One year after a black Facebook employee accused the social media giant of failing its black employees and users, a group of Facebook employees published an anonymous memo saying the culture at the company has only gotten worse for nonwhite workers.
Published on Medium last week, the letter documents a variety of micro- and full-blown aggressions employees say they have endured over the last year from managers, HR, and their white colleagues. The memo was co-written by 12 current employees, including black, Latinx, and Asian women workers.
“[W]e are sad. Angry. Oppressed. Depressed. And treated every day through the micro and macro aggressions as if we do not belong here,” reads the memo.
The post was timed around the company’s global “Black@” event, annually attended by hundreds of black Facebook employees and featuring founder Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. The pair, as senior management tends to do, speak directly to attendees about how much they value inclusion and empowerment.
The memo lays out a very different narrative—one that will be familiar to many working in corporate America and in the tech world, and one that is consistent with what black Facebook workers have said about the company previously.
Specific experiences are highlighted—a recurring theme is nonwhite workers being labeled as “aggressive” or arrogant by managers and colleagues; several employees also described being directly undermined by their supervisors. One program manager describes being told at breakfast by two white employees to “clean up after their mess.” When the program manager flagged the incident for their supervisor, they were told to “dress more professionally.”
The letter also includes screenshots of racially demeaning and offensive posts from Blind, an anonymous workplace community app. “Are blacks really treated poorly or do they just like to complain?” asked one anonymous poster. Another user wrote, “[people complaining about racism] need to get over it or go to a different company. Bad enough we are using diversity as a measure for recruiting and lowering our standards.” Another person even announced their intention to push out “one very arrogant black man who [thinks] he’s smarter than everyone.”
Facebook—and specifically, Zuckerberg—has come under fire before for how the company marginalizes black employees and site users. Last year, former employee Mark Luckie circulated a memo to all Facebook workers shortly before his last day at the company, stating plainly, “Facebook has a black people problem.”
He pointed out a lack of representation—“in some buildings, there are more “Black Lives Matter” posters than there are actual black people”—and workplace hostility as key issues.
“Facebook’s disenfranchisement of black people on the platform mirrors the marginalization of its black employees,” he wrote. “In my time at the company, I’ve heard far too many stories from black employees of a colleague or manager calling them ‘hostile’ or ‘aggressive’ for simply sharing their thoughts in a manner not dissimilar from their non-Black team members.”
This sort of experience is a familiar refrain for black workers across industries throughout the U.S.—but it’s particularly notable given how important black people are to Facebook’s platform.
As Luckie writes:
African Americans are more likely to use Facebook to communicate with family and friends daily, according to research commissioned by Facebook. 63% use Facebook to communicate with family, and 60% use Facebook to communicate with friends at least once a day, compared to 53% and 54% of the total population, respectively ... Black people are driving the kind of meaningful social interactions Facebook is striving to facilitate.
Zuckerberg’s failure to ensure meaningful protections for black Facebook users received condemnation from members of Congress last month, with Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) grilling the billionaire Facebook founder over his company’s checkered civil rights record. Previous reporting from USA Today has also found that Facebook “rarely takes action on repeated reports of racial slurs, violent threats and harassment campaigns targeting black users.”
That problem starts at home, Facebook’s nonwhite employees say. In the memo, Facebook workers write they “cannot afford to be vulnerable externally because Facebook has made us a vulnerable target internally.
“Racism, discrimination, bias, and aggression do not come from the big moments,” they write. “It’s in the small actions that mount up over time and build into a culture where we are only meant to be seen as quotas, but never heard, never acknowledged, never recognized, and never accepted.”