One of the more challenging parts of diversity and inclusion work is knowing what parts of the past to give up and when.
Author and PBS host Tavis Smiley wrote an interesting column expressing the anxiety that many African Americans are feeling these days, as nostalgia for a better time intersects with race, history and reality.
The column was inspired by a question that a student had asked him from the audience after a set of remarks he’d made at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Penn. Smiley’s subject was “Make America As Great As Its Promise,” an apparent comment on Donald Trump’s now famous campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Smiley had been talking about the difference between equality and equity, and pointing out that there had been no time in America’s past that signaled a true golden age for all its citizens. His query for Trump:
“To what specific period of American greatness are you wanting us to return? When black folk suffered segregation after slavery? When women had no right to vote or control their own bodies? When gay brothers and lesbian sisters felt ceaseless hate? When we stole land from the Native Americans? When we sent Japanese families to internment camps? When America lynched Mexicans? I just need Trump to give me some clarity on the time period he wishes to travel back to.”
But one young man wasn’t feeling any sort of promise. “Mr. Smiley, do you believe that given the crisis state of our democracy, we black folk could ever find ourselves enslaved again?” he asked.
According to Smiley, it surprised both him and the largely white audience. Reading it shocked me, too. Although the student seemed to be asking about the practical aspects of re-enslavement, it was the fear behind the question that hit me. If you believe that white society yearns for a time when you didn’t matter, how do you navigate that? Talk about a pipeline problem.
As public political discourse continues to go off the rails, I think business leaders have a vital role to play in making sure young people like him feel welcomed and valued.
I'm comforted by The Warmth of Other Suns author Isabel Wilkerson’s sage advice to raceAhead readers – that the only way forward was through courageously confronting the past. Difficult questions are gateways, she believes.
“These are opportunities for anyone who is doing this [diversity and inclusion] work - and it’s really important work and I admire it - to consider how history impacts the people they want to include. And themselves, as well. Without that – a deep understanding - they will look at a situation and not be able to understand what they’re seeing.” Parsing the past with a sense of decency instead of nostalgia is a good place to start.
What would you tell that student? Let me know. Here's Smiley's answer.
Wishing you a restful weekend.
Race and politics, a tale of two Clintons
That Hillary Clinton could call Donald Trump’s birther quest “a racist lie” on the debate stage is a big deal, argues Slate’s Jamelle Bouie. Today, the general population can handle talk of race and bias without shutting it out. Candidate Bill Clinton, on the other hand, needed to pander to white bigots in order to win. Because candidate Hillary Clinton does not, he thinks this new era offers real promise.
Latina tech founder raises a record $2 million seed round
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A new census designation is making people uncomfortable
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Wanted: More protagonists of color in video games
For gamers, October has been a groundbreaking month, first for the arrival of the long-awaited Mafia 3, one of the most hotly-anticipated games of the year. But Mafia 3 also has a black protagonist, a rarity in video games. Most characters of color are still stereotypes – poor, criminals or just sidekicks. Experts say that diversity in video games is even more important than in other media because people develop such visceral relationships with the characters.
Black college grads disproportionately burdened with student loan debt
A new paper from The Brookings Institute shows that the surge in student loan debt is hitting black families harder than white ones: Black people have nearly twice as much debt as whites four years after graduating college—and they are three times more likely to default. This Wall Street Journal analysis helps puts those numbers into perspective.
Barbie’s greater diversity is paying off
And it’s not just skin – their new Fashionista line expanded the available selection of dolls with three new, and more human, body shapes, along with additional skin tones and hair styles. Barbie sales jumped 16% compared to the same period last year. And, thanks to the new line-up, the brand actually grew internationally at its fastest rate since the first quarter of 2011.
The Woke Leader
Descendents of lynched man called “violent troublemakers” over a remembrance ceremony
Relatives of a man who was lynched in South Carolina in 1916 have been harassed over their plans to hold a remembrance ceremony, says the family. Anthony Crawford owned 427 acres, established farms, a church and a school for black residents. He was brutally tortured for allegedly cursing at a white store owner while selling cotton seed.
Taco trucks have rights, too
And so do the 1,600 food vendors and the small lonchería’s, or luncheonettes, that have long populated the Tijuana side of the Mexico-US border. They’ve been part of an artisans' mercado that have been serving the throngs passing through the busiest land port of entry in the Western Hemisphere, but an expansion of the border facilities has put them at risk. It may be the end of a delightful and delicious era.
Feminist icon Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the face of a make-up brand
And the many fans of the Nigerian novelist (and Beyonce muse) are not so sure it’s a good idea. Adichie has signed on to represent makeup brand Boots7, and the multi-platform campaign feels like a turnabout from Adichie’s belief that feminine identity should never be a form of “performance.” She looks beautiful, and we don't see many models who look like her. Click through for story and comments.
If I were not African, I wonder whether it would be clear to me that Africa is a place where the people do not need limp gifts of fish but sturdy fishing rods and fair access to the pond. I wonder whether I would realize that while African nations have a failure of leadership, they also have dynamic people with agency and voices.
—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie