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raceAhead: The WNBA’s Diversity, Trump’s Racist Fans and Marvel Comics

As we wake up to a horrifying story of yet another mass shooting, and as we prepare for another week of political theater sure to make water cooler conversations even more fraught, it’s worth considering a rarer story of real inspiration: The Women’s National Basketball Association.

WNBA players had been risking fines, since reversed, for wearing black t-shirts that supported the Black Lives Matter movement and victims of recent shootings during their warm-ups. Two teams also coordinated a “media-blackout,” refusing to answer any post-game questions about basketball, and fielding questions about civil rights instead.

A lot of ink has already been spilled on how risky these protests were for the players and the league, particularly since they rankled the off-duty police who provided security at the games. But there’s another way to look at this story, one with lessons for all of us. While the men of the NBA are the super stars, it’s the relatively unknown women of the WNBA who also manage to do some pretty amazing things in their “off hours.”

A couple of years ago, I attended a leadership conference put on by the NBA, specifically to help current and former players manage (or in some cases, repair) the transition to their post-basketball life. I wasn’t there on assignment, so I can’t quote anyone directly. (I was there to lead a session on how to do a 60-second elevator pitch, a fun story for another time.)

But this I can say: The difference between the post-game lives of the men and women players was notable.

While some (not all) of the men were struggling with their careers, finances and families in some fairly familiar ways – some, many years out, were in tough shape – the women, by and large, were transitioning well. Why? They were prepared for life after the game because the game wasn’t their only life.

“It’s simple,” one recently retired marquis WNBA player told me. “I never expected to have a huge career in basketball because it doesn’t exist for women in the same way.” The outsized promises and expectations that male athletes live with from birth didn’t apply to the women.

Being a talented kid, having a great high school experience, and being recruited to play college ball was wonderful. Traveling the world playing professionally? Amazing. But she never expected to have the wealth or brand heft of a Michael Jordan, a Kobe Bryant or a LeBron James. “What I got was a great education I didn’t have to pay for. Playing pro ball was frosting.”

No, that’s not fair. But, having limits can free you up in interesting ways.

Buried in all our networks are groups of people who were told or understood that the greatest successes of the world are reserved for someone else, a category of person they can never be. What they do with their “spare” time, is usually pretty telling.

The WNBA players I met got law, business and other degrees, poured their discipline into foundation work, or became champions for people just a few rungs below them. They took what they had earned, leveraged it, and paid it forward.

They also got each other.

In my experience, this is what talented “marginalized” people tend to do – take advantage of opportunities that let them wedge their way into systems not perfectly designed for them, and do really amazing stuff when nobody is looking.

And sometimes, when they are.

If that’s not a business case for diversity, I don’t know what is.

On Point

Fortune launches a new podcast on leadershipFortune Unfiltered promises to be a no-holds-barred look at how real (and yes, diverse,) leaders turned their raw ambition, talent and drive into lasting business success. And host Aaron Task, Fortune’s digital editor, has a knack for getting people to open up about their lives. Posted now is Beth Comstock, vice chair of Business Innovations at General Electric. Up soon will be a must-listen interview with Maverick Carter, LeBron James’s manager and childhood friend. Something new every week.
iTunes



Is Donald Trump racist?
It’s worth noting that Fortune’s Michael D’Antonio tackled this question early and accurately, by digging into the details of the discrimination complaint filed against the Trump family business in 1973.  It’s not just a throwback to a different time, the Trumps appeared to take discrimination against black tenants to an entirely new level.
Fortune



Well, he sure has racist fans
Although these well-heeled businessmen prefer to be called “Europeanists”, “alt-right” or in some cases, “white nationalists,” these ardent Donald Trump supporters are clear that they have found not only their candidate, but their racist spirit animal. “I don’t think people have fully recognized the degree to which he’s transformed the party,” said one man who called for removing African-Americans, Hispanics and Jews from the United States.
Fortune


The rise of black nationalist groups
Both Micah Xavier Johnson, who killed five police officers in Dallas, and Gavin Eugene Long, who killed three officers in Baton Rouge, were both reportedly drawn to active black nationalist groups. Although people within these groups differ wildly in strategy and ideology, they hold one thing in common: The belief that they need to defend themselves against a violently racist world.
Washington Post



Marvel Comics hires first black women writers
Two new newcomers to comic book writing – and the first black women – are joining the world of Black Panther, the Marvel Comics hero that comes from the ficitional African country of Wakanda: feminist writer/icon Roxane Gay and poet Yona Harvey. “The opportunity to write black women and queer black women into the Marvel universe, there’s no saying no to that,” said Gay. The series is written by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
New York Times

The Woke Leader



Chef David Chang’s delicious theory about food and life
The head of the Momofuko juggernaut, which has 13 restaurants, sounds more like a philosopher king than chef. In this first person narrative about his career, Chang explains that he never really had the physical chops to be a great cook. Instead, he points to a philosophy class that he took back in college that helped him understand “strange loops” — when a math construct or artwork folds back upon itself, like an optical illusion. What if he could do that with food?  Heady stuff, but he makes it work.
Wired



The Vietnam that’s been forgotten
I don’t typically post reviews unless I’m familiar with the book, but this one seems worth your while. It begins with a challenge: Can the average Westerner name a great Vietnamese artist, musician or writer? Or politician other than Ho Chi Minh? Vietnam’s back story is one of great complexity, that long pre-dates its role as a colonial treasure or a backpacker’s destination. Christopher Goscha’s new book aims to fill in the pieces.
The Economist

A new anthology celebrates the work of writers of color
The Root’s Hope Wabuke offers a well-researched companion guide to a new anthology compiled by National Book Award-winning novelist Jesmyn Ward, who has put together, as Wabuke says, “some of the most innovative and compelling contemporary writers of color—mostly black—writing on the black experience in America.” Most authors are award winners themselves, and many of the works are lesser-known pieces from very important voices in the genre, like Isabel Wilkerson and Edwidge Danticat.

The Root

Quote

Sound was God, as she understood it, always poised to listen. What does a girl with a red scarf hear? Only she knows, approaching the world from the inside in.
—Yona Harvey