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Barathunde Thurston: We Can Change the Story About Race

Barathunde Rafiq Thurston is an Emmy-nominated writer, author, activist, comedian, former White House adviser, and a “semi-famous” product of the modern age. I’m a huge fan.

Thurston has countless superpowers but here’s my favorite: He can help you consider uncomfortable truths, all while making sure you’re laughing for all the right reasons. It’s the kind of communication mastery that unites people and inspires them to do better.

His power was on full display during his spectacular TED Talk, which posted yesterday.

In it, he puts the terrifying phenomenon of white people calling the police on black people for just living their lives, into a broader historical context of white supremacy and capitalism. (Which doesn’t sound very funny, I know, but trust me.)

He begins by diagramming the headlines of the news stories reporting the incidents. They run on a simple formula:

A subject takes an action against a target engaged in some activity. “White Woman Calls Police On Black Real Estate Investor Inspecting His Own Property.” “California Safeway Calls Cops On Black Woman Donating Food To The Homeless.” “Golf Club Twice Calls Cops On Black Women For Playing Too Slow.” In all these cases, the subject is usually white, the target is usually black, and the activities are anything, from sitting in a Starbucks to using the wrong type of barbecue to napping to walking “agitated” on the way to work, which I just call “walking to work.” And, my personal favorite, not stopping his dog from humping her dog, which is clearly a case for dog police, not people police. All of these activities add up to living. Our existence is being interpreted as crime.

He then asks us, as part of a game, to flip the headlines and turn the absurdity of white supremacy on its head. “Let’s face it, ‘A Black Woman Calls Police On A White Man Using Neighborhood Pool,’ isn’t absurd enough,” he says. Let’s level up! What if his crime was trying to touch her hair without asking? Or just talking over people in a meeting?

And the game is on. “But it comes with a warning: simply reversing the flow of injustice is not justice. That is vengeance, that is not our mission, that’s a different game,” he says.

It’s signature Barathunde. Click through for his poignant advice for changing the game we’re all unconsciously playing. We’ve got the power, after all.

“I walk around in fear, because I know that someone seeing me as a threat can become a threat to my life, and I am tired,” he says. “I am tired of carrying this invisible burden of other people’s fears, and many of us are, and we shouldn’t have to, because we can change this, because we can change the action, which changes the story, which changes the system that allows those stories to happen.”

On Point

A private school must diversify after holding a mock slave auctionLast March, the Chapel School, a private high school in Bronxville, New York, was widely criticized for holding a mock slave auction in which two fifth grade social studies classes encouraged white students to bid on “shackled” black students. The New York State Attorney General’s Office launched a probe into the incident and announced its findings yesterday. For one thing, they found the exercise had a “profoundly negative effect” on the kids – 43 percent of whom identify as something other than white. In addition to diversifying staff, the school must hire a chief diversity officer personally approved by state Attorney General Letitia James. “Lessons designed to separate children on the basis of race have no place in New York classrooms, or in classrooms throughout this country,” she said in a statement. Send over your LinkedIns, brave educators.NBC News

Maine becomes the 17th state to outlaw gay conversion therapy
Maine’s Governor Janet Mills signed the bill into law yesterday, banning the discredited and harmful practice that aims to change someone’s sexual orientation. “Conversion therapy is a harmful, widely-discredited practice that has no place in Maine,” Mills said at the signing ceremony. “By signing this bill into law today, we send an unequivocal message to young LGBTQ people in Maine and across the country: we stand with you, we support you and we will always defend your right to be who you are.” While this is good news, advocates worry that there may be a legal loophole if parents send a child to a religious practitioner, instead. A recent study estimates that 20,000 American youth will undergo conversion therapy from a “licensed practitioner” before they turn 18.
Newsweek

Lil Nas X took the kids to Old Town Road
Pop culture media joint Complex sent a film crew to tag along with Atlanta rapper Lil Nas X as he visited a group of engaged, screaming fans – most of whom were about six years old. This short video of him visiting Lander Elementary School in Mayfield Heights, Ohio is all the proof you need that he will rule the world one day. “I’m finna do the biggest show of my life, and it’s going to be great,” he says before he walks into the gymnasium. The film shows the kids losing their little damn minds, drowning him out while singing along. People who know children will love the 3:22 mark where he asks the kids to be silent for a second so they can cue the music…and the screaming instantly stops. Ain’t nobody tell them nothing…
Complex

Randall Park is living his life
And, according to this charming profile by E. Alex Jung, he’s now doing it on the big screen. The “Fresh Off The Boat” star is about to lay it all bare in Always Be My Maybe, a new feature rom-come he co-wrote and stars in with comedian Ali Wong. The piece is filled with astonishing personal details – Park’s nickname as a teenaged camp counselor was “Care Moose,” because he was “warm and nurturing but also strong.” But its real strength lies in his reflections on what it’s been like to be an Asian creative – with a Masters in Asian studies – growing up in Los Angeles. He’s still surprised that there are now some real opportunities to become fully realized artists, and not the Asian sidekick. “When I first started acting, I really was genuinely okay with the idea of struggling for the rest of my life,” he says.  
Vulture

On Background

 
Turn up for health
André Blackman is an entrepreneurial public health expert, near the top of my mental list of People Who Will Change The World One Day. His current quest is to diversify the health care workforce; as the founder of OnBoard Health, he’s building a now massive community of underrepresented public health care innovators and company founders into an ecosystem he hopes will help them find funding, jobs, and each other to scale their work and influence the wider world. I encouraged him to write his origin story, and explain how he came to be driven by the idea that data science, technology, empathy, diversity and design are the keys to creating healthier societies. It starts, as so many of these stories do, with a great injustice. (I wept.) His story below; follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn
Medium

Digital media and people of color
Lori Kido Lopez, a media activist and associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jackie Land, a PhD student in media studies who identifies as a “white settler living and working on Ho-Chunk land,” have put together a syllabus that aims to recenter the voices of people of color in the broader conversations about technology, democracy, bias and inclusion. The readings give broad context to a relatively new discipline (the field of digital studies dates back to the 1990s) and focuses on the “myriad ways that race has shaped aspects of our digital world—from the infrastructures and policies that support technological development to algorithms and the collection of data, to the interfaces that shape engagement.” If you’re also looking for deeper background on how communities of color use new media to resist, inform and express themselves, this is a good place to start.
Center for Critical Race and Digital Studies

Barbecue is a beloved American tradition, just not in the way you think
Food historian and chef Michael Twitty explains in delightful detail how despite the strict rules of local barbecue customs, the origins of the technique are richly nuanced and an amalgam of traditions from many lands. “If anything, both in etymology and culinary technique, barbecue is as African as it is Native American and European, though enslaved Africans have largely been erased from the modern story of American barbecue,” he says. Enslaved people shaped the barbeque tradition in the New World by bringing specific flavors and techniques from their homelands. “And the word barbecue also has roots in West Africa among the Hausa, who used the term ‘babbake’ to describe a complex of words referring to grilling, toasting, building a large fire, singeing hair or feathers and cooking food over a long period of time over an extravagant fire.” You’ll be hungry after you read this.
The Guardian

 

Quote

I’d like to report that someone is illegally using a charcoal grill in a non-designated area…I’d like it dealt with immediately.
—Barbecue Becky