raceAhead: Two Conventions, Two Americas


With the second of the two major party conventions drawing to a close, the contrast between the two spectacles couldn’t be more stark.

The Democratic National Convention was diversity theater at its finest. Every pan of the camera showed a sea of faces of all colors, ethnicities, ages, orientations, living with a variety of disabilities. Sure, many of them were weeping or Bern-lessly protesting with tape over their mouths, but they were in the room and they took the stage, and talked about the issues that mattered to them.

Last week at the Republican National Convention, finding a person of color to interview from the convention floor became a blood sport among the media in the room. And not one high profile politician of color chose to speak. “There were more Trumps who spoke than Hispanics,” harrumphed Stuart Stevens, a chief strategist for the Mitt Romney campaign to NBC News.

It was a fairly visible failure of the party to attract more people of color into the fold, one of the big takeaways from the Romney campaign’s post-mortem. “The odds are that the Trumps are going to vote for him anyways. He needs Hispanics…It’s an odd way to win an election. You have to have a broader appeal than people like yourself.”

But diversity is more than winning a contest. It’s about finding creative solutions to real problems and giving everyone a shot at meaningful work and a meaningful life. And the business case for a diverse government – with actual community involvement -has long been a painful question mark in a country that was founded by an all-white, all-male committee, many of whom owned human beings.

I asked John Maeda, start-up adviser, technologist, design partner for Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers and the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, what he thought about the optics of the two conventions.

“It makes me think of that photo taken by Paul Ryan and by Audra Jackson of congressional interns,” he says. The Republican interns, mostly white, the Democrats, richly diverse. “The answers aren’t in either photo, but one question becomes obvious: ‘Is this an issue?’” That simple yes or no question should be followed by a more thoughtful one, he says. “If so, why?”

Maeda makes his own case by quoting his former boss and mentor at MIT, Nicholas Negroponte who told him, “Where do new ideas come from? The answer is simple: differences. Creativity comes from unlikely juxtapositions.”

This, says Maeda, embodies everything he believes. “When you have people who come from different backgrounds together, then the outcome is something that is difficult to expect. By all parties involved. And an unexpected outcome lies at the basis of what creativity is all about.”

So, what would an unexpected outcome for America be?

Regardless of how this strange election season unfolds, Maeda believes that the conversation about diversity is valuable. “Some will answer ‘yes’ and some will say ‘no,’” he says about whether a diverse convention, government – or business – matters and why. And some simply won’t have an opinion. Collect those thoughts, put them in a matrix, and take a good, non-judgmental look at the picture that emerges. “Talking about the various combinations [of what people believe] can open formative conversations,” he says.

On Point

President Obama wows the crowd at the conventionIn what is widely hailed as a moving and outstanding speech, the president denounced Donald Trump, while painting Hillary Clinton as the most prepared candidate in history and a tireless advocate for change. “Whatever you thought of the speech, it made for a heady and riveting mix,” says Fortune’s Tory Newmyer.USA Today

Race, not gender, is what keeps medical researchers from getting grants
A new study from the University of Kansas finds that for certain high-level grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health between 2000-2006, women were not at a disadvantage over men, but race did lower an applicant’s chances of being funded. The findings seem to refute the “double bind” of race and gender holding back women of color in science. More studies are needed.

Black Twitter to black dating app: It’s not us, it’s you
A new dating app called Smoochr, marketed to black singles, has been getting what seems like some well deserved side-eye for its reliance on stereotypes - screening for things like hair texture, skin tone and lip size, rather than education or income. Twitter users gave pointed feedback under the hashtag #shutdownsmoochr.
Washington Post

The digital divide between Latinos and whites is improving
A new study from Pew Research Center shows the digital divide between Latinos, Spanish-dominant Latinos and white Americans – the ability to access and use the internet –is at its narrowest point since 2009. Since 2009, the share of Latino adults who report using the internet increased 20 points, up from 64% then to 84% in 2015. White internet usage is currently at 89%. The reason for the uptick are smart phones, the research suggests.
Pew Research Center

My father, the YouTube star
Journalist - and first generation American - Kevin Pang, weaves an emotional story of his turbulent relationship with his Chinese father, partially smoothed by their mutual love of food and authentic Cantonese cuisine. When he discovers that his now elderly parents have a secret online life as chefs, the story becomes even more poignant. Bring an appetite and tissues.
New York Times

When organizations become more experimental, people succeed
What happens when one of your young, promising leaders begins to struggle? Does your culture embrace the learnings or rush to assign blame? A new book based on original research challenges organizations to get better at mastering failure, rather than avoiding it. “You develop a relationship with failure by experimenting, which is one of the key muscles in building a more diverse and inclusive workforce,” one of the researchers tells raceAhead.
CEO Magazine


The Woke Leader

Abigail Adams had some things to say about the slaves who built the White House
On November 28, 1800, Abigail Adams, wife of the second president of the U.S., posted a letter to one Cotton Tufts about her new life at the White House. It’s a painful read: "The effects of Slavery are visible everywhere, and I have amused myself from day to day in looking at the labour of 12 negroes from my window… it is true Republicanism that drive the slaves half fed and destitute of clothing, or fit…to labour, whilst the owner watches about idle.” It goes downhill from there.
National Archives

People still don't understand slavery, Irish or otherwise
Michelle Obama’s remark about living in a house built by slaves triggered an unusually annoying public conversation about whether it was true, whether or not slaves were treated well, and hey- what about the Irish slaves? Irish historian Liam Hogan is a fount of information about slavery here and around the world, and shares original sources in a highly engaging way. Spoiler alert: Indentured servitude and chattel slavery are two different things.

Chef Michael Twitty challenges Bill O’Reilly to eat like a slave for a week
Twitty, an expert on black American foodways, discusses the meager rations provided to slaves, a diet devoid of nutrition that damned generations to poor health. If you were pregnant, you got less. “I’ve eaten the dry, crumbly half-burned ashcake, rusty salted meat and plain mush and hominy,” Twitty says. “If O’Reilly is so convinced that our ancestors were well fed he should let me whip him up a batch of trough mush to go with his southern fried crow.”
The Guardian


In nothing was slavery so savage and relentless as in its attempted destruction of the family instincts of the Negro race in America. Individuals, not families; shelters, not homes; herding, not marriages, were the cardinal sins in that system of horrors.
—Fannie Barrier Williams

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