Happy New Year, raceAhead readers. I hope you’re buckled in.
If anyone thought the Me Too era was set to merely flash bright and flame out with some Twitter perp walks and weak haggles over “Matt Lauer money,” then some very powerful women would like to have a word.
Time’s Up is a brand new alliance of over 300 women who work in the entertainment industry, who have joined forces to address sexual abuse and correct the widespread imbalance of power for women in entertainment and beyond. Their ranks include the very powerful and the very vocal: Viola Davis, America Ferrera, Jane Fonda, Roxane Gay, Rashida Jones, Eva Longoria, Shonda Rhimes, Gloria Steinem, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon.
“The struggle for women to break in, to rise up the ranks and to simply be heard and acknowledged in male-dominated workplaces must end; time’s up on this impenetrable monopoly,” says their opening salvo, a letter in the New York Times and Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión.
There are many notable things about this effort, the least of which is the call for famous women to wear black on the many red carpets they walk. In addition to tackling issues of harassment, they are planning to support initiatives addressing the underrepresentation of women in the C-Suite and pay inequity.
But it began with an immediate declaration of intersectional support.
“At one of our most difficult and vulnerable moments, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (the National Farmworker Women’s Alliance) sent us a powerful and compassionate message of solidarity for which we are deeply grateful,” they wrote. What followed was a pledge to remember the low wage worker, every ag worker, housekeeper, janitor, waitress, factory worker or home health aide who has been harassed and wants to fight for change.
And the group is prepared to do battle. A crowd-funded legal defense fund has been established that will provide subsidized support to women and men who have been harassed, assaulted or otherwise abused in the workplace. They’ve nearly reached their goal of $15 million. Leading the legal effort is Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama and Roberta Kaplan, who successfully argued before the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.
Their first test case is in support of a small business owner named Melanie Kohler, one of the first #MeToo women to post allegations of assault against director Brett Ratner. Her Facebook post, about an incident ten years ago, earned her a call from Ratner’s lawyer, threatening a lawsuit. Despite a subsequent Los Angeles Times piece in which six other women, including actor Olivia Munn, made similarly upsetting allegations, Ratner opted to sue only Kohler, who now runs a scuba shop in Hawaii.
Yesterday, Roberta Kaplan filed a motion to dismiss Ratner’s libel suit.
You don’t have to be a lawyer to see where she’s heading: “Mr. Ratner is a powerful, well-known Hollywood director and producer. He has filed this defamation lawsuit with a single purpose: To silence and intimidate Ms. Kohler — and other women like her — from coming forward with stories of grave sexual mistreatment at his hands. This case thus raises significant First Amendment concerns.”
I asked Joelle Emerson, the CEO of Paradigm, a rapidly growing consulting start-up that works to help companies be more inclusive, what she thinks of the effort. Before she became a consultant, Emerson was a busy women’s rights lawyer, who focused on litigating harassment. She thinks Times Up can make a difference and applauds their broad focus. “I think what’s often missing about harassment is how it manifests in different types of workforces.” The scale of their work could have an impact, and as a group, they certainly know how to tell a compelling story. “I represented immigrants and low wage workers, and people don’t understand how they’re treated.”
But the group’s bigger goals of inclusion shouldn’t be overlooked, she says. “[Solving harassment] isn’t just about avoiding lawsuits,” she says. “’How do we help organizations make the connection between harassment and culture?’ That’s the key,” she says. “It’s about understanding that companies have the power to change their cultures while continuing to innovate.”
|President Trump abruptly disbands voter fraud commission|
|It was controversial from the start. Trump’s claim of widespread voter fraud was baseless, and efforts to investigate the 2016 election were hampered by state officials who refused to hand over sensitive voting data. Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP legal defense fund, blasted the commission in a Washington Post podcast last July. The issue to be addressed is voter suppression, not fraud. “We don’t have a problem of too many people showing up to vote. We have a problem of too few people showing up to vote.” ProPublica’s Jessica Huseman has a great tick-tock here, which includes accusations of mismanagement, a spate of lawsuits and the administration’s bizarre willingness to let the commission members do government business on personal email accounts. “In its 6 months of existence, the commission accomplished basically nothing but caused a lot of controversy,” she begins.|
|Essence has left the building|
|Time Inc. has agreed to sell Essence Communications, a multi-media platform focused on African-American women (and creator of the greatest festival ever) to a group led by Richelieu Dennis of Shea Moisture fame. The new entity will be called Essence Ventures, LLC and, as announced in an ebullient press release, is now 100% black-owned. The news was overwhelmingly met with laudits and high-fives. Essence was not included in the $2.8 billion acquisition by Meredith last year, and it is the second title to be sold.|
|A YouTuber’s ugly “prank” raises bigger questions|
|It was a disgusting display. YouTube star Logan Paul traveled to the Aokigahara, the Japanese forest where suicides are common, and giggled his way through a video showing a suicide victim. The video got six million views before it was taken down amid a storm of complaints. Paul, known for his pranks and stunts, has gotten rich via advertising on YouTube, which is part of the problem. Google has been hands off on monitoring popular channels for inappropriate content, and the Paul debacle has newly alarmed parents and experts. “There is no filter when it comes to YouTube stars,” says Jill Murphy from the non-profit advocacy organization, Common Sense Media. “It’s not until something tragic is shown via a video, and viewers react, that the content is removed or dealt with by the platform.”|
|New rule in Germany targets hate speech online|
|On January 1, Germany began enforcing a new law could result in fines of up to $60 million if posts flagged as hate speech are not removed within 24 hours of being identified. The Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) law was passed last summer and went into effect in October, but the company gave social media players until the end of the year to prepare. The law impacts any company with more than 2 million users, which means that execs from YouTube, Twitter and Facebook may be facing a kummerspeck situation.|
|Today in monuments: There weren’t any black Confederate soldiers in South Carolina|
|After two South Carolina lawmakers launched an effort to erect a monument to honor black Confederate veterans on the State House grounds, the local newspaper reviewed pension records and found that the state didn’t allow armed black soldiers during the Civil War. Of the three African American pensioners who claimed service, all were cooks or servants. “In all my years of research, I can say I have seen no documentation of black South Carolina soldiers fighting for the Confederacy,” said historian Walter Edgar. The prevailing fear that armed slaves would revolt dampened the enthusiasm for recruiting them. A separate proposal from a black South Carolina democrat would instead honor Robert Smalls, who hijacked the Confederate ship he worked on and took his family to freedom. For starters.|
The Woke Leader
|An enslaved man named Silas is why people believe black Confederate soldiers were common|
|A compelling old tintype depicts a Mississippi man named Andrew Chandler sitting (I think) next to his slave, Silas Chandler. Both are in Confederate uniform. It’s the threadbare evidence that has been the basis of the belief that many enslaved soldiers fought willingly against the Union. (Some did, but it was complicated.) Silas is buried in a black-only section of the Chandler family cemetery, his grave adorned with Confederate symbols to thank him for his service. His 76-year-old great-granddaughter, Myra Chandler Sampson says her research proves he was no soldier. When the white Chandlers attempted a “reunion,” many of the black Chandlers demanded a true accounting. “We didn’t like that Confederate flag bein’ on his gravesite and we didn’t like that iron cross,” said another great-granddaughter.|
|Inside the suicide forest where Logan Paul filmed|
|Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and the country is correctly sensitive about its “Sea of Trees” at the foot of Mt. Fuji, the Aokigahara forest that has become a popular destination for suicides. Taking on suicide culture has become a calling for Buddhist monk Ittetsu Nemoto, who conducts workshops for suicidal people at his temple. Sometimes he takes them to the forest, where the close-set trees make for an eerie, windless scene. He takes them through solemn exercises: He asks them to imagine they have a cancer diagnosis. How do they dream of spending their last three months? One month? Week? Their last ten minutes? This extraordinary profile of Nemoto is also a look into Japanese culture, the hundreds of thousands of hikikomori or shut-ins; the institutionalized looking for a bridge to the outside world, and the rich, inner lives of the chronically sad, who are sparked by Nemoto’s gentle prompts. If you read one hot take on the Aokigahara forest, make it this one.|
|The New Yorker|
|Bill Lishman flies away home|
|He may be better known as Father Goose, the man who imprinted on geese and encouraged them to migrate south, following his ultra-light plane. He was played by Jeff Daniels on the big screen, but the wildly creative sculptor-schemer had no Hollywood ambitions. Instead, the dyslexic, colorblind artist – who eschewed high school and entered the world “unencumbered by formal education” — created his own way of living, making everything he needed, including a devoted family and perpetually enthralled friends. His work with the geese provided extraordinary insights to biologists and may have helped to save the endangered whooping crane. Click through for his biography and a short video, I promise it will make your heart soar.|