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How to Be a Good Person in a Bad System

November 18, 2016, 3:11 PM UTC

Several members of the University of Wisconsin’s beloved basketball team have become outspoken advocates on the subjects of race, consistently asking their university, the Big Ten Conference, the NCAA, and the community at large, to take issues of race and justice more seriously.

Stars Nigel Hayes and Jordan Hill have been seen taking a step behind their teammates during the national anthem; Hayes has lobbied persuasively for salaries for student-athletes, asked the University to do better with public racial incidents, and has posted extensively in support of the Movement for Black Lives to his 81,000 followers on Twitter.

Three of the athletes, Bronson Koenig, who is Native American, Hill, and Hayes, recently sat down with The New York Times to talk about how their activism has affected their lives. Hayes has been warned by concerned friends that the tough talk will put off potential employers. “[T]he quote I hang my hat on is, I was black before I picked up a basketball, and when I retire, I’ll still be black,” he said.

Hill is also worried. “It would be stupid for me to say that I don’t want to buy my mom a house, a car, want to make money doing what I love to do,” he began. “At the same time, I’m not going to feel good about myself with the knowledge that I’ve gained just holding my tongue.” Koenig jumped in: “That’s kind of selfish.”

It’s hard not to admire these guys, who are trying to leverage their current position power, which is both fleeting and fraught, into attention for issues that they believe will help everyone, even if they risk irritating powerful people, like franchise owners, fans and teammates.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the risks and rewards of advocating for system change lately.

I recently talked with Ray Fisman, the Slater Family Professor of Behavioral Economics at Boston University, about trust, bias, corruption and design for an upcoming story about fixing the problems in the sharing economy. (He’s also the author of a fascinating book on how markets shape our behavior.) I asked him a philosophical question: Is it possible to be a good person in a bad system? “That’s something that’s been weighing on all of us,” he says.

My question was really about policing, and some of the thornier issues of reforming municipal systems that routinely violate the rights of citizens and prey on vulnerable populations for revenue. Are you still a good cop if you look the other way when bad things happen?

But Fisman went there, instead. “Look, I’m Canadian,” he said. “I can say with 99% certainty that most of us heard about the new president and said, ‘fuck it, I’m out of here,’” he said kidding, not kidding.

His advice to people who want to change a bad system: Start by thinking about it as a binary choice: Exit versus voice. “You can exit the bad situation but then you lose your voice and your chance to influence the future,” he said. “Going in each day and banging your head against the wall, trying to make incremental change, this is hard,” he says. But that’s the flipsided gift of diversity. “Even those incremental changes are so much more valuable than if you were around like-minded people.”

When is exit the right choice? “When the system is completely corrupt,” he says. He uses the example of Serpico, the book and film about a NYC cop who blew the lid on massive corruption in the 1970s. “To be the only one in a corrupt system – where everyone is in on it, nothing good can happen. It will crush you.”

So, is he leaving the country? “No, I want to stay and make things better,” he said. And what about the organizations that we’d all like to change? They can handle the heat, he says. “In America, the institutions are strong enough for someone to blow a whistle and get things investigated,” he says. “I’m hopeful.

On Point

After calling for a Muslim registry numerous times, Trump’s team now says they didn’tThey now say that there they were referring to a registry of foreign visitors from countries with high terrorism activity that had already been in place but was suspended in 2011 because it targeted Muslims. "President-elect Trump has never advocated for any registry or system that tracks individuals based on their religion, and to imply otherwise is completely false," said a spokesperson.Talking Points Memo

Here is video of candidate Trump “absolutely” calling for a Muslim database
It was in response to a question from NBC News and occurred between campaign town halls in Newton, Iowa. "I would certainly implement that. Absolutely," he responded after being asked if there should be a database system tracking Muslims in the U.S. "There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases," he added. "We should have a lot of systems." He closed by saying Muslims should be legally obligated to register. "They have to be — they have to be."
NBC News

Trump supporter: Japanese internment camps are a precedent for the Muslim registry they never actually wanted
It would also “hold constitutional muster,” said Carl Higbie, a Trump superPAC leader, during an appearance on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show. He said that the registry proposal being discussed by Trump’s immigration advisers would be legal and necessary.
Washington Post

Facebook has to address its role in the public square
Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky calls for Facebook to address the crush of fake news and bad information that has populated the site. It’s not just for their users, shareholders, and advertisers. “Facebook needs no editors to repurpose the hard work of others; its users do that for them. In the absence of editors, Facebook also won’t encourage you to consider alternative viewpoints. In this dire analysis, the traditional media withers and political discourse becomes ever more insular, and at a frightfully accelerating pace.”

Children of unauthorized immigrants are a rising share of K-12 students
About 3.9 million students in the U.S. are the children of unauthorized immigrants, which is about 7.3% of the total population, as defined by government data. The numbers of long-term unauthorized immigrant residents have grown since 2009, increasing the likelihood that children will have a different immigration status than their parents.
Pew Research

They took another selfie on the hill with only white staffers, folks
Mike Pence, Paul Ryan and the House Republicans posed for a massive selfie, all fresh-faced and happy, ready to make America great again. Alas, there was not one person of color to be found, and Twitter was not having it.
The Wrap

The Woke Leader

Writing on the wall: Detained Chinese immigrants and their poetry
In the early 1900s, Chinese immigrants to the U.S. were detained and interrogated at the Angel Island Immigration Center in San Francisco Bay. The men and women, detained in separate barracks, wrote anguished poetry on the walls while they awaited their fates. Denver poet Teow Lim Goh re-imagines what the women may have been feeling; their barracks were destroyed in a fire. (The men’s barracks remain, however.)
Colorado Public Radio

A history of moderate and low income Democratic white voters
Disaffected white voters without college degrees have been the driving force in every conservative wave that has swept Republicans into elected office, argues opinion writer Thomas B. Edsall, even if they were reliably Democratic before. It’s about the issues, he says. “Gingrich claimed responsibility for his party’s 1994 victories. Bill Clinton’s initial abandonment of the themes that he campaigned on in 1992 was, in fact, more important.”
New York Times

High-achieving black students and professionals become targets in society
When black students or professionals are too successful, they trigger a backlash that is based on racial assumptions, wrote researcher and professor J. Luke Wood, with co-authors Frank Harris III, and Joshua Wood. “[E]xcellence disrupts erroneous assumptions of supremacy…You become a target, the center of attention in a bitter (and sometimes unconscious) effort to derail your success or question the standards by which your success is measured.”
Huffington Post


We cannot permit this invidious thinking, discredited by history at the cost of so much misery and suffering by innocents, to take root once again in America, let alone in the White House. The stigmatization, separation and labeling of our fellow humans based on race or religion has never led to a more secure world.
—George Takei