Skip to Content

raceAhead: June 9, 2016

Yesterday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi raised her troll game significantly. After the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, cancelled his weekly press briefing, she issued this fake press release:

“Speaker Ryan has cancelled his regular Wednesday press conference so you don’t ask him about Donald Trump’s racist commentary against a federal judge. And why, ahead of their national security agenda rollout tomorrow, the House GOP wants to hand the nuclear codes to a person who engages in textbook racism.”

The day before, Ryan had a bad experience with a briefing that was supposed to be about his poverty plan. Instead, reporters asked repeatedly what Ryan thought about Trump’s race-based attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is deciding a lawsuit against his failed university. And earlier this week, Trump turned the tables on the criticism: The people asking the questions—those are the racists.”

Trump’s reaction, as abrupt as it was, is actually a teachable moment for anyone who wants to address race issues in the workplace. (Let’s put aside for the moment that Paul Ryan hasn’t cultivated any sort of reputation as an inclusion ally. In fact, there’s plenty of reason to believe it’s not top of mind for him. At all.)

Y-Vonne Hutchinson is the Executive Director of ReadySet, a diversity training and recruiting firm that focuses on Silicon Valley start-ups. When people are called out on racist behavior, they often attack in kind, she says. “This ‘I know you are but what am I’ response when people are called racist is a great way to derail the conversation,” said Hutchinson. “At that point, it becomes name-calling, which moves everyone away from critique or action.”

Hutchinson is also part of a small team of women at Project Include, a non-profit founded by former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, dedicated to identifying solutions to the diversity issue in Silicon Valley, and talking about them so that everyone survives. “That’s the hard part,” Hutchinson says.

Race occupies a unique space in this country, where everyone agrees that being racist is really bad. “You’re saying that they are morally compromised in this egregious way,” she says.

The trick is to to focus on the behavior and not the person. “This is a racist comment, and here’s why,” she said. “You can fix a racist comment, but fixing a racist person is much harder.”

The deeper issue, she says, is always fear. Trump is tapping into a collective dissatisfaction majority people have with a changing demographic and all the risks associated with that. “Racism is a refuge that people rely on.”

Hutchinson says that allies need to prepare for critique and use policies, facts, data and compassion to get someone to dig into their own assumptions. “Is it that you don’t like immigrants, or are you worried that you’re going to lose your job?”

Since Mr. Trump has so much at stake with this lawsuit, it seems like the right question to ask.


On Point

Rent money.
With charges of racism on the platform looming large, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky sought to reassure the crown at their annual OpenAir conference in San Francisco yesterday. “First, let me make clear we have zero tolerance for any amount of racism or discrimination on our platform, and we take swift action whenever we hear about anything,” reports Silicon Beat. But it’s going to be awhile before we find out their long-term plan to solve racism in America.  David King, Airbnb’s new director of diversity and belonging, laid out some general steps: training hosts on unconscious bias and make sure internal Airbnb employees are prepared to handle incidents swiftly when they arise. But a broader internal review, happening now, won’t wrap until September.
Silicon Beat

Band of coders.
Reporting from Chicago, Tatiana Walk-Morris identifies an interesting trend: Tech start-ups banding together to create accelerator programs that train people of color for tech jobs. Many of the entrepreneurs behind these programs are Valley alums who have found the mindset around diverse recruiting still lacking.  Angela Benton, for instance, said she spent a year in Silicon Valley and found that she was encouraged only to scour elite institutions to find minority entrepreneurs. Of the many interesting characteristics of the people who complete these training programs, one stood out – not everyone wants to build a billion-dollar idea. “Rather, the entrepreneurs of color were content to begin a company worth a few million dollars.”
New York Times

A sure thing.
California voters have spoken. State Attorney General Kamala Harris and Orange County Representative Loretta Sanchez, both minority women and both Democrats, will be vying for a spot in the U.S. Senate in a run-off this November. That marks the first time a Republican will not be on the fall ballot since 1914.
LA Times

I need to see your receipts.
Jezebel’s The Slot does a good job documenting #GirlIGuessImWithHer, a poignantly funny hashtag that emerged on Black Twitter as the politically vocal members of the community came to a sort of grudging acceptance of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. The issues are many for black and brown voters –Hillary Clinton’s history with crime legislation in the 1990s, her husband’s recent shouting match with Black Lives Matters members, to name a few. The hashtag conversation, when viewed in total, makes a pretty clear case that some voters of colors may never generate authentic enthusiasm for Hillary. But they are finding a way to support her–and highlight important issues in the process. Popular blogger @MadBlackThot,  who started the hashtag and stoked the conversation, already has t-shirts for sale.

(((echo chamber)))
Matthew Yglesias breaks down a complicated story of online, anti-semitic harassment, Chrome extensions, solidarity and history that is playing out on Twitter. A wide range of figures, he writes, have changed their Twitter names to add a series of parentheses in response to a movement by white supremacists, known as alt-right, who have started identifying “problematic” Jewish individuals working at “Jewish controlled” media.  Some people have added the parenthesis to their own names as a radical act of reclamation, others, in solidarity. The origin of the “echo” concept is fascinating, as would be all of this if it weren’t so disturbing.

The Woke Leader

How brown is my valley.
According to the National Park Service, about 80% of the people who visited national parks last year, including staff and volunteers, were white.  And not surprisingly, there is a long and often delicate history that brown and black people often confront when they venture past the family picnic and into the wilds of nature. It’s an issue. “If you want to stay relevant for a hundred more years, you’ve got to get the changing demographics of America into your parks. You’ve got to get brown people to come visit your parks,” reports Code Switch host Shereen Marisol Meraji. “They’re trying to recruit younger, browner park rangers. And they also want to tell stories that connect people of color to the national parks. But they’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”

You know it when you see it.
 David Leonard parses the term “basketball IQ,” a notion that certain players have a near magical skillset comprised of intuitive insight, physical mastery and an ability to “see the court” in a way that bridges all time and space.  You can’t measure it. And it would be romantic if it weren’t so racist. From the 1960s on, “There was an imperative to ‘rationalize’ not starting those better Black players,” sports sociologist Harry Edwards told Leonard. “The claim that a white player had a ‘high basketball IQ’ was precisely what was needed, even in the face of the fact that there never has been any definitive explanation of the precise substance and parameters of what comprises a ‘high basketball IQ.’”
The Undefeated

Words matter.
Recently, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau became the first sitting prime minister to be interviewed by an Aboriginal media network. One of the most important questions discussed was that of language. First, would indigenous languages ever become an official language of Canada – and second, would doing so reduce the epidemic of youth suicide among the indigenous population? He dodged the first question, but in a follow up interview, PhD student Andrea Lyall highlighted a study that linked language use and lower suicide rates in Canada. Language, she said, is “more than just words and grammar. It holds a knowledge that is important and valid.”

—raceAhead is edited by Scott Olster


Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
—John Muir