Skip to Content

#NeverForget: raceAhead

I will never abandon the sad rituals now performed every year on the eleventh day of September. Where were you when...? What do you remember? What do you think they’d be doing today if…? 

As I’ve said before on this day, there have always been as many New Yorks as there are people who have lived there, and this beautiful essay by Colson Whitehead encapsulates the unique pain of watching your personal New York transform, especially after tragedy. 

"You swallow hard when you discover that the old coffee shop is now a chain pharmacy, that the place where you first kissed so-and-so is now a discount electronics retailer, that where you bought this very jacket is now rubble behind a blue plywood fence and a future office building," he writes. 

You never really get a chance to say a proper good-bye to the parts of the city that made you, especially to the ones that you never expected to. 

But this year, I’m also thinking about how America has transformed, 18 years later.

A country that at once seemed capable of welcoming a black man with a funny name and his unapologetically black family to the White House, and yet viciously question the same man’s American legitimacy.

About the people whose memories of that terrible day have been kept alive by slow-moving illnesses now overtaking them, and the first responders we would have utterly failed but for the intervention of a former late-night talk show host, a good New Yorker if there ever was one.

About the innocent Muslims who died that day and who have been exempted from remembrance, and the Muslim-Americans who now feel like permanent suspects. About the people of all colors, faiths, and genders who continue to serve in the military in an endless war most people barely acknowledge. About the veterans in desperate need of care we have not provided, and who have taken to dying by suicide in public to get our attention. 

Swallowing hard about travel bans, children in cages, and how we now scratch at the eyes of the world as a matter of posture and policy. Watching through tears as once fringe hate groups swell in number, march in the streets and kill people, and whose leaders would be public enemy number one if anyone cared about that sort of thing.

I spent six months traveling the country after the attacks on September with my friend Jay Golden, a writerly quest to connect with people different from me in search of what America really was. After sixteen thousand miles and hundreds of interviews, I felt real hope. (If you can stand 17 minutes of me blathering about this TEDx style, I got you covered.)

Now, 18 years later, that hope is harder to summon. Perhaps that’s just life on the race beat.

Or perhaps we need to find a way to say a true and proper goodbye to the parts of America that have unexpectedly made us, and that continue to serve us all so poorly; the ugly histories now calcified in how we live and work and lead and teach and punish and govern and dream, still unexamined and unremembered.

#NeverForget

Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com
@ellmcgirt

On Point

A California bill threatens to upend ‘the gig economy’ The bill, which passed the California State Senate yesterday, offers protections to workers who are forced to operate as contractors without benefits; food-delivery couriers, janitors, nail salon workers, construction workers, and franchise owners could all be reclassified as employees. But the big issue are the app-based workers, like ride-hailing drivers working for Lyft and Uber. The two companies have been lobbying unsuccessfully for an exemption. Labor groups are pushing for a similar bill in New York, expect failed efforts in Washington and Oregon to be dusted off and tried again.
New York Times

Medicaid debt is destroying people’s lives This chilling report from The Atlantic begins with the heartbreaking tale of Tawanda Rhodes, who now lives alone, and “on borrowed time,” after caring for her mother and husband, who both died of Alzheimer’s disease. But she discovered too late that Medicaid can function more like a loan rather than insurance. And soon, she was holding a bill for $198,660.26 for more than five years that her mother was on MassHealth, Massachusetts’ state Medicaid program. The Medicaid Estate Recovery Program was once a sensible-sounding reform, part of Bill Clinton’s deficit-reduction act signed in 1993. Now, it’s placing liens on the accounts of impoverished people, and threatening to seize their homes.
The Atlantic

The naval academy investigates the report of a noose The noose was alleged to have been found on a construction site on the Annapolis, Md., Campus. The date was August 28—the 56th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream Speech.” Photos of the noose were sent anonymously to a Maryland-based civil rights leader who has been working to authenticate them. “While there is a possibility for the alleged noose to have been part of a hoisting system to complete this ductwork, the Academy takes all allegations of race hate very seriously,” said U.S. Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck in a statement. If anyone uses a noose as part of construction or hoisting work, could you let me know? Legitimate question.
CNN

On Background

On being a better ally in the workplace Cultural critic and multiplatform genius Rebecca Carroll lays it bare in the title: “Black Women Aren’t Here to Solve Your Racism Problem.” But her first-hand account of her early days in professional life, in this case, in New York’s magazine world, tells a tale that could be from any industry. But in media, which has the platform to address bias and race in productive ways has been uniquely unwilling to do so. It’s bad leadership, she says. “Black women are hired, and then we are all too often used at the whim of our white supervisors and colleagues,” she says. “White co-workers in media spaces, which are already predominantly white: you can do better by listening to your black colleagues, particularly, but not exclusively, on issues pertaining to race.”
The Riveter

Don’t get overwhelmed by your diversity initiatives This is the advice given by LaShana Lewis, an engineer, writer, consultant, and diversity expert. While her tips are tailored to smaller, entrepreneurial ventures, they work for anyone who is still early on the path. All are smart, but I’ll flag number two for starters: Ask, “What did we miss with diversity training?” For so many companies and divisions, diversity training is one-and-done. That could be counterproductive. “In my previous work crafting and expanding diversity initiatives, obtaining direct one-on-one feedback from participants has yielded far better insights than any outside observations I could possibly make following a wait-and-see approach.”
Entrepreneur

The value of immigrant communities The economic rationale for limiting immigration is simple: Low wage workers take jobs away from native born workers, particularly those with high school educations. But from an economic perspective, that is far from the entire story, says this opinion piece by Monica Lozano, Chair of the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program. “Yet while immigrants are often blamed for unemployment among native-born workers, the jobs they create through productivity goes unnoticed,” she says. And, “[i]mmigrants have a huge impact on the overall growth and strength of the American economy as a whole.”
Aspen Institute

 

Tamara El-Waylly helps write and produce raceAhead.

Did someone who cares about you share this newsletter with you? Pay it forward here. Sign up for your own daily RaceAhead here. Find previous columns here.

Quote

“Whoever is born in New York is ill-equipped to deal with any other city: all other cities seem, at best, a mistake, and, at worst, a fraud. No other city is so spitefully incoherent.”

James Baldwin, Just Above My Head