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raceAhead: June 28, 2016

On Sunday night, Grey’s Anatomy actor and activist Jesse Williams won a humanitarian award at the BET Awards, and stole the show.

If you haven’t seen the video or read the transcript, you should. It was one of the most lucid and heartfelt critiques of systemic racism, institutional violence, cultural appropriation and exploitation, and a love letter to black women who have “spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.”

“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. And we’re done watching, and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us. Burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil — black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them. Gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, though, the thing is, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”

It was electrifying. He was calm, poised, focused, unflinching… and light-skinned.

Of the millions of conversations that happened online, in solidarity and in complaint, one that caught my own light-skinned eye was a heartfelt exchange about what’s called “colorism” and the easier time that people of lighter hues have in the world. Did Jesse Williams, a light-skinned man, have the credentials to speak this way?

Eve Ewing, a sociologist who studies race, racism and inequality in the public schools, and who uses her Twitter feed to hold difficult conversations about race, took the opportunity to discuss colorism. “The conversation is uncomfortable because it threatens to divide us,” says Ewing, “even within families.” She posted data showing that darker skinned students fare worse in schools and are disproportionately punished than their light skinned peers.

Light-skinned people also get shorter prison sentences. “There is also some nascent data on colorism and how it may play out in hiring situations,” she says. Bottom line, we end up better educated, offered better jobs and yes, occasionally win awards.

These are the sorts of implicit biases that are so deeply ingrained that they are hard to surface. “But these difficult conversations help us remember that there is more than one type of black person,” she says.

The key is embracing the privilege openly, which is exactly what Jesse Williams has always done. “And it doesn’t undermine our ability to do justice work.”


On Point

Red Cross apologizes for not cool, racist poster
A Red Cross pool safety poster badly missed the mark, forcing the organization to hastily apologize it was posted online by an irate parent and got widespread attention. The poster, “Be Cool, Follow the Rules” attempted to explain pool conduct rules with an illustration of a diverse group of kids, some being “cool” by following pool rules, and other rule-breakers (running, shoving, etc.) as “not cool.” Guess which color the uncool kids were?

New poll shows that black and whites are worlds apart
New data from Pew Research shows that blacks and whites have dramatically different assessments of racial discrimination in America, with 88% of blacks saying more work to be done, compared to 53% of whites. Black people are more likely to say they experience systemic racism at work, in the criminal justice system and in financial services, and less likely to believe anything will be done about it.
Pew Social Research

SCOTUS passes on Native American labor relations dispute
The Supreme Court declined to consider an ongoing legal tussle between the Native American tribal authority and the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, which currently has jurisdiction over labor issues on casinos in Michigan. The tribes would like to avoid NLRB authority. Now operating under current federal law, unions are freer to organize on tribal land. The tribal casino industry generated $28.5 billion in gaming revenue in 2014, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission.
Duluth News Tribune

Film celebrating black women doctors aims to inspire more to join the field
A new documentary film, made with the cooperation of Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, will debut this fall, exploring the historic, systemic racism in the medical school system while highlighting the advancements made by female physicians and researchers. Some 95% of doctors are white, and significant race-based disparities in treatment and outcomes still exist in medicine.
Amsterdam News

Intel’s ‘Diversity Fund’ wants to give away more money
After a year in business, Intel’s ‘Diversity Fund,’ a $125 million fund that invests in black, Hispanic, Native American and female entrepreneurs, has made five investments and is looking to make more. Lisa Lambert still thinks she’s got the field largely to herself. “VC firms aren’t diverse. If you don’t Hispanics or African-Americans or any women on your investment teams, you’re not going to find that deal flow.”

White Americans are worried about ‘reverse discrimination’
Buried in recent PPRI survey that measures American sentiments about immigration and fears of foreign influence, is a data point that suggests that white anxiety is growing. Approximately six in ten (57%) white Americans and roughly two-thirds (66%) of white working-class Americans agree that discrimination against whites is as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.


The Woke Leader

Black chefs look to shape the foodie future
In a far-reaching roundtable discussion, six black chefs discuss how their personal journey with food is linked inextricably with the history of race, segregation and the historically oppressed food service industry.  “Black lives, in and out of chains, lived and died in the service of crafting the foundation of an American cultural identity.” How will the contribution of black and brown chefs contribute to the evolution of American cuisine?
First We Feast

The backlash against a North Korean memoir
Suki Kim, an investigative journalist, had been researching and visiting North Korea for over a decade.  But when her book about her experiences undercover as a teacher of  English as a second language at a university in Pyongyang was published as a “memoir,” she was the subject of unexpected criticism. She also explores, in detail, the racism and sexism she experiences as a reporter in the publishing world.
The Atlantic

Why are white people so angry?
Carol Anderson, a professor of African-­American studies at Emory University, seeks to reframe the history of race and tension as driven  largely by white fear: At moments of black progress, there is a predictable,  white backlash. Anderson doesn’t offer any prescriptions, but her research is exhaustive.The review is below. I’m still reading the book, but so far it’s illuminating and predictably grim. RaceAhead readers can look forward to an interview with Anderson in upcoming dispatches.
New York Times


 Freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but, you know what, though? The hereafter is a hustle. And let’s get a couple of things straight. Just a little side note: the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, stop with all that.
—Jessie Williams