raceAhead: The Great Migration: Why Racial Bias Still Pervades America

September 15, 2016, 3:08 PM UTC

The Smithsonian Magazine recently published “Black In America,” in honor of the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on September 24th. It is the best single issue of a magazine I’ve encountered in a very long time.

Oprah Winfrey, Congressman John Lewis, Spike Lee, Angela Davis and astronaut Mae Jemmison have all contributed pieces, and a section called Generations asks the children of Civil Rights leaders to share their stories.

And that’s barely scratching the surface.

Although all of it will be rich fodder for the raceAhead crowd, I suggest you start with Isabel Wilkerson’s extraordinary piece on the Great Migration. You don’t need to have read her book The Warmth of Other Suns, to enjoy it, though I recommend it highly. The book is a massive and beautifully rendered account of the slow but steady migration of six million African Americans from the violent repression of the Jim Crow South, to the North and West in search of a better life. The Migration lasted between 1916 and 1970 and reshaped America in ways that we are just now starting to understand.

It was a tough road. “The migrants were cast as poor illiterates, who imported out-of-wedlock births, joblessness and welfare dependency wherever they went,” she wrote.

But Wilkinson’s extraordinary reporting tells a different and more nuanced tale – one of risk, hard work, and achievement despite racial barriers that still exist in some forms. “It’s hard to imagine what it would be like if there was no Great Migration,” she says. “So many aspects of what we view as American culture were affected by this unleashing of pent up, unrecognized talent, creativity and ability, that had been withheld for centuries.”

And an astonishing number of prominent African American executives, artists or athletes either are, or are direct descendants of, someone who took that perilous journey to a new life.

In a recent conversation, I asked Wilkerson to help explain what we get wrong about the Great Migration, and why it is imperative that business leaders closely study the difficult history that shapes our world in unseen ways. “If there are disparities in how African Americans are making their way in the business world, and they are encountering barriers and assumptions, it is a direct manifestation of the unaddressed history of the world in which we all live,” says Wilkerson. “History can be a tremendous guide, and more of a comfort than people can imagine.”

Click here for the full interview.

On Point

When you’re the only black friend…or colleagueIn what I hope will the first of many posts on the Fortune Insiders Network, leading inclusion expert David Sutphen poses an important question for leaders: How can you be expected to understand diversity if you don’t actually know any people who are different from you? His seven-step plan to help C-Suiters bridge the experience gap offers a path forward that is both practical and, well, inclusive.Fortune

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Trump visits Flint, Michigan, gets schooled by pastor
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Fast Company

The ACC joins the NCAA and pulls all post-season play from North Carolina
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The bowls – and the playoffs – are the big thing in college football and other sports. So, who is eligible to play in these all important, post-season contests? It turns out, it’s complicated. The Undefeated breaks down how it came to be that of all but one of  the NCAA sanctioned teams that are banned from post-season play this year come from historically black colleges.
The Undefeated

The Woke Leader

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Although the anniversary may have passed, the challenges of living under a permanent cloud of suspicion have not. Nine Muslim people share how growing Islamophobia has changed their lives, and what others misunderstand about their faith. “Once it became tied to politics is when things got scary,” says one woman. “Now it’s a multimillion-dollar machine."

Margot Lee Shetterly has more stories to tell
Her new book, Hidden Fingers, tells the now nearly famous story of the female mathematicians working for NASA who helped put a bunch of white men on the moon. Now that she’s gotten everyone’s attention, she believes that there are many more stories like these, buried in the complex history of science and achievement, that deserve to be told.
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A novelist made fun of cultural appropriation and now everyone hates her
Here is the link to Lionel Shriver’s full speech, the keynote at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival. It was intended to be a provocative discussion of identity and the role of fiction to explain the world. But the Australian novelist went too far – even wearing a sombrero - as she defended the notion that fiction writers should be free from thinking about racial stereotypes and cultural sensitivities. Another writer, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, published an impassioned rebuttal.
The Guardian


Our too-young and too-new America, lusty because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid, insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and the evil, the high and the low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity. It hugs the easy way of damning those whom it cannot understand, of excluding those who look different, and it salves its conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness.
—Richard Wright

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