Category Archives: Commentary

Naomi Osaka’s Complicated Withdrawal from the French Open

After Naomi Osaka hit a backhand winner on match point to defeat Patricia Maria Țig in the first round of the French Open, on Sunday, she smiled as she lowered her head, and then tugged her gray visor down. These were familiar gestures; I’ve seen her half-hide her smile countless times. The following day, after she announced that she would be withdrawing from the French Open for the sake of “the tournament, the other players and my wellbeing,” five tumultuous days after announcing that she would not be speaking to the press during the tournament, my mind went to that moment, the last time that I had watched her. Then I thought of the first time I’d watched Osaka pull her visor over her eyes.

It happened in 2018, during the U.S. Open trophy presentation, after a match marred by controversy surrounding a confrontation between Serena Williams and the umpire. The crowd, which had been on Williams’s side, booed as Osaka was named the champion. Osaka cried, and tried to hide her face. She was twenty years old then, already launched into a life that everyone could see and that no one could possibly imagine. Over the next three years, Osaka won three more Grand Slams, and the publicity surrounding her career and her life grew even more intense. Her image was on the cover of Vogue and on billboards towering over Los Angeles and Tokyo. She became an icon, and she did iconic things. She helped design sneakers for Nike, a salad for Sweetgreen. In May, Sportico estimated that she had earned more than fifty million dollars during the previous year, which made her the highest-paid female athlete in history, breaking her own record. A recent Times feature about her ran under the headline “How Naomi Osaka Became Everyone’s Favorite Spokesmodel.”

She was famous only partly because she was so good at tennis. It mattered also that she was young, that she was Japanese and American, Black and Asian. It mattered that she spoke about her values and seemed to live by them. It also mattered that she was very good with the press—eloquent about social issues, smart about the game, disarmingly funny about the rest. Most of these exchanges have come in press conferences. (She occasionally gives other interviews, some of them to a Japanese broadcasting company called Wowow, which sponsors her.) Press conferences, as a rule, are tedious and outdated. Nobody really likes them—not reporters, who would prefer to speak to athletes privately and at length, and not players, who are asked the same questions repeatedly, sometimes by people whose main motivation is to encourage controversy. Press conferences can seem particularly pointless to players who don’t need the press to promote themselves or reach their fans, which they can do more efficiently, and perhaps more effectively, through social media. The press, particularly at the Grand Slams, can include people who are not well versed in tennis; tabloid reporters; and, not infrequently, people who ask ham-handed and offensive questions, particularly of Black women. Just the other day, a reporter who wanted to get a quote from the seventeen-year-old star Coco Gauff about the possibility of playing Serena Williams began by saying, “You are often compared to the Williams sisters. Maybe it’s because you’re Black. But I guess it’s because you’re talented and maybe American, too.”

Press conferences also typically offer reporters their only chance to ask players questions on any subject, including difficult ones. Without press conferences, it seems quite possible that Alexander Zverev would not have been asked about the allegations of domestic violence against him. Without press conferences, reporters might get to talk to players only under terms established by the brands that sponsor them, or in exchanges that are heavily mediated by layers of managers and agents. And, for all of their obvious problems and weaknesses, press conferences do sometimes yield original insights into both the technical aspects of matches and the people who play them. That often seemed particularly true when Osaka walked into the room—until she declared that she would stay out.

When Osaka first announced that she would not speak to the press during the French Open, she explained that her experience with press conferences had led her to the conclusion that many people have no regard for the mental health of athletes, and that this needed to change. “If the organizations think that they can just keep saying ‘do press or you’re gonna be fined,’ and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh,” she wrote. She also spoke of wanting to avoid having “doubt” seeded in her mind—“I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me,” she wrote—leading some to wonder whether she was trying to insulate herself from negativity in order to maintain her focus. A bad loss at the Miami Open had snapped a long winning streak, and Osaka had then been upset in both Madrid and Rome; on Reddit, her older sister, Mari, in a post she later deleted, suggested that Osaka simply didn’t want to be distracted or have her self-confidence damaged. Osaka’s statement was fairly general, and people interpreted it according to their own assumptions about what was really going on. To some, Osaka was speaking her truth about an oppressive system. To others, she was refusing to accept the responsibilities that come with a lucrative career. Her fellow-players, almost to a person, took a more nuanced view: when asked about her stance, they said that they respected Osaka but understood the need for exposure, and that talking to the press was part of their job.

Why Black Biopics Reign at Lifetime

From such global icons as Whitney Houston to lesser-known civil rights activists like Lori Jackson, the network is leading the industry in spotlighting the stories of Black women

When the idea of making a biopic about Mahalia Jackson first came up, about half the members of Lifetime’s Original Movies group hadn’t heard of the gospel legend and civil rights leader — which, for that team, was a selling point.

“ We had been talking about women who have historically made impacts that no one talks about,” says head of movies Tanya Lopez of the group’s brainstorming sessions. It was programming manager Mekita Faiye who suggested Jackson, and though her pitch was met with unfamiliarity, it wasn’t dismissed. “Everyone loses when we don’t take the time to understand others’ unique experiences, especially when it’s due to economic, ethnic or even religious differences,” says Faiye, one of six people of color (including Lopez) on the 11-person LOM team. “Fortunately, Lifetime creates a culture of openness and compassion while making a concerted effort to value everyone’s voice in the room.”

So when Lopez had lunch with Robin Roberts (who has a production deal with the network) and the Good Morning America anchor mentioned Jackson as a subject of interest, the soil was already fertile for its latest biopic, Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia, which stars Tony nominee Danielle Brooks and premiered April 3.

Mahalia is Lifetime’s third biopic of 2021, all of which focus on Black women (Salt-N-Pepa bowed Jan. 23, followed by Wendy Williams: The Movie a week later). In all, 22 of the network’s 68 biopics since 1993 have centered the lives of Black women. That’s nearly a third — far above the demographic’s 3.7 percent share of lead or co-lead characters among theatrically released films (according to a study released in March by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and USC, which examined the 100 highest-grossing films each year from 2009 to 2019). In an era in which inclusion can be received as a begrudging mandate, LOM’s development process reveals a blueprint for a more organic path.

To hear Lopez tell it, Lifetime has come by its track record somewhat incidentally. “Our biggest victories are telling stories of women and things that people don’t know about,” she says of choosing subjects. And since Black history has long been minimized or excluded from textbooks and news involving Black communities left off the front page, those stories provide a rich vein for Lifetime to mine, from 1999’s Dangerous Evidence — the story of efforts by civil rights activist Lori Jackson (Lynn Whitfield) to exonerate a Black Marine falsely convicted of rape — to last year’s The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel.

While Lifetime has given the biopic treatment to plenty of universal household names, like Whitney Houston, Simone Biles and Meghan Markle, The Clark Sisters is an example of a decision to commit resources to figures beloved within the Black community but not as well known outside it. Once again, it was a Black executive, LOM manager Mychael Chinn, who surfaced the name. And, once again, though non-Black teammates didn’t recognize the gospel group, they didn’t discard the idea as “niche.”

“When we all did our due diligence, we were almost ashamed we didn’t know who the Clark Sisters were, and that has to do with everybody’s education,” Lopez says. “It’s definitely a cultural and racial divide.”

Lifetime’s forays into bridging that divide haven’t hurt its critical or commercial prospects. The network’s 2006 Fantasia Barrino biopic is its second-highest-rated original film of all time, behind 2004’s biopic of Jessica Savitch and just ahead of the network’s 2012 Steel Magnolias remake, starring Queen Latifah and Phylicia Rashad alongside Alfre Woodard, who earned Emmy and SAG nods for her performance. L opez says the themes in these projects — the female friendship dynamics in Salt-N-Pepa, the heroism of a school employee who talks down a would-be shooter in 2018’s Faith Under Fire (starring Toni Braxton) — are compelling to any female audience. “These are the stories we’re interested in telling, no matter the background,” she says, turning again to Mahalia Jackson. “She’s a huge name in the civil rights movement, but a certain portion of our audience only knows of Martin Luther King, because he’s the one the white media and history focused on. So when we look at iconic figures, what’s the story of the woman standing next to the person the light is shining on?

Racism Makes Me Question Everything. I Got the Vaccine Anyway.

Surviving in an anti-Black society requires some personal negotiations. This was one of them.

Last summer, when Covid-19 vaccines were in development, friends on text threads and Zoom calls asked if I’d get one. My response was always the same: Sure, I’ll be right in line — after 100 million of y’all go first. I told them I’d seen too many zombie movies. But my hesitancy was actually grounded in a less cinematic reality: I just don’t trust America enough.

This mistrust comes from an awareness of the ubiquity of American anti-Blackness — a dynamic that can, um, modify your sense of reality. That’s what happened, for instance, with the persistent myth of Tommy Hilfiger’s racist comments.

In 1996, owning a Tommy Hilfiger shirt was everything to 17-year-old me. But a year later, I’d completely extracted Hilfiger fits from my rotation. Word had spread that Tommy Hilfiger, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, had complained about Black people wearing his clothes. The shirts, windbreakers and parka I owned were immediately relegated to the deepest parts of my closet.

Mr. Hilfiger never actually made those racist comments. In fact, he hadn’t even been a guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” when the rumors started. But the myth wouldn’t die because it felt so true that to question it felt like gaslighting your own Blackness. Of course this white man with aggressively preppy oxfords and an American flag aesthetic would believe that people like me sullied his brand. It just fit.

The same way, a story about Dorothy Dandridge and a pool just fits: As the urban legend goes, the movie star was visiting a hotel in Las Vegas in the 1950s, and she dipped a single toe into the all-white swimming pool. This so disgusted the hotel’s management that they drained the entire thing. This story, which was also depicted in the HBO biopic about her life, has never actually been confirmed. But to anyone familiar with the history of America’s relationship with its Black citizens, the anecdote is believable. Maybe it ain’t true, but it also ain’t exactly a lie.

To question whether this bottomless skepticism is justified is like asking whether a cow has cause to be wary of butchers. From redlining and gerrymandering to the Tuskegee experiment and Cointelpro, the proven conspiracies against Black Americans are so devious, so deep and so absurd that they blast open pathways for true-sounding non-truths to enter, too.

The terrible spoken word poems I wrote in college (“We’ll never get justice, because justice for just-us just-aint-for-us”) habitually referenced the so-called Willie Lynch letter — an instruction manual for controlling Black slaves that I, along with many others, believed was written by a slave owner in 1712 and contained deep insights into modern race relations. The truth: Willie Lynch never existed and the document was forged. I believed that the government conspired to track my thoughts and movements — as if my flaccid stanzas and banded collar Wilsons Leather biker jackets were a threat to the state. I even once allowed myself to entertain an argument that the natural color of milk is not white, but brown. (Don’t ask.)

The term “hotep” has become a catchall among Black people to describe other Black people who still believe some of these easily debunked stories — but the reality is that most of us have some hotep in us. And not because we don’t know how America really works, but because we know too much. The lack of trust in our nation’s systems and structures is a force field; a bulwark shielding us from the lie of the American dream. And nowhere is this skepticism more justified than with the institution of medicine.

I don’t trust doctors, nurses, physician assistants, hospitals, emergency rooms, waiting rooms, surgeries, prescriptions, X-rays, MRIs, medical bills, insurance companies or even the food from hospital cafeterias. My awareness of the pronounced racial disparities in our health care system strips me of any confidence I would have otherwise had in it. As critics of a recent Saturday Night Live skit suggesting that Black people are illogically set against getting vaccinated pointed out, the vaccine hesitancy isn’t due to some uniquely Black pathology. It’s a direct response to centuries of anecdote, experience and data. (Also, the demographic among the least likely to get a vaccine? White evangelicals.)

Despite all this, in March, I stood in a long line to receive my first dose of a vaccine to prevent me from becoming seriously ill from a virus that I had no idea even existed 14 months ago.

My journey from “I don’t even eat hospital pizza” to “voluntary Pfizer guinea pig” is complicated, but not singular. Existing in America while Black requires a ceaseless assemblage of negotiations and compromises. Even while recognizing the anti-Blackness embedded in society, participation is still necessary to survive.

For instance, I am dubious that American schools are able to sufficiently nurture and prepare Black children for 21st-century life. But my interest in home-schooling my kids is the same as my interest in letting them attend school on Neptune. So my compromise is to allow them to attend school, but then to also fortify them with as many academic, social, and political supplements as possible.

Sometimes the negotiation is just the choice to participate: My parents were two of the tens of thousands of Black victims in the subprime lending crisis. I watched them be evicted from their home after loan terms they just couldn’t meet kept multiplying. But when I was ready to buy a house, the gateway to homeownership was through those same banks.

The trust still isn’t there. Will never be there. But the negotiation that placed me in that vaccination line last month required me to weigh that distrust against all that I miss. I miss the year we just lost. I miss playing basketball. I miss watching it with my dad. I miss barbecues. Malls. Movie theaters. Restaurants. Cities other than Pittsburgh. I miss only needing to be hypervigilant about racism and gluten, and not whether the air inside of a Giant Eagle supermarket might kill me too. And I know other people miss their years and their hobbies and their dads and their homies. With the disproportionate havoc this plague has wreaked on Black and brown people, my desire to return to some semblance of normalcy and prevent more death is a force greater than my cynicism.

I’ve already begun to fantasize about the cookout I’ll host after I get my second shot, and each of my equally-suspicious-about-America family members and homies get their shots, and enough time has passed to feel safe gathering. Maybe we’ll laugh about how us seeing each other was only possible because we trusted an institution that has been pathologically untrustworthy. Or maybe we won’t. Because that’s not actually funny.

The Best TikTok Trends and Challenges Right Now

It’s easy to lose track of time and fall into mindless scrolling while on TikTok. The platform stores countless videos that cover a massive range of topics—even ones you’re not looking for (that’s arguably the best part of the app). Launched in China in 2016, TikTok currently has over 100 million active monthly users in the US alone, and has been downloaded over 2 billion times worldwide.

Somehow, the app knows which videos to place in front of users and the perfect time to push those videos forward. That insane algorithm has created one of the best spaces to start viral trends. But it’s not just the algorithms that make TikTok pop. The music, editing tools, filters, and variety of video effects also help users create short clips, up to 60 seconds long, that are addictively entertaining and shareable. We’ve all seen viral dances, pranks, skits, stories, and challenges make their way from TikTok to other media platforms; sometimes it’s hard to keep up with what’s what. But Complex has you covered. Here are some of the best TikTok trends and challenges to watch, right now.

How Black & Brown Women Are Reclaiming Roller Skating Culture

Amy Collado is wearing gold hoop earrings, a blue bandana, and vintage-style glasses for our Zoom conversation. She’s sitting in front of a collection of records and a poster of André 3000, and I feel like I’ve traveled back in time. She’s like that cool young tía that we all grew up loving, but instead of sharing her latest discount store find, she’s passionately talking about the rising interest in roller skating culture on social media.

With many seeking out nostalgic pursuits during times of social isolation, roller skating catapulted into viral popularity last year for able-bodied folks, with Google searches of the throwback sport skyrocketing and some roller skating TikTok videos garnering over 10 million views. Collado, the founder of Club Butter Roll — a social media wellness platform launched several years ago that encourages skating for Black and Brown communities — tells me that her platform grew immense interest over the past year. “People were quarantined and wanted to be outside. Roller skating just so happened to be one of the few things that people latched onto,” she says. But while roller skating has seen a rise in popularity recently, Black and Brown women found safety and joy through skating long before it was dubbed a quarantine trend.
Roller skating is deeply tied to early hip-hop culture. Rappers like Queen Latifah and N.W.A. performed at the now-closed Skateland rolling rink in the mid-1980s when other venues shunned Black acts. Meanwhile, every city had — and continues to have — its own signature skating style from Los Angeles to Chicago. Historically, skating dates back to the civil rights movement, when Black skaters protested desegregated rinks in the 1960s. Documentaries like United Skates, which premiered in 2018, showcases the significance of skating rinks for Black communities and the Black activists who were fighting to keep rinks open as they faced closures. “You can take the goddamn building, but you can’t take the spirit,” a DJ says in the film. It’s a quote that still resonates.


In 2020, millions took to the streets and to social media worldwide to protest police brutality and systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd by cops in Minneapolis. This global reckoning helped drive the conversation around racial disparities — including within skating culture.


“Since [Black Lives Matter] was existing at the same time as this trend of roller skating was blowing up, a lot of people did feel the need, including myself, to make sure that people acknowledge the history of roller skating and acknowledge POC skaters and how long we’ve been doing this,” says Liliana Ruiz, an Afro-Latina skater who’s been skating since she was a kid and worked at the L.A.-famous skating rink World On Wheels. But for Black and Brown skaters, it was about more than just acknowledgment. They were finding a sense of escapism and joy as they rolled down the same streets where they had previously been left unprotected. When the reality of racial injustice became too taxing, skating was the revolutionary way to reclaim their joy.

It’s important to note that while Black and Brown skaters are finding joy in skating, rink closures and social-distancing guidelines amid the pandemic have forced them to only skate outside, which presents its own set of dangers for people of color. Ruiz enjoys skating in Venice Beach and being able to connect with others who’ve been skating there for decades, but she has found that skaters have had to change parks because of racial profiling incidents. “It used to be a different part of Venice Beach, but there were a lot of incidents with the police because of racism and prejudice towards the music and the people who are skating and occupying the space,” she says. Still, these acts of violence haven’t stopped them from building communities within the sport.
Skating has also provided some skaters of color with a COVID safe activity during a pandemic that is disproportionately infecting and killing Black and Brown Americans at disturbingly high rates. Being forced to isolate for the safety of her family is what made Mala Muñoz, content creator and host of Locatora Radio, dust off her skates after years of not using them.


“For me, safety is really important because I live with my grandparents. I cannot be fucking around,” she says during our Zoom call, referring to the higher risks of severe illness for elders infected by the virus.


The L.A.-born and raised Chicana says she grew up skating and going to birthday parties at skating rinks but stopped right before college when everything in her life as a young Latina pivoted towards securing a career — a reality that is familiar to many children in immigrant and low-income families. For Black and Brown communities, engaging in activities simply for pleasure can feel wrong or even shameful when their families are suffering from economic inequality and oppression. This leads to many young POC adults prioritizing their careers and pushing leisure aside.


“I stopped because if it’s not getting you awards and accolades, not getting you into college, not a future career prospect, then why keep doing it?” she says. “I felt very discouraged from having fun and pursuing different types of hobbies like [skating].”
Now, Muñoz is learning to embrace feeling unapologetic joy through skating, acknowledging how Black skating culture has allowed her to feel like there is nothing wrong with dedicating time to leisure, although she had been taught otherwise. “I can be a grown woman and writer with a business and a podcast, all of these things while fucking around on my skates,” she says. “I can learn new tricks and make new friends just because — and that’s fine.”

What Happened in California Is a Cautionary Tale for Us All

A voter-approved measure strips gig workers of basic protections enjoyed by employees in other businesses.

What happened in California? Despite the state’s liberal reputation, voters there last week approved Proposition 22, a ballot initiative exempting many gig companies from state workplace laws and stripping their workers of basic, essential protections.

Uber, Instacart, Lyft, DoorDash and other on-demand providers of ride-shares and food and grocery deliveries spent $200 million pushing the proposal, an astounding sum that workers and their allies couldn’t remotely hope to match. Not surprisingly, Californians were misled by an avalanche of claims about the proposal’s impact on workers. The measure, which takes effect next month, was approved with 58 percent of the vote.

Emboldened by the results in California, Uber and friends are apparently planning to take the show on the road. Potential targets could include Massachusetts or New Jersey, where state regulators have pursued them, or New York or Pennsylvania, where courts have rejected the argument by gig companies that workers run their own independent businesses. The rest of us need to understand what happened in California.

What was at stake with Proposition 22 was whether workers for app-based driver and delivery companies would be considered employees under California statutes, which like workplace laws nationwide, cover only employees, or whether they should be classified as independent contractors. Proponents argued that requiring gig companies to follow current laws would badly damage their on-demand business model and result in longer wait times, higher prices and the loss of countless jobs. These were the same bleak prognostications gig companies made about the minimum wage for drivers that New York City enacted two years ago — predictions that did not come to pass.

What they didn’t say was that it was a terrible deal for workers. Allowing companies to write their own exemption from California law is also a cautionary tale for our fragile democracy.

Now, workers for these gig companies in California will not have a right, as employees do under state law, to paid sick days, overtime pay, unemployment insurance or a workplace covered by occupational safety and health laws.

How did these companies persuade California voters to approve this snatching of rights from thousands of vulnerable people? They used a deluge of money to convince voters that the proposal served workers’ interests by preserving their flexibility, ensuring a guaranteed level of pay and providing them with “portable” benefits.

Their claims were deceptive.

There’s no law prohibiting flexible or part-time hours for employees. Millions of employees already work part-time or flexible hours. Indeed, these particular industries (ride-share and food delivery) would be unlikely to hire only full-time employees because of the ebb and flow of customer demand.

Under Proposition 22, gig companies will have to pay their contractors 120 percent of the state or local minimum wage. In addition, companies must pay 30 cents per mile for gas and other vehicle-related expenses, adjusted annually for inflation.

But here’s the catch: Workers will be paid only for “engaged time,” defined as the time between receiving a request and dropping off the passenger. This is far less than what’s required under laws for employees, who must be compensated for all work time. About a third of drivers’ work time wouldn’t fall within this definition of “engaged time,” according to a study funded by the companies themselves. Workers will not be paid for time spent getting gas, waiting for a ride request or cleaning and sanitizing their cars.

Plus, 30 cents per mile doesn’t cover all vehicle-related expenses; by comparison, the Internal Revenue Service’s optional standard deductible rate for the costs of operating a car for business is 57.5 cents per mile. And as independent contractors, drivers won’t have a right to overtime pay for long workweeks, as is required for employees. In light of all this, a study by three research groups at the University of California, Berkeley, found that Uber and Lyft drivers would be guaranteed only an estimated $5.64 per hour. This no doubt would have surprised 40 percent of those in a survey of early voters who said they had supported Proposition 22 to ensure workers earned livable wages.

Finally there is the issue of benefits. Gig companies have used snazzy “portable” benefits language, but Proposition 22 gives workers crumbs compared to what it takes away. Companies must provide a “health care subsidy” to people working at least 15 hours of “engaged time.” At 30 weekly hours, the subsidy would average about $1.22 per hour, or just over $36.00 a week, according to one analysis, a paltry sum compared with what workers would receive as employees who are paid for all of their work time — not just two-thirds of it.

And of course, rights are meaningful only if they are enforceable. If a company pays less than what’s required, shaves hours or doesn’t pay the health care subsidy, Proposition 22 is silent about what mechanism workers can use to enforce those pay and subsidy rights.

The kicker? Unlike most laws, which require only a majority vote of the State Legislature to revise, Proposition 22 requires the vote of seven-eighths of the Legislature to make any changes.

These are the truths that can be buried by well-funded advertising campaigns of large corporations collaborating to write their own rules. And this, in the end, is what’s most dangerous about Proposition 22. Companies shouldn’t be able to do this. Surely, lots of other industries would like to avoid paying unemployment insurance taxes, sick days or overtime. Surely, food manufacturers would like an exemption from safety requirements and inspections, and chemical companies would save a bundle if they got an exemption from environmental laws.

But that’s not how our system is supposed to work.

California has always been a bellwether. This time, let’s not follow its lead.

Black LinkedIn Is Thriving. Does LinkedIn Have a Problem With That?

The social network’s tone has long reflected corporate America: staid, monolithic, white. Now Black users are speaking up — and saying the site is limiting their voice.

One day in September, Elizabeth Leiba opened the LinkedIn app and saw a post by Aaisha Joseph, a diversity consultant with nearly 16,000 followers on the platform.

“Ima need #companies to stop sending their dedicated House Negros to ‘deal with the Blacks’ they deem out of control,” read the item. “It’s really not a good look — it’s actually a very #whitesupremacist and #racist one.”

The post was exactly the sort of thing Ms. Leiba, an instructional design manager at City College in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was looking for. These days, when she pulls out her phone in search of boisterous conversation, hot takes and the latest tea, she finds herself tapping LinkedIn, which since the killing of George Floyd has become a thriving forum for Black expression.

“I go onto Twitter and I get bored,” Ms. Leiba, 46, said. “Then I go right back to LinkedIn because it’s on fire. I don’t even have to go on any other social media now.”

It’s an unexpected development for what has long been the most polite and perhaps the dullest of the major social networks. LinkedIn was founded in 2003 as a place to network and post résumés — essentially, a directory of white-collar professionals. A few years ago, LinkedIn added a Facebook-like news feed that encouraged users to post links and updates, but it has never been a rollicking space. A team of editors helped enforce a mood best described as corporate.

“You talk on LinkedIn the same way you talk in the office,” Dan Roth, LinkedIn’s editor in chief, told The New York Times in August 2019. “There are certain boundaries around what is acceptable.”

Two staggering events have changed that. In early 2020, the pandemic hit, forcing millions to work from home and miss out on break-room chitchat — boosting LinkedIn as a place to vent. Then, the killing of Mr. Floyd in police custody in May put workers over the edge. Black grief went on display, uninhibited, at corporate America’s virtual water cooler.

“I was just 43 years tired,” said Future Cain, a social and emotional learning director at a middle and high school in Wisconsin. “I was using LinkedIn to post positive things and uplift people during the pandemic, and I decided I can’t sit here quietly anymore.”

As protesters took to the streets to demand police reform, Ms. Leiba and Ms. Cain were among those who discovered that LinkedIn was a place to speak to the executive class on something like their home turf. Black users have taken to the site to call out racial discrimination in the workplace and share their stories of alienation on the job.

Not that it’s all serious: Much of the posting is exuberant — full of memes, Black cultural references and linguistic panache. This summer, Ms. Leiba shared a video about code-switching, in which a Black employee transforms while greeting colleagues of color (“Oh, hey, Black queen!”) and a white one (empty-headed hiking talk). “I’ve watched it at least fifty eleven times,” Ms. Leiba wrote.

These are the kinds of conversations, and ways of speaking, that cubicle-dwelling Black workers have typically held out of earshot of their white colleagues. As unusually charismatic posts appeared in my own feed this summer, it seemed clear that Black LinkedIn was emerging as a professional cousin to Black Twitter — the unapologetically Black digital space where people expose long-ignored injustices and pump their experience into the mainstream.

What’s less clear is how comfortable LinkedIn is with the development, having placed its content moderators in the incendiary position of determining what manner of race-related speech is appropriate for its virtual workplace of 706 million users.

Black users who post in forceful tones, and some of their allies, say they feel LinkedIn has silenced them — erasing their posts and even freezing their accounts for violating vague rules of decorum.

For example, the “House Negros” post that Ms. Joseph wrote in September vanished from the platform. Ms. Joseph, who lives in Brooklyn, was able to see it when she viewed her own page, but no other users could — a practice known as shadow banning. (Later, LinkedIn added an unsigned note in red, saying the post had been removed for violating the site’s Professional Community Policies, which instruct users to “be civil and respectful in every single interaction.”) Ms. Joseph began a new item: “Let me say it louder since LinkedIn wanted to delete my post the first time.” The company removed that post, too, saying it included “harassment, defamation or disparagement of others.”

Another user, Theresa M. Robinson, a corporate training consultant in Houston, said LinkedIn had deleted a post she wrote about racism, then reinstated it after she complained. She said she had never received an explanation. Two others, Ms. Cain and Madison Butler, who works in Austin, Texas, also said LinkedIn had restricted their commentary on race.

In the absence of clear communication from the company, these users are left guessing as to what the rules are — and feeling that the company is not just policing their tone but stifling their opportunity to force change in corporate America.

Nicole Leverich, a LinkedIn spokeswoman, wrote in an email: “We are not censoring content and have not made any changes to our algorithm to reduce the distribution of content about these important topics.” She added in an interview that LinkedIn was introducing a new process for notifying users when their posts were flagged for violating platform rules, and that some people hadn’t been phased in by the end of September.

The company acknowledged that it had erred in taking action against some users and restored content that was found, on appeal, not to violate its policies.

“If we make a mistake, we will own it,” said Paul Rockwell, the head of LinkedIn’s trust and safety division. “We will be very clear — this is a learning opportunity for us. We’re going to continue to use that in our journey to get better and better. And we do want to nail this thing.”

Few people think LinkedIn should look anything like the wilds of Reddit or Twitter, which have a certain amount of anonymity and even anarchy built into their DNA. Much of LinkedIn’s value — Microsoft acquired it in 2016 for $26 billion — is tied to its sense of professionalism and respectful conduct. Users must share their real names and credentials, and it’s understood that their current or prospective employers might well scan anything they post.

For Black people in the corporate realm, however, words like “professional” and “respectful” are red flags. Like the natural Black hairstyles that were once widely considered unprofessional, certain behaviors — being too Black, speaking too Black or talking too much about Black topics — have long limited advancement in companies with white cultures.

That’s what has changed on LinkedIn in the last few months. Black people are being, to use a technical term, Blackity-Black Black on LinkedIn. Much of the behavior is not so different from Black Twitter; users pepper their posts with clap emojis to emphasize every syllable, and GIFs celebrate cultural touchstones like Issa Rae’s “Insecure” and Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” The difference is that it is all happening on a social network that mirrors the business world — a place that is predominantly white.

“It is liberating. It feels like it’s about time,” Ms. Joseph said. “We are taking back what was stolen from us — and that’s our voice. I’m talking specifically to my people in the way that we talk to each other in other spaces, and without regard for any outside audience. No longer having to stifle that has been freeing.”

Part of what Black LinkedIn has done is brought together Black professionals to be their authentic selves in front of their white colleagues. For many, it has been an existential relief, and may provide a blueprint for how Black employees choose to conduct themselves once the physical workplace reopens.

“The days of hiding and masking who you are and dealing with the BS — I just can’t even go back to that,” said Jessica Pharm, 33, who works in human resources at a manufacturing firm near Milwaukee. “Any company that gets me next is getting the full-on Jessica.”

Ms. Leiba posted on Sept. 17: “It means code-switching is OUT. It means the AFRO is coming at you on a daily basis. It means you’re getting these bangle earrings and the poppin’ lip gloss.”

Inevitably, not everyone accepts this kind of exuberance. Posts about Black Lives Matter and racial justice often attract the same kind of dismissive, and sometimes bigoted, responses found on other platforms: rejoinders that “all lives matter,” for instance, or claims about Black-on-Black crime. But because the activity takes place on LinkedIn, these comments typically come with the user’s headshot, place of employment and entire work history attached.

“You start to see these people who are absolutely not OK with this focus on Blackness popping up in commentary, with their name and their company fully on display, giving zero deference to the moment,” said John Graham Jr., 39, a digital marketer and strategist at a California biotechnology company. “I find it telling that people would put their careers in jeopardy and their unconscious biases on full display.”

LinkedIn has also struggled internally with how to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement. In June, the chief executive, Ryan Roslansky, publicly apologized for “appalling” racial comments some employees had made at a companywide staff meeting.

Rosanna Durruthy, LinkedIn’s head of diversity, inclusion and belonging, said in an interview that the company was engaging in hard conversations about race, both inside the company and out.

“We’re really beginning to focus very consistently on how we begin to address this externally” on the platform, she said.

SOURCE: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/08/business/black-linkedin.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=Technology

More Than 1,000 Companies Boycotted Facebook. Did It Work?

Facebook said that the top 100 spenders contributed 16 percent of its $18.7 billion in revenue in the second quarter, which ended on June 30. During the first three weeks of July, Facebook said, overall ad revenue grew 10 percent over last year, a rate the company expects to continue for the full quarter.

The boycott complicated planning for advertisers. The Kansas-based digital agency DEG had “a whirlwind of a month” as its small to midsize clients grappled with whether they could reach enough customers without Facebook, said Quinn Sheek, its director of media and search. Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram make up more than a third of digital spending for DEG clients.

Of the 60 percent of DEG clients that joined the July boycott, four out of five are planning to return to Facebook in August, with many having “decided it’s too much for them during a difficult economic time to remain off,” Ms. Sheek said. Still, the boycott helped amplify discussion of toxic content on Facebook. The issue was raised in a congressional hearing this past week and in repeated meetings between ad industry representatives and Facebook leaders. In the face of the pressure, Facebook released the results of a civil rights audit last month and agreed to hire a civil rights executive.

“What could really hurt Facebook is the long-term effect of its perceived reputation and the association with being viewed as a publisher of ‘hate speech’ and other inappropriate content,” Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, the executive vice president of the public opinion analysis company RepTrak, wrote in a post last month.

In addition to the prevalence of hate speech on the platform, its critics have also focused on the company’s treatment of user privacy and foreign election interference.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said during the company’s earnings call that, like the boycott’s organizers, “we don’t want hate on our platforms, and we stand firmly against it.”

The ad industry was already in upheaval when the boycott began, as businesses closed, layoffs swept through the economy and homebound consumers slowed their shopping. Before they reduced spending on Facebook in July, advertisers like Microsoft, Starbucks, Unilever and Target took a temporary break from the platform in June, as many companies were reacting to pandemic-related marketing budget cuts and widespread protests over racism and police brutality. Disney’s spending on Facebook has mostly trended downward since late March, according to Pathmatics.

Last month, large advertisers like Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Walmart and Geico sharply curtailed paid advertising on Facebook without joining the official boycott, according to Pathmatics. Others, like Hershey and Hulu, beefed up their spending on alternate platforms like Twitter and YouTube.

Companies like Beam Suntory and Coca-Cola have vowed to continue pressuring Facebook, especially as the presidential race heats up. On Thursday, the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s said it planned to keep withholding spending on product promotions through the end of the year “to send a message.”

The advertiser boycott “was a warning shot, an opening salvo,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the civil rights group the Anti-Defamation League, which helped set up the ad boycott. Organizers and other groups now plan to expand the boycott into Europe, to include Facebook users, and to address other concerns, like the presence of child sexual abuse on the platform.

Half of the companies that work with the agency Allen & Gerritsen in Boston and Philadelphia participated in the boycott, said Derek Welch, its vice president of media. Many felt it was important to “do something that is meaningful and tangible in a sea of brands putting out very well-meaning statements,” he said.

Mr. Welch said the agency’s clients typically spend $150,000 to $200,000 a month total on Facebook. Several plan to continue boycotting.

“The big companies that have signed on have been great for visibility and getting the word out,” he said. “But this is really all about these small businesses in aggregate who are spending $30,000 here or $50,000 there, whose decisions wouldn’t normally make too much of a difference.”

Daily Brief: Important Facts

Thousands of people in cities across the U.S. took to the streets over the weekend to protest violent tactics used by federal agents against protesters in Portland, Oregon. In Seattle, police declared a Black Lives Matter protest to be a riot and pepper-sprayed 2,000 people. In Austin, a motorist shot protester Garrett Foster dead while he was pushing his wife’s wheelchair. Meanwhile, some protesters took it right to the top, with dozens demonstrating outside the Virginia home of acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

Police Declare Riots as More Protest Federal Tactics

Sources: NYTWashington PostThe Hill

In Four Days, Virus Cases Rise by 1 Million

It’s gotten so bad, even North Korea has acknowledged having one suspected case. Last Wednesday, global coronavirus cases topped 15 million. By Sunday it was 16 million, with 646,000 deaths. Where are the outbreaks? Nearly everywhere, the worst being America’s 4.2 million cases and nearly 147,000 deaths. It’s even surging in places where the virus seemed in check, like Hong Kong and Vietnam, which is ejecting 80,000 tourists. Elsewhere, the U.K.’s health minister has urged Britons to eat less — a quixotic attempt to cut COVID-19 risks associated with obesity.

Sources: CNNABCAl Jazeera

New Low in China Relations as US Consulate Closes

This morning Old Glory was lowered and a container was hoisted onto a truck at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, China. Chinese authorities had given the Americans 72 hours to clear out — the same deadline imposed on Chinese diplomats in Houston, who shuttered their mission last week amid Washington’s espionage claims. While there are plenty of reasons for the world’s top economic powers to sink to their worst relationship in decades, some experts fear this could be the end of a policy of engagement that has kept the peace for a half-century.

Sources: ReutersLA Times

Congress Haggles Over Helping Hard-Hit Americans

The extra $600-per-week unemployment benefit Americans have depended upon during the pandemic downturn has effectively already expired for many due to the way states process such aid. But Congress is locked in a battle over whether to extend it, with Republicans saying it discourages people from returning to work — and instead proposing a $1 trillion relief bill that would include a new round of $1,200 checks. Negotiations are expected to take weeks, which could leave many Americans in the lurch — right as a federal moratorium on evictions also runs out. 

Sources: WSJ (sub)FT (sub)

Also Important …

The Sudanese government says it’s deploying troops to Darfur to prevent attacks like those on Friday and Saturday that killed 80 people. A new CNN/SSRS poll finds that challenger Joe Biden leads President Trump 51 percent to 46 percent in Florida — and no Republican has won without Florida in nearly a century. And Hurricane Hanna has been downgraded to a tropical depression after causing flooding Sunday in the Texas-Mexico border area, hard-hit by the pandemic.

Coronavirus update: With nearly 424,000 cases, Florida has passed New York as the most infected U.S. state.