A couple of years ago, I spent the day before Thanksgiving visiting a group of women who lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation, in South Dakota. Since then, I’ve thought about the holiday very differently.
Some of the women had been part of a unique campaign called the Lakota Voice Project, a collaboration between Oglala Lakota College business students, other tribal members, and a local creative director named Jason Alley. The campaign aimed to highlight the epidemic of youth suicide on Pine Ridge, and involved giving kids disposable cameras and asking them: What does hope look like to you?
Over lunch, we talked about their lives, and what their community needed to thrive. It was a tough conversation.
One teacher showed me a flip phone with over 800 numbers programmed in. She’d become a walking suicide hotline. Another talked about violence against women on the Reservation, and how the lack of reproductive health services were putting women further at risk.
Another woman, named Davidica Little Spotted Horse, coined a phrase that she thought captured the pain of Native youth as they tried to reconcile their identities with a broader American culture that doesn’t see or value them: Contemporary traditionalism. “We want to reclaim the best of our past,” she said. “But the present is so bad, we don’t know how or why to fit in.”
It’s also when I learned that the Lakota name for white Americans is wasichu, or “he who takes the best meat.” Something to think about as the Dakota Pipeline protests continue.
Davidica had shown up to lunch in full rock-and-roll mode, with dyed blonde hair, wearing sunglasses which she never removed, and sporting an Aerosmith vintage tee. She was a guitarist and told a wild tale of teaching herself to play, getting professional musicians touring the area to mentor her, and eventually getting her own gigs. But she’d also pestered tribal leadership into letting her provide music training for kids on Pine Ridge. Her program, called Independence Through Music, helps kids learn music, songwriting, and publishing.
Though it’s mostly just her, she’s seen results, one kid at a time. “If I can teach a girl to open her mouth and rock out,” she says, “She can open her mouth to protect herself.”
Later, after lunch, we stood outside the café in the unseasonably warm November air, surrounded by prairie, more beautiful than bleak.
The women gave us an Oglala Lakota send-off, complete with song, prayer, and burned sage. We walked silently to our cars. It felt like a scene in a movie - until Davidica turned back and merrily shouted, “Well, enjoy your holiday of colonial oppression!”
And with that, I began to think about Thanksgiving differently. To be woke is to be haunted, right? Inclusion is the messy business of confronting the tensions that exist when complex histories collide, and the necessary work of coming to peace with the world as it really is. It makes for better business and a more harmonious table.
It’s hard work, and we’re grateful that you do it.
Have a rocking holiday. We’ll be back in your inboxes on Monday, November 28th.
U.S. veterans are planning a deployment to Standing Rock to support the protestors
Two former service members, Wes Clark Jr. and Michael A. Wood Jr., formed Veterans For Standing Rock with the hopes of attracting former military, fire fighters and police officers to assist the indigenous population with one goal: “To prevent progress on the Dakota Access Pipeline and draw national attention to the human rights warriors of the Sioux tribes.” They are the most unlikely allies you could imagine, but their deployment is planned for December 4-7. “It’s immoral, and wrong, and dangerous to us all,” Clark Jr. says of the pipeline.
The oldest surviving member of the Tuskegee Airmen dies
Even some of his family members didn’t know that Willie Rogers, 101, had been part of WWII history. The humble Tampa resident was the oldest surviving member, and spent most of his time on the ground in logistics. The Airmen flew more than 200 combat missions, and never lost a plane to enemy fire.
Why the STEM minority talent pool is both growing and shrinking
It’s an alarming gap, says Kenneth Gibbs from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. The number of PhDs from underrepresented groups has increased nine times since 1980, but the number of professors from those groups has barely budged. He digs into why representation in leadership and academia matters - it’s about grants, research, and innovation, for starters.
White nationalists believe Trump trolls for them. Are they right?
Mother Jones explores the online trolling culture of the white supremacists who call themselves part of the alt-right, and how their coordinated attacks even dampen the voices of traditional conservatives. I now know where #cuckservative came from, and I’m equal parts poorer and wiser for the effort.“Provocative but obscure online rhetoric was quickly morphing into something more serious and powerful: the normalization of the politics of hate.”
An online ad tech company bars Breitbart for hate speech
One of the biggest digital advertising services operators, AppNexus Inc., has barred Breitbart News from using its ad-serving tools because the online publisher violated the company's hate speech rules. "We did a human audit of Breitbart and determined there were enough articles and headlines that cross that line, using either coded or overt language," said a spokesperson.
We are losing free speech online because of harassment
Tech researcher danah boyd parses new research that shows the extraordinary scale of online abuse, which disproportionately impacts people of color, LGBTQ and young people: More than 72% of respondents had witnessed online abuse, and nearly half had been a victim. The numbers are far worse than bullying in real life. “We are collectively bearing witness to a form of meanness and cruelty that is by no means new but is nonetheless heartbreaking because so much of it is justified by contemporary politics.” Report the abuse, she recommends.
The Woke Leader
Haters have always hated, but allies always win
When you live in a competitive world where someone has to lose in order for someone to win, things can get vicious. And so it was for poet E.E. Cummings, who found himself at the other end of a blistering campaign after he won a prestigious poetry fellowship. This wonderful essay from BrainPickings publishes some of the literary hate mail the organization who issued the fellowship received, including lengthy diatribes from a particularly vicious troll, now forgotten by history. But the best part is the support Cummings received from his poetry allies, who took pen to paper and signed their names as witness to his value as an artist.
Having difficult conversations at work
Meg Makalou is an HR pro. Previously at Zynga, she now advises start-ups. She's written a piece filled with great advice for managing tough conversations at work, but she makes an important distinction worth flagging for inclusive leaders: Onboarding is about institutional knowledge, not industry knowledge. Make sure you’re introducing new, diverse or struggling team members to people in their networks who can share the nuts and bolts of how your company actually works.
A webcomic about Muslim Americans will give you hope
It’s a sweet little webcomic about Muslim Americans doing both American things and Muslim things, filled with inside jokes - like shrugging off the inability of baristas to get their names right on coffee cups, the lack of halaal emojis, or the search for God in a crazy world. “No matter how much I pray it’s not like, poof! God’s suddenly there and everything makes sense,” laments one character. That last one is more universal, I suppose.