BLM, Reuters and the Price of Dissent
Zac Kriegman had the ideal résumé for the professional-managerial class: a bachelors in economics from Michigan and a J.D. from Harvard and years of experience with high-tech startups, a white-shoe law firm, and an econometrics research consultancy. He then spent six years at Thomson Reuters Corporation, the international media conglomerate, spearheading the company’s efforts on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced software engineering. By the beginning of 2020, Kriegman had assumed the title of Director of Data Science and was leading a team tasked with implementing deep learning throughout the organization.
But within a few months, this would all collapse. A chain of events—beginning with the death of George Floyd and culminating with a statistical analysis of Black Lives Matter’s claims—would turn the 44-year-old data scientist’s life upside-down. By June 2021, Kriegman would be locked out of Reuters’s servers, denounced by his colleagues, and fired by email. Kriegman had committed an unpardonable offense: he directly criticized the Black Lives Matter movement in the company’s internal communications forum, debunked Reuters’s own biased reporting, and violated a corporate taboo. Driven by what he called a “moral obligation” to speak out, Kriegman refused to celebrate unquestioningly the BLM narrative and his company’s “diversity and inclusion” programming; to the contrary, he argued that Reuters was exhibiting significant left-wing bias in the newsroom and that the ongoing BLM protests, riots, and calls to “defund the police” would wreak havoc on minority communities. Week after week, Kriegman felt increasingly disillusioned by the Thomson Reuters line. Finally, on the first Tuesday in May 2021, he posted a long, data-intensive critique of BLM’s and his company’s hypocrisy. He was sent to Human Resources and Diversity & Inclusion for the chance to reform his thoughts.
He refused—so they fired him.
Like many corporations in the United States in 2020, Reuters went through a quiet revolution in human resources and “diversity and inclusion.” The company launched a series of lectures and training programs, ranging from a study of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s intersectionality theory to an interactive panel called “Let’s Talk About Race” to a keynote presentation on “unlocking the power of diversity.” In honor of Floyd, the company asked employees to participate in a “21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge,” which promoted race-based reparations payments, academic articles on critical race theory, and instructions on “how to be a better white person.”
Some of the materials were patronizing and outright racist. One resource told Reuters employees that their “black colleagues” are “confused and scared,” barely able to show up to work, and feel pressured to “take the personal trauma we all know to be true and tuck it away to protect white people,” who cannot understand anything beyond their own whiteness. The proper etiquette, according to a subsequent lesson, is for white employees to let themselves get “called out” by their minority colleagues and then respond with automatic contrition: “I believe you”; “I recognize that I have work to do”; “I apologize, I’m going to do better.” The ultimate solution is for whites to admit complicity in systemic racism and repent for their collective guilt. “White people built this system. White people control this system,” reads a module from self-described “wypipologist” Michael Harriot. “It is white people who have tacitly agreed to perpetuate white supremacy throughout America’s history. It is you who must confront your racist friends, coworkers, and relatives. You have to cure your country of this disease. The sickness is not ours.”