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Jamilah Lemieux and The Lack of Executive Corporate Privilege

posted Mar 28, 2014, 3:53 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Apr 1, 2014, 4:21 PM ]
Jamilah Lemieux is, at the time of this writing, a Senior Editor at Ebony Magazine. Yesterday, she became part of a Twitter controversy when tweets between Jamilah and  Raffi Williams (RNC Deputy Press Secretary) started erupting on the social network. Essentially, Jamilah made an offhand remark about not being interested in a magazine being launched by Ben Carson and Armstrong Williams about Black Conservatives. For some inexplicable reason, Twitter user @BETpolitichick tweeted to Jamilah along with Orlando Watson, Raffi Williams, and Hughey Newsome. In response to this Tweet, Jamiliah tried to remove herself from further conversation stating, "I 100% do not want to know more, I wish I knew less!".

So, at this point, the conversation could have ended like millions of other Twitter conversations do everyday and become lost to the digital sands of the internet. However, Raffi Williams pressed the issue by questioning Jamilah's desire to not know more about Dr. Carson's project and stated that he hoped that she would encourage diversity of thought. This is where Jamilah made a mistake that many of the people who later attacked her considered to be fatal. She thought that Raffi Williams was White and tweeted that he was "a White dude telling me how to do this Black thing" . However, Williams, the son of noted African American news analyst Juan Williams, is a beneficiary of the One Drop Rule, and, therefore, can claim to be Black. After a few more tweets, Raffi Williams accused Jamilah of engaging in stereotyping. She apologized for not recognizing Raffi's Blackness (his ethnicity is difficult to determine due to the small size of his Twitter portrait) and reiterated her lack of interest in further conversation. She later compared Twitter exchanges with Conservatives as akin to "leaving a cookie in a house full of roaches and turning off the lights".

However, Twitter turmoil soon took over as many called for Ebony Magazine to fire Jamilah. The outrage even rose to the level of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus who demanded an apology from Ebony Magazine despite the fact that Jamilah used her personal Twitter account. Ebony Magazine did issue an apology earlier today to Priebus. The apology characterized Jamilah's tweets as as not representative of the magazine's "journalist standard, tradition or practice of celebrating diverse Black thought." It went on to say that Jamilah showed a "lack of judgement". 

While this situation could have been better handled by all parties involved, I am most interested in the way that Ebony Magazine threw Jamilah under the bus. They made no mention of her contributions to Ebony Magazine nor were any attempts made to humanize her. It was similar to the response that a neighbor, finding that her dog had defecated in a next door neighbor's yard, would have. Take the misbehaving canine next door, shove the dog's nose into the excrement in front of the offended neighbor, and wack the shamed animal with a rolled up newspaper. 

Ebony Magazine's lack of empathy for Jamilah reminded me of how SendGrid treated Adria Richards when she was caught in a similar Twitter crisis. SendGrid quickly distanced itself from Adria and eventually fired her. These events show that women without Executive Corporate Privilege are vulnerable to being attacked by the companies they once proudly represented if they make a mistake online. Jamilah and Adria were guilty of simply speaking their opinions when put in situations they neither sought out nor requested. However, I don't think that Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer would have been as quickly thrown to the 'torches and pitch forks' crowd if they made a similar mistake. Sheryl and Marissa are White, which helps, to be sure. However, their executive positions provide far more privilege than the color of their skin.

Minority Tech was written to not only explain why the technology industry needs more diversity in terms of numbers, but also to demonstrate why we need diversity in executive leadership positions. Only by getting underrepresented groups into positions of power can the true power of free expression be made available to the industry. Jamilah is just the latest example of this simple truth.