Over the weekend, former Mixer employee Milan Lee shared a blog describing his experiences with racism while working at Microsoft’s streaming platform, which was shut down today as part of a deal between Microsoft and Facebook. Lee’s post included allegations that he was singled out for being one of the few Black employees at the organization and inaction from upper level management when a racist analogy was used during a meeting.
Lee worked at Microsoft for two years before moving to Seattle to join the Mixer team in 2018. Although he was “beyond happy and anxious” to have a job in the gaming industry, he now considers the time he spent at Mixer to be the worst professional experience of his life, mainly due to the racism he encountered.
“I was one of the only black people working at Mixer during my tenure,” Lee wrote in the post. “While at a conference I was pulled aside and told that the only reason I was hired is because I am ‘street smart.’ The first thing that popped into my head at the time was affirmative action. I believed I was only hired to meet a diversity goal because I was black. I decided to brush it off and let it go.”
(“We do not tolerate any form of discrimination and thoroughly investigate all employee concerns,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Kotaku via email. “We do not discuss the details of such investigations.”)
Lee’s post also details a time when one of his managers described partnered Mixer streamers as “slaves” and herself as their “slave master.” Lee explains getting visibly upset to the point that the manager who made the analogies asked to have a one-on-one meeting with him.
“Within that meeting I told her why I was angry and why her using that analogy was not okay,” Lee wrote. “She decided to defend her statement and even had the nerve to Google that analogy to prove why it was okay. After Google showed her it was never okay to use that analogy, she told me I need to work on myself. If I wanted to go far in this industry I need to work on my emotions and feelings to similar comments. After this meeting I knew I was leaving.”
When Lee took his concerns to higher-level management and eventually human resources, the latter of which had allegedly never heard from the former about Lee’s complaints. An investigation was opened through the legal team and continued after Lee chose to leave Mixer. “Months go by without a verdict,” he wrote. “One day late last year I get a call from the legal team with their final findings. That finding was not guilty!”
“The reason my manager was not penalized and the reason she still has her job today is because she cannot be racist,” Lee continued. “The reason she cannot be racist is because she hired a black person. This is why you haven’t seen me in any streams. I do not care about how big a company is or their market share. If we do not have the same values, if you cannot be intelligent enough to know racism isn’t tolerated then I will not work for you or your company.”
After coming forward with his allegations, Lee was met with a flood of support from both colleagues and Mixer streamers. Mixer publicly acknowledged his experiences, saying that the company would be “vigilant in addressing this more diligently in the future.” Lee even received a response from Xbox head Phil Spencer, who thanked him for coming forward and offered to have a meeting to discuss the issue further. Lee replied that he had previously emailed Spencer about the situation while Lee was still at Mixer, but had a chance to speak with Spencer directly earlier today. Afterward, Lee indicated that their talk had been a productive one.
Update (06/29/2020, 12:57 p.m. ET): Lee recently shared additional details about his talk with Spencer, which included suggestions for actions like releasing diversity statistics, supporting Black businesses and communities, creating programs for aspiring Black engineers, and spotlighting Black game developers.
That said, Lee is still calling for the Mixer manager who made the racist analogies, who he has now named as director of business development Natalia Domingo, to face consequences for her actions. “What I mean by everything [...] is I’m still fighting for justice,” Lee added. “I’m still requesting she be fired. It’s not fair that multiple employees have to voluntarily leave because management refuses to take action against this individual. It’s not fair with all the evidence and multiple statements from witnesses that we still cannot clean up the industry.”
Attention to racial issues like those described by Lee has expanded greatly in the wake of global protests against police brutality and systemic injustices. Major companies will soon have to reckon with years of ignorance to the parts they’ve played in widespread discrimination, both in terms of hiring practices and how they handle internal complaints. Black lives should matter always and everywhere, even in a Microsoft boardroom.