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raceAhead: Trump and the N-Word

A new memoir from reality TV star turned Trump White House staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman has triggered a nationwide conversation about the n-word. Unfortunately, it’s just not the one we need to have.

Manigault-Newman’s allegations are simple: There are recordings of the current president, then a reality television star, using the n-word and saying other terrible things. During her masterfully coordinated book tour, she’s released more details, including snippets of controversial recordings she made of Trump campaign aides designed to lend credence to her claim that the administration is worried about the possibility of the tape. Which she has heard. And maybe has in her possession. Of the president saying the n-word, the atomic bomb of words.

It has certainly lent drama to the moment.

While Trump is clearly unhappy with the book and its allegations, it seems unlikely that voters who cast their ballots for a person who was caught on tape admitting to serial sexual assault –“when you’re a star, they let you do it” – would be put off by such a revelation. But what is particularly bizarre is the idea that using the n-word is evidence of anything that we shouldn’t already know.

For one thing, Trump and race is not a new conversation. Trump the private citizen has been called out numerous times in the past. One oft-cited piece of evidence: The 1973 federal lawsuit against Trump Management Company alleging that black people and Puerto Ricans were systematically denied housing at Trump properties. (They settled and signed a consent decree which promised to de-segregate their properties, though the government later accused them of violating their agreement.)

But The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer offers a list of more recent words and deeds that are evidence enough:

Trump began his campaign denigrating Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, he vowed to ban Muslims from the country, and he invoked stereotypes of black crime to paint a picture of a harrowing dystopia from which only he could rescue Americans. Since becoming president, his administration neglected Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Americans and thousands of deaths; it has sought to portray immigrants as criminals in order to justify the revocation of legal status for hundreds of thousands of black and Latino immigrants; it issued a travel ban aimed at Muslim countries; and it has rolled back civil-rights enforcement, encouraged police abuses, and sought to weaken the voting power of minority communities. Trump rode to the White House promising to use the power of the state against religious and ethnic minorities, and he has kept that promise. Even if, as Trump says, the word nigger isn’t in his vocabulary, it wouldn’t change everything else he has done.

And so while we wait for a recording that will do nothing except generate advertising revenue for media outlets, it is worth thinking about why white people feel compelled to call someone a “nigger” in the first place.

Why, for example, did a white Ohio contractor feel it was necessary to angrily follow a black motorist home after a perceived traffic slight, only to say to him, “I just want to let you know what a nigger you’re being.”

The white man Jeffrey Whitman, was captured on video last month sitting in his van outside of Charles Lovett’s home, who coolly filmed and posted the incident. After a brief back and forth, Whitman explains what he meant. “You’re a rude nigger…you cut me off in my lane,” he says. “You cut me off because you feel entitled because you get everything for free.”

You take from me. You are less than me. You always will be. You have been informed.

Whitman, publicly shamed, is now having trouble finding work.

But it’s hard to imagine the same outcome for a public figure who has made racist rhetoric central to his appeal. For one thing, if the allegations are true, he already got away with it without consequence. That says more about The Apprentice producers than any n-word dropping star.

But as we think about the mental gymnastics it takes for a white person to call a black one the n-word, I inevitably return to James Baldwin, whose words continue to resonate today.

“What white people have to do,” Baldwin said, “is try to find out in their hearts why it was necessary for them to have a nigger in the first place. Because I am not a nigger. I’m a man. If I’m not the nigger here, and if you invented him, you the white people invented him, then you have to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it is able to ask that question.”

On Point

In good political news, an increasingly diverse array of candidates are finding success at the pollsA smattering of primaries nationwide yesterday resulted in some encouraging firsts: Vermont nominated Christine Hallquist, the nation’s first transgender candidate for governor, and Connecticut’s Jahana Hayes, a teacher, is now likely to become first black Democratic Congresswoman from the state. In Minnesota, state Rep. Ilhan Omar won the nomination for a House seat recently vacated by Keith Ellison, setting her up to become the first Somali American member of Congress. Click through for more inside baseball on key races last night.Politico

The Survey Monkey board has now reached gender parity
In a world where 70% of board seats are still held by white men, the company continues to impress with its commitment to inclusion. Erika Hayes James, the dean of Emory University’s business school, is the company’s latest director. She brings with her a deep commitment to equality at work. “My life’s work is helping women reach leadership positions, and I am impressed by SurveyMonkey’s dedication to creating a diverse and inclusive environment,” James told Fast CompanyShe has the charts and graphs to prove it– her own research shows investors and the media tend to react more negatively to the announcement of female CEOs than men. She’s also the first black woman to head a major business school and the second black woman on the Survey Monkey board. Can’t wait to take her surveys.
Survey Monkey

Spike Lee has seen the nuclear football and is afraid
It’s one of the throwaway moments in this lively Q&A with the filmmaker, each one an opportunity to enjoy his success while marveling at his longtime commitment to one message: Deal with the hate. It’s the theme in all his work. “Wake up. Be alert. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t go for the okey-doke. Don’t go for the shenanigans, subterfuge and skullduggery. Don’t go for it,” he says. But while many of his films have had humble box-office starts, the immediate success of BlacKkKlansman, including the Cannes prize, was a delight. “It was just a great moment. And the standing ovation at the end? That was surreal.” Click through for more behind-the-scenes insights.
Rolling Stone

Oklahoma school closes after parents make threatening online comments about a twelve-year-old transgender student
The Achille Middle School in Achille, Okla. canceled classes for two days this week after disturbing comments made by parents in a Facebook group and related threads came to light. The student, who was new to the school, used the girl’s restroom after she was unable to find the staff bathroom she’d been offered. Angry local parents and other adults from other communities piled on, referring to her as “the transgender”, “this thing”, and a “half-baked maggot.” Then the threats of violence. “If he wants to be a female make him a female. A good sharp knife will do the job really quick.” The girl’s family has filed an order of protection against a person with the same last name as one of the parents. Also: Oh my God.
Washington Post

 

The Woke Leader

On being transgender
Jesse Singal wrote a controversial feature for The Atlantic’s July/August issue that explored the many issues that families face when their kids try to sort out their gender identities. “Hormones? Surgery? The choices are fraught—and there are no easy answers,” was the deck. It created an immediate outcry from transgender people and advocates who say he missed the mark. “He implies that if you are a parent of a child who is exploring a trans identity, then you should be in a state of panic,” writes Robyn Kanner, in one of several pieces The Atlantic published in response. “While it is true that there are ‘no easy answers’ to the questions raised by significantly gender-nonconforming kids, believing that the most important issue is whether [someone] is ‘really’ trans misses the point of the complexity of gender transitions,” says Tey Meadow, a sociologist who studies trans and gender-nonconforming kids and their families. That’s why the framing of these issues is crucial. “They set the terms by which the public understands trans youth.” Click through for the whole list.
The Atlantic

How AI can build a new category of work
In this sometimes funny and deeply moving talk, computer scientist Kai-Fu Lee talks about how deep learning, originally conceived by North American scientists, has the potential to transform our world. Lee begins by talking about how the Chinese entrepreneurs he funds as a venture investor are outworking the U.S. on new product development. “So with the US leading the era of discovery and China leading the era of implementation, we are now in an amazing age where the dual engine of the two superpowers are working together to drive the fastest revolution in technology that we have ever seen as humans,” he says. Although most routine jobs will be affected, that’s not his big worry. “But what’s more serious than the loss of jobs is the loss of meaning, because the work ethic in the Industrial Age has brainwashed us into thinking that work is the reason we exist, that work defined the meaning of our lives.” I’m underselling this at the risk of spoilers, trust me.
TED

How to include men in gender parity initiatives
The advice in this piece from two researchers in management and organization academia can be applied to any issue of diversity and inclusion, for one simple reason: The solution is to include everyone from the beginning. “Research on organizational change suggests that the success of any change effort requires the involvement of employees,” they say in HBR. But getting men involved in gender issues, in this case, requires first understanding why they stay on the sidelines. They say the issue is “psychological standing” or a person’s understanding of whether they “have a place” in the conversation. “[W]e show that men often refrain from participating in or speaking up about gender parity initiatives because they experience lowered levels of psychological standing than women — that is, they feel that it is not their place to engage with those initiatives,” they say.
HBR

Quote

As long as you are black, and you’re gonna be black till the day you die, no one’s gonna call you by your goddamn name. So no matter what you are called, nigger, you just let it roll off your back like water, and you’ll make it. Just pretend you’re a goddamn piece of furniture.
Lyndon Johnson to his chauffeur, Robert Parker