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raceAhead: The Redemption of Kevin Hart?

January 7, 2019, 8:08 PM UTC
Kevin Hart pictured on The Today Show set on Thursday, September 27, 2018.
TODAY -- Pictured: Kevin Hart on Thursday, September 27, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Nathan Congleton—NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Who gets forgiven? Who gets to decide? These are the crowdsourced questions of a modern age.

Consider the persistent case of Kevin Hart, who removed himself as Oscar host, after previous tweets containing homophobic slurs came to light, including one tweet in which he called someone a “fat faced fag,” and another where he said he’d smash a dollhouse over his son’s head if he caught him playing with it. “Because that’s gay.”

After refusing to apologize, he later apologized, sort of, but not after characterizing the online backlash as a “malicious attack on my character.”

“I’m sorry that I hurt people… I am evolving and want to continue to do so. My goal is to bring people together not tear us apart,” he tweeted. “Much love & appreciation to the Academy. I hope we can meet again.”

Hart attempted a reputation reboot in an interview on the Ellen show on Friday. It did not go well.

Ellen DeGeneres revealed that she had lobbied the Academy to get Hart reinstated. “Whatever is going on in the Internet, don’t pay attention to them. That’s a small group of people being very, very loud. We are a huge group of people who love you and want to see you host the Oscars.”

CNN’s Don Lemon wondered aloud if DeGeneres was in a position to offer absolution, and weighed in with an emotional call for Hart to dig more deeply before he moved on.

Referring to the dollhouse joke, Lemon said, “But the truth is, that is a reality for many little boys in the United States. Somewhere, a black dad is beating his black son. For example, my friend Lee Daniels was thrown into a trash can by his own father for being gay, an event he dramatized in Empire.”

While it may seem that the famous folks get all the heat, for regular people who get nailed for hate speech and the like, the attention can be just as intense.

Here are some recent examples:

The Alpha Chi Omega chapter at the University of Tennessee suspended a white sorority sister for a short video first recorded on Snapchat and shared on Twitter after a video of her saying the N-word was posted by a disgusted alum.

The Baltimore Ravens publicly called out defensive lineman Patric Ricard’s newly discovered racist and homophobic tweets, which were posted when he was in high school, from 2011-2013. He immediately apologized.

A recent spate of disturbing racist incidents have put Portland, Ore. back in the spotlight — including a meeting of business leaders in which one real estate executive declared that ethnic minorities lacked the education to be full players in civic life, and another in which a black hotel patron was removed from a DoubleTree lobby for no reason other than he was speaking on his phone.

“I think if you interviewed people of color, they would say, that’s just Tuesday,” said Stephen Green, the director of WeWork’s new Portland startup incubator told Oregon Live’s business column. “That’s not out of the norm,” said Green. “It’s out of the norm that it got recorded.”

Camera phones and deft use of social media are making the world a very uncomfortable place: In every incident cited in the Oregon Live piece, the offender was fired, removed, reprimanded or arrested.

I think of it as a quickening of the pace of institutional courage and leadership.

For all the discomfort, I remain optimistic that people who legitimately need to evolve will be given the space to do so if they are willing to show their work.

But I’m also optimistic that powerful people who have been exposed by credible allegations of hate speech, discrimination, harassment, and abuse will emerge from their experience to discover a world rearranged in such a way that they will no longer be allowed to be powerful and abusive.

And I hope their victims find justice.

In a move clearly influenced by a documentary supported by high-profile online advocacy, Cyntoia Denise Brown, a young woman who was serving a life sentence in Tennessee for killing the abuser who bought her for sex when she was 16, has just been granted clemency.

“If Cyntoia Brown were tried today, legal experts say she would not have been tried in the same way,” said CNN affiliate WZTV anchor Stacy Case, an expert investigator of child trafficking cases. “Our courts today would view her as a child sex slave… she would be viewed as a victim.”


Editor’s Note: We mistakenly identified Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib as Pakistani American in Thursday’s newsletter. The essay has now been corrected to identify her as Palestinian American.

On Point

The Golden Globes was a mixed bag of diversity, and delightThere was something for everyone to cheer and sneer at the awards show last night. Hosts Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg were nice, funny, and hit all their marks, and Sandra Oh’s win for her role in Killing Eve was particularly poignant. Gaga lost to Glenn Close, which ended up being well, fine, and Rami Malek’s charming speech for his award for Bohemian Rhapsody, was not enough to make up for the collective head scratch at the choice. But for all the diversity, and there was plenty, the snubbing of Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians left inclusion fans even more over Green Book.New York Times

There’s a new chief at CBS News
Susan Zirinsky is set to become the first woman to lead the company’s news division in its long history, a substantial role which sends a clear message for the entire company. “Being a producer is my oxygen and the core of who I am,” Zirinsky told the Los Angeles Times. “My whole approach is as a producer and that’s what will differentiate us.” It’s also a timely move, as the company continues to try to right itself after a series of ugly and costly #Me Too revelations hit the news division, which ended in the dismissals of Jeff Fager, who ran 60 Minutes, and CBS This Morning co-anchor Charlie Rose.
Los Angeles Times

Common to adapt Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Barracoon’ for television
Hurston’s book about Cudjo Lewis, the last known enslaved person to survive the Middle Passage journey to the U.S. was published nearly 100 years after she first conceived of the work, but now, it’s gaining traction. The rapper, actor and producer has teamed up with Lionsgate to turn the book into a limited television series, let the casting opinions commence. (I pick Trevante Rhodes.) It is the second deal between Lionsgate and Common’s Freedom Road Productions.

Sometimes strangers will make a door in your heart
If you are prone to thinking about social media as a troll-driven snake pit filled with haters who will spontaneously gather into a murmuration-mob to attack at will, then you’ll enjoy this wonderful story from writer David Perry. “No, I didn't join a cult,” he begins. “But I did find out what it would be like if the internet was the nicest place on earth, if Twitter was a platform in which people flooded each other with love, encouraged each of us to feel accepted and to accept ourselves…” The catalyst was an innocent question about the origin of an emoji he received in a text message. Next thing he knew, he’d been adopted by the fans of the Korean pop band BTS, who engaged him with curiosity, candor, and compassion, and welcomed him into their ARMY. Really, a must-read and share.
The Current


The Woke Leader

Fact: Sally Hemmings was the first black FLOTUS
This is the poignant opinion of Evelia Jones, who lays out her case with care. Hemmings, an enslaved black woman was the four-decade-long companion of Thomas Jefferson, whose wife had died nearly two decades before he became president. While Hemmings did not live with him while he was at the White House, she had three of their six children together while he was president, and was clearly an important part of his personal life. “For these reasons and others, it’s Sally Hemings, not Martha Wayles Skelton, who should be recognized as first lady,” she writes. Jones, an author and former teacher, is also a direct descendant of Jefferson and Hemmings.
Los Angeles Times

Hayao Miyazaki turns 78
Miyazaki, the beloved maker of animated films — My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Ponyo, among them — has continued to create ardent new fans long after his official retirement in 2013. To celebrate his birthday on January 5, Den of Geek has put together and in-depth look back at his life and career, tracing his earliest influences and breakthrough moments. He became an animator after he saw Japan’s first feature-length color anime film, called The Tale Of The White Serpent (or Hakujaden). It was 1958. "When I saw Hakujaden," he wrote in a 1979 essay, "it was as if the scales fell from my eyes; I realised that I should depict the honesty and goodness of children in my work [...] With that as my starting point, I have spent the last 20 years trying to do this."
Den of Geek

Diversity efforts in science funding are not what they seem to be
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is a professor of particle physics and cosmology, which is heady enough until you consider how much time she spends breaking down barriers in the full-sized world here on earth. She’s one of my favorite and most candid commenters on race, inclusion, and academia. (Among other things.) In this excellent essay, she illuminates the “Broader Impacts” mandate that aims to ensure that National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship grantees consider how their work will have a meaningful impact on society. It is a hazy mandate at best. After years as both a grantee and a member of NSF panels, she calls this diversity work part of a “diversity racket.” “In practice, it seems that [the NSF is] incentivizing using marginalized people as props in their proposals. We are a commodity whose identities are traded on even though we may never benefit.”


The in-articulators would have us believe that poetry should be kept out of our daily conversations and saved for the mountaintops or the champagne parties. But poetry belongs where truth exists. Poetry wants to live where honesty and courage have been prioritized. Poetry is the first language of a free and flying unchained heart. Poetry is the heart's journalism—with or without a word count. Poetry is our greatest human portraiture. If Baldwin was right (and of course he was) and the "poets are the only ones who know the truth about us" then dare I say the journalists are our heartbeat and tambourine.
Nikky Finney