When it comes to black people and social media companies, it’s like deja vu all over again.
“I was the second highest-ranking African American when I left,” Mark Luckie told me in 2015, when I interviewed him for Leading While Black, a story which explored the barriers facing black men in corporate life. “We were falling like dominos. It was too bad.”
We were talking about Twitter back then, where Luckie had worked as the company’s manager of journalism and media.
Diversity and inclusion had become his side gig and his calling, and the source of deep frustration, as the company failed to make any meaningful strides in either advancing the careers of employees of color, or leveraging the tremendous cultural asset that is Black Twitter, a global force which continues to add vibrancy and original content to a platform that remains largely white-led. “[I]nstead of figuring out what we could learn from powerful groups like this, we were losing ground to Instagram,” he told Fortune.
Luckie quit without a job lined up.
Luckie is back in the news with a similar critique of Facebook, where he reluctantly accepted a gig as a strategic partner manager about a year ago, persuaded that he could have some influence. He decided to quit, again, without a job, earlier this month. He wrote an exit memo he shared with the company on his last day, which he then published as a public Facebook post yesterday.
“Facebook has a black people problem,” he begins.
He comes armed with numbers, including key metrics that show how African Americans are outpacing other demographics on the platform, particularly galling given what appears to be Facebook’s often draconian policing of black voices on the site. “Black people are finding that their attempts to create ‘safe spaces’ on Facebook for conversation among themselves are being derailed by the platform itself,” he says. “Non-black people are reporting what are meant to be positive efforts as hate speech, despite them often not violating Facebook’s terms of service. Their content is removed without notice. Accounts are suspended indefinitely.”
But Luckie reserves his most pointed critiques for the company’s leadership for failing to provide resources for underrepresented people and projects inside the company, and for using black and brown employees as an always-on resource to answer shallow questions about race, when the platform would be better served by empowering professionals of color to develop projects through an inclusive lens.
While he graciously notes that the number of black employees has increased from 2% in 2016 to 4% in 2018, “In some buildings, there are more ‘Black Lives Matter’ posters than there are actual black people. Facebook can’t claim that it is connecting communities if those communities aren’t represented proportionately in its staffing.”
The company was already under fire for a variety of key failures: to halt propaganda, hate speech and “fake news” on the site; to understand their role in fueling genocide in Myanmar; to stop Russian election interference, much of which used racial tension on the platform as a tactic; to prevent Cambridge Analytica—a data strategy firm hired by Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign—from gaining access to the personal data of some 87 million unwitting Facebook users.
The full memo is worth your time to read. While it may not make an immediate difference to leadership, it seemed to resonate with many black employees who felt vindicated by Luckie’s willingness to share not only his experience but concrete solutions.
Luckie ended with ten recommendations, all of which will sound familiar to you—and are surprising only because they don’t seem to be currently part of the company’s inclusion playbook. By way of examples, he mentions cultural competency training, strategic goal-setting, and regular focus groups with power Facebook and Instagram users from underrepresented communities.
But what the company really needs, he says, is a human commitment to do the work.
“It will take an effort at all levels for Facebook to improve its relationship with diverse communities,” he says. “The future of the platform depends on it.”
|Ava DuVernay signs a $100 million dollar multi-year deal with Warner Bros Television Group|
|The deal is multi-platform, though it might as well be multi-planet, at this point. It’s her first with any studio, and according to Deadline, it’s the full package: drama and comedy series, documentaries, digital content, event projects and longer-form projects for broadcast and cable, premium cable, streaming services and other platforms. The deal makes sense for the preternaturally busy filmmaker, says industry reporter Dominic Patten. “[U]nlike a deal with a streamer [like Netflix], the WBTV deal offers DuVernay the opportunity to sell her shows to everyone as opposed to be locked into to one outlet.”|
|A Korean beauty revolt is taking place on Instagram|
|K-Beauty, a phenomenon of marketing and cultural patriarchy, is built on a singular myth: That Korean women use ten beauty products morning and night to banish lines, wrinkles, pores, and…common sense. Turns out, they’ve had enough of the oppressive beauty standards and aren’t going to take it anymore. Women are eschewing their regimes and even appearing on social media barefaced; one anchor even appeared on-air wearing eyeglasses. Turns out, the revolution isn’t just cosmetic – it’s a call for justice in a culture prone to violent sexual assaults and rampant gender inequality.|
|Remembering an accidental meme-maker|
|The phrase “what are those?” (a video of a man mocking a police officer’s shoes) became a viral hit, first on Vine, then everywhere online. It even ended up as a sly pop culture reference in the blockbuster film, Black Panther. But comedian Young Busco, who died yesterday at 31, had mixed feelings about creating the memorable meme. For one, it didn’t do much to help him. The Berkely-based Instagram personality, whose real name was Brandon Moore, had struggled with drugs in the past and had been arrested on a narcotics charge right after the meme took off. “I just got lucky and it went viral. It was like, I’m tired of this shit,” he once said. Moore was the father of five.|
The Woke Leader
|White women and black hair|
|I stumbled upon this extraordinary photo and cultural project by accident. It is the tender and true story of a creative black photographer who takes a group of white, middle-aged business women to a black salon, arranges for them to get a new “black” style, and then takes a formal, corporate portrait. “I wanted people that had a certain idea of what you’re supposed to look like in the workspace, because it would be a challenge for them to understand what I experienced in that space,” says Endia Beal. Beal has made hair a theme in her work before; she made a short film about letting her white colleagues touch her hair after it became clear they were curious about her afro. H/t Aminah McKenzie.|
|Libraries need to be decolonized, too|
|Dorothy Porter, the longtime librarian for Howard University, helped create Howard’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, a storied resource for black culture. Through her work, she expanded the scholarship she collected—drawing from a wide variety of subjects beyond slavery, to help preserve a range of materials that better reflected the global black experience while correcting a historical record slanted toward white supremacy. But to do that, she needed to do the same for the Dewey Decimal system, which had originally lumped black authors together in just two numerical categories—one for slavery and another for colonization, regardless of the subject of the book. (Poetry was filed under colonization if you’re curious.) By challenging the Eurocentricity of the library system, she was able to place the rich array of black scholarship alongside their white counterparts on the shelves where they rightfully belonged.|
|A young Native rapper explores his past and future|
|Frank Waln, a rapper and member of the Sicangu Lakota in South Dakota, uses music to process his own bouts with depression and to explore what it’s like to be a modern Native American, inextricably linked to a history of genocide. He finds inspiration in the parallel journey of African Americans. “Hip hop just resonated with a lot of Native youth from my generation, especially growing up on reservations because we could relate to the stories being told in the music.” For more, check out his latest track, matched with a wonderful video that was conceived and directed by kids and teens living on the Pine Ridge Reservation.|