Spasmodic rain – quickly switching between many large and heavy drops, and sparser, smaller ones – during my rush hour drive allowed my brain to wander to subjects that had been shoved to the corners of my brain by more pressing matters. As I slowly made my way across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, my thoughts went to Mark Luckie, the man and former Facebook employee, who wrote a letter stating that Facebook had a “Black problem”.
Where is he? Is he sitting in his car somewhere nearby looking at the huge rain drops splatting down and bursting open, as if their weight could no longer keep them airborne, thinking about his decision to call out one of the biggest companies in the world? Or did he leave the Bay Area altogether? Before he sent the letter, were plane tickets bought, plans made, and bags packed in preparation for an escape to somewhere safe – somewhere where he would be insulated from the resulting blowback and enveloped with love?
Or, is he looking at the rain hit and then slide down the immense windows of a corporate tower conference room as a team of executives explain that his letter demonstrates the type of employee concern, transparency and courage that their company needs to help create a truly inclusive and harmonious environment for all employees and that they would like to offer him a position? Or is he on the phone in his home, curtains shut, oblivious to the rain, on an endless call with Mark Zuckerberg, who is deeply troubled by what he has learned about the inclusivity problems at Facebook and wants to learn more so radical changes can begin to be made.
I, of course, have no idea of what Mark is doing; but because I admire what he did, I prayed for him. I know, just as he reported in his letter, that America does not reward those who speak honestly and openly about race matters. He will not be lauded like the women of the “me too” movement. When most see him, they will see a troublemaker, not a change-maker. In conference room meetings, strategic plans and public speeches, companies tout innovation, bold thinking and aggressive action – yet when it comes to diversity and inclusion, companies get quiet, conservative and dumb.
They want quick fixes that don’t challenge them personally or companywide. As the vast majority of executives are White males, their company’s lack of inclusivity seems like one of the natural disasters that occur in a distant country: remote, and foreign. They may order the company to send aid, to assuage any guilt and for PR purposes, but there is no actual human connection or understanding. It has never occurred to them that the Black people that they hired (to make their numbers look better for the public) may suffer, when they are regularly singled out and asked for identification more than their White counterparts; that they sit in meetings while inappropriate, racist comments are made; that their ideas are overlooked or the only ideas people consult them about are ‘Black’ issues; that daily they work in an office where they are the only African American (and with some people who are clearly uncomfortable with them).
No, they simply made a decision to increase their “numbers”. Inclusivity, however, is about people. Consequently, they hired people of color; however no time was spent or concern given to how to create an environment that made their employees of color feel safe, appreciated, and included. This lack of inclusivity is typically handled superficially: perhaps by hiring a diversity professional, one whom “blends”, doesn’t truly challenge them or any norms, but conveniently checks the diversity box; by developing a diversity statement, which most have never read and on which no one receives any real training to execute; and by writing PR-designed statements expressing concern anytime a complaint is filed. They just want the problem to go away; and the reporting party – not the company’s culture – is usually seen as the problem.
Whistleblowers are deemed too sensitive, hostile, difficult and hard to get along with – and then are quietly silenced, counseled and managed out. People, particularly in corporate America have been Kapaernicked for decades. Be quiet, do your job, don’t complain, or you will be further ostracized, marginalized, and possibly fired.
There isn’t one Black person who doesn’t know that – not one. Mark Luckie knew it when he wrote that letter. While companies tout that complaints present opportunities for change and growth; Mark knew that Facebook wasn’t going to request a meeting with him so that they could learn more about how Black people were feeling as employees of FB. No, I’m doubtful that Facebook saw his letter as an ‘opportunity for change and growth’; but rather as a PR situation. Mark Luckie shouldn’t expect public support from his former African American colleagues either. While they probably spent many hours, behind closed doors, in after-work, informal Black-folks meet-ups discussing the inclusivity issues at Facebook; they will not publicly validate Mark’s claims because they need to keep their jobs and want to excel in their careers. They will remain silent and fake happy because in America, the onus is on Black people to sell the dream of an inclusive workplace, not for companies to deliver it.
My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more