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raceAhead: If Opioid Users Were Black, Kellogg’s Racist Cereal Box, Rival Vodkas Feel The Love

October 26, 2017, 7:44 PM UTC

Today, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency under federal law, calling the crisis a “national shame and a human tragedy.”

The distinction is really about the money. As the New York Times explains, the declaration releases certain grant money and loosens certain laws, in service of treatment options. But it does fall significantly short of his campaign promise to declare the epidemic a “national emergency,” which would have immediately released a larger pool of federal funds.

This is not a small issue. By the end of 2016, fentanyl deaths had tripled in three years, and drug overdoses are expected to remain the leading cause of death for people fifty and under. It is quite likely that drug overdose deaths exceeded 60,000 last year.

You can see the government’s own figures here.

While a term like “public health emergency” is really a political and legal one, it sends a clear signal that the issue is regarded as an urgent matter of human affliction, not a law enforcement crisis requiring boots on the ground and on the necks of the afflicted.

This puts students of history in an awkward position.

As Ekow Yankah, a law professor at Yeshiva University, recently told Judy Woodruff on PBS:

Faced with a rising wave of addiction, misery, crime and death, our nation has linked arms to save souls. Senators and CEOs, Midwestern pharmacies and even tough-on-crime Republican presidential candidates now speak with moving compassion about the real people crippled by addiction.

It wasn’t always this way. Thirty years ago, America was facing a similar wave of addiction, death and crime, and the response could not have been more different. Television brought us endless images of thin, black, ravaged bodies, always with desperate, dried lips. We learned the words crack baby.

Back then, when addiction was a black problem, there was no wave of national compassion. Instead, we were warned of super predators, young, faceless black men wearing bandannas and sagging jeans.

The Atlantic’s Vann Newkirk also brings his keen analysis to the issue, reminding us that the journalism of the “crack baby” era fueled a panic that lingers in some form to this day:

“Crack baby” brings to mind hopeless, damaged children with birth defects and intellectual disabilities who would inevitably grow into criminals. It connotes inner-city blackness, and also brings to mind careless, unthinking black mothers who’d knowingly exposed their children to the ravages of cocaine. Although the science that gave the world the term was based on a weak proto-study of only 23 children and has been thoroughly debunked since, the panic about “crack babies” stuck. The term made brutes out of people of color who were living through wave after wave of what were then the deadliest drug epidemics in history.

While the shift in the way we’re talking about addiction is long overdue, it cannot happen in a vacuum.

As we move forward with this newly compassionate orientation, it is imperative that we widen that lens to include the untold number of people whose lives have been derailed by earlier declarations from the very same people who are linking arms today.

We could start by acknowledging the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, particularly where it relates to drug offenses. And we could make sure people of color have the same access to mental health and addiction services as are promised to white populations.

It’s tempting at this point in the essay to link the successful elimination of these disparities to business outcomes, and explain that a portion of the diverse talent pool employers insist they want to cultivate is wasting away in untreated pain or behind bars. True, that. But instead, it might be worth considering ways we can extend the policy grace that we’re collectively offering to opioid addicts to everyone who has been previously shamed; a radical act for a tragic age.

On Point

Kellogg’s publicly apologizes after complaints about racist cereal box artIt started out as a seek-and-find activity gone wrong. The art in question appeared on boxes of Corn Pops and challenged cereal-eaters to find various corn kernel cartoon characters engaging in an array of activities. The one character that novelist and Marvel comic writer Saladin Ahmed found was the only brown-skinned character, a janitor. After tweeting his dismay, the company responded and promised to change the artwork. But that was only the start of Ahmed’s problems.Fortune

American Airlines passengers file the most racial discrimination complaints
Following up on yesterday’s travel ban announced by the NAACP, a team at Bloomberg has found that that American Airlines passengers have filed 29 discrimination complaints in the last 20 months, more than passengers of any other carrier that flies in the U.S. The data comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Tamika Mallory, one of the organizers of the Women’s March is another high-profile critic of the airline. She was kicked off an AA flight after a seating issue last week.

A college football star is kicked off the team for taking a knee; his small-town school feels the heat
Gyree Durante is thought to be the first player removed from his team for his act of solidarity. Now, the nineteen-year-old former quarterback from Albright College in Reading, Penn. finds himself in a complicated place.  He's being sought out by activists and politicians, while the administrators from is dealing with the fallout from national headlines. "Some would say that I'm [an activist] and some would say that I'm not," Durante told "But I don't think I've done enough work to call myself that yet." While Albright eventually backtracked and offered him reinstatement, Durante declined. "I just felt like it was too late by that point."

Rival vodka brands team up for marriage equality in Australia
The two bottles stand shoulder to shoulder with a rainbow heart in between. The message is short and sweet: "The SKYY'S the limit when we have ABSOLUT equality." The two brands launched the campaign supporting marriage equality, a hotly debated topic on whether the Australian 1961 Marriage Act should be expanded to include same-sex couples. They united in a call for a “yes” vote. “If two rival brands can unite to support equality, so can all of us.” The social campaign appeared on the social networks of the two spirits, and was created by TBWA/Sydney and TBWA network agency Eleven. By Tuesday, more than three-quarters of eligible Australian voters had participated in the postal survey. How civilized.
Creativity Online

The Woke Leader

Play this game about surviving poverty
The Urban Ministries of Durham, in Durham, NC works to end homelessness and poverty in their community, serving over 6,000 low-income people a year through community shelters, a café, a food pantry and clothing service. But they’ve got some real digital chops, as well. Spent is the name of their online game about surviving poverty, and it’s one of the best empathy-building exercises I’ve stumbled on in ages. Spent walks you through the tenuous elements of being poor — searching for a job, finding affordable housing, etc., and an increasingly tough series of choices — rent, insurance, proximity to work — that can mean the difference between a shot at stability and homelessness. Some of the choices are grim: Should I donate plasma or get a payday loan? The math is complicated and one wrong move and you’re truly spent. A terrific activity for schools and youth groups, an even better one for policymakers and lobbyists. The experience was created by McKinney, an agency based in Durham and NYC.
Play Spent

The race problems in university history departments are getting worse
And yet, it’s not what you think. (At least, not entirely.) The now fully energized white supremacist movement has been co-opting medieval and classical studies themes, symbols and in some cases, actual departments and symposia, with the type of the enthusiasm professors would ordinarily celebrate. They’re looking for affirmation. “In our moment as in the original Nazis’, the nationalists believe that white identity’s roots lie in some long-lost cultural heritage dominated by white men,” explains Josephine Livingstone. As scholars scramble to publicly examine the fallacies of these ideas, they are often revealing the flawed, tone-deaf, and racist underpinnings of the way we have long studied history and the humanities. Ye olde bummer.
New Republic

I love you for trying but hate myself for failing
Carl Richards, also known as the certified financial planner who sketches for the New York Times, has a lovely short essay that is sure to inject a little much-needed oxytocin into your day. “Isn’t it interesting that when others fail, we tend to admire them for trying? Yet when we fail, we beat ourselves up for the very same thing,” he says. That’s a fundamentally uncool way to treat yourself. His answer? “Try extending yourself the same grace.”
New York Times


Drugs made me feel more normal. They contained me. You don't even get high. It's like a job, you punch in. I was lying to doctors and looking through people's drawers and medicine cabinets for drugs.
—Carrie Fisher