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raceAhead: The Colin Kaepernick Effect

Yesterday’s NFL opener was a nailbiter for more than just sports fans, as the unlikely conversation about racist police practices started by Colin Kaepernick became an integral part of the pre-game buzz. Who would join the protest? And what about the 9/11 anniversary?

In the end, it was mostly just game on. Some players linked arms, others took a knee, others raised a gloved fist. But everybody talked about it.

Kaepernick himself didn’t play yesterday. But some fans circulated this old Beats by Dre video ad, which shows the quarterback being theatrically harassed by screaming, vitriolic detractors, while he maintained his cool with the help of noise-cancelling headphones. “WOW,” tweeted writer and activist Shaun King. “This 2 year old commercial featuring Colin Kaepernick is powerfully prophetic for where we are today.”

Sure. The man has clearly developed a thick skin. And it would be easy to dismiss verbal abuse as a minor cost of doing business for highly compensated professional players (if you’re willing to overlook the risk of traumatic brain injury, of course) if it weren’t for the fact that the vast majority of regular folks who attempt to join the conversation started by Kaepernick have no magical headphones with which to block out the hate.

That’s part of what makes the 49’ers decision to donate $1 million to two Bay Area organizations that focus on race so notable. First, they’re supporting an employee who has been thoughtful in the way he uses the field they all play on to talk about issues that affect everyone, whether we want to talk about them or not.

But it’s also a reminder to other employers that they can be influenced by events and be responsive to the communities they serve in meaningful, unplanned, ways.

I recently spoke with Isabel Wilkerson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Warmth of Other Suns,” which chronicled the decades long great migration of American born black citizens away from the Jim Crow South, to the promise of a better life up north. (She was as wonderful as you’d expect. I’ll have the entire interview up later this week.)

“Everything that is happening today,” she says, talking specifically about the issues with the police, “is tied directly to our history. And it’s not ancient history.” She says that business leaders have an extraordinary opportunity to find where that history intersects with their own spheres of influence and join in. “It’s possible to have these difficult conversations and find comfort in them,” she said. Let purpose silence the hate. “The world is opening up, and the invisible people are coming into the light who have not been permitted to have a voice before. This is a wonderful thing.”

On Point

Fewer athletes from HBCUs have made it to the NFL this yearThere are 32 players from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) on NFL rosters this year, down four from last year and down 50 from 1994, the first time the Black College Sports Page began publishing the data.The Undefeated

The Justice Department halts work on the Dakota Access pipeline
In a temporary, but important victory, the Obama Administration has halted construction along a vital stretch of the proposed Dakota Access pipeline project. Last July, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe filed a complaint in federal court stating that the pipeline threatens the tribe’s health and economic well-being, and would destroy sites of great significance. Recent videos showed peaceful protesters being attacked with mace and police dogs.
Justice Department

The Trans Pacific Partnership would hurt Hispanic and black workers more
A new study from the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, says that the TPP, which would increase imports from lower wage countries, would hurt black and Hispanic workers more than white workers, specifically because they are less likely to have a four-year college degree.
Economic Policy Institute

Brown University’s ambitious $100 million diversity plan
The university has announced a wide-reaching new plan that will impact every aspect of their operations, from staff to curriculum to student recruitment and support. Goals include doubling the number of faculty from underrepresented groups by 2022, the opening of a new “first generation student” college, and a low-income student center, replete with emergency living funds for low income students.
Diverse Education

The University of Oregon used to have a dorm named for a Klansman
But today, no more.The University of Oregon has voted to change the name of a dorm that was named for Frederick Dunn, who was –  wait for it – an Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan. “I don’t believe that we are changing history,” said a board member. “I think we’re no longer honoring people that did egregious actions.”
WEAR TV

How to be an American entrepreneur in China
Although she may not “look” the part, Ti Chang is a child of the American south, as well as a designer and entrepreneur. So moving to China to get her products prototyped and produced proved to be a unique cultural challenge, even though she speaks fluent Mandarin. She was also the founder of a sex toy start-up, though her advice – everything from handling racism, sexism and communal business meals – is utterly safe for work.
Design Blog

The Woke Leader

Advice for the “minority” person in every gifted program
Monica Macansantos is a Phillipine-born novelist with a long line of credentials – she’s currently working on her Ph.D. – and prestigious residencies under her belt. Yet she is still beset by self-doubt, particularly in majority white spaces. She has written a lovely essay which doubles as a reminder for anyone who is striving and achieving their dreams: “You’re here because you’re good.”
Hedgebrook Blog

How Normandy High School failed Michael Brown
Michael Brown became a national symbol of police violence against black youth. But, argues NPR’s Nikole Hannah-Jones, he is also a symbol of something else, and something that is largely hidden – utterly failing schools. The Normandy district, where Brown attended high school, is the lowest-scoring school district in the state of Missouri. But when Normandy’s black kids tried to transfer to better performing schools, white parents react badly.
This American Life

 
This one picture of Michelle Obama is as important as it is beautiful
Essence Magazine’s most recent cover story is a profile of President Obama and The First Lady, an exit interview, of sorts. (On newsstands September 16th.) But one particular photo associated with the story – which shows the couple in profile – has lit up the black twittersphere in a deeply touching way. This essay by Carla Bruce-Eddings explains why.
Refinery 29

Quote

I never use the term racism. It immediately shuts down the conversation.
—Colin Powell