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Boss: We Need To Talk

Lewis Wallace, the only openly transgender man working in public media, was fired from his radio job at Marketplace after he re-posted an essay on his personal Medium account that his boss had initially directed him to take down. The title of the essay – “Objectivity is dead and I’m ok with it.”

It was an attempt to reconcile what Wallace understands to be the fundamental duty of journalism, while trying to, in his view, “adapt to a government that believes in “alternative facts” and thrives on lies, including the lie of white racial superiority.” It’s worth a read, and not just because it cost him his job. (His boss said the post was a violation of their ethics code.)

From his post:

Neutrality isn’t real: Neutrality is impossible for me, and you should admit that it is for you, too. As a member of a marginalized community (I am transgender), I’ve never had the opportunity to pretend I can be “neutral.” After years of silence/denial about our existence, the media has finally picked up trans stories, but the nature of the debate is over whether or not we should be allowed to live and participate in society, use public facilities and expect not to be harassed, fired or even killed.

Obviously, I can’t be neutral or centrist in a debate over my own humanity. The idea that I don’t have a right to exist is not an opinion, it is a falsehood.

On that note, can people of color be expected to give credence to “both sides” of a dispute with a white supremacist, a person who holds unscientific and morally reprehensible views on the very nature of being human? Should any of us do that? Final note here, the “center” that is viewed as neutral can and does shift; studying the history of journalism is a great help in understanding how centrism is more a marketing tactic to reach broad audiences than actual neutrality.

There’s a lot to unpack in his essay. But at the heart of his argument is an important distinction between accusing someone of believing the lie of white supremacy, and of enabling the lie in order to benefit from it. “Do I want to weigh in on whether or Donald Trump personally feels racism or white supremacy in his heart? No,” Wallace said in a

“Do I want to weigh in on whether or Donald Trump personally feels racism or white supremacy in his heart? No,” Wallace said in a lengthy interview with Current, a news outlet that covers public media. “Do I consider white supremacy to be a false framework that we should reject as scientifically false and dangerous to all of us? Yes.”

This is the core mistake that people continue to make he says, which is why he was so wanted have the conversation publicly. And because he waived his two-week severance, he’s now able to. (He also wryly observes that he’s now contributing to the epidemic of unemployment among the trans people, who are unemployed at twice the rate of the population as a whole. Some 44% of working trans people are dangerously underemployed and living at or near poverty.)

Since we all have a stake in how journalism evolves, it’s a conversation we should all care about. But regardless of your opinion on media neutrality or Wallace’s actions, this is also a story about inclusion. “I also believe that media needs to change to make space for the diverse voices it purports to desire within its ranks,” he said in a follow-up post on Medium.

Making space means finding ways to allow the many difficult conversations about how your work is conducted to happen. And this is exactly what makes this story important fodder for leaders from every industry.

If you’re asking your employees or colleagues to operate within a system that requires them to check their humanity at the door or renders them invisible, they may find a way, perhaps a public one, to bring that to your attention. If that feels like a threat, it’s going to be a bumpy ride for everyone. But if that feels like an opportunity, then not only might people thrive at work, but your market share might too.

On Point

Top Trump aide cited a massacre that never happened to defend administration’s temporary Muslim banKelly Anne Conway cited a 2011 incident in which two Iraqi men who had been resettled in Bowling Green, Kentucky were arrested and charged with plotting to send money and weapons to al-Qaida. There was no massacre, nor did the two men plan attacks in the U.S. In response to the 2011 incident, then President Obama tightened security checks for Iraqis entering the U.S., which Conway referred to as a six-month “ban.” There was no ban.Fortune

In January, 57 bomb threats were called in to 48 Jewish centers around the U.S.
It appears to be a coordinated harassment effort, happening in waves throughout the month of January, often targeting multiple organizations at the exact same time. Though no bombs were ever found, the threats were taken seriously, forcing evacuations of schools, community centers and day cares, and badly frightening entire communities. “It hits a lot closer to home when it’s your kids and your school. A lot of the parents are upset. These are kids are below 5 years old,” said one parent from the Chicago area. (Registration required.)
Haaretz

Beloved San Francisco bookstore features cookbooks from Trump-banned countries, wins internet
Omnivore Books festooned its shop window with a display of books written by immigrants from the seven mostly Muslim countries on the restricted travel list — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan. A tweeted photo of the display with a hand-lettered sign saying “People from these countries are now banned from entering the U.S. Learn about them, ” became an instant hit. The books share a love of cuisine, family, and the celebration of culture, with an emphasis on the role that food plays in fellowship.
GrubStreet

A new program hopes to train and inspire a new generation of black teachers
The Washington DC school system has been placing recent high school graduates, all young African-American men, in pre-school classes around the city, hoping that they’ll fall in love with the profession and train to become teachers. The need is real. Nearly 63 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision that integrated the public schools, students of color nationwide are being taught by an overwhelmingly white workforce. It’s the unintended legacy of integration, say experts. White parents, upset by the Supreme Court’s decision, insisted on white teachers. Says one historian, has the culture of black teaching “died with Brown.” Click through to meet some of the young men.
USA Today

An amazing new project highlights the work of black designers
The latest census of the design community conducted by the AIGA along with Google found that the profession is overwhelmingly white: 73 per cent of the 9,602 designers surveyed identified as white, nine per cent as Latinx, eight per cent as Asian, and three per cent were black. In response, St. Louis-based designer Ted Hykes launched a personal project called 28 Blacks, as a nod to the celebration of Black History Month. It’s shaping up to be a terrific networking and head-hunting tool. Today’s entry, Tiffany Middleton, is a digital media designer from ESPN, who credits Teen Vogue for introducing her to the concept of graphic design back in the day. Right?
28 Blacks

The Woke Leader

Poet Clint Smith has some thoughts about our “complicated history”
Smith is also a former high school English teacher who now studies racial inequality in the U.S. as a doctoral candidate at Harvard University. He published his first collection of poems last year. In this excellent short video, he performs his poem, A letter to five of the presidents who owned slaves while they were in office. “How many brown bodies do you have to bulldoze before you can call it progress, Mr. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson?” Smith goes on to talk about why it’s necessary for us to “complicate history:” The story we tell about our founding fathers is incomplete unless we do. “We don’t wrestle with the fact that many of these were brilliant men, but they were also men with deep prejudices against people of color, against indigenous people, against women,” he says.
PBS

Lyndon Johnson was both a civil rights hero and a racist
Hey, you actually can be both. That’s the message of this terrific analysis by Adam Serwer: That people are complex beings, products of their time and it makes no sense to gloss over uncomfortable truths in the service of just getting along. The civil rights legislation Johnson was so famous for? He referred to it ‘the nigger bill’ to southern lawmakers, and didn’t particularly care who heard him.
MSNBC

A video game for an Alaskan native tribe preserve stories and culture
The New Yorker has a terrific video series that’s always illuminating, but do check out episode eleven. At the 8:20 mark is “Never Alone,” a beautiful video about the creation of an even more beautiful video game that was designed to preserve the language and stories of the Alaska native Iñupiat tribe. Until recently, the tribe had no written form of expression. “One of our biggest struggles has been – how do we remain as a people in this modern world,” says the tribal council president.
Amazon

Quote

Well, they treated me probably as people probably now treat a waif from, say, South Vietnam. You know, they mean every good thing but they don’t make them into members of the community. Although I think this country is better than most countries, at least, if you’re not a Negro. But looking at the Negroes, you’ll see that it’s not so hot here either. So that discrimination takes many different forms. It can take the form of, let’s say, solicitude. I mean, for instance, the solicitude of the missionary.
—Isamu Noguchi