Skip to Content

raceAhead: The Annual “Don’t Be A Jerk” Halloween Column

Woman Wearing Costume Covering Face With Jack O Lantern Against Wall During HalloweenWoman Wearing Costume Covering Face With Jack O Lantern Against Wall During Halloween
Don't wear blackface. Don't dress like sexy Pocahontas. Don't make political jokes. Just don't.Esther Moreno Martinez / EyeEm Getty Images/EyeEm

This is the time of year when I remember with fondness my early vision for this column, which launched some two and a half years ago. I actually believed, I’m embarrassed to say, that I’d mostly spend my time on things like corporate surveys, new research, inspiring profiles, and the cultural wrecking ball that is Halloween.

I miss those days.

That said, today is Halloween, that magical day when people who do diversity work wait patiently for the carnage. For people who love it, it’s a time to be creative, exchanging a corporate mask for a more expressive one. (My friends at 2U, I’m looking at you.) But typically… hell, I’m just going to quote myself from 2016:

Every year, it’s a thing. Imagine some people showing up to work dressed in orange prison jumpsuits with the words “illegal alien” scrawled across the front—a popular choice in the past—who are then theatrically bricked into their cubicles by people wearing Donald Trump masks. Points for topicality, but you’re still going to HR. Please don’t paint your face black, brown, yellow or “red.” It’s always racist. No religious garb. No suicide bomber shtick. Skip the Black Lives Matter jokes. And yet, it will happen, and I’ll be linking to the inevitable aftermath stories next week.

By 2017, I continued my practice of highlighting the hopeless and clueless: The Alabama teacher who blackened his face and dressed up as Kanye West. (Do we need the MAGA update? No.) The Staples employee in Pleasant Hill, CA who greeted shoppers in blackface, then claimed to be “a sharpie.” The man who walked into two Omaha, Neb. area malls dressed as a “mass shooter.” The “Anne Frank costume for girls” was whisked from the shelves after a backlash.

I just know it’s going to be worse this year. 2018, we’re ready for you.

Don’t be these people. Don’t don a sombrero and act like a jerk. Don’t wear an Indian headdress or be a sexy Pocahontas or insulting sports mascot. If you want to change the color of your skin, think smurf or gumball only. Unless you want to get fired like this Kansas City nurse.

But whatever you do, don’t fall for the “I didn’t know it was offensive,” line. Everybody knows.

“Nonblack people keep doing blackface because they find it enjoyable,” explains Anne Branigin in The Root. She cites research that shows clearly that people understand blackface and other racist jokes are wrong… but not really that wrong. “[W]hite people—mostly young white men, but not always—take pleasure in these jokes and know that they are offensive. Anti-black racism is a way for them to pass the time, to connect, to feel a cheap sense of rebellion even though there is nothing inherently rebellious about American racism—it has always been the status quo.”


On Point

It’s time to acknowledge that faith is a workplace issueThis is the wise counsel of Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer. In this LinkedIn post, Shook begins with her own shock as she processed the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and then shares the steps she took with various team members including the CEO to make sure all Accenture employees were safe and felt supported. (Spoiler alert: It took many conversations with people of a variety faiths to find the right words and path forward.) Then she raises a vital point: We can’t leave faith out of the identity conversation. “As leaders, we cannot underestimate how important policies and religious literacy education are which support religious accommodations,” she says. “While policies alone don’t create a workplace environment, they are essential visible symbols that demonstrate that you welcome people as they are, and value the richness of diversity within your organization.”LinkedIn

What is going on at Baylor University?
A troubling statistic emerged from the University’s Big 12 verification report released on Tuesday: Some 56% of Baylor students reported sexual harassment by a faculty member. The report was part of a larger effort to make sure the University was implementing new Title IX protections, and updating its sexual assault and harassment reporting procedures in the wake of a 2015 scandal involving a star football player who was ultimately convicted of second-degree sexual assault. While the University appears to be largely in compliance, the statistic raised alarms. “Baylor recognizes that additional training and education on this issue must be included in its annual online training module for faculty and staff,” the Title IX office said in response.

The Los Angeles Times endorsed different candidates in the English and Spanish-language versions of the paper
In the English-language version, the paper endorsed Dianne Feinstein for Senator. But en Español, they thought Kevin de León was the better choice. After Latino Rebels compiled a lengthy list of opposing endorsements, they approached the paper for an explanation. Turns out it was an error.  The Spanish language endorsements came from a Times-owned publication called Hoy, from which their Los Angeles Times en Español edition draws content. But the error was also printed and sent to thousands of homes as a special supplement. “But the truth remains that If I had to rely on the LA Times for advice on how to vote as a Latina in Los Angeles, I would be really bewildered at this point,” says reporter Alejandro Maciel. But it also raises bigger questions. How does a mainstream publisher deal with the changing demographic of its readership?
Latino Rebels

We all have unconscious biases. Even me, even you
People refuse to believe that unconscious bias training is necessary because they see themselves as good people who act right toward others. While our unconscious opinions are subtle enough to go unnoticed, they can influence the way we set up our lives – including our teams and personal networks. Expert and author Dolly Chugh runs through a list of how biases appear in our lives: A person might feel a flicker of disappointment that his or her pilot is a woman. Or assume that the Asian waiter at a sushi restaurant won’t speak fluent English. Or bristle when walking down a street at night and seeing a group of black teenage boys approaching. Or see a homeless person asking for money and think: “Get a job.” But here’s the thing that caught my eye: Biases can also change with the times, becoming more or less pronounced depending on what’s happening in the world or your life. Click through for more, then take the Implicit Association Test, created by Harvard in 1998.
Wall Street Journal



The Woke Leader

The exhaustion of not knowing
Deepa Iyer begins her poignant essay with a simple story of learning to overcome her fear of swimming as an adult; a quest made even more poignant by her desire to frolic in the water with her young son. But the confidence she earned after successful lessons quickly turned sour; on her first recreational outing at her own swim club, she accidentally tried to use swim boards and fins reserved for other swimmers. She and her young son were publicly confronted by the lifeguard in a way that left her wondering, is this a racist attack? Or simply how anyone would behave? Not knowing is part of the pain. “Dominant white culture enables white people to enjoy the luxury of disregarding racial context, history, and dynamics altogether, including when they interact with people of color. But people of color can never do that.”

A useful history of birthright citizenship
The fourteenth amendment, which certifies that anyone who is born in the U.S. is a citizen, is back in the news after President Trump declared he could eliminate it via executive order. It’s also a 150-year-old bedrock of civil rights: Its original intent was to grant citizenship to African Americans, most of whom had been enslaved. To unpack what the amendment did and why the battle over it has become so contentious, I recommend Martha S. Jones, an author and history professor at Johns Hopkins University. The arguments against birthright citizenship have always been racially charged, which is an affront to the remedy the amendment provided. “It runs disturbingly counter to what the 14th amendment gave us, which was a route to citizenship that could not be denied by virtue of race, by virtue of descent, religion, political party, health, wealth.” Click here for an NPR interview with Jones, her conversation with The New York Times is below.
New York Times

The math on vampires
Since it’s Halloween, I thought you might like to know that there is a surprisingly robust body of research that applies mathematical modeling to the concept of vampire-human co-existence. How long would it take for vampires to eliminate humans entirely, thereby putting themselves at risk? Or to put it as this 1982 paper did, what are the “optimal bloodsucking strategies for dynamic continuous vampires?” But a 2008 paper took on the obvious flaw in the analysis. “[V]ampires are presented exclusively as greedy consumers: A rational strategy of managing their human resources is not considered.” And some of the undead do re-die, after all. Math is real, y’all.


Our clock is blind, our clock is dumb. / Its hands are broken, its fingers numb. / No time for the martyr of our fair town / Who wasn’t a witch because she could drown. / Now the dogs of the cemetery are starting to bark / At the vision of her, bobbing up through the dark. / When she opens her mouth to gasp for air, / A moth flies out and lands in her hair. / The apples are thumping, winter is coming. / The lips of the pumpkin soon will be humming. / By the caw of the crow on the first of the year, / Something will die, something appear.
Maurice Kilwein Guevara