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raceAhead: Can Starbucks Change America?

No essay today, sorry! I’m recovering from a nasty bug.

But I wanted to at least share some comments on the news, since there has been so much of it.

First, the Starbucks racial bias training day. You can find the curriculum they used here, which includes a moving short film by award-winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson.

My big take: It was a well-executed first step for a company dedicated to inclusive leadership, and an extraordinary attempt to host a bigger conversation about race in America.

New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb further explains the white-dominance of public spaces — the napping while, walking while, barbequing while black phenomenon — and the insistence that the authorities support that dominance. “It would be possible to see the recent incidents as a survivable pestering — racism as nuisance — were it not for the fact that the denial of the unimpeded use of public space has been central to the battles over civil rights since Emancipation,” he says. “The crucial aspect of the Starbucks story isn’t whether a company can, in a single training session, diminish bias among its employees. It’s the implied acknowledgment that such attitudes are so pervasive in America that a company has to shoulder the responsibility of mitigating them in its workforce.”

Adding on, Phillip Atiba Goff, a professor and the president of the Center for Policing Equity at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, wonders if Starbucks could help change the way tensions in public spaces are assessed.

“Instead of training sessions, Starbucks could make more of a difference by helping cities fund non-police options for people worried about suspicious behaviors,” he writes. “Employees at a Starbucks in Oakland, Calif., for example, posted the phone numbers of social workers and others who are trained to de-escalate conflicts. If we funded these resources to scale, we could make it less likely that an employee calls the police for a ‘quality of life’ complaint that turns out to be unwarranted.”

This is an interesting conversation to have and a lot to ask a corporation to do.

One of the things the Nelson film does particularly well is to show the deep exhaustion associated with being a suspect based on the color of your skin. “Am I going to take the burden of this interaction being comfortable?” says one man who talks about the reality of white discomfort. “Because what I really want is a sandwich. Do you know what I mean? I don’t want to fight. I’m hungry.”

The burden is real, whether it is shared or not.

In other news, Roseanne Barr got fired from her television show for a clearly racist tweet-storm. For fans who wonder if she was treated fairly, or if you’re looking for a teachable moment, maybe some background will help.

Here is a piece exploring the dangerous rise of racist dog whistles in modern media. More directly, here’s some analysis from Psychology Today that helps assess the damage that has been done by our long and ugly history of dehumanizing black people by comparing us to apes. Here’s just one component — research shows that the perception of black people as subhuman and ape-like directly informs the public’s view of whether police brutality against a black suspect is deserved.

And if you’re worried that television is missing the perspective of the working class or conservative family, Vox has provided a list of eleven other options for you to choose from.

Last but no means least, there’s a new report on the true death toll of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. According to this New England Journal of Medicine article, 4,645 people died because of the storm—more than the number of people who perished during the attacks of September 11, and more than seventy times the official death toll of 64.

My colleague Clifton Leaf explains the specific tragedy of this number in his must-read newsletter Brainstorm Health Daily: Many fatalities occurred long after the wind had passed; in fact, one-third of the deaths were attributable to “delayed or interrupted” health care.

“I bring this up not merely to talk about the ferocity of Mother Nature,” Leaf writes. “I bring this up to point out, once again, that delayed care, and the lack of accessibility to care, and the inability to afford care, leads to death. Plain and simple.”

On Point

Walmart will pay for its workers to get college degreesAdd the mega-retailer to a growing list of companies who are adding subsidized college tuition for its employees to its array of benefits. The company will pay for full or part-time workers to take courses in person or online at three colleges, chosen for their high graduation rates, as long as their coursework is business or supply chain management. And there are no strings –  students do not have to keep working for Walmart after they earn their degrees.New York Times

Moving the money: Would black divestiture make a difference?
This is the question posed by Kia Garvey, who explores the role of black-owned banks in the lives of depositors, borrowers and the communities they invest in. There is a long and necessary history of black-owned financial institutions providing essential capital when more mainstream commercial banks would not; more recently, a call to move to black-owned banks has revived a Martin Luther King-era political tactic. “[G]o to your bank tomorrow and say, ‘Until you as a corporation start to speak on our behalf, I want all my money,’” hip-hop artist Michael “Killer Mike” Render told radio listeners after Philando Castille was shot and killed by a police officer in St. Paul, Minn.
The New Republic

A jury decision raises new questions on the value of black lives
Jury awards are a typically fraught exercise, and often deliver decisions that are difficult to understand from the outside. But questions remain about the shooting death of Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr. at his home in Fort Pierce, Fla four years ago, killed by a white sheriff dispatched after a noise complaint. A federal jury was asked to determine damages in a wrongful death suit, specifically the pain and suffering of Hill’s three children and the culpability of the sheriff. They awarded $4 in damages: $1 for funeral expenses and $1 for each child’s loss. And then it got worse.
New York Times

 

The Woke Leader

Tweeting the U.S. Census
I get to work by 6:30am, I work from home and I have no commute. I work in media. I studied history. I am married. I am biracial. And I would show up as just one tweet in a fascinating, bot-driven stream that tweets the U.S. census, one American at a time. Check us out.
Census Americans

This is Nigeria
Of all the knockoffs of “This is America,” by Childish Gambino, this one actually brings something new to the table. For one, it’s about Nigeria. It was created by Falz (who also goes by Folarin Falana), a rapper, actor, and lawyer, to coincide with Nigerian Democracy Day celebrations on May 29. Like its American cousin, it seeks to highlight the specific issues facing Nigerian using pointed socio-economic commentary. Writer Oluwatosin Adeshokan provides a handy decoder ring for some of the non-obvious references, but Falz is clearly a talent who manages to use the template provided by Gambino with artistry and respect.
Quartz

Remember when we canceled the Chinese people?
Documentary filmmakers Ric Burns and longtime collaborator Li-Shin Yu are back on PBS with a deep dive into “The Chinese Exclusion Act,” the 1882 law that was the first to restrict the immigration of a specific ethnic group and ban their citizenship. But to do justice to the act, the duo – with a mostly Asian cast of historians – actually tells the story of Chinese immigration from 1840 to the present. They provide, as this reviewer says, “a well-documented but not well-known alternate history — a corrective to the national myth of the melting pot.” Burns put his considerable reputation behind the funding of the project; “The Chinese Exclusion Act” is a production of his Steeplechase Films and the Center for Asian-American Media.
New York Times

Quote

People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.
Sanofi US social media team