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A Teen Grapples With Race

And now for some breaking news.

High school senior Aidan Taylor is joining the raceAhead team as an editorial intern for May.

He’ll be shadowing me virtually, assisting in preparing story summaries, transcribing interviews, working on a special project and doing some original reporting. When I explained the raceAhead beat to him, Aidan shared an essay he had written for his college applications that explored how he had come to understand race, society, and himself while growing up a few miles, yet a world away, from his father’s home town of Ferguson, Missouri. I’ve shared it, with his permission, below.

Aidan loves theater and has been performing since he was a child. He is nearly fluent in French and has been studying Chinese for the past three years. He plans to attend New York University in the fall.


The Coconut Effect: The Story of My Race

From the title, you’re probably thinking, “Coconuts?? What’s a sweet tropical drupe have to do with race?” To that, I say sit down, grab a bag of SkinnyPop and get comfy because you’re about to find out. Race, no matter how badly you do or don’t want it, is something you’re born with. Sure, there are people who “changed race”. Take Michael Jackson for example, who looked whiter than Paris Hilton by the end of his life, or Sammy Sosa who’s getting whiter by the day, and Rachel Dolezal who went the opposite route. But personally, it took me a while to truly identify with the black half of me and to think of myself as a black person. All my friends have heard me say this, but I used to identify most closely with a coconut, as Mindy Kaling once put it. No, not because I have a hard head and my body is made of mostly water, but because we’re both brown on the outside with a white inside. This whole “coconut effect” stems from my childhood.

My grandparents lived in the now infamous Ferguson, Missouri, and every week my younger brother and I spent Sunday with them and slept over at their house. I got a taste of a different neighborhood than the predominantly white one I lived in. Ferguson has an African American majority and the houses and stores are not nearly as expensive. The littered and grimy streets are lined with “Beauty World’s”, “Beauty Brands”, “Beauty Cities”, and even “Beauty Towns” all of which sell the exact same weaves and wigs as the next. There are also numerous used car lots, Shop n’ Saves, and dollar stores which are often getting robbed. It tells you something about a community when the dollar stores are getting robbed. This is drastically different than the huge stone mansions and the cute little boutiques you would find in other parts of St. Louis where I lived and went to school. I’m thankful that I had the time in Ferguson when I did because those trips were very important and enlightening for me to see how different groups of people live. It gave me perspective. But even when this side of my life was very prevalent, the part that stuck with me the most was the more “caucasian side.”

Luckily, my parents did a great job of educating me about my family’s past. My dad would buy me and my brother all sorts of books about prominent African Americans and the civil rights movement and read them to us before bed, so I knew a lot about African American history before we even learned about it in school. Even with the trips to Ferguson and my Dad’s lessons, it wasn’t until going to a very diverse high school that I started really identifying with that trait of mine. I’ve gotten the chance to meet many new people from many different backgrounds. In fact, there were only a couple of black kids in my class in elementary school and absolutely no kids from anywhere in Asia. I’ve made so many new friends and, actually, most of them aren’t white and we have one of the most, if not the most, racially and socioeconomically diverse friend groups in our grade. From black people lessons with my Dad, weekly trips to Ferguson, and the caucasian majorities I’ve learned and lived around for my whole life, I’ve become a very open-minded individual who’s aware of his cultural surroundings.

Now I’m proud to be black, inside and out, and it’s one of the most important parts of my identity that I’ll carry forever. You may be able to change religions, social class, gender, political views, and geography, but your race is here to stay, whether you like it or not, so might as well get used to it.


On Point

Highs and lows at the Billboard Music AwardsWhile Cardi B was the most-nominated artist, Drake was the big winner last night at the Billboard Music Awards with 12 wins, including top artist. He now holds the record for most wins in BBMA history, with a total of 27. Highlights abound during the star-studded show, including a colorful yet side-eye inducing performance from Taylor Swift. (Did she crib from Beyoncé’s Coachella performance? Hmmm.) Mariah Carey, who has spent the most weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 list of any artist, pulled at heartstrings while accepting her Icon Award. “And to anyone who has told me that a song I wrote helped save your life, I thank you,” she said. “Because you saved mine, and I’ll be eternally grateful for that.” The tale of the tape below.Hollywood Reporter

New software tool to help with gender equality and inclusion in scripts
Final Draft, the software that writers use to write and format film scripts, has a new feature called “Inclusivity Analysis” which the company says will “quickly assign and measure the ethnicity, gender, age, disability or any other definable trait of the characters.” The free add-on tool was made in partnership with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University. Davis says this new tool “will make it easier for readers, writers and creative execs to more easily use a gender and intersectionality lens when evaluation scripts prior to greenlight, casting, and production.”
New York Times

A new bill could jeopardize LGBTQ Texans access to healthcare
After his small-town pharmacist appeared to have a negative reaction to him while filling a prescription for his HIV medication, Matthew Glass says she later refused to fill other prescriptions, like one to control his seizures. Glass, who is gay and living with a variety of health conditions, filed a complaint citing discrimination. While CVS disputes this, the issue raises serious questions for LGBTQ people living in rural areas. Laura Marie Thompson, reporting for the Texas Observer, says “LGBTQ folks are often the targets of discrimination in the healthcare industry. Those effects are exacerbated outside of major cities, where there’s an increasing shortage of providers.” According to data from the Department of State Health Services, many small Texas counties have few primary care doctors or other medical specialists. Now, conservative lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would allow healthcare providers to refuse service based on religious grounds, further limiting healthcare options for rural LGBTQ patients.
Texas Observer

First trans opera singer to sing the lead in a traditional work
Lucia Lucas, a rising star in the opera world, will be taking the stage in the title role of Don Giovanni in a new production from the Tulsa Opera in Tulsa, Oklahoma this weekend. It’s a victory for both inclusive opera and the charismatic star. When Lucas started transitioning in 2014, she was the “hot young baritone” of Europe. She continues to use that voice, saying it’s all about the work. “I think I can retrain my voice to contralto, mezzo or soprano. But how long would that take and what’s the likelihood I would get hired?” she tells The Guardian. “Whereas I have work in the standard baritone repertoire into 2022. Why would I mess with that?” The Tulsa Opera director says he’s not making anything but an artistic statement. “Lucia has a very powerful and penetrating voice and a dramatic intensity. That is what I was looking for in casting Don Giovanni.”
The Guardian


On Background

A primer on inclusive marketing
Fifty-two percent of consumers say that if they don’t see themselves reflected in the brands that they’re using, they will leave those brands, says Salesforce CMO Stephanie Buscemi in this helpful short video on inclusive marketing. Make inclusion a priority. To do that, companies need “a shared understanding of what diversity and inclusion look like,” she says, which means all employees will need to become fluent in diversity and inclusion practices. Everything counts, from advertising to marketing materials to your presence at conferences. She highlights tone as an element to master. “We need to eradicate those [implicit biases]” that have become part of the marketing landscape, she says.
CBS Marketwatch

When we were black and bosses
Don’t miss PBS’s latest documentary “Boss: The Black Experience in Business,” a sweeping history of black entrepreneurship from the time of enslavement until today. It’s a story of “making a way out of no way,” a series of extraordinary achievements met with equally extraordinary violence. Historian Marcia Chatelaine, who is featured in the program, says it’s also a story of doing well by doing good. “African Americans used business as a tool for wealth building, as a tool for raising up communities, and as an opportunity to struggle for freedom.” There are familiar names, like Madame C.J Walker, who became the first self-made woman millionaire ever from her hair products business, and some names that should not have been lost to history. Chatelaine concludes by saying, “The beauty of this film is it pushes us to think how far we’ve come as a nation as well as how far we need to go.”

UN Women: climate change is a women’s issue
Soaring greenhouse gas emissions, the over-extraction of natural resources, and poor consumption habits are dangerous for everyone. But it’s the women and children living in the most vulnerable communities who will face the greatest consequences of climate change. Girls and women are often the last to be rescued in natural disasters, and as climate change increases, so will the number of droughts. According to UN Women, as droughts increase, so do problems like gender-based violence, child marriage, maternal deaths, food insecurity, and unsanitary living conditions. UN Women has teamed up with UN Environment to promote women’s entrepreneurship in sustainable energy fields and are working with Kenya’s drought agencies to target women’s specific needs. Environmental activist Wangari Maathai says, “We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to conserve the environment so that we can bequeath our children a sustainable world that benefits all.”
UN Women

Aidan Taylor assisted in the preparation of today’s summaries.


Ida B. Wells was fierce and just an incredible human being and a fierce advocate for African Americans. She mentioned so many of these riots and lynchings came out of jealousy the whites had with black economic progress. It’s important for us to understand that and she put it out there in print in the 1880s and 1890s. It’s about white people being jealous of black economic progress and making sure there was no competition from African Americans.
—Stanley Nelson, filmmaker, director of Boss