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Black Millennials Critique Corporate America

November 4, 2016, 2:11 PM UTC

The best part of my yesterday was chatting with so many talented black millennials about the Nielsen study I shared in Thursday’s column. The study called Young, Connected and Black, described their demographic as digitally sophisticated and technologically adventurous, with powerful networks and vibrant online lives. While they are seen as rich targets for marketers, they’ve yet to see their influence felt at the tables of power.

I asked two of them to weigh in:

“I suppose, I shouldn’t be surprised that we are seen as a good for advertisers, but grassroots efforts and protest is seen as disruptive (duh) and unhelpful,” Heather Barmore told me by email. She’s been a blogger and education lobbyist for more than a decade, and currently works in digital policy and engagement for the mayor of Washington, DC. “Years ago, I would speak at conferences about why people – marketers, big brands – don’t listen to young people of color,” she said.

Her network is filled with people like herself, who are focused on re-shaping the world. Why ignore them?

“We were having conversations about policy, politics and social justice – first among ourselves, but in recent years they’ve spilled online.” For Barmore, her cohort’s ability to drive policy is the real missed opportunity. “We have a voice now and so many black millennials want to use our platforms for good – for change.” Little by little, they’re being invited to the real world conversation, she says, but not fast enough. “If only those in positions of political power and the general public would take us a little more seriously,” she says.

Alix Montes, who works in marketing communications, says that when it comes to corporations embracing black millennials’ energy, what’s missing is courage. “Brands are so scared to be progressive when it comes to racial equality. They’re scared of what they stand to lose by being inclusive, but in reality, they have so much more to gain,” he says. “Our social capital, ability to organize and digital talents can accomplish so much if organizations are willing to tap into the values they don’t realize we share.”

He feels your pain. “Think about the StarbucksRace Together” campaign,” he says. “[Howard] Schultz tried to get other CEOs to speak up, but a lot of them left him hanging. These brands are scared to take a stance because conversations about race can be polarizing and they don’t want to isolate anyone. However, every time they choose to stay silent, they isolate black millennials.”

It’s also time to stop co-opting black ideas and embrace black capacity, he says. “Meet this talent where they are. They’re not always going to be in a referral from an Ivy League or in the traditional pools of talent that organizations rely on.” He says Airbnb or Facebook could have avoided many of their bias problems if they’d been smarter from the start. “I’m a part of a GroupMe called Blacks In Tech. It has since evolved into a community on Slack. Consumer tech companies would be out of excuses if they spent time interviewing members of the Blacks In Tech community.”

Barmore is similarly pointed. “Don’t sleep on us young people of color or make assumptions that we are just about one thing. We are so much more than a source for the latest fad.”


It’s been a tough few months, so I’ve filled the links below with as much good news and inspiration as I could find. Have a stress-free weekend! Next week’s going to be a wild ride.

On Point

Diversity in tech will take care of itself, say venture capitalistsHere’s the only real irritant in the links today, but it's a doozy. Click through for the first-ever LinkedIn member survey that asks the venture and start-up communities to explain the lack of diversity in tech, and what can possibly be done to fix it. It describes a new digital divide: women and professionals of color who are appalled by their lack of access, and the venture folks who don’t see the problem. Less than 5% of investors rated diversity as their top concern. They’re sticking with the “pipeline problem” argument, too.LinkedIn

How a small group of techies are saving Syrian refugees
By making government better, that's how. Jason Wu gave up a swag-filled life as a product manager at Facebook in order to take on a higher calling. He joined the United States Digital Service (USDS), the start-up created by the White House to help upgrade government’s inadequate technology by recruiting brilliant techies for short, focused stints. Wu signed up for the organization’s refugee project and attempted to reshape one of the more painful and outdated vetting processes in government. And that’s where the story gets amazing. If you’re a process geek with a heart of gold, this saga is for you.  
Webby Awards

Choosing a different kind of law and order
Prosecutors are the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system, argues prosecutor Adam Foss. They're trained in the law but have little sense of what true justice is, he says. With broad discretion to help defendants – who are often poor, drug addicted or mentally ill– they rarely do. It’s too risky. “[People] were in need of our assistance. But we weren't giving them any. Prosecuted, adjudged and defended by people who knew nothing about them.” What if we demanded more from them? When he demanded more of himself, he saw the system change.

The oldest Chinese laundry in the country closes
The Ching Lee Laundry in San Mateo, California was the oldest Chinese-owned laundry in the United States, run by the same family for 140 years. When they decided to close their doors, the neighborhood came out in force to honor the family who had been part of the community for so long. The business was living history: These laundries dominated the business landscape a century ago, as Chinese immigrants were banned from other jobs. When the business first opened, laundry was picked up and delivered to San Francisco by horse and carriage.
NBC News

Seriously cool chefs are transforming the Bronx with food, art, and meaning
The members of Ghetto Gastro, a “food connoisseur collective,” hopes that their original dishes mixed with art, politics, and fashion will create exciting, one-off experiences that will open minds and transform the local economy. In an extensive interview, Jon Gray, one of the creators of the nomadic food tribe, describes one themed dinner based on Benjamin Franklin’s Four Freedoms. It ended with a Black Lives Matter desert with a chalk outline of a body on a plate. Then, “we did a deconstructed apple pie. We used different types of apples, and it was called ‘black bodies,’” he says. A delicious read.
Daze Digital

The new secret to happiness: equality
Researchers have found a new equation that can predict happiness, and it involves the lives of others. Simply put, our happiness depends partly on our own circumstances but tends to rise or fall when people around us have either more or less than we do. In one test, set up as a gambling game, participants rated themselves happier when both they and a partner got the same result, even if it was a loss. But most noted that their happiness decreased when their partner got a different result, regardless if they themselves had won.

The Woke Leader

Leader, love thyself
Dr. Kristen Neff, a professor of human development and culture at University of Texas at Austin, recommends a form of self-compassion – a central construct in Buddhist psychology and based on years of empirical research. “Many leaders value compassion and diversity, and strive very hard to create environments where all are respected,” she tells me. “If we are mercilessly harsh and disapproving toward ourselves we won’t be able to sustain our efforts to foster tolerance for others, undermining our ability to create the compassionate environments where justice and diversity thrive.”

Bruce Lee: Our lack of self-awareness leads to unnecessary suffering
Bruce Lee should be better known for his brains than his brawn, and this beautiful collection of excerpts from some of his more introspective moments is a welcome glimpse into a disciplined mind. “There is a powerful craving in most of us to see ourselves as instruments in the hands of others and thus free ourselves from the responsibility for acts that are prompted by our own questionable inclinations and impulses,” says the philosopher. Self-awareness is the answer to the power of the system. Make the dogma heel, and look within.

Louis Armstrong sat down with two white high school journalists in 1964 and it was awesome
This charming interview was nearly lost to history; the audio has been lovingly animated by the video team at PBS Digital Studio. The two "journalists" were then 14  and 15, respectively, and had been sent to interview Louis Armstrong for their high school radio station in Winnetka, Illinois. They got to watch him perform to a sold out crowd, then came backstage. “So, how did you get the name Satchmo?” they began. Armstrong took the interview in his drawers.
Blank on Blank


Pops. Sweet Papa Dip. Satchmo. He had perfect pitch and perfect rhythm. His improvised melodies and singing could be as lofty as a moon flight or as low-down as the blood drops of a street thug dying in the gutter. …Louis Daniel Armstrong supplied revolutionary language that took on such pervasiveness that it became commonplace, like the light bulb, the airplane, the telephone.
—Stanley Crouch