raceAhead: Remembering John McCain?

August 27, 2018, 7:25 PM UTC

John McCain, Arizona Senator, Vietnam war hero and presidential contender, has died. My colleague, David Z. Morris, has an excellent recap of the defining moments of his career.

As in life, McCain’s death has stirred some rich and often difficult conversations, many of them playing out in the public sphere. For every person prepared to celebrate his maverick candor, there are others who wonder if he fell short at key junctures. It’s an assessment with which I suspect he’d agree. Jeet Heer of The New Republic sums up some of the issues without getting too far into the weeds:

Yet if American Greatness and MAGA are two different paths of conservative nationalism can take, they do share a connection. By picking Sarah Palin to be his running mate in 2008, John McCain helped pave the way for MAGA and Trump. McCain wanted to energize the GOP base but he got more than he bargained for. Palin went rogue with atavistic resentment, most famously in her attacks on Obama for “palling around with terrorists.” It was a short distance between that and birtherism, which Palin also embraced. Trump was all but inevitable.

But the other conversation happening now is between McCain supporters and critics who are both using the moment to express their point of view about his policy ideas and their impacts. It’s actually a conversation about the conversation. When is it too soon to offer anything other than a perfunctory laudatory sentiment, particularly about a high profile figure? When does “out of respect for the family,” end? And what happens when the moment passes and an incomplete legacy becomes cemented in memory? Bottom line, will we ever get to talk?

Karla Monterroso, the CEO of Code2040, says critical comments are often an expression of a grief of an entirely different kind and should be treated with grace. “I understand the grief of a lost life, especially for family,” she tweeted in a thoughtful thread. But to dismiss uncomfortable elements of a conversation about a public figure at the moment when people are processing the deceased’s body of work is a familiar tactic of erasure. What critics are feeling is a different type of loss. “And it is grief. It is grief at not being seen as enough for your fellow citizens to find it distasteful to raise as hero someone you have seen take direct action against you,” she said. “Especially if those people are constantly hurt at the hand of white supremacy.”

Her advice, which I’ve heard her give countless times in different forms, is to listen for understanding, not merely for debate.

“I think it is important we examine our pull to grief that isn’t ours and make meaning of it,” she said. Put immediate reactions on pause, if you can, particularly if your impulse is to shut someone else down. “All grief. We could be better served by making meaning of it.”

I suspect the Senator from Arizona would also agree.

On Point

We need more black doctors, statAccording to the CDC, black men have the lowest life expectancy of any ethnic group in the U.S., a fact that should trigger a national outcry. Instead, this small but powerful study adds a new possible explanation: A lack of black doctors. A study published by the National Bureau for Economic Research, with 702 black men in Oakland, Calif., found that they were more likely to accept certain tests or preventive measures if the counsel came from a black doctor rather than a white or Asian one. The results were definitive. In one example, some 63 percent of black men assigned to a black doctor agreed to a diabetes screening compared to 43 percent of those assigned to a non-black doctor.New York Times

The philanthropic sector gets a boost for equality
The Racial Equity in Philanthropy Fund is a historic alliance between the Ford and W.K. Kellogg foundations and Borealis Philanthropy, an intermediary that connects grantmakers and organizations. The fund just released its first round of grants of $14 million, to help nonprofits transform their talent pipelines, and examine everything from hiring practices, to board makeup, conference speakers and session topics, research and publication practices. “Our society, our organizations, our communities are hungry for this. They want this,” said Arelis Diaz, Kellogg’s director of the president’s office. Nineteen organizations received the first round of funding, click through for the extraordinary race and healing grantmaking work Ford and Kellogg have been doing on their own.
Inside Philanthropy

The nationwide prison strike: What you need to know
The media coverage has been spotty, but the outlets who are covering it have done a good job describing the issues inmates are protesting, which include inhumane conditions, unpaid labor, and harsh sentencing. “Prisoners aren’t oblivious to their reality,” Paul Wright, the executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center told The New York Times. While inmate protests are not new, the ability to organize across facilities and the country is. The Marshall Project explains the history and aim of the protests, and an excellent round-up of coverage here. To hear more from the prisoners themselves, click through below to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) website, “a prisoner-led section of the Industrial Workers of the World.”
Incarcerated Workers

The Woke Leader

LeBron James has really done something with his new school
Alia Wong, who covers education for The Atlantic, breaks down the reasons why James’s new I Promise school in Akron, Ohio is a truly novel entrant into the education debate. First, she points out, it’s part of the Akron Public School system, turning it into a laboratory of sorts that can be shared with other school districts serving kids living in poverty. It’s also been designed to address the whole child, including emotional intelligence, mindfulness and mental and physical health. And it considers the needs of the parents, with everything from language and GED support, to a food pantry and hair salon. But you can’t come away from this analysis without a new appreciation for the careful genius of James himself. “The I Promise school’s pillars seem drawn directly from James's philosophy: ‘Be Best: Constant pursuit of improvement,’ ‘Family: If you fail, we fail,’ and ‘Mindfulness: Drop baggage at the door,’ to name a few,” writes Wong.
The Atlantic

Rare photos of black “Rosie the Riveters”
Some 600,000 black women left the agriculture and domestic work to join the wartime economy in the 1940s, a new and potentially life-changing opportunity for the women and their families. These wonderful photos, compiled by Cristen Conger from HowStuffWorks, hide the grim reality of the lives of #blackgirlmagic welders: They were the bottom rung of a strict racial hierarchy. Hired first were non-military white men, followed by single white women, married white women, and black men. And Mary McLeod Bethune, then president of the National Association of Colored Women promoted the jobs through women’s clubs nationwide.
Stuff Mom Never Told You

A past where everyone was equal
A recently discovered 5,000-year-old cemetery in the Lake Turkana region of Kenya indicates that the early pastoralists living there had a society free of social hierarchy and inequality, a significant departure from insights gleaned from other early societies. It’s a fascinating bit of detective work; typically burial grounds include monuments that memorialize their ideals and indicate, fairly directly, elite stratification and clear social classes. But the Lothagam North Pillar Site, which was used over several centuries, was different, partly for the way the bodies were arranged without regard to status, and the colorful adornments that were bestowed on everyone, not just the fancy folks. Know hope from the elders.


Even in this most idealistic of nations, we do not always take kindly to being reminded of what more we can do, or how much better we can be, or who else can be included in the promise of America. We can be slow as well to give greatness its due, a mistake I made myself long ago when I voted against a federal holiday in memory of Dr. King.
Senator John McCain, 2008

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