raceAhead: June 27, 2016

June 27, 2016, 12:49 PM UTC

Brooklyn’s own Cliffanie Forrester is an 18-year-old high school graduate and has a painting hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I know this because she tweeted a picture of it on June 14– a beautiful portrait of a young girl staring into the distance called Uganda­ – saying, “who just completed their life goal at age 18? Me.”

Nice work! What’s even more remarkable is that her tweet rocketed around the world in a matter of hours. Today, it has more than 40,000 retweets and nearly 90,000 likes. In a lively interview with Forrester, Fusion points out that the tweeted image of her painting has been viewed by some 3 million people worldwide, exactly half of the number of people who visited the Met last year.

Not that long ago, it was nearly impossible to find works by artists of color in major, mainstream museums – even promising students who win competitions, like Forrester. And if they did make an appearance, the artists typically worked in established canons as articulated by European and white American sensibilities, or in separate “ethnic” exhibits.

That’s partly why juried exhibitions of student work, like the one Forrester participated in, is so important. (Meet some of the other extraordinary young artists here.)

Nowadays, artists of all hues and sensibilities at least have some hope of finding an audience on digital platforms, a slow but welcome disruption of the gated community that the traditional art world has always been.

But, the Met is still the Met. Mainstream institutions – and the corporations that help underwrite quality curation – play a crucial role in sparking cultural conversations that matter.

Here’s an example that’s close to my heart. In the fall of 1994, the Whitney Museum of American Art presented Black Male: Representations in Masculinity in Contemporary American Art. Henry Louis Gates wrote the forward for the catalog. It showed a diverse group of artists who dug into politics, history, marketing, and how black men labor under the fears, projection and policing of a complex, white world. It was unflinching in parts and disappointing in others. But there hadn’t been a group show of black artists at the Whitney since 1971, pretty uncool for a museum dedicated to “American” art.

(A panel discussion with curator Thelma Golden filmed for the twentieth anniversary of the exhibit in 2014 is here and worth your time. The themes are totally relevant today.)

It is no simple thing to stand in front of a painting and let it speak to you. And this particular collection had more to say than most. I went three times, and every time, the show was packed with an ethnically-mixed crowd of people dressed for a special event. It was a huge win for the Whitney.

But there was more talking to do. What I remember most were the typically mute security guards, all black men, who had suddenly become visible to the well-heeled visitors around them. They began pointing out their favorite pieces, and the ones that fell short. They had thoughts. This exhibit was about them. And they had receipts. In some cases, the crowd spent more time with them than looking at the art.

It was such an unexpected gift. There they were, a dozen men, surrounded by listening faces and talking earnestly about their own black, male lives, the underpaid silent watchers, now the stars of the show.

On Point

Brexit and charges of racism
As the fallout from Brexit continues to roil markets and market watchers, European immigrants living, studying and working in the UK have been increasingly feeling attacked, unsafe and unwelcome. Leah Donnella has a good foundational explainer of the racist, sexist and xenophoic tensions inherent in the Brexit vote, with links to a variety of reporting.

Jack Daniel’s was created by a slave. Who knew?
The 150-year-old whisky company has a new origin story. Turns out Jack Daniel, the enterprising boy, didn’t learn to distill his famous brew from a white Tennessee preacher/distiller named Dan Call. He learned it from one of Call’s slaves, a man named Nearis Green. The company is taking baby steps towards restoring the narrative, perhaps hoping to appeal to whisky drinking millennials who have a sense of the tortured history of America’s culinary past.
NY Times

Hispanics and Asian Americans most purged voters in NYC
A new analysis shows an alarming trend with at least 120,000 names removed from New York City voter lists ahead of the state’s presidential primary in April. Hispanics, specifically in Brooklyn, were purged from voter lists in disproportionately high numbers.  Also high on the list were Asian Americans with the last names Wong or Chan.

Single people on the rise in China

 The numbers of single people, living alone, are rising quickly in China, the result of their one-child policy compounded by migration, divorce, the aging population, and other social changes. Most likely to be living alone are millennials or the elderly. The demographic shift is causing an increase in demands for housing, transportation and energy, as well more isolation of older people.

Looking for tech solutions for Airbnb
Skift, a travel trend research and marketing firm, makes a pretty heady attempt to identify potential technology solutions to problematic discrimination found on sharing economy sites, specifically Airbnb. It’s a great resource for research and ideas, but the technologists they tapped have yet to break through. “It’s just a start,” associate editor Deanna Ting tells raceAhead.

The unbelievable whiteness of code
What once was a lonely drumbeat is now becoming a cacophony of concern: There is bias baked into every piece of code that impacts our lives, and it hurts some people more than others. Kate Crawford takes on artificial intelligence, arguing that sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination are built into the algorithms in every intelligent system that either exists or is being built now.
NY Times

Aziz Ansari on being Muslim and afraid in the age of Trump
Aziz Ansari is better known for being funny, but in his New York Times op-ed piece this weekend, he sounded like a worried son whose country has turned a suspicious eye his way. “Today, with the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and others like him spewing hate speech, prejudice is reaching new levels,” he writes. “It makes me afraid for my family.”
NY Times

The Woke Leader

Seattle residents have surprising things to say about race
The Seattle Times invited 18 very different people to speak candidly on video about what it’s like to live in their skin in Seattle. Structured like a word association exercise -- what does ally, white fragility, microaggression mean to you? – the participants had strong things to say about the persistent and subtle bias that is part of their daily lives in what is usually considered an inclusive city. The video snippets feel like a mini-documentary married a diversity training module.
Seattle Times

President Obama designates the first LGBT national monument
Considering the attack in Orlando, it is a particularly poignant milestone. President Obama designated a new national monument at the site of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City, to pay tribute to the spontaneous revolt that sparked the Pride movement in America. The White House published a short video on the monument and history.
The White House

Matthew McConaughey’s latest film is going to create buzz, alright
Ijeoma Oluo is a force of writing nature. This time, she takes her critic’s pen to Matthew McConaughey’s lastest film, The Free State of Jones, which is the true story of a little known Confederate Army deserter who, among other things, organizes a revolt against the Confederacy during the war. Oluo does an entertaining job doing an important thing: Explaining why films that center white protagonists at the expense of black stories and character development, as well as truth, continues to rankle a significant part of the population.
The Stranger


It is dishonourable to suggest, as many have, that Leavers are all racists and bigots: they aren't and it is shameful to suggest that they are. Nevertheless, it is equally nonsensical to pretend that racists and bigots aren't flocking to the 'Leave' cause, or that they aren't, in some instances, directing it.
—J.K. Rowling