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Report Your Microaggressions

October 17, 2016, 2:22 PM UTC

One of the unexpected perks of this gig is hearing from you about your work, your lives and what’s missing from your professional tool boxes. Since many of the topics we cover are personal, and occasionally painful, it’s wonderful to hear that this coverage is resonating. Thanks, and keep writing.

Here are four things that raceAhead readers have asked me to think about that I’ll be turning into stories:

  • Many of you have written asking me for an update about what I’ve been learning about race and work in the last six months of reporting, so look for a “state of race in the workplace” piece in the next few weeks.
  • The unique struggles of over-fifty executives of color who are either looking for work or facing a precipitous narrowing of professional opportunities.
  • Microaggressions in the workplace – those casual, often inadvertent slights and dismissals that can demean others and erode a sense of trust and inclusion. We all hate them, but they’re a fact of life. And we’re all guilty, occasionally. What best practices are companies adopting? Are there unintended consequences of “policing speech?”
  • And finally, empathy. It’s become the emotional centerpiece for much of the diversity and inclusion work you’re embracing. Can it be taught? What are the components? How can it scale through organizations? What is the business world learning about measuring its bottom-line impact?

So, I’ve got my marching orders.

Here are yours. Send me your choicest examples of the microaggressions that have been lobbed your way, or, if you’re brave, that you’ve accidentally said to someone else. (This is an inclusive request. It doesn’t have to be about race.)

To get you started, here are some from different categories of my life:

  • When I was single: “You can cook? Wow. I pictured your refrigerator with, like a yogurt and a stalk of celery or something.” (Speaker: boss.)
  • On being mixed race: “You’re what? Why don’t you just tell people you’re Brazilian? It’s so much more exotic.” (Speaker: federal judge.)
  • On asking for a raise: “You should definitely wear something silky and flowy. It will throw him off.” (Speaker: male mentor.)
  • Guest on a panel: “Your “hair” (she used air quotes) doesn’t work for a business show. Our viewers absolutely will not accept it.” (Speaker: television producer.)
  • On my home town: “Wait. You’re from New York? But you’re so clean!” (Speaker: At least ten different people. I had no idea what it meant and didn’t ask.)
  • To a Native American colleague who was running late: “Don’t worry, I’ll hold down the fort!” (Speaker: me. My face still burns with shame.)


Wishing you a microaggression free Monday.

On Point

Watch Fortune's Most Powerful Women SummitFortune's 18th annual Most Powerful Women Summit starts tonight, and you can watch the three-day tribute to female business achievement live. It begins at 7 pm Pacific time, when Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts takes the stage. The line-up is outstanding, but inclusion experts are going to want to bookmark Priscilla Chan, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative co-founder, and Professor Anita Hill, for starters.Fortune

Three members of a Kansas “militia group” arrested in a domestic terrorist plot
The plan was scheduled for the day after Election Day, authorities say, and the target was an apartment complex that is home to Somali immigrants. The arrests happened after an 8-month FBI investigation that brought them “deep into a hidden culture of hatred and violence.” The group, known as “The Crusaders” are an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant group.
CBS News

A white supremacist changes his mind
By the time he went to community college, Derek Black had become the darling of the alt-right, a lifelong contributor to the white supremacist site Stormfront and a godson to David Duke. But after Black was tentatively embraced by an eclectic group of college friends (I can’t say more without giving it away), he slowly came to believe that his ideas about white genocide and racial supremacy were deeply misguided. His “white flight” broke his racist father’s heart. An extraordinary story of awakening and hope.
Washington Post

A video game that helps overcome hiring bias
Hiring is a tough bit of business. Managers wildly overestimate their ability to judge “culture fit.” And socioeconomic barriers, like attending community college, not an Ivy League, can eliminate a candidate before they’ve had a chance to speak. A new company called Scoutible hopes to level the playing field through immersive video games that purport to assess cognitive ability and personality traits to help match the best talent with the right jobs. Mark Cuban is their big backer.
Fast Company

Colin Kaepernick lost yesterday, but the conversation continued
It wasn’t the greatest return to active status in history - the San Francisco 49’ers were trounced by the Buffalo Bills 45-16. But Kaepernick, who is now one of the most famous barely-playing athletes in the NFL, still made waves with the folks in the stands. Someone made a tackling dummy of him in the tailgating area, and another group of Bills fans assembled to take a knee outside of the stadium when the anthem played. Some of the responses were uglier.

When chemicals leak: A black and white tale of two towns
When a methane leak from a natural gas facility threatened a tony Los Angeles suburb, sickened residents got an immediate response and lots of help. Across the country, the residents of the mostly low-income, African-American town of Eight Mile, Alabama, have lived with the aftermath of a similar leak for eight years; a rotten egg smell and repeated hospitalizations – yet no relocations, no Congressional visits, no media. The facilities that leaked were owned by the same company, San Diego-based Sempra Energy.
LA Times

Harvard food service workers on strike for benefits and a living wage
It’s the first time Harvard’s dining service workers have walked off the job during the school year. The action comes after months of tense negotiations with the University. As the strike enters its second week, it’s becoming a public relations nightmare: Eleven protesters were arrested on Friday, and Harvard Law School students who hoped to use some of their own organization’s funding to feed the strikers (many of whom eat their main meal at work) were encouraged not to.  Harvard has a $35 billion endowment.
The Crimson

A Harvard institute get a multi-million dollar grant to study poverty
Private equity investor Glenn Hutchins made a $10 million grant to Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African-American Studies, of which $2 million is earmarked for a project to study income inequality and the broader effects of poverty. The center is run by Henry Louis Gates Jr., who hopes that the grant will help make the center a key player in public policy as it relates to race and class. Observers are not so sure.
Boston Globe

The Woke Leader

Asian Americans share the slurs they hear even though #thisis2016
Michael Luo, the deputy Metro editor for the New York Times, wrote an open letter to a “well-dressed woman on the Upper East Side” who told him to “go back to China” and worse - after she became irritated by his family walking with a baby stroller on the sidewalk. After publishing his response on the site and in print, he asked other Asian-Americans to share and tweet their own racist moments. This video is a heartbreaking selection of those responses.
New York Times

A conversation with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Walter Mosley
I’m halfway through Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s thoughtful new book, Writing On The Wall: Searching for a New Reality Beyond Black and White, and am struck once again by his unflinching grasp of history and his belief that through dedicated effort, we can solve our racial divides. Earlier this summer, he joined novelist Walter Mosley on stage at the New York Public Library for an often hilarious conversation about the book, his life in basketball, growing up the son of a jazz legend in New York, and his first foray into fiction writing, a mystery novel based on Sherlock Holmes’s older brother. It's like listening in on two geniuses talk about the world.
New York Public Library

Immigrants make democracy work for everyone
After Sayu Bhojwani became a U.S. citizen, she became a social entrepreneur, a lobbyist, then, in the aftermath of 9/11, NYC’s first Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs. It was then she saw how powerful the immigrant perspective was to an inclusive democracy. “People who were members of my family, young people I had worked with, were experiencing harassment at schools, at workplaces and in airports. And now I was going to represent their concerns in government,” she said. She now trains immigrants to run for elected office.


Patriotism isn’t just getting teary-eyed on the Fourth of July or choked up at war memorials. It’s supporting what the Fourth of July celebrates and what those war memorials commemorate: the U.S. Constitution’s insistence that all people should have the same rights and opportunities and that it is the obligation of the government to make that happen. When the government fails in those obligations, it is the responsibility of patriots to speak up and remind them of their duty.
—Kareen Abdul-Jabbar