raceAhead: Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 28, 2019, 6:30 PM UTC
Auschwitz Survivors
7th May 1964: Survivors of Auschwitz concentration camp display the camp markings still on their arms. Dr Brenda (left) gave evidence against former Auschwitz camp doctor Wladyslaw Dering in London's High Court during a libel action against author Leon Uris and the publishers of the book 'Exodus'. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Keystone/Getty Images

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It is both a privilege and responsibility to remember, especially now, as the world is starting to forget. A 2018 survey showed that 66% of adults under 40 did not know what the Auschwitz concentration and death camp was. A CNN survey of Holocaust awareness in Europe shows similarly alarming lapses.

Ignorance comes at a cost: The Anti-Defamation League’s annual report on extremist killings in the United States found that people linked to right-wing movements committed all known extremist-related murders in the U.S. last year. “The white supremacist attack in Pittsburgh should serve as a wake-up call to everyone about the deadly consequences of hateful rhetoric,” ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a statement.

With that in mind, I’m re-running my column on the Holocaust and waking up, below. I just feel the need to say it again.



When I was eight, Mondays were hectic for me.

I was running a little operation in which I repurposed money that I should have used to buy my bus pass – back in the 1970s, New York City school kids used paper passes for a week of rides on city buses – to buy penny candy at a bodega across the street from my school on 96th Street. I would then sell my haul to friends for two cents apiece. At the end of the day, I had doubled my cash and had enough to both buy my bus pass and fuel my weekly Nancy Drew habit. It was a good scheme, but it required me to run nine city blocks to school one day a week.

I felt no need to run any of this plan by my mother.

But every Monday, I made one detour into a deli on Broadway between 107th and 106th. I was a shy kid and didn’t talk much, but there was an old man I used to like watch work through the plate glass window. He had a way of smiling without moving his face; he also looked at me like I was a real person. There had been plenty of drama in my mixed-race family and the uptown streets back then, so I was sensitive about how people looked at me. I would pop in on my dash to school, and he would give me a little slice of whatever meat he was carving for the later lunch rush. “’Allo leetle girl,” he would say.

One day, I asked my mom what the tattooed numbers on his arm meant, and that’s how I learned about the terrible things that can happen to your neighbors.

Sunday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, and my deli man is often the first person I think of when the subject of the Holocaust comes up. I didn’t know his name or story, but he was my friend in some sort of way. It wasn’t until I was much older that I began to grasp the enormity of what he must have suffered and the resilience it must have taken to rebuild.

I now realize how extraordinarily lucky he was to have gotten here at all.

These are the kinds of experiences that proximity can bring, the unpredictable benefits of living or working alongside people who are different from you. History becomes personal. The suffering of others becomes unacceptable. And when other people see and invest in you, even in simple ways, it changes your ability to see a place for yourself in the world. It’s the part of inclusion that is more art than science, the part that makes everything from eradicating hate speech to debating refugee policy to running better meetings a human imperative. After an extraordinary three years of listening to your stories and learning your best practices, it’s the part I’ve come to cherish most.

I believe researchers will find better and better ways to measure the business case for proximity, but for now, I’ve learned to take a lot of it on faith. To finish my tale: Every Saturday, my mom and I would walk a half a block past the deli to Adlo’s Hallmark for my weekly treat. “Well, hello Miss Nancy Drew,” Mr. Adlo would say, while he patiently counted out the change from my perfectly executed candy scheme, and listened to my big plans to become a writer someday.


On Point

There was something for everyone in last night’s SAG Awards
Sandra Oh won for her work in Killing Eve,  Mahershala Ali won for Green Book, and there was more recognition for the cast of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a series about a Jewish family assimilating with humor and style into in a post-Holocaust world. The emotional capper goes to the cast of Black Panther, who won for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a motion picture. More winners here. But the show started with its standard opening from actors in the audience, telling their stories of how they got into the business. Don’t miss this year’s trio – Mike Myers with a call for government subsidies of the arts; Yara Shahidi, who shared her joy that her heritage as a Black-Iranian American woman didn’t keep her from her dream; and former Cosby Show star Geoffrey Owens, who earned rousing applause by addressing his mid-acting-career job as a cashier at Trader Joe’s. “It's actually worked out pretty well."
Hollywood Reporter

TIME’S UP issues a new challenge to change the ratio of female directors working in entertainment
The TIME'S UP and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative #4PercentChallenge, was announced at a panel at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. On its face, the challenge is simple: Working film professionals taking the pledge must commit to working with at least one female film director in the next 18 months. Later, actor Tessa Thompson made the commitment out loud and explained why it matters. “Because only 4% of the top 100 studio films over the last DECADE have been directed by women, #TIMESUP is initiating a challenge, the 4% challenge,” she said. Research shows that women-led films are more inclusive on all measures, including behind-the-scenes hiring. “The aim is to humanize production processes so that all groups can thrive at work in safe contexts,” TIME'S Up said in a formal statement.
Time's Up

Senator Kamala Harris launches her presidential bid in Oakland, Calif.
By all accounts it was a blowout event with a real home town vibe - more than 20,000 people showed up to Frank Ogawa Plaza — named for the Oakland City Council member whose family was interned with Japanese-Americans during World War II — to hear Harris introduce herself. “We are at an inflection point in the history of our nation,” she said. “We are here because the American Dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before.” Harris, the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, outlined her progressive plan, and while never mentioning the current president by name, spoke directly to the divisions that plague the country. “The truth is that, as Americans, we have much more in common than what separates us,” she said.
Mercury News

A possible breakthrough in sickle-cell disease
The disease, which causes agonizing pain mostly in people of African ancestry, is caused by a mutation in a single gene. But a new form of genetic therapy is showing real promise in its early stages of testing. And, it’s not expensive. “This would be the first genetic cure of a common genetic disease,” Dr. Edward Benz, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School tells The New York Times. It’s been a journey: current treatments are often ineffective and include very expensive marrow transplants. Experts have long complained that there has been little funding for research because the disease mostly impacts less affluent minority populations.
New York Times


On Background

BREAKING: The USPS is selling stamps with an image of Gregory Hines on them
The 55 cent “forever” stamps go on sale today, and I thought you should have this important information so you can plan your day accordingly. It’s the 42nd stamp in their Black Heritage series. Hines was a jazz tap dancer, actor, choreographer and one of the most innovative performers of the modern age; here is a wonderful essay about his impact on dance,here is a short clip of the challenge dancein the 1988 hit move Tap; here he is singingThere’s Nothing Better than Love with Luther Vandross; here is a longer clip of him in dancing to and with Sammy Davis Jr. Okay, I’ll stop now. I lied: Here’s the famous scene of him dancing with Mikhail Baryshnikov in White Nights, which shows that Misha would have been a great tap dancer if things had worked out a little better for him. (I jest.) I loved Hines so much that it didn’t even bother me that he starred as Jelly Roll Morton, a man who didn’t tap dance.

China has become Hong Kong’s primary research partner
A new paper shows that more than half of the scientific research conducted in Hong Kong is now conducted in collaboration with mainland China. This increasing reliance on China means that Hong Kong’s research with the U.S., now their second most frequent partner, are diminishing year over year. China “gradually came to occupy an irreplaceable position through a rapid growth of collaborative publications with Hong Kong”, say authors Qian Ma and Wenlan Li, from China’s Tianjin University. The research cited in the paper is focused in the general categories of engineering, physics, chemistry, materials science and computer science.
Times Higher Education

Why are white people so angry?
Carol Anderson, a professor of African-­American studies at Emory University, seeks to reframe the history of race and tension as driven  largely by white fear: At moments of black progress, there is a predictable, white backlash. Anderson doesn’t offer any prescriptions, but her research is exhaustive.The review is below. I’m still reading the book, but so far it’s illuminating and predictably grim.
New York Times


 Freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but, you know what, though? The hereafter is a hustle. And let’s get a couple of things straight. Just a little side note: the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, stop with all that.
—Jessie Williams