ohanian: I would love to say yes, but — to see — look, to have that front-row seat to her, not just her greatness, but everything she has to endure, much of it that never gets reported on, that no one sees, right? ... That made the education come really quickly … especially when this is someone you love.

King: But Alexis, as you know, nobody likes to be called out. People get very defensive. ... That seems to be changing, but —

Ohanian: I think it is. It is changing. ... That discomfort that we feel physically when we push ourselves to go further is something that we usually embrace, right? We know that that's where growth happens. That's where muscles are tearing just a little bit so they regrow stronger. These conversations are that same kind of exercise. They're that same kind of discomfort for our brains and for our souls. ... Because at the end of the day, if what we're asking is privileged white people to be able to feel a little bit of discomfort to have a hard conversation, it's a very reasonable ask.