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raceAhead: May 24, 2016

In her recent Class Day speech to Yale graduates, Samantha Power, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, challenged the crowd to begin looking at the world up close and from radically different perspectives.

In a quiet, but passionate, set of remarks, Power walked through her career as a journalist covering the war in Bosnia, as a policy adviser studying the American response to genocide, and now as a diplomat in the field bearing witness to some of the most wrenching issues vulnerable populations face. Understanding a complex world, she says, requires seeing things with fresh eyes. And that’s where things get tricky.

“From the Facebook and Twitter feeds we monitor, to the algorithms that determine the results of our Web searches based on our previous browsing history and location, our major sources of information are increasingly engineered to reflect back to us the world as we already see it. They give us the comfort of our opinions without the discomfort of thought. So you have to find a way to break out of your echo chambers.”

Powers raises an interesting point. Though Facebook has announced sweeping changes to its trending news section – while denying that they had deliberately suppressed conservative viewpoints – the human tendency to gravitate to information that supports our world view can become a comforting bulwark against the hard work of being exposed as uninformed, irrelevant, rigid, or simply wrong. The Wall Street Journal created a graphic showing liberal and conservative feeds side by side; it’s not hard to imagine that holiday dinners are only going to get more awkward going forward.

But for a society that is already measurably losing its ability to view others with empathy, the unwillingness to see others at all has frightening implications.

Powers quotes John Hope Franklin, who was on the NAACP team that worked on Brown v. Board of Education. “A color-blind society does not exist in the United States, and never has existed. Those who insist we should conduct ourselves as if such a utopian state already existed have no interest in achieving it and, indeed, would be horrified if we even approached it.”

“And [this] applies not only to enduring racial issues that have been brought to the surface in places like Ferguson, Baltimore, and Cleveland, but to so many other persistent forms of inequality and prejudice,” she said.

On Point

Sam’s Club takes on the competition.
Rosalind Brewer, who runs Walmart’s Sam’s Club division, was the featured guest at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women dinner last night in New York. She talked about her decision to invest heavily in technology, by beefing up Sam’s Club’s mobile app and hiring decision scientists to bring new analytic tools to members – digital strategies she claimed competitor Costco has ignored. When asked about Amazon’s plan to expand its private label into grocery items, “I say good luck to them,” she said. “That may be one of the hardest tasks they’ve ever done.”

Have eyes, do see.
The Supreme Court granted a new trial to Timothy Foster, a black death row inmate who had been convicted by an all-white jury. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion, which reversed a decision by the Georgia Supreme Court, citing stark, new evidence of racial discrimination. “Nonsense,” Roberts said in response to the assertion that race had not been a factor in the original handling of the case.
Mother Jones

Rage against the bias.
A reporting team at ProPublica has filed a chilling report on the computer-based risk assessments used in the criminal justice system that attempt to predict whether someone will commit a crime sometime in the future. The scores that are generated by the software are increasingly used to inform sentencing decisions, bond assignments, and more. But the software is biased against black people.

The State Department: Pale, male, and Yale.
After Susan Rice, the president’s national security adviser, criticized the State Department for its lack of diversity in a recent commencement address, the rush to respond uncovered a new (and overlooked) congressional requirement that the State Department must now regularly report diversity statistics. What will such transparency reveal? Current information suggests that 5.4% of career diplomats are black, 6.9% are Asian, and 5.6% are Hispanic.
Foreign Policy

Who wants to know?
Vox has an interesting examination of merit-based college admissions policies, in advance of the pending Fisher v. Texas Supreme Court case on affirmative action. Do white people believe that test scores and grade point averages (as a proxy for merit) should always prevail? Only sometimes. “The study suggests that the emphasis on merit has less to do with people of color’s abilities and more to do with how white people strategically manage threats to their position of power from nonwhite groups.”

Your network doing work.
The Root has named Danielle Belton managing editor. Belton was the founder and editor of Black Snob. Her work has appeared in The Daily Beast, Essence, The Guardian, The American Prospect, Jezebel, NPR, and more.
Ad Week

The Woke Leader

Time of death.
In an essay that starts with a light touch, and becomes progressively less funny and more painful, writer Anna Kegler conducts an autopsy of a recent attempt to pitch a story idea that would attempt to match scientific research with some type of managerial training. She chose workplace diversity. And it went downhill from there.
Huffington Post

Mango wars.
Writing fiction is a case study in authentic expression. And what is more authentic than food? Novelist Soniah Kamal takes us on a delightful journey of stereotypes, exotic signaling, and cultural cues gone badly wrong.
Literary Hub

Diversity style.
Originally designed for journalists, the Diversity Style Guide is a handy resource for anybody who needs to communicate clearly and correctly with the outside world. A project of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University, it brings together definitions and information from more than two other sources and has 700 terms related to race/ethnicity, disability, immigration, sexuality and gender identity, drugs and alcohol, and geography.
Diversity Style Guide


In a high-IQ job pool, soft skills like discipline, drive and empathy mark those who emerge as outstanding.
—Daniel Goleman