Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A "Nigger" Asks If Henry Blodget Should Fire Pax Dixson

Pax Dickinson is, as I write this, the CTO of Business Insider. He also, from his tweets, appears to be a unapologetic racist and misogynist. For clarity's sake, I should mention that I am the "nigger" that is asking the questions about Pax, and I use that word since Pax seems to use it so freely himself. It just seemed fitting.

In the last 24 hours there has been an uproar about Pax’s recent and historical tweets that are, shall we say, awe inspiring.

Valleywag has done a piece that has brought significant visibility to the story, and this Tumblr blog does an amazing job of deeply cataloging Pax’s tweeted missives. Given all of that, I won’t be exhaustive, but my personal fave is:

“in Passion Of The Christ, Jesus gets raped by a pack of niggers. It’s his own fault for dressing like a whore though.”

To be clear, that one is from 2010, but Pax has not slowed down one bit, though most of his recent tweets seem to be more focused on disdain for women than “niggers”.

So the question is, what should Henry Blodget, the CEO of Business Insider do?

I must admit that I take a real interest in this issue as I was one of the early outside writers at Business Insider when there were just three people there. I was not an employee, and did not get paid, but many of my blog posts ran there. I really loved the publication and enjoyed having my writing appear there. Many of my pieces drove a very significant level of traffic at the time, so I think they liked having me. But eventually I stopped publishing there because the site drew a significant racist audience, and I was frequently racially attacked in the comments. At some point I asked that they make an effort to address the nature of the comments but no solution was forthcoming, and I just decided I didn’t need that kind of grief any more.

In truth, Henry is an aggressive business person and my guess was that, in Henry’s mind, this kind of commentary, even if it was racist, was the price you pay for building up a loyal engaged audience of commenters, and ultimately, traffic.

So I say all of that as self-disclosing background to why this case is of particular interest to me. As I see it, Henry has hired a racist and misogynist with very poor judgement to be the Business Insider CTO and I am anxious to see how he handles it.

I am sure that this is a thorny question for Henry as Pax has been at Business Insider for several years, and I presume Henry has seen perhaps a different side of him, and that he likes him.

But the Pax problem has now spread far and wide across the Internet. It has picked up steam as the lack of diversity in tech has begun to become an important issue, and as the root causes are hotly debated.

So Henry has both a business problem, a legal problem and I would think, a moral problem.

From a business perspective, every female employee at BI has to be watching what happens here. In fact, every female employee in tech whose gotten wind of this is probably paying attention to this. And without it being addressed in some substantive way, I don’t see this problem going away. One of the problems with discrimination issues is that they are often hard to identify. I know as a black man, that I have experienced discrimination. But for the most part it is exceedingly difficult to be certain, much less to prove any given suspicion. It is rare that you walk into any office and someone says “nigger, nigger, nigger!”, as might have happened in the 50’s or 60’s. In fact It is only in a very small number of cases where a person publicly admits to racist views. Unfortunately misogynist views seem more acceptable to share, but in either case, when it does happen, what you do sets the tone in perpetuity.

From a legal perspective, Pax is a walking lawsuit. The next time any female employee or person of color has any problem at Business Insider, particularly in the tech department, these tweets become exhibit A. Before this outburst, it might have been possible for Henry to suggest that he didn’t know how bad Pax was. But now, the reality is inescapable. Of course if Henry fires Pax there is also the possibility of Pax suing BI, but of course that is a risk under any circumstances with any employee and I think Pax would have a really hard time making the case that he was fired inappropriately. In addition, a lawsuit makes getting a job at a bunch of places much harder. Sadly, there are probably places that are not so much in the public eye that will embrace his perspectives.

In any case, the legally driven need to act would be much less strong if Pax were not a senior executive with hiring responsibility. His tweets make clear he has a low view of women in tech. You just can’t have a hiring manager who has those views, and you *really* can’t have a hiring manager who feels free to share those views publicly.

Finally, from a moral perspective, I just can’t imagine you could have a person who shares such heinous views so openly as a senior member of your senior staff. But maybe thats just me.

So what are Henry’s options?

As I see it the only two options are firing Pax, or demoting him to a non hiring role and sending him to sensitivity training. I don’t think the second option solves the morale problem, but it might mitigate the legal issue. Still, Pax would have to live under heavy scrutiny, and any inappropriate talk or actions, either publicly or in the work place would have to be grounds for dismissal.

So there you have it. As I sit here writing this, there has only been one brief comment from Henry Blodget where he said:

Pax was speaking for himself, not Business Insider. We obviously don't condone what he said.
I am anticipating this can't be the end of this, but of course, even that would be significant news. And so I must admit anticipating further response has moved today’s Apple product announcement out of my top interest slot as its rare that the nasty private thoughts of significant public people get such an unvarnished airing.

Please pass the popcorn.

UPDATE: Well that was quick. Pax Dickinson forced to resign.

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