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What’s Next For Virginia?

I stumbled on this image yesterday and it wrecked me.

It was posted by Julie Carey, a political reporter and the NBC4 bureau chief for Northern Virginia. “This photo illustrates how overwhelming the chaos is right now at Virginia’s Capitol,” she tweeted.

It shows Virginia State Senator Louise Lucas leaning against a car, tipped at the waist, her purse in one hand, cradling her head in the other. She looks very much like a beloved auntie temporarily rocked by a wave of grief.

Lucas was trying to catch her breath while surrounded by reporters “looking for comment on the latest disclosure that [Attorney General Mark] Herring wore blackface once in college.”

To me, the photo perfectly sums up this painful moment in time.

Not the pain of the now three state executives who find themselves in serious professional jeopardy – the Virginia governor and his attorney general for their admissions of wearing blackface, and the lieutenant governor facing serious allegations of sexual assault. Instead, I imagine the exhaustion of the citizens of their state, along with the millions of others who are now re-living our ugly history and worrying about the potential blind spots in their leaders.

It’s interesting that blackface, which was a beloved form of mass entertainment for decades, has suddenly become a bright line that cannot be crossed.

“It was always about making a mockery of black folks and dehumanizing them,” Duke University’s Mark Anthony Neal explained to host Yamiche Alcindor on PBS News Hour.

The optics, of course, are terrible. “People react so vehemently about it [because] there is no real defense of it as any type of legitimate art. It is completely racist and we all know it to be so,” Vann Newkirk of The Atlantic said on the same program.

And now there are real consequences: Social media makes it easier for relics of the past to bubble up and be amplified, opening up the conversation to millions of people who do not find the practice funny or nostalgic.

Expect more pictures, more conversation.

Yesterday, Colin Campbell, editor of the NC Insider, which covers government affairs in North Carolina, tweeted a photo that turned into a must-read thread.

“Randomly flipped through the 1979 UNC-Chapel Hill yearbook today just to kill some time, and found this photo on one of the fraternities’ pages,” he said. “Holy shit.”

Indeed. It was an image of a festive mock-hanging, complete with two hooded Klansmen and a hapless pledge (I assume) in blackface. There were plenty of offensive images, and the mini-maelstrom the post created forced UNC system interim president Bill Roper to comment publicly. “That’s a horrific part of our past, one that I think has no place then or now in our university system.”

It’s not hard to imagine the quivering anxiety of leaders these days, worried about photo-evidence of racism long forgotten, preparing to reach for their own fevered foreheads in the hopes that they can find higher ground. “This is not who I am, this is not who we are,” as the refrains go.

And then: Can’t we move on? Are we expected to talk about blackface and minstrelsy, race and reconciliation, when there is so much work to be done?

Sadly, old yearbook pictures are not a distraction from the work. They are the work. The fact that these issues keep tumbling into public consciousness even as political weapons is not just a sign of a cynical system, but of a perpetually postponed reckoning, a long, unpaid tax.

And yet, I remain comforted by The Warmth of Other Suns author Isabel Wilkerson’s sage advice to raceAhead readers – that the only way forward is through courageously confronting the past. Difficult issues are gateways, she believes.

“These are opportunities for anyone who is doing this [diversity and inclusion] work – and it’s really important work and I admire it – to consider how history impacts the people they want to include. And themselves, as well. Without that – a deep understanding – they will look at a situation and not be able to understand what they’re seeing.” Parsing the past with a sense of empathy for others is a good place to start.

And so, the lion’s share of my sympathies goes to the Senator Lucas’s of the world, the enterprising employee resource group members, the diversity professionals, and everyone from allies to token hires who continue to clear their throats and point to the gateways. It’s exhausting, necessary, and fraught with risk, and so much easier if you don’t have to go it alone.


This column is dedicated to my many cousins in the AAIB. I see you.

On Point

Rapper 21 Savage detained by ICE after rapping about migrant kids at the U.S. border21 Savage, whose name is Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was reportedly detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over the weekend. Evidently Savage, who was born in London, had overstayed his visa in 2005. While he’s now going through the application process, the timing of the detention is suspicious, say fans. The star, who is beloved in his adopted home town of Atlanta, is facing deportation proceedings. Check #Free21Savage for updates on his crowdsourced legal defense fund, and an important conversation about black immigrants.Fortune

Should Stacey Abrams be running for president
Astead W. Herndon notes the enthusiasm the Democrat has generated from Georgia voters, her obvious credentials, formidable star power and ability to collaborate effectively with Republicans. “But some of her supporters and other Democrats are also asking whether she should be running for an even bigger position — and why the clamoring has been louder for some white male politicians to run than for her,” he notes. Why indeed?
New York Times

What is inclusive marketing?
While this blog post introduces a Salesforce training module (which I haven’t taken nor am I endorsing) the six core principles caught my eye immediately. For one, it clearly encourages the application of inclusive thinking to all the content that gets created in service of growing a business. “It means that we are elevating diverse voices and role models, decreasing cultural bias, and leading positive social change through thoughtful and respectful content,” says author Alexandra Siegel. The principles touch on tone, language, representation, context, appropriation, and counter-stereotyping. And, they are recommending an inclusive review process for all marketing efforts before they are shipped to the world, including an opportunity for anonymous feedback.

Blackface, white robes and the personal cost of terrorism
Writer, historian, and cultural critic Tanisha C. Ford has shared a terrific draft of an essay that she’s been working on for a while, the subject of which now made urgent by a stream of breaking blackface news. “Around the same time that [Virginia Goveror Ralph] Northam was submitting the Klanface photo for the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, I was an elementary school student, taking a family road trip through southern Indiana that turned disastrous,” she begins. It was Christmas Eve, and she was driving with her mother and aunt when the car’s headlights went out near Martinsville, Indiana. The panic in her aunt’s voice made the situation clear: They were now stuck in a sundown town that was home to some of the worst Klan violence in the region. As they waited nervously for rescue, she heard for the first time the stories of white supremacist violence that had become family truth. “This was more than a mere passing of the time,” she says. “This was two black women trying to work through fear and trauma, sharing their vulnerability with me…”
Tanisha C. Ford

On Background

If you’re applying for a job at a law firm, try being a wealthy man
Job-seekers and hiring managers take note. Two researchers, Lauren Rivera and Andras Tilcksik, conducted studies in which four fictional applicants, identical in every way except for gender and activities, applied for summer associateships at prestigious law firms. The results revealed a clear class divide: Men with extracurriculars that suggested a wealthy upbringing (sailing, polo, classical music) had a callback rate more than four times that of other applicants and received more invitations to interview than all other applicants combined. “[E]lite employers discriminate strongly based on social class, favoring applicants from higher-class backgrounds,” they discovered. But only if they’re men.

Wearing the hijab in solidarity is not helping
“Hijab” is not synonymous with “headscarf,” and the requirement for Muslim women to cover their hair is a relatively new phenomenon that needs to be understood, says Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa. The two journalists have written an opinion piece that counteracts the prevailing narrative that wearing hijab is the only way to be an observant Muslim. They find that events like “Wear a Hijab Day,” designed to help spread awareness of the practice, is not truly an exercise in empathy, but “a painful reminder of the well-financed effort by conservative Muslims to dominate modern Muslim societies.”
Washington Post

Black college grads disproportionately burdened with student loan debt
This paper from The Brookings Institute shows that the surge in student loan debt is hitting black families harder than white ones: Black people have nearly twice as much debt as whites four years after graduating college—and they are three times more likely to default. This Wall Street Journal analysis helps puts those numbers into perspective.
Wall Street Journal




Blackface, once upon a time, was commonplace and not viewed as negative or an effort to stigmatize; indeed, many of those who put on blackface felt that through it they came to understand something of the black experience (much as in “Gentleman’s Agreement,” the character who pretended to be a Jew came to understand the stigma of being Jewish). Over time, of course, blackface became unacceptable, seen either as demeaning or as a form of cultural appropriation.
—Professor Jonathan Sarna