raceAhead: June 3, 2016

June 3, 2016, 2:14 PM UTC

In his most recent piece for the The Atlantic, “The Black Journalist and the Racial Mountain,” Ta-Nehisi Coates attempts to defend himself in a way that may feel familiar to those who do diversity and inclusion work.

The piece is a response to a different piece published by another black journalist named Howard French for The Guardian. In “The Enduring Whiteness of American Media,” French rails against big media for failing to produce diverse newsrooms and by damaging the careers of black journalists by pigeonholing them into stereotypical silos: sports, entertainment, and “urban” stuff. French cites Coates as the premiere example of the latter transgression: “For decades it has been clear that space is made in the firmament for a tiny number of black journalists at any given time, if mostly to write about race. These figures, however brilliant, find themselves transformed into unwilling emblems of inclusivity – the journalistic and literary equivalent of a black president, a figure whose ascendancy can be cited by white people as proof that we don’t have a race problem any more.”

Coates’ response is long and measured, but he sets it up this way: “French believes that it is imperative that black writers cross ‘the river,’ as he did, and escape the presumably provincial confines of covering race. In this, he echoes the white critics who so often say to those of us interested in black America, ‘Can’t you write about something other than racism?’ without realizing that racism is the font of their very question, their very identity, their very world.”

The two journalists have now framed a long-read debate that’s tough to watch, but necessary to consider. At the heart of the argument is an exploration of power and identity, and how humans operate within a broader social system. For those in corporate environments, it speaks to the very real risk that you will always be the only one who looks like you in the room. And research shows if you point it out, you may be punished for it.

David Thomas, dean of the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown, shared research of his own. “It takes longer for people of color to get their first managerial jobs,” he says. “People are more likely to trust performance data that says someone is an outstanding performer when they are white—it literally takes longer for people to make a positive attribution to a black or brown person than a white person.” And the inclusion work they do as “representatives” is often uncompensated and a distraction from their core jobs.

Common attribution error is just one of the biases that we can work on. But the psychological cost to people when they have to work harder to be noticed—or constantly justify the inclusion work they do—is real. “We have to factor our health in,” he says. “We pay a high price.”

To that end, have a wonderful weekend. Doctor’s orders.

On Point

Not my fight.
As Hong Kong prepares for an annual vigil to commemorate the killing of protestors in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 27 years ago, the city’s pro-democracy activists are starting to openly debate whether these efforts are worth it. “We cannot do anything to China, but we can only focus on Hong Kong. I don’t think sitting at Victoria Park will help anything,” one young activist told Bloomberg. More than 100,000 people are expected to attend. Pro-democracy groups, called localists, are increasingly worried about perceptions that they are supportive of China, and they are looking for ways to focus on independence and growth for Hong Kong.

Y tu mamá también.
The Republican National Committee has had difficulty holding on to key staffers. On Wednesday, Ruth Guerra, their head of Hispanic media relations, resigned, stating to colleagues that she was “uncomfortable working for Mr. Trump." Her replacement, Helen Aguirre Ferré, immediately got to work—scrubbing her own Twitter feed. Among the  numerous tweets she deleted that trashed presumptive nominee Donald Trump was her declaration that “women & country deserve better.” Media Matters has the deleted tweets. You will find, as I did, that Ferré is an excellent communicator.
Media Matters

Nuestro amigo, Donald.
No voter bloc is monolithic, as this excellent CBS News mini-documentary points out. To find pro-Trump Hispanic voters, they turned to people who live along border towns in Texas. Because the issues associated with illegal immigration—drugs, violence, and other crimes, chiefly—loom large in their lives, many find his blunt talk reassuring. He's speaking to their truth. "People need to wake up and realize that the illegal immigrants that are here, that have no other form of self employment, do turn to drugs, do turn to the cartel business, do turn to illegal immigration," said one woman. "And I'm saying this because I have family members that are involved in this stuff, and they are in the state jail at this moment, and I would love nothing better but for them to be deported."
CBS News

Well, actually...
Former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros and conservative businessman Sol Trujillo have launched a nonprofit called the Latino Donor Collaborative, aimed at countering the narrative that immigration is the most important issue for Latino voters. They point to survey data highlighting the other characteristics of Latino families: 51% of new mortgages issued over the last 10 years have been taken out by Latinos, 86% of all new business formations in the last five years have been started by Latino entrepreneurs, their high civic participation rate, etc. Audie Cornish digs into the numbers.

She seems nice.
A Mobile, Ala.-based middle school teacher was put on leave last week after a math test she downloaded from the internet and distributed to her students was deemed inappropriate by the school’s administration. One example: Dwayne pimps 3 ho’s. If the price is $85 per trick, how many tricks per day must each ho turn to support Dwayne’s $800 per day crack habit? The word problems go downhill from there. The test itself is a nasty joke. Called the “L.A. Math Proficiency Test,” it has been bouncing around the internet for years, and has gotten plenty of other people in trouble. The school was alerted to the problem when several students took photos of the test with their phones and showed it to their parents.
NBC News

The Woke Leader

Throwing shade.
“That light-skinned dude,” said NBA star Allen Iverson, as he prepared to offer up praise for Stephen Curry, currently the league’s best player. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.” The Undefeated hands the mic to Michael Eric Dyson to parse one of the more sensitive issues in race relations, that of colorism. How dark do you have to be to be considered “real” black? Curry’s colleagues in the NBA talk about skin tone openly, often in very matter-of-fact and entertaining ways. But the history of shade is a painful one. Dyson, who has interviewed Curry and his family fairly extensively, attempts to thread a difficult needle, talking about the politics of hue, what it means to be embraced by the white elite, and the fact that in any tone, Curry is a phenom.
The Undefeated

Don't read the comments.
 Sam Fulwood is a researcher and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. His policy work focuses on how the nation will change when there is no clear racial majority in 2050. He’s used to writing and publishing about race, and he's clearly a wonk. But when a recent column of his—a pretty straightforward critique of a Pat Buchanan column—was picked up by Newsweek and Yahoo, it reached a much wider audience than usual. The result was a flood of hate mail from people who were unfamiliar with his work, but felt threatened by his message. “These were overwhelmingly negative, with readers filling my office email with angry, hostile, offensive, and insulting missives. A few were respectful in their disagreements, and a fraction were over-the-top racist.” His calm analysis is worth a read, less for the sentiment he uncovers and more for the high price people often pay when they talk about race in any public forum.
American Progress

And the Oscar goes to...
The people who decide the Academy Awards, members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, are part of a very exclusive club—and they are overwhelmingly white and male. Academy President Cheryl Boone has said she will double the number of minorities and women in the membership by 2020. So, Tre’vell Anderson and his colleagues at the LA Times stepped in to help. What follows is an exhaustive list of 100 diverse people from on-camera stars to editors, costume designers, producers, directors, sound engineers, and the like. Only insiders will be able to tell if the list is on point, but it seems like a great start. Look to the comments (it's pretty safe) for more nominations.
LA Times

—raceAhead is edited by Scott Olster


The frustration for the black role model is knowing that, though you are proof it can be done—a happy lottery winner waving a million-dollar ticket—the odds are so astronomically stacked against you that it sometimes feels as if you’re more the source of false hope and crushed dreams.
—Kareem Abdul Jabbar

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