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raceAhead: How to Talk About the Las Vegas Shooting

I’ve written these words too many times since this column was established a year and a half ago: Today we wake up to reports of a deadly mass shooting event.

Last night, a gunman, “a lone wolf”, a retired white man with a pilot’s license, an accountant, a person “known to police,” opened fire from the 32nd floor of a hotel in Las Vegas, into a large crowd gathered for a country music festival. The death toll is now more than 50 people.

We currently know nothing about his motive or what clues the above descriptors reveal about his deadly rampage. Online trolls have been working overtime, spreading disinformation, identifying wrong assailants, making unsubstantiated claims, and amplifying the horror.

It’s a terrible day for Las Vegas. It’s also a terrible day for any innocent person who fears being targeted for sharing characteristics with the shooter, both real and invented, regardless of how tenuous.

Difficult conversations are ahead: About guns, violence, the definition of terrorism, why “deadliest mass shooting” modifiers tend to erase communities of color, and the consequences of white male resentment. About politics. About desperation.

We’ll also need to talk about how to talk about these things, a leadership imperative that seems to have been lost, at least on the public stage.

But I’ve learned one thing in the time we’ve been working together. In private, these conversations are happening. I know, because you’ve shared some of them with me – along with the hard work that goes into creating the space that allows them to happen at all.

This work has involved re-configuring how you survey and listen to employees, along with considering what “psychological safety” means in your workplaces. “It’s going to mean different things to different employees. Does it mean I can say whatever I want without being challenged?” Dnika J. Travis, the vice president, Women of Color Research & Center Leader, Catalyst Research Center for Corporate Practice tells Fortune. “Or do we need to put real language around what and how we talk about traumatic events?”

It has also involved ensuring that front-line managers have the training and support they need to handle painful issues when they arise in meetings, or in one-on-ones.

I had a long talk with Alison Davis-Blake, professor of business and the former dean at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, following the police shootings of July 2016. “This isn’t a natural disaster, where everyone is aligned right away,” she said, in a now poignant marker of a simpler time. “This is difficult stuff to process.” That part is still true.

“But a compassionate organization cultivates a sense of empathy for those who are suffering,” she says. “And the first thing is for leaders to be present, talking, listening, and acknowledging that something specific has happened and that some people may have concerns.”

The University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations was created after the attacks of September 11th, specifically to help organizations respond to challenge and pain in more inclusive ways.

I will leave you with the best advice I’ve collected working the inclusion beat. It was from David Kyuman Kim, professor of religious studies and American studies at Connecticut College whose work focuses on race, religion, moral theory, and public life.

As tempting as it is to want to look away from a crisis, Kim has found that the opposite is actually the way forward. It requires a profound humility to give people the courage to talk about their lives. “We have a responsibility to draw our attention to co-workers, to community members and ask a simple question – ‘how are you doing?’” he says. “And then listen, really listen, as if you don’t already know the answer.”

Let us know how you’re doing.


On Point

Chef José Andrés has become the face of U.S. disaster reliefThe naturalized U.S. citizen has become an unlikely champion of displaced people in disaster zones, an expert chef-in-chief, deploying food and love through his Chef Network in places like Haiti, Houston and now Puerto Rico. His updates on his Twitter feed are extraordinary; where others have been unable deploy, he’s been delivering thousands of sandwiches and hot meals, like paella and sancocho, a Puerto Rican beef stew. Click through to see his plan, which involved teaming up with local chefs and distributing food through pre-existing food trucks. (He had some good Twitter coaching for President Trump, as well.) It looks like the all-volunteer crew is feeding 8,000 people a day.Washington Post

Analysis: Racial disparities in the bankruptcy system drive black debtors further into financial ruin
Latino Rebels, a multi-media platform for analysis, reporting and commentary on the U.S. Latino world, is a great place to hang on a sunny day. But after Maria, their work has taken on even greater importance. Click around for stories you won’t find anywhere else, but start with this joint statement from a group of Puerto Rican intellectuals and academics on the island’s financial history, an analysis of recent PROMESA legislation, and specific policy recommendations they believe would help the island recover. The critique is quite sharp. “The U.S. citizenship of Puerto Ricans, in this circumstance, is not a privilege, but the branding of a slave,” the statement reads. “It is a restrictive citizenship subject to the limits imposed by the US Congress without any interpellation of the subject to whom it is imposed.”
Latino Rebels

The response to Hurricane Maria is reviving simmering resentments about class and status
The horrors unfolding on the island and the slow federal response certainly hasn’t helped. But many Puerto Ricans have long felt the disrespect and disinterest other Americans have felt expressed toward them, particularly with regard to their “immigration status.” “By now, it’s sort of comical, but it makes me feel second-class, like you don’t belong,” said Xavier Totti, a 65-year-old anthropologist who has lived on the mainland U.S. for 43 years. Said Jose Cruz, a political scientist, “The response from Congress … has been almost as if Puerto Rico did not exist.”
Washington Post

Maybe try investing in black venture capitalists?
If you think being an underrepresented “minority” tech founder is tough, then consider what it’s like for the underrepresented venture capitalist. “According to Pitchbook, American VC funds raised $40.6 billion in 2016,” says Bärí A. Williams, head of business operations, North America, at StubHub and Fortune contributor. “[B]ut with less than 3% of VC funds employing black and Latinx investment professionals, only a small fraction of that sum will find its way to businesses owned or run by people of color.” So what’s it going to take to get investors to get smart about preparing for a multi-cultural majority? 
Fast Company

The Woke Leader

The history of violence against black veterans
One under-explored element of post-Civil War and Jim Crow history has been the racial violence directed specifically at black soldiers who fought during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. “Because of their military service, black veterans were seen as a particular threat to Jim Crow and racial subordination,” explains Bryan Stevenson, the director of the Equal Justice Initiative, in this research brief. “Thousands of black veterans were assaulted, threatened, abused, or lynched following military service.” A sobering read.
Equal Justice Initiative

Technologist Kathy Sierra received her first online threat 13 years ago this month
There was a moment in time when trolls were still, well, a novelty. Back in the mid-2000s, Kathy Sierra, a busy technologist and blogger, was one of the first women ever to be harassed: she received sexualized death threats, was doxed, and ultimately was driven from online life. Sierra wrote a blog post reflecting on the experience a couple of years ago, which is worth revisiting today. “I now believe the most dangerous time for a woman with online visibility is the point at which others are seen to be listening, “following”, “liking”, “favoriting”, retweeting,” she explains. “In other words, the point at which her readers have (in the troll’s mind) ‘drunk the Koolaid’. Apparently, that just can’t be allowed.” It is a painful, necessary reminder.
Serious Pony

No forgiveness for Muslim women
Author, activist, and mechanical engineer Yassmin Abdel-Magied begins her tale with a snappy identifier: “I’m a Muslim chick who was born in Sudan.” She’s lived in Australia since she was two, and her resume is a monument to overachievement: valedictorian, style icon, documentary filmmaker, an engineer on oil rigs. And yet, she says, it wasn’t enough. “I thought my achievements could change people’s expectations of Muslims, and of Muslim women in particular,” she says. Turns out, a poorly worded Facebook post inflamed an already contentious political situation involving asylum seekers, and she found herself the target of a massive campaign to drive her from the country. It worked.
Teen Vogue


People are always saying to me, “You are in the University of Mississippi, and that’s the important fact.” But so many unusual unique things have been a part of my stay here that I seriously doubt that I am in a true sense a student of the university. I’m inclined to go along with the diehard segregationists on this point. Just having a Negro in residence does not mean that the university has been integrated. Most of the time, I am perhaps the most segregated Negro in the world.
—James Meredith