Race and politics are colliding in a fairly spectacular way these days, so let's go there for a moment.
Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, has made discouraging Hillary Clinton voters a centerpiece of his strategy going forward. His version, however, borrows heavily from one of the most vicious tactics known in politics: Voter suppression. Yesterday, an editorial from the Washington Post called it what it is:
“With Donald Trump’s polling numbers in a tailspin, he has doubled down in calling on Republican vigilantes to take matters into their own hands to thwart what many of them are primed to regard, without proof, as a rigged election. The Republican nominee’s rhetoric, inciting white rural and suburban voters who fear the voting clout of black urban Democrats, is a recipe for voter intimidation and even violence on Election Day.”
Voter suppression tactics have been resurfacing in legislation nationwide since 2013 after the Supreme Court repealed certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act. (There's a terrific article on the history of voter suppression here.) These laws don’t cut out swaths of voters entirely. They just put confusing, annoying and faceless bureaucratic obstacles in the path of otherwise legitimate voters, who are typically too under-resourced to fight the system for long. (See: Getting a photo ID is easy unless you’re poor, black, Latinx or elderly.)
One piece of legislation, North Carolina’s omnibus voter suppression law, was so filled with restrictions targeting poor communities of color, it earned the nickname the "monster law." It was overturned in federal court last July. It “target[s] African Americans with almost surgical precision,” said the court.
Legislating voter suppression is personal. It feels like your country has turned its back on you. But that Trump is asking regular people to confront other voters at the polls is even worse. And that kind of intervention never ends well.
But his literal rallying cry also got me thinking about other ways people can be asked to intervene that might unite, not divide.
I got some inspiration from Blair Taylor, a former Starbuck’s bigwig who now runs the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBKA), a corporate-sponsored, non-profit group that taps big business and community leaders to help young men of color find jobs. But their work is really about bringing people into society, not shutting them out - creating future executives, shareholders and, of course, voters in the process. The work makes everybody better.(We reported on one MBKA job fair here. Check it out, and you'll see what I mean.)
I spoke with Taylor yesterday as he was updating reporters on MBKA news, including their participation in a student forum with President Obama at North Carolina A&T State University (see below for more.) My question was more broad: What did he think young men of color needed to succeed?
His answer, ironically, was the same as Trump’s. It’s you. “This really [has to be] a bottom-up effort.” He talked about how young men of color often lead complicated lives but are resilient in hidden ways. Working together, communities –mayors, business leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement, everybody - can determine what's holding them back. His job, he says, is to support the innovations that come from communities and share them in the form of best practices with others. "The answers are always there, always local," he says. "When you remove barriers, communities transform themselves."
If it's your job to think about diversity and inclusion, then removing barriers is your obsession. But most regular folks could benefit from a little extra reflection on who gets a vote and why. Where do you want to live or work? In a community that prevents certain people from weighing in, or one that believes that when everybody plays, everybody wins?
President Obama in candid conversation with students at the largest HBCU
Our favorite sports site, The Undefeated, held an event called "A Conversation With the President on Race, Sports and Achievement" at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro. (It aired on ESPN.) “I think that change happens, typically not because somebody on high decides that it’s going to happen, but rather because at a grassroots level enough people come together that they force the system to change,” said Obama.
Colin Kaepernick and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are having a national conversation about race
After Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg called Kaepernick’s national anthem protest “dumb” and “disrespectful,” Kaepernick responded by saying that he’s learned by studying history that white people use words like “dumb” and “idiotic” to de-legitimize black protest. “As I was reading that, I saw more and more truth how this has been approached by people in power and white people in power in particular." Game on.
Black students more likely to be hit by teachers than white ones
It surprises many parents to know that corporal punishment is still allowed in some schools. Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights finds that it’s most often allowed in Southern states, particularly in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama. In some of those schools, black students were 51% more likely than white ones to be hit, in others, 500% more likely.
Study: Kids of all races prefer teachers of color
A sociologist at NYU has co-authored a paper that seems to show that kids of all races report more positive perceptions of their teachers of color than their white ones. The study, backed in part by the Gates Foundation, queries the students of 1,700 teachers at more than 300 schools around the country. Author Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng says the findings are “surprising.” A must read.
Black employees pay a higher “emotional tax” during their careers
A new study conducted by Catalyst, and published in Essence Magazine, found that black women and men pay a higher “emotional tax” during the course of their careers - defined as “the heightened experience of being different from peers at work because of your gender and/or race/ethnicity.” That experience is shown to have real, adverse impacts on employee health and well-being. What can help? More inclusive workplaces.
Indigenous groups are leading the way in protecting the environment
The Dakota Access protests have become the foundation of a larger movement that is reaching far beyond indigenous land rights, and into a global conversation about the environment and our role as human stewards. Representatives from indigenous communities as far away as the Amazon have traveled to North Dakota to show solidarity for the specific cause, but also to talk about how to address pressing issues like climate change.
The Woke Leader
Remember the four black men who had a sit-in at the “whites only” Woolworth’s counter?
Well, the store was in Greensboro, NC and the four men, now known as the “Greensboro Four,” were only freshmen (!!) from North Carolina A&T University. Click below for a chronology of what lead to their largely spontaneous protest. It sprung, ultimately, from another insult: One of the men had been denied service at the local Greyhound bus station as he attempted to travel home for the Christmas holidays. Students from the university joined in and made history.
Why video cameras are not solving the police violence problem
Because the internet has created its own form of “the New Jim Crow,” argues Nicholas D. Mirzoeff, a professor of media and culture. “Online, images originally circulated as evidence of police brutality are seen by others as depictions of African-American violence and pathology,” he says. Loosely-associated groups of distributed, racialized white advocates - the philosophical opposite of BLM - are using the same videos which were once hoped to be incontrovertible evidence of brutality, to make a completely different case.
Why does it sound racist when Donald Trump says “the African Americans?”
It’s the “the,” explains linguists. The normally harmless definite article, when placed in front of the description of a group, turns "them" from a diverse group of individuals with distinct characteristics, into an undifferentiated mass of otherness: the Latinos, the illegal immigrants, the inner cities. It also separates the speaker apart from that group. So, when Trump says the African Americans, he includes himself – and his audience - in one dominant group, and clearly apart from the other.