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Web Summit 2022 - Day Two

Jennifer Tejada, CEO, PagerDuty, on the Corporate Innovation Summit stage during day two of Web Summit 2022 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal, on November 3, 2022. | Source: Eóin Noonan / Getty

I have a dream—that one day little white men and little white women will come to glory on the understanding that they really need to keep quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. out of their mouths forever and always. I have been to the mountaintop—of Mt. Caucasity—and I have seen the way MLK’s words have been trivialized and repurposed to serve ideas that have nothing to do with Black people or the civil rights movement. I’ve seen Republican legislators use excerpts of the great reverend’s speeches out of context to justify anti-Black education policies, only to turn around and restrict King’s teachings from the classroom. (All while restricting Black people’s voting rights, which MLK worked tirelessly to protect.)

Now, one tech company CEO is being dragged for her use of an MLK quote while explaining to workers that they are being laid off. (I mean—seriously.)

According to the Washington Post, PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada sent out a 1,700-word email last Tuesday announcing that about seven percent of positions at the company would be eliminated. It turns out that 1,700-word memo was about 20 or so words too long.

“I am reminded in moments like this, of something Martin Luther King said, that ‘the ultimate measure of a [leader] is not where [they] stand in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where [they] stand in times of challenge and controversy,’” Tejada wrote.

My God, people, listen: One should assume that just about every MLK quote they come across is in reference to Black people, the Black struggle, racial equality, the civil rights movement and/or Jim Crow. One should assume these quotes were absolutely NOT meant to soften the blow to people being segregated from their places of employment. (The fact that I even have to explain this is just…wow!)

Anyway, after being dragged up and down social media, Tejada obviously recognized the error of her ways and apologized for what she wrote. She also apologized because, while the email did address the elimination of positions at the company, in all of those 1,700-plus words, no layoffs were mentioned in the first six paragraphs.

“There are a number of things I would do differently if I could,” she wrote. “The quote I included from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was inappropriate and insensitive. I should have been more upfront about the layoffs in the email, more thoughtful about my tone, and more concise. I am sorry.”

From the Post:

The announcement comes at a time when major technology companies are gutting their staffs. This month, Amazon, Google and Microsoft announced they’re each cutting at least 10,000 employees. IBM, Spotify and Vox Media have also laid off employees this year. Those slashes followed layoffs by Meta, Salesforce and Twitter last year.

Tejada, who was appointed as CEO in July 2016, wrote that laid-off employees would receive severance with an average of 11 weeks of pay, health-care coverage for at least three months and career transition support.

“It is my expectation that we show all of our colleagues the grace, respect, and dignity they have earned,” Tejada wrote in her original email. “As someone who has worked in this industry for decades, I have experienced this before and it is never easy, and I also know from experience that while we may not work together in the short term, our relationships and this community live beyond our tenure at PagerDuty.”
So, it has been a rough time for tech companies and their employees. It has also been a tough one for lovers of Black history that hate seeing the teachings of leaders like MLK twisted and turned away from their intended purposes.
But, maybe, white people shall overcome their need to misuse MLK quotessomeday


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