raceAhead: June 14, 2016

June 14, 2016, 12:46 PM UTC

You don’t have to be a theater geek to appreciate how exciting the Tony Awards were this year. In sharp contrast to the Academy Awards, this year’s ceremony was awash in black and brown faces, with fourteen individual nominees of color for acting, and a slate of productions that reflected a broader spectrum of stories.

This was also a big moment for April Reign, the managing editor of Broadway Black, a website and online community dedicated to the work of black theater performers.

Reign created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in 2015 to draw attention to the lack of diversity at the Oscars. Then, this year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced an all-white list of acting nominees for the second year in a row. She says the hashtag started a conversation about the overrepresentation of white professionals in all aspects of the entertainment industry that is still happening today. “J.J. Abrams is now saying ‘bring me people of color to work with,’” she says. “Warner Brothers has a new apprentice program for filmmakers of color. And the Academy has vowed to make real changes.”

But the theater community, which has historically been more welcoming, took a victory lap. “It was a pretty big and historic night at the Tony awards,” says Seve Chambers, a writer who examines issues of history, race, music and entertainment. “It rightfully felt like a huge contrast to the Oscars in terms of diversity.” In a joyful poke at #OscarsSoWhite, the hashtag #TonysSoDiverse began trending before the show. “Even James Corden, the host of the Tonys, mentioned the difference,” said Reign.

But diversity isn’t just about checking the boxes on a list. It’s about seeing people of color as fully realized human beings who transform and have agency over their lives — drawing a direct line to their humanity in the real world. “Too often characters of color are kooky sidekicks, enslaved or broken in some way,” she says. “You don’t have to be white to be an astronaut stranded on Mars.” And why stop there? “It’s also time for an LGBT rom-com or a disabled actor playing a superhero,” she says.

There is still work left to do. “In theory, Tony Awards should make a real difference in the careers of nominees and winners,” writes Monica Wright Ndounou in a piece republished by The New Republic. “But that’s not always the case.” And, says Reign, great work still struggles to make it to Broadway at all. But, she says, “I think that Hamilton in 2016 shows what we are seeing in all facets of entertainment – film, television and stage. If it’s a quality piece of work, people will come regardless of whose face they see.”

On Point

Jack Ma: Fake products are superior.
When it comes to counterfeit products on Alibaba’s Taobao platform -- a consumer site hosting 9 million small sellers – CEO Jack Ma says that the problem isn’t fraud detection; it’s that the fake products are better than the originals. “The problem is that the fake products today—they make better quality, better price than the real product, than the real names,” he said today. “It’s not the fake products that destroy them, it’s the new business model,” he said.

How to navigate racial politics at work.
In a heartfelt piece, “Ebony F.” describes her struggle to maintain equilibrium as a black woman in corporate America, as her job description increasingly collided with her values. “Racism ran rampant but in a mild/legal kind of way,” she writes. “It was my job to advocate for employees, or so I thought, but I quickly learned that my role was most often to defend the corporation, sometimes at the expense of the individual.”

What first-generation college students need to succeed.
Researchers and educators have learned that a strong and engaged network – of parents, friends, former teachers and professors – help first generation students survive the often rocky transition to college. Frequent contact is key. 

How to make a conference for women of color.
 Former IBM executive Linda Spradley Dunn created the Odyssey Network Business Retreat so senior-level professional women of color could both network and decompress. “We have these unique things about our culture that we love, right, but then we put on that face and go to work or run a business or even run a household, and it takes a different toll on us,” Dunn said.
The Root

What if Freddie Gray survived?
Last year, Keith Davis, Jr. survived an encounter with the Baltimore police, even though he was shot at 44 times, and struck by three bullets. Because he survived, he is not a household name. But his story of poverty, troubles with the law, a violent encounter and a murky prosecution continues to raise troubling issues for a criminal justice system that promised reform after the death of Freddie Gray.
The Intercept

The Woke Leader

Hedge funds ruined Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is drowning in debt, and faces a potentially disastrous series of defaults. Laura Flanders has an extended conversation with journalist and professor Ed Morales and activist Charles Khan who point to U.S. colonial history and the behavior of investment funds  - rather than tax legislation of the last twenty years - to explain the grim financial circumstances Puerto Rico is now facing.
Laura Flanders

The first white member of a black sorority was a total badass.
Joan Mulholland was the great-granddaughter of former slave owners, attended sit-ins for black civil rights, was hunted by the KKK, was arrested as a Freedom Rider and hung out with Medgar Evers. And that’s just for starters. Delta Sigma Theta sisters, this one’s for you.
Watch The Yard

The humiliation of shopping while black.
Racial profiling in retail stores is illegal, but stores like Barney’s, Zara and CVS and Best Buy have all recently come under fire for allegedly unfair treatment of shoppers of color. And as Angela Fichter points out, the toll on the customer is also often emotional.  
The Establishment



As performers we’re insecure. That’s why we get up on stage.
—Audra McDonald