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raceAhead: The Shame of White Supremacy

Anti-racist protesters quell the demonstration of far right in WashingtonAnti-racist protesters quell the demonstration of far right in Washington
Counterprotesters stage a protest against right wing extremists' "Unite The Right 2" rally, which is for the one-year anniversary of the deadly far-right protests, in Washington, United States on August 12, 2018. Yasin Ozturk—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The march ended with a whimper, not a bang, which is a victory of sorts.

By all accounts, just a couple of dozen white supremacists and Nazis – some draped in quasi-military garb and holding flags, some with their faces concealed to better keep their day jobs – marched in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, a flaccid end to the Unite the Right redux.

The optics were odd.

Leader Jason Kessler and his band of followers intent on enjoying their First Amendment rights were first herded onto the D.C. Metro, then through the Foggy Bottom section of D.C., at all times corralled by an outsized police presence and outflanked by hundreds of counter-protesters, shouting “shame, shame, shame!” in unison.

(Still no safe spaces on the gridiron, though.)

The low turnout seemed like a pragmatic move for the hate crowd. Many of Kessler’s supporters have been shamed back into the shadows of public life since the first rally. More recently, he accidentally revealed the identity of others in his bid to get a permit to march in Virginia, further imperiling their reputations. Organizing is harder now that they’re unwelcome on almost every payment platform. But their presence was largely unnecessary: Their ideas are now enshrined in powerful circles.

This is partly the point of this moving essay from Dr. David S. Glosser, a retired neuropsychologist. He is three generations removed from an extraordinary immigration story, one that speaks directly to the perils of escaping a hopeless present for the possibility of a better future:

It begins at the turn of the 20th century in a dirt-floor shack in the village of Antopol, a shtetl of subsistence farmers in what is now Belarus. Beset by violent anti-Jewish pogroms and forced childhood conscription in the Czar’s army, the patriarch of the shack, Wolf-Leib Glosser, fled a village where his forebears had lived for centuries and took his chances in America.

He set foot on Ellis Island on January 7, 1903, with $8 to his name. Though fluent in Polish, Russian, and Yiddish he understood no English.

As you may have guessed, the Glossers largely thrived. In this case, from “street corner peddling and sweat-shop toil,” to “selling goods from a horse and wagon to owning a haberdashery in Johnstown run by Nathan and Wolf-Leib to a chain of supermarkets and discount department stores run by my grandfather, Sam, and the next generation of Glossers, including my dad, Izzy.”

Fast forward to today, and they’ve made it all the way to the West Wing. In a wild plot twist, White House chief strategist Stephen Miller is Glosser’s nephew. Miller has been working effectively behind the scenes to gut protections for immigrants and refugees, first as a co-creator of President Trump’s executive order banning travel to the U.S. from certain Muslim-majority countries, then in support of the family separation policy at the U.S. Southern border, and now, in a renewed push to place draconian limits on legal immigration and dramatically cap the number of refugees admitted per year.

Glosser does not pull any punches when it comes to Stephen Miller. “I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, who is an educated man and well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country,” he says.

Yet the true strength of his essay is not his public shaming of his nephew’s attempt to pull up the very ladder that made their family possible. Instead, it’s the welcome reminder of how so many immigrants have paid their hard work and good fortune forward in informed and generous ways.

Glosser is a longtime volunteer with HIAS (once called the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), a global non-profit agency that works to protect refugees. In his capacity as a neuropsychologist, he has treated people like the man he calls “Joseph,” who was conscripted to be a child soldier in Eritrea, then later tortured near to death because he’d been discovered with a bible. His escape from a civilian clinic led him to a Sudanese refugee camp; his subsequent journey to America took ten horrific years, which Glosser documents with candor and tenderness.

Joseph and his family are also thriving now. In part, it speaks to the conversation around immigration that we are not having: That despite the deeply flawed “system” currently in place, immigrants as a whole continue to contribute to the economic well-being of the country, often at the highest levels. In total, they give more than they take. And, almost half of Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or a first generation American.

The world is a mess and getting messier. We should talk about all of it. But if we allow the powerful to demonize entire groups of people only to fall silent when hate speech gains traction online and in real life, then perhaps the shame should be spread around.

“Most damning is the administration’s evident intent to make policy that specifically disadvantages people based on their ethnicity, country of origin, and religion,” writes Glosser. “No matter what opinion is held about immigration, any government that specifically enacts law or policy on that basis must be recognized as a threat to all of us.”

On Point

Citizens often misunderstand the nature of immigration in their countryMigration has picked up around the world, triggered by economic, political, war and environmental pressures that are only going to become more severe. The issues are complex but misinformation is not. In the U.S., for example, there are fewer undocumented people now than ten years ago, and the economy is more likely to suffer from a lack of low-credentialed workers than a sudden surge. But across the U.S. and Europe, people tend to overestimate their country’s immigrant populations, and overreact to their perceived impact on their incomes and economic security.New York Times

Blockchain as a tool for inclusion
Here’s an interesting take from Harry Alford, a partner and co-founder of Humble Ventures, a venture “cooperative” that works with a diverse array of startups and investors looking to make more than a financial return. “Blockchain will positively impact the disenfranchised by being a catalyst for financial, racial and gender inclusion,” he begins. Describing blockchain as a “distributed ledger,” he paints a picture of a fast, frictionless technology that will help the poor connect to markets, wriggle free of middle agents, get paid for their work and build wealth. But, we gotta get the diversity thing right first. “The people driving the technology from the edges should represent the underserved communities and global population that blockchain will eventually touch, avoiding missteps from the first generation of the Internet.”
Medium

The BlacKkKlansman is a masterpiece and you should see it
Charles Bramesco of The New York Times saved me the trouble of curating a list of reviews, mostly long-time film reviewers with a couple of newcomers; I’ll add this rollicking and insightful review from The Root’s Danielle Young. It is at times joyous and surprisingly funny, profoundly political and extraordinarily relevant. And as someone who has spent an unusual amount of time actually talking to white supremacists in the ’80s and ’90s (long story), it almost underplays their mouth-breathing racist zeal. One observation to consider before you go: I saw it in a theater with nearly equal numbers of black and white viewers and every black viewer dashed out as the credits rolled. If you’re looking for a post-movie bonding experience with strangers, this may not be it.
New York Times

Survey: Some people don’t think Native Americans exist if they think about them at all
This is the finding from The Reclaiming Native Truth project, which sought to determine the prevailing narratives around Native Americans and how that impacts attitudes and policies. Some 40% don’t think Native Americans exist at all? Really? “The complete lack of representation in the media, in pop culture, in K-12 education not only erases us from the American consciousness, it inadvertently creates a bias,” says consultant Echo Hawk. While nearly 60% of people agreed that the U.S. committed genocide against Native people, only 36% think Native people are discriminated against today. Many are confused about how many Native people are “flush with casino money” too. The news isn’t all bad: Some 70% of respondents who know Native Americans exist favor expanding national monuments to protect sacred lands. But, the Native team mascots have got to go. Really.
Great Falls Tribune

 

The Woke Leader

What if everything we’ve been planning for is now moot?
In the last few days, the essay titled Deep Adaptation crossed my feed enough times to get my attention. Each time it was accompanied by a strikingly similar prelude: “I am re-thinking everything.” The author is Professor Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria (UK), and the paper has one lofty aim, “to provide readers with an opportunity to reassess their work and life in the face of an inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change.” Dramatic, perhaps, but clearly made less so by fires raging in Sweden, Greece and California, now attributed to anthropogenic climate change. Bendell describes the social collapse as “an uneven ending of normal modes of sustenance, security, pleasure, identity, meaning, and hope,” but it’s also about creating a new place in a world where all familiar systems have changed. It’s an entirely new definition of a skills gap. “For instance, being a Professor won’t be much use anymore,” he says of his own future. “But being myself might be.”
Jem Bendell

Black women were already there when Rosie the Riveter showed up
This is the message of Betty Soskin, a 96-year-old National Park Ranger, and proud black woman from Oakland, Calif., who is now a guide and consultant for the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, in nearby Richmond. Soskin breaks down the idea that women joined the workforce en masse during World War II is true, but only for white women. Black women already worked outside the home, often performing essential duties. Soskin herself worked in a shipyard and was even a member of a blacks-only auxiliary union, set up to accommodate white workers who didn’t want people of color in their own. And there was on-site daycare back in the day, but only for white kids. She’s calmly setting the romantic version of history straight. “I don’t think it’s by design or by grand conspiracy,” she says. “It’s just about who tells the stories.”
Quartz

How the other half lived
When Jacob August Riis immigrated from Denmark to New York City in 1870, he had nothing but the clothes on his back and a dream of a better life. Just twenty years later, as a pioneering photojournalist, his photos documenting the wrenching slum conditions where immigrants lived got the attention of then-police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, who somehow couldn’t manage to motor downtown twenty blocks and see for himself. (Journalism for the win.) His photographs helped change public policy, and his pictures still have the power to shock.
Smithsonian Magazine

Quote

I think [the movie Selma] is gonna bring a higher level of consciousness to everything that’s happening, particularly between the movie and Ferguson and all of the different happenings that we’ve had lately involving all of the young African American men. There is certainly a correlation between the two … what was happening way back then, and what is still happening now.
Aretha Franklin