OPINION | This article contains political commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
The CEO of LinkedIn had a video conference recently on diversity and inclusion, ostensibly to allow employees to participate in a discussion about those very things. The stated purpose of the townhall event was for the company to “reflect on their own biases, practice allyship, and intentionally drive equitable actions” in the wake of everything that has happened over the past several days. During the call, employees were able to anonymously post questions/comments in a chat sidebar, which several people took advantage of. Here are some examples of the comments:
“George’s killers need to be tried according to law. But how can hiring more minorities into manager roles and C-suite positions address cop racism? I thought hiring at LinkedIn is based on merit alone.”
“This tragic incident that happened to George Floyd happened exactly the same to [white man] Tony Timpa by Dallas cops in 2016, and no one seemed to care then. There were no out cry for justice in his case. Why? Should we not want justice for all?”
“Do we all understand that racial prejudice is about EVERYONE and can go any direction? Racial prejudice is rampant in tech companies. As a white person, I’ve experienced it from people of other races too.”
Those questions “mortified” some of their fellow employees. They made other employees feel “unsafe.” They were “shocking” and “racist” and “disgusting” to others. One black employee said reading those comments “destroyed her.”
It became so heated, that the CEO, Ryan Roslansky, sent an internal email to employees after the call, writing, “I have heard people share the pain and frustration they felt at appalling comments shared in the Q&A and chat, and so it’s important that I weigh in directly. I said it in the Company Group yesterday, and I will say it again, we are not and will not be a company or platform where racism or hateful speech is allowed.’
He went on to say, “Many of you shared the hardest part was realizing that this company we love and hold to such a high standard still has a lot of work to do to educate ourselves and our colleagues on how to create a culture that is truly anti-racist. We will do that work.”
He even promised that no one would be allowed to submit anonymous comments in future teleconferences, saying, “We have to anchor on our values, including having open, honest and constructive conversations and respecting that relationships matter.”
I don’t know about y’all, but if we are all to engage in the “difficult conversations” that I hear so many black people saying we need to have right now, then can’t we…you know…HAVE them? I guarantee you that the people who asked those questions above won’t be engaging in any open and honest and constructive conversations from now on, because they TRIED to, and were immediately called racist and disgusting.
Are you seeing racism in those questions? I’m not. I’m seeing legitimate questions that should be legitimately debated. I recognize that they are weighty questions, and that they’re questions that shift the conversation to places many black people don’t want to talk about right now, and that’s fair. I find that this past week has softened me a bit to the concepts of white privilege and the phrase “black lives matter.” I’ve long rejected the notion of white privilege as a leftist tool of division, and a way to continue to erase individuality. But I also understand that there are a lot of black people truly hurting, truly in pain, and who truly believe that there are longstanding systems of oppression that they tangibly feel day to day. There is nothing wrong with listening to and empathizing with their lived experiences. But there is also nothing wrong with asking questions that challenge them. That’s what difficult conversations are all about.
Let me take that a little further. I think I understand now why so many black people get angry about the common retort “ALL lives matter” when they say “Black Lives Matter.” I heard one analogy that hit home for me. Say you’ve got a group of friends over and one of those friends gets a cut on her arm. You go to the cabinet to get a bandage for her arm, and the rest of your friends follow you with their arms out saying, “ALL ARMS MATTER.” And of course, they DO matter. But there’s only one arm bleeding at the moment, so it’s appropriate to focus attention on that particular arm.
Now, of course, we can and SHOULD have conversations about why that arm was injured. Maybe, just maybe, that friend’s arm is really perfectly ok, and she’s just been conditioned by a complicit media to believe that her arm is being subjected to more injuries than other people’s arms for some superficial reason that she has no control over.
Do you see where I’m going with this? I can seek to understand the pain that my black friends and colleagues feel, and try to listen and learn from their experiences. And it’s ok for the spotlight to shine on them right now. Maybe me saying, “BUT MY ARM MATTERS TOO!” isn’t the right tone to take right now.
But back to LinkedIn. There was nothing racist or offensive about the questions those employees asked. And shutting people down when they ARE trying to understand and they ARE trying to have the “difficult discussions” is never going to do anything but sow more division and anger. EVERYONE needs to listen to each other right now.
The LinkedIN CEO should have allowed employees to express WHY they thought those questions were offensive – so that the dialogue could actually happen. Instead, he said that racism and hateful speech isn’t allowed. Whizzah whuzzah? WHERE WAS THE RACISM AND HATEFUL SPEECH????
Difficult conversations aren’t one sided. I can get myself to a place where hearing the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is perfectly fine and doesn’t make me feel defensive but also recognize that the Black Lives Matter MOVEMENT, which seeks to defund police and completely upend capitalism and is in many ways dangerously radical, is something that shouldn’t be supported. There is a lot of nuance here that needs to be explored, and that’s why the LinkedIn CEO’s response was absolutely all wrong.
If we’re gonna have the difficult discussions, let’s have them. Honestly, openly, without fear of being shut down.