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The Senate Considers ‘The Rooney Rule’

Buried behind the news of presidential speeches and alleged Russian meetings was a minor victory for diversity in the Senate ranks, and by extension, the rest of us. On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked his caucus to adopt new rules to promote ethnic diversity among Senate staff, including a version of the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” which will require Senate offices to interview at least one minority applicant for senior job openings in the future.

This is a good first step. The Senate has been the focus of sharp criticism for its lack of diversity: A 2015 study found that 7% of top staffers were people of color, while African Americans provide some 25% of all Democratic votes.

The Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus, a professional and social network for black legislative staffers, has been one of the groups trying to turn things around. After the November election, they sent a letter to all Senate offices that included the result of a survey of their own, an ambitious data collection project that sought to determine the number of black Senate staffers and how they felt about their working environment.

The results were disappointing, but not surprising. Their census found that of the roughly 3,600 Senate staffers in the nation’s capital, just shy of 5% are black. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they “disapproved or were indifferent” to how Senate offices have treated African-American staffers. That’s a fairly significant pipeline problem.

Don Bell, the president of the SBLSC said that the Schumer announcement was an important step forward, though clearly there is much work to be done. “It is a democratic imperative that people of all backgrounds, experiences, and communities have a voice in the decision-making room as policy is being made for the country,” he told raceAhead, by e-mail. “Diversity ensures that the communities we serve are most effectively connected to their elected representatives.”

I asked Bell if he could share a recent example of when he thought a lack of diversity was particularly problematic, either as a legislative professional or as a citizen. His answer came immediately: It was after the police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, a flashpoint for many professional organizations. “It wasn’t just another day or week in the office for black staffers,” he said. “There were a number of us who were profoundly impacted by the images we saw on television, and even more impacted by the slow responses or silence by Members to those events. I believe that was a seminal moment for SBLSC. It was the moment where, at least in my mind, acceptance of the status quo was no longer acceptable.”

On Point

The Trump effect: More Muslims are running for local officeThere are only two Muslims serving in Congress, though local races have seen a surge in new Muslim candidates, mostly on the Democratic ticket. But there is a growing effort to find, support and train viable Muslim candidates, to help them both assert their rights and shape policy. “Muslims didn’t ask to be dragged into the spotlight, but now that we’re there and we need to push back,” the director of government affairs at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) told NPR. “Getting into elected offices is one of the best means.” Local party officials, used to telling candidates when they can and cannot run, are now being ignored. Farrah Khan, an Irvine, CA businesswoman waved off her local Democratic party members when she was told to wait her turn. “I was like, ‘No, no. I’m telling you. I’m running.'”NPR

A funeral in India reveals deep fears for engineers who once sought U.S. tech jobs
Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the Indian immigrant shot and killed in a possible hate crime in a Kansas City, Kan area bar, was given a traditional Indian funeral in Hyderabad, India, surrounded by grieving loved ones who struggled to make sense of his senseless murder. But many of the attendees were engineers, like Kuchibhotla; Hyderabad is a city where IT professionals pray for U.S. visas to help them excel in their careers. “But before the ancient rituals could be completed, a cluster of young mourners — mostly information technology professionals or engineers, like the dead man — began shouting. “Trump, down, down!” they said. “Down with racism! Down with hatred!”
New York Times

From the archives: Remember when the Kansas GOP suggested that your neighbors were in ISIS?
We reported on this back in October when the flyers first started arriving in Kansas mailboxes, but it’s worth a look back. The mailers depicted a purported ISIS fighter holding a machine gun with a message that read: “Have you met the new neighbors?” They appeared in zip codes around the state; one flyer supported a local representative who was calling for special funding so that law enforcement might “recognize and deal with foreign and domestic threats to our state, from those who support ideologies that are in conflict with the U.S. Constitution and our Kansas values.” A representative from the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C. said the scary looking flyer “verges on incitement of violence to Muslims.”

Meme millions reserved primarily for white folks
The egalitarian promise of the internet has disappointed users for ages now, but the most recent let-down is the racist implications of who gets to profit in the meme-economy, and who doesn’t. Why does Chewbacca Mom get college scholarships and a free trip to Facebook, whereas the truly innovative inventor of “on fleek” ends up a no-name begger on GoFundMe? “[T]he problem is part intellectual property law, part access to influence, and all systemic racial inequalities,” explains Wired’s Emma Grey Ellis. Oh, and anyone who beat “on fleek” to death in 2014 (like Taco Bell and iHop) can help Peaches Monroee, aka Kayla Lewis, launch her cosmetic and hair line here.

Seven transgender women have been murdered so far in 2017
Transgender women are significantly more likely to be the victims of violence, and 2017 is shaping up to be a particularly deadly year. The most recent victim is Jaquarius Holland of Monroe, LA, 18, who was shot during a verbal fight with a man that turned deadly. She was initially misgendered in police reports, so advocates were late in adding her to their tally. She is the fifth transgender woman to be killed in February and the third death in less than a week in the state of Louisiana. 

The Woke Leader

Once TIME’s Person of The Year, an Ebola health care fighter dies of complications after childbirth
Liberian nursing assistant Salome Karwah survived the outbreak that decimated her community, an exuberant figure who became a symbol of hope and progress. But when reports surfaced that she’d died last month from complications after childbirth, it became clear that the still-broken medical system in Liberia still has a long way to go. When Karwah developed seizures after a cesarean birth, the panicked hospital staff refused to treat her. “They said she was an Ebola survivor,” her sister told Time by telephone. “They didn’t want contact with her fluids.”

An English sheep farmer looks across the pond in solidarity with rural America
There have been many important think-pieces on the struggles that rural dwellers in the U.S. have faced in the last few decades, particularly those with traditional vocations like mining and farming. All have been instructive. But few can match the sheer poetry that James Rebanks, a traditional farmer from the north of England, brings to his deep understanding of his American farming “kin,” people whose lives have been destroyed by the promise of business efficiencies that were never designed to benefit them. “In truth, I could accept the changes around me philosophically, including the disappearance of farms like mine, if the results made for a better world and society,” he says. “But the world I am seeing evolve in front of my eyes isn’t better, it is worse.” A must read – over a cup of tea, if you can manage it.
New York Times

Small black-owned family farmers look to help communities healthier
USDA stats show that vast majority of the two million farm operators in the U.S are white men over 35. But a small but determined movement of young black farmers are set on changing that, hoping to bring sustainable farming along with good, affordable food to communities across the country. In addition to traditional troubles – some black farmers still have difficulty persuading white landowners to sell land to them – one young farmer says that modern farming is too expensive and complex. “The barriers to getting into farming are too big for most young people — capital, land, equipment, knowledge.”
Atlanta Black Star


I came to the earth with an open heart and said, ‘Teach me, mold me, shape me, inform me with a new intelligence.’
—Yonnette Fleming