raceAhead: Paying R-E-S-P-E-C-T To Aretha Franklin

If your social feeds are hitting a mournful note today it may be out of respect for a legend. Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin is reportedly in hospice care at home, surrounded by family.

While the world says a little prayer for her – and yes, I’ll be listening to Aretha all day today – it’s worth remembering that she was a lifelong and outspoken champion for civil rights, taking significant risks to her person and fortune to make sure that she was on the right side of history.

Consider this short news item from the December 3, 1970 edition of Jet, in which Franklin is quoted saying that she was prepared to post Angela Davis’s bond while the activist was being held on charges of murder, conspiracy, and kidnapping for allegedly providing guns used by three black convicts and a friend in an aborted attempt to escape a Marin County courtroom. (She was later acquitted. The story shocked a nation; if you’re unfamiliar with it,The Morning Breaks is the definitive book on the incident and her trial.)

“Miss Franklin said, “My daddy (Detroit’s Rev. C.L. Franklin) says I don’t know what I’m doing. Well, I respect him, of course, but I’m going to stick to my beliefs. Angela Davis must go free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people. I have the money; I got it from Black people- they’ve made me financially able to have it- and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.”

And she always did.

Love you forever, Queen. To live without you will be heartbreak for so many.


On Point

The first fully integrated school opens in Sumter County, AlabamaIt’s a jarring headline for 2018, that a school in a rural county in Alabama is being celebrated as a “new era” and “making history.” But for the first time, black and white students are learning together in an integrated classroom, particularly notable because the school district is majority black. "The charter school took on a huge task of integrating in this community," said a kindergarten teacher who had been recruited to open the school. "[A]nd I think our focus is to make sure that our children see this as normal not something that's out of place.”Al.com

Color of Change is putting pressure on corporations to respond to social issues
If you think it was a good thing that PayPal is no longer allowing hate groups to use their platform to process their funding, then you can thank the behind the scenes with Color of Change, in part. The organization, led by Rashad Robinson, also ran the successful campaign to pressure Fox and various advertisers to take a stand against sexual harassment and fire Bill O’Reilly. In this in-depth Q&A, he talks about how and why to launch a campaign for corporate change. Companies are feeling all kinds of new heat from both customers and employees. “Making change inside of big institutions is hard,” he says. “But we’ve learned if you can build up enough energy, make it important to enough people, and create the right narrative, that folks will figure out how to make the change that you’re asking for.”
Fast Company

A new research tool helps document the murder rates of U.S. cities
The true numbers are not always easily accessible, and a lack of transparency in homicide data makes it easy for politicians to fearmonger or misallocate funds. Patrick Sharkey, an NYU sociology professor has developed a new online tool called American Violence that lets you see at a glance and over time, where murders occur. Sharkey’s team pulls data from 82 of the country’s largest cities, using vetted data from city police departments and other sources. “Researchers, politicians, journalists, policymakers, and the public can all know that they’re going to the single place to get the definitive word on how violence is changing and how much violence there is in different cities across the country,” Sharkey says. While murder rates have gone done across the board, recent data seems to indicate murder increasing in the center of the country.
The Trace

Meet the Sikh men transforming New Jersey politics
Sikhs were relatively recent immigrants to New Jersey; their numbers were so small thirty years ago that they only needed a tent for a gurudwara, or temple. Now, the Sikh community is comprised of hundreds of families, and three significant power players:  Gurbir Grewal, New Jersey’s attorney general,  Ravi Bhalla, the mayor of Hoboken, and Mr. Bhalla’s older brother Amardeep Singh, a founder of the Sikh Coalition, a national civil rights organization. Their work spans beyond Sikh issues, though since 9/11, they’ve dealt with targeting and abuse. But their ideals as Sikhs, which they term“radical egalitarianism” is infused in everything they do. One example – Bhalla declared Hoboken to be a “fair and welcoming city” in his first executive order as mayor. His second was to declare all single occupancy public restrooms gender neutral.
New York Times


The Woke Leader

Ignorance is love
In a wonderful and surprising story, Lulu Wang explains how her entire Chinese family conspired to keep her beloved grandmother from learning that she had been diagnosed with a fatal form of cancer. From the accidental discovery of the news -“It’s customary for doctors in China to to give bad news to family members, rather than giving it directly to a patient,”- to doctored health documents and more, Wang offers a poignant look at love, Chinese culture, family, the generational divide and the lies that bind. Don’t worry, I didn’t spoil anything.
This American Life

We were here first
New York Magazine has dug deep into the archives of 1969 and republished a devastating read by the legendary Pete Hamill on the plight of the people formerly known as the working class: The white lower middle class, “the ethnics, the blue collar types,” who have been pushed to the point of desperation. Come for the sepia-toned language of race and class, stay for the realization that what vexes the people at the President's rallies is nothing new. "They call my people the White Lower Middle Class these days. It is an ugly, ice-cold phrase, the result, I suppose, of the missionary zeal of those sociologists who still think you can place human beings on charts,” he begins. “It most certainly does not sound like a description of people on the edge of open, sustained and possibly violent revolt. And yet, that is the case.”
New York Magazine

A documentary charts the portrayal of “American Indians” in Hollywood
‘Reel Injun’ is an outstanding 2009 documentary directed by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond, that explores the portrayal of the Indian through the Hollywood lens through the century-long history of film. There are many jaw-dropping surprises; some of the earliest films ever made were made by indigenous people celebrating their own culture. Then along came John Wayne. Though an inspiring indigenous filmmaker movement is growing, they’re struggling to balance the deep cultural damage that continues to this day. On Netflix, clips and commentary below.


The American triumph—in which the American tragedy has always been implicit—was to make Black people despise themselves. When I was little I despised myself; I did not know any better. And this meant, albeit unconsciously, or against my will, or in great pain, that I also despised my father. <em>And</em> my mother. <em>And</em> my brothers. <em>And</em> my sisters. Black people were killing each other every Saturday night out on Lenox Avenue, when I was growing up; and no one explained to them, or to me, that it was <em>intended</em> that they should; that they were penned where they were, like animals, in order that they should consider themselves no better than animals. Everything supported this sense of reality, nothing denied it: and so one was ready, when it came time to go to work, to be treated as a slave. So one was ready, when human terrors came, to bow before a white God and beg Jesus for salvation—this same white God who was unable to raise a finger to do so little as to help you pay your rent, unable to be awakened in time to help you save your child! 
An open letter from James Baldwin to Angela Davis

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