They have caught the mood. Or so they hoped.
The memo leaked Thursday by Julia Salazar, a newly minted employee at Google, was an emotionally charged and often inflammatory rant, featuring her name and picture as she justified making things difficult for some colleagues.
A Google employee outraged by misogynistic or racial comments in the workplace is apparently launching a class-action lawsuit accusing the company of violating state and federal laws meant to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination. She called Google’s firing of a male engineer for his memo a “slap on the wrist.” (He was not a white, straight man.)
“Men who think they should be able to say or do anything, that they have the right to feel entitled to do so, are at a tremendous disadvantage when they do not have a diverse group of colleagues who are supportive of their right to be self-centered,” wrote Salazar, a 27-year-old former New York state government staffer and former D.C. intern whose résumé includes stints on aid initiatives at the White House and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The memo is just the latest encounter in which people perceive overt racism and sexism to be pervasive at powerful companies, leading many to feel powerless in the face of discrimination. And most incidents are coming in the shadows.
To be sure, it is unacceptable that an incompetent engineer is fired for posting his ideas and perspectives, even when the person makes bad decisions. Whether he likes it or not, his behavior is being used as an example for struggling workers at any company who may be overwhelmed by challenging their workplaces to be more inclusive.
When is such overt discrimination not harassment? It is, of course, when it is denied — but the lawyers will get into that later.
First, though, if you don’t feel comfortable having to make someone uncomfortable to prove your point, keep your mouth shut. If it comes down to baring your fangs for the sake of ethics, the only thing that will end up being saved is your Twitter feed.
The most chilling part of Salazar’s memo is not the nastiness of her words. It is that at a time when more women are entering the workforce and bringing new ideas and experiences to work, women like her are being taught they are less capable than men because of their skin color, gender and personal decisions. It is a backward message, steeped in racist and sexist tropes.
When Heather Heyer, a 33-year-old Charlottesville, Va., organizer, was killed at a weekend protest of the white nationalist rally there, a prominent white nationalist used a Daily Stormer article to justify his deadly attack by saying: “We are repulsed by her skin color, but not repulsed by her ethnicity or sexual orientation. If we were called upon to condemn her, we’d have to condemn half of humanity.”
The very next day, Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, posted comments on Twitter about Ms. Heyer to advance his own white supremacist theories. Some viewed his post as vile, but some saw the comment as an honest expression of Jones’s insecurities.
Ms. Heyer, a former community college student, was shot dead and 19 others injured while protesting what had become known as “Unite the Right.”
“What I’m sick of is the message people are being fed by certain people online, that if you have darker skin you have problems,” said Tanya Faison, a Black Lives Matter activist. “We’re accepting that message about other races, genders and sexuality and trying to make it right.”
But that is not how it works.
Since Ms. Heyer was killed, people are told that her skin color is how she died — or how she died in the eyes of the racists who were shouting, “Jews will not replace us!” outside the University of Virginia. Her passing reinforces the belief that being white and privileged is your only identity and the only way to dignity.
It is not her skin color or her ethnicity or her sexual orientation.
Ms. Salazar knew the dangers of being an employee at a company like Google. The entire Internet lurks just waiting to correct or condemn your online remarks or acts of protest. And employers like Google expect that employees will not challenge, through their actions or through their words, the silencing of those they feel oppressed by.
“It’s completely terrifying,” said Mariel Gohary, a 28-year-old project manager who was fired from Google a few months ago for protesting a sexist memo sent by another male engineer.