raceAhead: A Data-Driven Approach to Tackling Racism

August 9, 2016, 4:44 PM UTC

Today is the two-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri.

Americans may never fully understand why that terrible event became such a flashpoint, why that particular confluence of violence, systemic despair and social media turned a moment into a movement. Maybe it was the image of his lifeless body as it lay in the summer heat. Maybe it was just time.

“If you’re going to pick someone to go bat for,” a local St. Louis attorney told me just days after the shooting, “this kid isn’t your guy.” He was wrong.

Black lives matter has morphed from an anguished, tweeted cry, into a time of unprecedented social action and conversations about race, violence and inequity. A lot has happened. Here’s just one example: As of last week, it’s now mandatory that police departments report details of all deadly incidents involving their officers to the U.S. Justice Department every quarter.

The move was inspired in part by The Guardian’s crowdsourced effort to document every police-related death called The Counted. (The Washington Post has a similar effort collecting data around police shooting deaths, specifically.)

Up until this point, reporting was voluntary, and woefully inadequate. There was no central database of these events, and as a result, no way to truly understand what was happening in communities, or hold people accountable. In a world in love with evidenced-based solutions to everything, this seems like a pretty basic piece of data to collect.

But, as America continues process the issues raised by Michael Brown’s death, there are other data points that each of us can take part in collecting.

I recently spoke with Dr. Monnica Williams, a psychologist, researcher and an associate professor of psychological sciences at the University of Connecticut. We were talking about her research on the link between racism and post-traumatic stress disorder for a different essay, when she said something that struck me as a useful reminder for difficult days like today.

“Right now we’re looking for ways to reduce racism on campuses by addressing some of the difficulties people have around conversations,” she said. Her students are willing to suffer through the awkward talking stuff because they have to. The rest of us? We’re skipping school. “We cite research showing that most three quarters of white Americans don’t have one black friend,” she says.

“If you’re not regularly communicating with people who are different from you – and that’s not just about race, either – your mind will fill in the blanks with all the garbage stereotypes that’s out there about them.” So, when something happens, like on a hot summer day in Ferguson, we’re stuck with old talking points to explain a complex world. “We all need to do better.”


On Point

Getting to know the Olympic refugeesOf all the stories to emerge from Rio, the extraordinary tales of the refugee Olympians are among the most poignant. All ten athletes competing on the refugee team have fled conflict in their home countries, and each have traveled a long and difficult path to survive and thrive as elite athletes. Some sixty-five million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, with more than 21 million people living as refugees, most under the age of 18.The New Yorker

Black women are the most educated group in the U.S.
Women students of color are succeeding. According to a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics, black women earned 68% of associate's degrees, 66% of bachelor's degrees, 71% of master's degrees, and 65% of doctorates awarded to black students. Hispanic females earned 62% of associate's degrees, 61% of bachelor's degrees, 64% of master's degrees, and 55% of doctorates awarded to Hispanic students. And, there is a higher percentage of black women in college than any other group, according to census data.
National Center for Education Statistics

Stop kicking Muslims off of airplanes
Public acts of discrimination against Muslims have spiked in this political season. One of the most visible examples is the frequency with which Muslims, or people who appear to be Arab, are being escorted off of airplanes because they made a passenger or crew member “uncomfortable.” Stop profiling people, argues this opinion piece from the Washington Post.
Washington Post

Diversity programs appeal to either women or people of color, but not both
New research suggests that how companies define the value of diversity, known as their “diversity approach,” can lower attrition rates for either white women or people of color, but not both. Researchers describe two basic tactics: A “value in difference” approach, which emphasizes bias management and diversity as a business driver, and a “value in equality” approach, which affirms that all employees are judged equally based on their skills and effort. Can you guess which approach appealed to which group?

Kaiser Permante CEO talks health care at the Essence Festival
Last month, Bernard Tyson joined me on the main stage at the Essence Festival to help reframe the conversation about healthcare. Not everyone has access to quality healthcare, particularly people of color. “I used to argue early on that it was about equality, but that’s not the right framework,” he said. “Equity means that everyone gets what they need to get the best outcome.”

The Woke Leader

Developer accidentally “flips” Emmett Till’s Chicago home
It’s an unassuming house in Chicago’s predominately black Woodlawn neighborhood, but it was the last place Emmett Till lived before he was murdered by white supremacists while visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955. But now, the home is part of a new history of neglect and gentrification: Because it’s in a neighborhood that’s being targeted by developers, the house has been sold five times. “We found out about it later; pretty cool,” the developer told journalist Erick Johson via email. “If I would have known sooner, I wouldn’t have sold it.”
Daytona Times

Students in Ferguson schools are doing worse than ever
A new research paper from Brookings Institute is making the case that civic unrest in the form of protests and police activity after the Michael Brown shooting have had a dramatic and negative impact on school children in the area. Click through to read the methodology but the graph is grim:  After the unrest in Ferguson, “high-needs” students scoring at or above basic dropped by 11% in math and 7% in reading.
Brookings Institute

Bearing witness to the pain of others
In a thoughtful and deeply-felt piece, Stanford assistant professor Allyson Hobbs explains why she changed her mind about encouraging her students to view both the difficult historical images of lynching and the modern live-streamed recordings of violence happening today. Rather than making us complicit in the violence, she says, we are honoring the wishes of survivors like Emmett Till’s mother and Philando Castile’s girlfriend who insist that we must see to understand. “Looking is hard. It shakes us and haunts us, and it comes with responsibilities and risks,” she writes. But the rewards she now sees, is empathy.
New Yorker


I have not spent one minute hating.
—Mamie Till-Mobley

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