As we come to the end of the year, I’m reminded of one of the first interviews I had when raceAhead launched last spring. It was with David Kyuman Kim, an author and professor of religious and American studies at Connecticut College. Lately, he has been spending his time contributing to something called the Love-Driven Politics Collective. It is, as you’d expect, an attempt to shift political conversations away from anger and division toward a more inclusive way of interacting that emphasizes compassion, forgiveness, and generosity. Since it’s an interfaith movement, mercy and grace are also at the table. It’s hard work. It’s high-minded. I’m a fan. Recalling our conversation seemed right for the season.
Kim was also the inaugural director of Connecticut College's Center for the Comparative Study of Race & Ethnicity, so he knows some things about starting a diversity-related organization from scratch. That was initially why I called. "This work is rarely successful if it's just a set of procedures," he says. "It has to be a rigorous investigation of culture."
We were talking about diversity in the corporate world, and he suggested that leaders should think about it in terms of priorities. “What are the priorities of your company, and what do you want to be known for?” he says. Inclusion is the right priority, but a difficult one. “What keeps folks from engaging around race is fear of judgment,” he says. “Being seen as not thoughtful. Being seen as ignorant.” Living in a white normative, often white supremacist culture, people are raised to see racialized culture as exceptional. Says Kim: “It takes work to name, analyze and live with the anxieties these conversations surface.”
His advice, as it always does, tracks back to love.
The relationships between the people who work with and for you are the building blocks of inclusive culture. Start there. “What does it mean to be in solidarity? It means I’m standing with you because I care about you in abstraction. I care about your well-being, including the threats to your humanity,” he says. The specifics will take some time—remember that we are all, in some way, ignorant. "Talking about race reveals all sorts of deficits in our character," he says. To punish or exclude is always an easy impulse. "How do you forgive someone for being 'ignorant'?" he asks. "Start with the language of love and mercy," he says. "That's where you'll find courage."
Hey, nobody said this was going to be easy.
Heartfelt thanks to all of you. I’m hoping you have plenty of time to relax, revive and renew over the holiday.
RaceAhead will be on hiatus starting tomorrow and will return on Jan. 3 .
You will not be winning a BAFTA in 2019 if your film isn’t diverse
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts recently announced that starting in 2019, if your project doesn’t meet certain diversity criteria, then you will not be eligible for either the Outstanding British Film or Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, director, or producer awards. To be eligible, you must demonstrate diversity in two of the following: On-screen characters and themes, senior roles and crew, industry training and career progression, and audience access and appeal to underrepresented audiences. Your move, Oscar.
If you’re applying for a job at a law firm, try being a wealthy man
Job-seekers and hiring managers take note. Two researchers, Lauren Rivera and Andras Tilcksik, conducted studies in which four fictional applicants, identical in every way except for gender and activities, applied for summer associateships at prestigious law firms. The results revealed a clear class divide: Men with extracurriculars that suggested a wealthy upbringing (sailing, polo, classical music) had a callback rate more than four times that of other applicants and received more invitations to interview than all other applicants combined. “[E]lite employers discriminate strongly based on social class, favoring applicants from higher-class backgrounds,” they discovered. But only if they’re men.
How to build an inclusive culture from the start
Lindsey Frischer was once a big law attorney; she joined a firm which she calls “the quintessential boys club.” She’s now at a startup that aims to democratize access to justice using artificial intelligence—a lofty goal made even more compelling by the diversity of its small founding staff. It's the opposite of the legal profession, an industry deeply rooted in white male culture, she notes. She’s written an excellent overview of the ways that start-ups can build inclusion into their cultures from inception, by citing examples from other start-ups or experts she admires. Bottom line: “We all must play a role.”
The founder of Pantsuit Nation inks a book deal and people are really angry
Pantsuit Nation was a private Facebook group founded first to celebrate, then grieve, the Hillary Clinton candidacy. This week the founder, Libby Chamberlain, announced that she had secured a book deal for the content, raising immediate concerns. “You can’t invite people to share intimate thoughts and feelings in a secret group then summarily, as an individual, change those terms,” said one commenter. But many objections called into question the already fraught relationships between white and black feminists. “Every time a Black or Latinx person raised an objection [to the book], white women piled on with insults and general dismissal,” said Harry Lewis on HuffPo. “Instead of doing tangible work ... white people treat minorities as props in their self-congratulatory posts about being inclusive.”
A Missouri law all but codifies the school-to-prison pipeline
Missouri students will soon be charged with felonies for fighting, thanks to a new state statute that goes into effect on Jan. 1. Even small infractions on buses or in class will be handled by School Resource Officers (SROs) and local law enforcement. The new charges on the table include Class E and D felonies, which can result in significant fines and prison time. Experts are worried that students of color, already singled out for disproportionate punishment, are at greater risk.
A Muslim registry may already exist in some form, and Peter Thiel controls it
According to recently released documents, a Muslim registry of sorts has been developed by Palantir, the secretive defense start-up founded and run by Silicon Valley’s own Peter Thiel. The company has been working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency on a system that tracks citizens and attempts to assess their risk to the country. Thiel is currently a senior advisor to Donald Trump.
The Woke Leader
Wearing the hijab in solidarity is not helping
“Hijab” is not synonymous with “headscarf,” and the requirement for Muslim women to cover their hair is a relatively new phenomenon that needs to be understood, says Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa. The two journalists have written an opinion piece that counteracts the prevailing narrative that wearing hijab is the only way to be an observant Muslim. They find that events like the recent “Wear a Hijab Day,” designed to help spread awareness of the practice, is not truly an exercise in empathy, but “a painful reminder of the well-financed effort by conservative Muslims to dominate modern Muslim societies.”
A comic strip about people of color who are now afraid in a new way
The Trump victory was disorienting for many people and for all sorts of reasons. But waking up as a person of color surrounded by white friends and colleagues who were happy about the election has been a strange experience for some. What does it mean? Are they friends or foes now? Artist Cory Thomas has inked a thoughtful comic that describes the anxiety associated with waking up in a new reality.
The twelve best black art books of 2016
Culture Type is a treasure trove of black art coverage, both vintage and contemporary, and this list is a real gift. Just scanning it gives you a helpful snapshot of the art world zeitgeist, which is in many ways seeking to reframe art history through a more inclusive lens. There’s a lot to see and rethink, from Carrie Mae Weems and Gordon Parks, to the history of abstract African American art and the Black Panthers. It would be wonderful to sit back, sip some tea, and thumb through all of them.
Confessions of a former fat kid
This may be one of the more powerful essays I’ve read this year, for reasons that become apparent immediately. Issac Fitzgerald brings an astonishing candor to his struggle with what it meant to be born into a body that triggered bullying from his mother and derision from peers. When running, cigarettes, and snorted Ritalin turned the fat kid into a skinny teen, a new form of cognitive dissonance descended. “I can’t go back in time to help the boy I was be kinder to himself. But I can work to be at peace with the body I live in now.”