Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg scolded employees this week for blotting out the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and replacing it with “All Lives Matter” on the walls of the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
As Gizmodo reports, the physical wall where visitors and employees alike can leave messages was a scene of controversy as the slogan was spitefully replaced. In a leaked memo, Zuckerberg had harsh words for employees who censored others’ messages.
“I was very disappointed by this disrespectful behavior before, but after my clear communication I now consider this malicious as well.”
Zuckerberg had told employees in the past to desist from the behavior.
— Upworthy (@Upworthy) February 26, 2016
The 31-year-old CEO pointed out that crossing out a phrase was tantamount to silencing speech.
“Black lives matter doesn’t mean other lives don’t — it’s simply asking that the black community also achieves the justice they deserve,” Zuckerberg revealed in a Facebook post circulated internally but obtained by tech blog Gizmodo.
The phrase “Black Lives Matter” was started by activist Alicia Garza coincidentally in a Facebook post in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who killed an 17-year-old African-American teen, Trayvon Martin, in 2013.
The catchphrase came to embody the resurgent struggle of the civil rights movement against the killing of unarmed black men in the U.S.
“Please do not change the conversation by talking about how your lives matters, too. It does but we need less watered down unity and more active solidarities with us black people, unwaveringly in the defense of our humanity,” Garza said in 2014.
The Black Lives Matter movement continues to shed light on racial inequality, police brutality, and racial profiling in the black community. However, the “All Lives Matter” counter tag is seen as a reprimand to the movement and an implicit phrase telling employees of color in the tech industry that effort at diversity means lowering the bar of excellence.
“It’s exactly these sorts of slights and micro-aggressions that cause talent of color to leave their jobs and this contributes to the dismal diversity we see in tech,” Freada Kapor Klien, a partner at the Kapor Center for Social Impact Oakland said.
Zuckerberg’s strict remarks are coming on the heels of tech companies looking to diversify their workforce mainly made up of Asian and white males. Only about two percent of Facebook’s U.S. workforce is black. Facebook executives are aware that diversity is crucial to the continued success of the tech firm that serves over 1.6 billion users worldwide.
Chia Hong, a former employee, was fired in 2013; she sued Facebook for harassment and discrimination. In the lawsuit, Hong was portrayed as a woman with satisfactory evaluations but who was fired and replaced with a less-experienced white male. During her three-year stint with the company, Hong claimed to have been “belittled” because she was single mother, mocked because of her accent, and victimized for complaining about the incidents.
Maxine Williams, Facebook’s global director of diversity noted that the company’s diversity programs had achieved positive but modest change, with a mandatory requirement for hiring managers to consider at least one candidate from minority groups for open positions and a company training program, called “Managing Bias,” designed to ensure “an inclusive culture that can truly support diversity.”
Zuckerberg told employees that the black community had a history of racism and oppression and that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” did not mean other lives did not. He encouraged employees to find out more about the movement during the town hall meeting on March 4.
Advocacy groups like Rainbow PUSH Coalition led by renowned civil rights activist, Rev. Jesse Jackson, lauded Zuckerberg for his remarks.
“If that is the case, good for Mark for sticking up to his convictions and setting a leadership example for all of Facebook,” Jackson disclosed in a statement.
On Friday, 200 Bay-Area black students were at Facebook’s headquarters as part of Black History Month.
[Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images]