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raceAhead: John Kelly’s Civil War History Lesson, A New Diversity Index, Looking for Tech’s Norma Rae

November 1, 2017, 4:56 PM UTC

In an interview with conservative media host Laura Ingraham on Fox News on Monday, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly remarked that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.”

He’d been asked to comment on the the decision of an Episcopal church in Alexandria, Va. to remove a plaque honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was a simple question, one that any public official should have known how to politely bat away. But instead, Kelly chose to offer up a critique. “I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” Kelly said. “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

You can almost hear Carole Emberton, an associate professor of history at the University at Buffalo and Civil War expert, shaking her head in this opinion piece. “By blaming a failure of compromise for the Civil War, Kelly repeated a well-worn tenet of the Lost Cause narrative that valorizes the Confederacy and its leaders like Lee,” she says. “[I]t was slavery, and the refusal of Southern slaveholders to compromise on slavery, that launched the Civil War.”

Journalist Philip Bump interviewed two historians about the remarks, who called them alternatively, “strange,” “highly provocative,” “dangerous” and “kind of depressing.” Said Stephanie McCurry, a history professor at Columbia University and author, “It’s the Jim Crow version of the causes of the Civil War. I mean, it tracks all of the major talking points of this pro-Confederate view of the Civil War.”

Bump is still getting hate mail for his piece.

Television writer, former lawyer, and humorist Kashana Cauley, dropped more knowledge than spit-takes in this terrific read. “To argue that the Civil War came about because Americans couldn’t compromise on whether black slaves were truly people or not would require us to ignore at least six other major compromises on slavery,” she begins, before bringing us up to today.

The Civil War ended slavery, but the legacy of all the prewar compromising on black people’s rights sparked new fights: the fleeting freedoms of Reconstruction; the punishing hand of Jim Crow; the limited triumphs of the civil rights movement; the quiet indignities of practices like racially restrictive covenants, which allowed homeowners to place terminology in property deeds to restrict ownership by race; and redlining, which reduced the value of homes in black neighborhoods compared with their white counterparts.

And that’s precisely why misinformation about our own history is so dangerous. In our quest to soothe unexamined, largely white feelings about our difficult past, we have continued to perpetuate harmful practices that were designed to favor one race and to undermine, control and destroy another.

Success is no remedy. Even today, when an African American enters an inner circle of personal or professional power however they define it, it’s very hard to shake the feeling that it is anything but a temporary reprieve.

Without a serious commitment to truth and reconciliation, it is hard to imagine diversity efforts becoming anything other than beautiful frosting on a toxic cupcake.

Any of the good work that happens in the boardroom must be supported by real work in the classroom and the newsroom, in church basements, at family suppers and at the polls. If political figures won’t speak truth to their powerful bases, the job must fall to us.

On Point

A new index highlights best practices and reveals the experiences of employees at firms committed to diversityA new inclusion index, published by Diversity Best Practices (DBP), a division of Working Mother Media, debuts today. Participating companies were asked to provide data on demographic transparency, best practices in diversity and inclusion recruitment, retention and advancement, and company culture. Thirty-three companies participated and seven made the top grade, including  Ernst & Young, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, and New York Life. The data is worth your time. While all the companies offer inclusion training, and 82% of the companies hold managers accountable for diversity, only 46% link their diversity goals to compensation. More tellingly, only 30% of the companies report setting “numeric” goals for diversity representation, and 42% set “percentage change” goals.Diversity Best Practices

Twitter will now label political ads
Expect similar announcements from their tech brethren. This particular announcement, which was posted on the company’s blog, will require organizations to disclose who bought the ads and how much they spent. They also announced the creation of a new transparency center which will have a database of all ads currently running on the platform. Tech and social media companies are scrambling to respond to concerns from Congress that Russia was able to interfere in the most recent U.S. presidential election using their products and services.

Will the Norma Rae of tech please stand up?
The Guardian’s Moira Weigel starts this long read with a big declaration: Big Tech is broken. Sullied by harassment claims and failed diversity bids, its inability to curb hate on its own platforms, and their largely unexamined roles in spreading abuse and fake news, “It is tempting to turn this shift of mood against Big Tech into a story of betrayal,” she says. Instead, start by examining and debunking Big Tech’s founding myth — that what they build and how they operate is inherently democratic and democratizing. This is the path being taken by rank and file tech workers who have been largely ignored by their venture-backed bosses as thinkers and change agents. She calls them the “Tech Left,” who “believes it must urgently transform the industry in order to stop it from serving nefarious ends.” That does not include electing more Democrats, nor building more engagement tools. And for this crowd, worker power is more important than venture capital.
The Guardian

What O’Reilly, Weinstein, and Cosby have in common
This piece by Noam Scheiber makes an excellent case for why men like Weinstein and his fellow harassers are able to do so much harm for so long: They’re superstars, or at least, perceived to be. The EEOC has even written a report on “superstar” sexual abusers, and describes the “quandary” they present to their firms. “They may be tempted to ignore the misconduct because, the thinking goes, losing the superstar would be too costly.” Since the term is relative, it works across industries. In any setting, the power these men have skews their personalities. “They’re so focused on sexual gratification, they don’t see the moral, ethical and legal problems,” a UC Berkeley psychologist and researcher tells Scheiber. The thesis doesn’t explain this guy, however.
New York Times

The Woke Leader

A reformed hate-monger finds faith in others
“Gays are worthy of death” was the first protest sign she ever held, says Megan-Phelps Roper. She was still too young to read it when she joined her family on the picket line staged by the notorious Westboro Baptist Church. That strange mix of Jesus-worship, hate, and family was her life until she was saved, as he puts it, “by strangers on Twitter who showed me the power of engaging the other.” Though she has excellent tips on how to talk to people who are different from you – don’t assume bad intent, is her first and best – her personal story is reason enough to listen to this moving TED talk. One Twitter sparring partner named David ran a blog called “Jewlicious,” and came to see her at a protest in New Orleans. “He brought me a Middle Eastern dessert from Jerusalem, where he lives, and I brought him kosher chocolate and held a ‘God hates Jews’ sign,” she laughs. What happens next is a miracle.

Watch AI algorithms create “celebrity” faces right before your eyes
The research comes from a team from NVIDIA, using something called generative adversarial networks. “The key idea is to grow both the generator and discriminator progressively: starting from a low resolution, we add new layers that model increasingly fine details as training progresses,” they say. While that may not make perfect sense on paper, it will when you see the astonishing way they have been able to create and morph images of people in increasingly better resolutions, using existing photo data sets. The results – I think - aren’t real people but they look famous. In addition to technology, it’s an opportunity to learn more about the way we “see” fame. As the images morph into each other - there’s the boy band member who’s about to go solo, there’s the former ingénue with a fitness line, there’s the Academy Award winner who is writing a tell-all book, there’s the bad boy director who is about to be accused of….
Flowing Data

By erasing Islam from Rumi’s poetry, we all miss his point
Rumi’s love poetry has been a revelation for seekers of universal wisdom around the world for centuries. But the New Yorker’s Rozina Ali argues that his popularity, particularly within high tone circles — Madonna, Tilda Swinton, and Coldplay’s Chris Martin are among his current celebrity fans — have allowed publishers to erase Rumi’s Muslim essence from his work to our detriment. But don’t blame rock and roll. “It was in the Victorian period that readers in the West began to uncouple mystical poetry from its Islamic roots.” It was Rumi’s unique experience at the intersection of Sufism, Sunni Islam and Koranic debate that informed his voice, and animated his desire for oneness with God. But a committed contempt for Islam persuaded scholars over the years that Rumi was “mystical not because of Islam but in spite of it.”
New Yorker


I remained with Gen. Lee about seventeen months, when my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away, which we did in the year 1859; we had already reached Westminster, in Maryland, on our way to the North, when we were apprehended and thrown into prison, and Gen. Lee notified of our arrest; we remained in prison fifteen days, when we were sent back to Arlington; we were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty… Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to "lay it on well," an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.
—Wesley Norris, enslaved man