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Obama’s Legacy Debated

Ta-Nehisi Coates has dropped another opus into his extraordinary canon on race and politics for The Atlantic. My President Was Black: A history of the first African American in the White House – and of what came next, is the cover of their January/ February issue and is quintessential Coates: Beautifully written, deeply reported and devastating in its conclusions.

I’ll only quote one passage:

“Obama’s greatest misstep was born directly out of his greatest insight. Only Obama, a black man who emerged from the best of white America, and thus could sincerely trust white America, could be so certain that he could achieve broad national appeal. And yet only a black man with that same biography could underestimate his opposition’s resolve to destroy him.”

At 17,000 words, I’m still reading, re-reading and in some cases, shaking my head. Since we only have a few more moments before the inevitable think-pieces emerge to dissect it, I strongly suggest carving out the time to read the original work, spoiler-free. It promises to be one of the more debated analyses of Obama’s legacy, and I’m glad Coates is kicking off the conversation with such depth and spirit.

Do any of you plan to discuss the piece in your book or coaching groups? Would you mind if I Skyped or dropped in? I’d love to know what’s on your minds. (I’ll even send some snacks.)

More news below.

 

On Point

Google continues to discuss race and bias, this time in its algorithmsTech CEO Anil Dash, along with commentator Van Jones, appeared on the program at Decoding Race, the fourth installation of Google’s Race@ discussion series. The conversation touched several nerves close to the company’s heart. Remember when Google searches for black people returned pictures of gorillas? “To the degree that the data is sexist or racist, you’re going to have the algorithm imitating those behaviors,” said Bradley Horowitz, former lead of Google Photos. “What data should we be feeding it, how should we be correcting that.” In addition to the biases baked into technology, ways to make tech companies more inclusive were also addressed.TechCrunch

Anil Dash says Asians and Asian Americans can be better allies for other people of color in tech
Dash was quoted in the above piece as saying Asian Americans need to be better allies to other people of color in the tech ecosystem. “We have to be doubly-loud if you are an Asian in tech. We take up a lot of space and we don’t fight real hard.” Later on Twitter, he clarified that a lack of allyship wasn’t the only systemic barrier in tech. “[T]he biggest impact on tech inclusion that Asian Americans have control over is whether we speak up.” His Medium essay does a great job digging into it further.
Medium

Nancy Lee, Google’s head of diversity, is retiring from the company
Lee, who originally joined Google’s legal team back in 2006, has been leading diversity efforts for the past few years. Among her greatest hits was the Googler-in-Residence program at historically black colleges and universities. She has been both candid and optimistic about Google’s diversity prospects.
TechCrunch

Teen Vogue shocks big shots on Twitter with in-depth political commentary
But others, like novelist Roxane Gay, expressed dismay at the reaction. “The condescension and surprise directed toward @TeenVogue for publishing great writers is a measure of how women/girls are underestimated,” she tweeted. The piece in question, “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America,” is part of a year-long effort to move the magazine into the realm of politics, feminism, identity, and activism to better meet the real interests of their readers. The Atlantic digs into the editorial changes and why we shouldn’t be surprised that great journalism is being written for Taylor Swift fans.
The Atlantic

A pipeline spill near Standing Rock makes the protestors case in the worst way possible
There’s a surprising amount that we don’t know about the event. Here’s what we do know: A pipeline in North Dakota has spilled more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil into a creek 150 miles north of the protest camps at Standing Rock. The reason for the failure is still unknown, and the spill has spread into a six mile area. The spill had been discovered by “an unknown individual,” and was not widely reported.
Gizmodo

The Supreme Court declines request by retired players to review concussion settlement from the NFL
A subset of retired NFL players had asked for a review of the league’s concussion-related settlement, saying that it had unfairly excluded some who received a diagnosis of a severe brain disease linked to head hits, and failed to take into account new technology that could diagnose related brain disease while players are still alive. The current settlement could be worth as much as $1 billion. Experts think some 30% of players could develop conditions that would make them eligible for payments under the agreement.
New York Times

The Woke Leader

Black Santas have been civil rights trailblazers for decades
They’re still few and far between, rare enough so that when the Mall of America in Minneapolis hired a black Santa it became international news – and the subject of race-based protests. But the color of Santa has long been an emotionally charged affair. “Going to a department store, sitting on Santa’s lap, all of that, is very central to a certain kind of post-war, white middle-class identity,” says one researcher. But the occasional appearance of a “negro Santa” dates back to earlier in the last century, with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson being the first of note, during the Depression.
BBC

What Raymond Loewy can teach activists, advocates and marketers
You would know the work of industrial designer Raymond Loewy (1893-1986) instantly: The Exxon logo, the greyhound bus, the Lucky Strike pack, and Singer vacuum cleaners are just a small part of his extraordinary portfolio. But his formula for making things cool, as in, acceptable to American consumers is one we can all learn from. “He believed that consumers are torn between two opposing forces: neophilia, a curiosity about new things; and neophobia, a fear of anything too new,” writes Derek Thompson, in this fascinating book excerpt.
The Atlantic

A bitter academic debate on whether torture during slavery built the U.S. economy
It’s a tough conversation, either way. The thesis of Edward Baptist’s book, The Half Has Never Been Told, is simple yet controversial: The systematic use and abuse of slaves provided the wealth and power that ultimately made the U.S. possible. Other academics say that he ignores the primary driver behind the three-fold increase in cotton production from 1800-1862: improved seed variations, not an increase in torture. Baptist’s critics are quick to say that they are not denying slavery and torture existed, just that it doesn’t explain the growth in the cotton industry.
Washington Post

Quote

The single biggest threat to the long-term health and growth of the tech sector is the backlash that could be caused by tech’s worst abuses and excesses.
—Anil Dash