Is Apple wrong for not taking off Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

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There’s a controversy going on right now about tech companies not giving people Martin Luther King Jr. Day off. Said more correctly, there is a controversy about not doing a full, company-wide shut down on MLK Day, as all technology companies today let their employees pick which holidays they choose to celebrate.

Now, I’m not going to answer the question in the title straight away, as a bit of a social experiment. What I’ve learned in the first 18 days in a row of blogging this year is that many people on Twitter are going to comment deeply on your blog post — without actually reading it.

Some folks will read the first paragraph of this piece and think, “Jason is letting folks off the hook!”

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Now, we writers have always expected that people skim ahead and sometimes favorite a story before reading it. None of us writers actually thought people would try to make detailed arguments for and against our pieces without actually reading them!

I’ve literally been faced with multiple instances of people reading the first half of one of my pieces — or perhaps just the headline — and then telling me a flaw in my argument. That flaw in my argument is actually 100% true … and addressed in the very next paragraph!

I frequently anticipate the objections and debates that will come out of my posts and address them, as it’s easy to do. Yes, if you have someone read your piece before you publish and say “How will people react to this? What will their obvious objections be?” you can actually write a better piece! Brilliant! Obvious!

The other thing I’m learning coming back to blogging is that my perceived status in the world is how a certain group of folks filter my words. When I was nobody, which is to say before I sold a company for a large return, people read my words as “that nobody kid from Brooklyn trying to hype his new startup.”

Today this group views me as some sort of fat, conservative, and entitled powerbroker, while only one of those labels is true (and I’ve lost 24 pounds in the past year — won’t be able to label me fat for much longer). Of course, I still view myself as an outsider kid from Brooklyn who fought his way into the technology industry while many tried to stop him.

Both world views have their limitations, but I bring them up because if you have read this post to the eighth or ninth paragraph you probably are a considered person. All I ask is that you read my words as if I’m a nobody, because I hate the baggage of you judging me by anything more than the words I actually type.

Back to holiday policies at companies big and small. The back story to all this was a huge battle in the 80s and 90s over Columbus Day, President’s Day, Kwanzaa, and the Jewish holidays.

All of us who were employed at that time remember that companies used to pick which holidays we took. This created a bunch of backchannel debates, which technically speaking occurred at the water cooler or photocopy machine. Many fought for their Italian and Irish heritage, others complained that the Jewish people were double-dipping by getting their holidays off PLUS Christmas (gasp!). It was just a mess of emotions, bigotry, and gamesmanship.

Employers locked into the big six days off (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and July 4th), plus whatever other four you wanted to take. Then folks started using their sick, holiday, and personal days as vacation days (funny how folks always got sick on the Friday before their trip to Florida, huh?), and employers got sick of playing Referee.

Today the state of the art in HR is to give folks a “bucket of days” that include vacation, holiday, and sick. Use them however you want!

Those same companies are now going to get rewarded for giving employees more freedom by being told that they are disrespecting X group for not giving Y Day — gotcha!

However, there is something profound and disturbing that is going on right now, and it is that African-Americans are being incarcerated, given the death penalty, and murdered by cops at statistically horrifying levels. These levels make it clear that while we might be heading to a post-race world, we are clearly not there yet.

Given how divided and painful race relations are in our society even to this day, and given that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only holiday based on an American hero from the past 100 years, I think we might want to take a deep look at making it one of the “big six” holidays, and that no one can actually come to work. In fact, I’m going to tell my team that we are taking this day away from the “optional holiday pool” and putting it in the “mandatory holiday pool.” They are going to lose their ability to choose to take this day or not over the coming years.

The tech industry is leading our society in terms of social and behavioral change. We have literally changed how people behave on a day-to-day, heck, minute-to-minute basis with our gadgets, games, social networks, and on-demand services. If we are going to lead society by innovating every inch of our lives, we should also lead by picking Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a special holiday during which all work stops.

It’s important we don’t get stuck in HR committee or gotcha journalism in this instance, and instead look into our hearts and at the big picture. This is a good opportunity to lead, not debate.

best @jason

PS – Apple and Google’s home pages are dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. today. Exxon and Walmart have no mention of Dr. King.


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