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The Annual ‘Don’t Be A Jerk’ Halloween Column: raceAhead

October 30, 2019, 6:02 PM UTC

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Yes, I’m repeating myself.

This is the time of year when I remember with fondness my early vision for this column, which launched some three and a half years ago. I actually believed, I’m embarrassed to say, that I’d mostly spend my time on things like corporate surveys, new research, inspiring profiles, and yes, the cultural wrecking ball that is Halloween.

I was mostly right. Still, I miss those innocent days.

That said, it’s nearly Halloween, that magical day when people who do diversity work wait patiently for the carnage. For people who get it right, it’s a time to be creative, exchanging a corporate mask for a more expressive one.  

For everyone else, well, I’m just going to quote myself from 2016:

Every year, it’s a thing. Imagine some people showing up to work dressed in orange prison jumpsuits with the words “illegal alien” scrawled across the front—a popular choice in the past—who are then theatrically bricked into their cubicles by people wearing Donald Trump masks. Points for topicality, but you’re still going to HR. Please don’t paint your face black, brown, yellow, or “red.” It’s always racist. No religious garb. No suicide bomber shtick. Skip the Black Lives Matter jokes. And yet, it will happen, and I’ll be linking to the inevitable aftermath stories next week.

And you know I will. 

By 2017, I continued my practice of highlighting the hopeless and clueless: The Alabama teacher who blackened his face and dressed up as Kanye West. (Do we need the MAGA update? No. And do we need your take on Kanye’s “thoughts” about slavery? Hell no.) The Staples employee in Pleasant Hill, Calif., who greeted shoppers in blackface, then claimed to be “a sharpie.” The man who walked into two Omaha, Neb., area malls dressed as a “mass shooter.” The “Anne Frank costume for girls” was whisked from the shelves after backlash.

By 2018, I’d just given up.

Don’t be these people. Don’t don a sombrero and make your date dress like a chihuahua. Don’t wear an Indian headdress, or be a sexy Pocahontas, or insulting sports mascot. If you want to change the color of your skin, think smurf or gumball only. Unless you want to get fired like this Kansas City nurse

Now, it’s 2019. Don’t be an ICE-hole. Don’t use a noose, like these folks at North Andover, Mass.-area McDonald’s. And I mean ever. And knock off the fake partisan outrage: Cultural appropriation isn’t just offensive, it’s cruel. A culture is not a costume. Stop it.

But whatever you do, don’t fall for the “I didn’t know it was offensive” line. Everybody knows. 

And everybody knows you know.

“Nonblack people keep doing blackface because they find it enjoyable,” explains Anne Branigin in The Root. She cites research that shows clearly that people understand blackface, (and I would include red, brown, and yellow-face) and other racist jokes are wrong… but not really that wrong. “[W]hite people—mostly young white men, but not always—take pleasure in these jokes and know that they are offensive. Anti-black racism is a way for them to pass the time, to connect, to feel a cheap sense of rebellion even though there is nothing inherently rebellious about American racism—it has always been the status quo.”

Trick or trash is a choice.

Ellen McGirt
Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com
@ellmcgirt

On Point

Season Four, The Design of Business | The Business of Design podcast: Vivianne Castillo This podcast is my collaboration with designer, author, educator, and Design Observer co-founder Jessica Helfand, and together we’re taking raceAhead into extraordinary new territory. In this episode, we talk with Vivianne Castillo, a senior design researcher at Salesforce. She’s inquisitive, creative, courageous, and deeply empathetic—a characteristic she’s come to regard with some suspicion when it’s bandied about in corporate settings. She also has a degree in counseling and theology, proof that when you embrace true diversity, things start to change. "When I made a career switch into this industry and realizing that while like we have a very truncated understanding of empathy, and in some instances, blurring the line between pity and empathy, I started to question… okay, what do we mean by being human centered?”
The Design of Business podcast

The University of Iowa can’t hang onto a diversity officer TaJuan Wilson was the most recent associate vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Iowa, a seasoned pro who had been lured from a diversity job at the Medical University of South Carolina. He only lasted six weeks. "This opportunity will be wonderful for the right person, but it is not the right fit for me at this time," he said. His departure capped an alarming string of faculty losses related to diversity; the role had been vacant for two years before he came, and there are no plans to replace him now. While some of the problems may be specific to homogeneity of the U. of Iowa, many seem emblematic of the job at hand: Diversity gigs at state schools are demanding, underfunded, and administrations are increasingly unable to compete with private schools who are heavily investing in diversity personnel and faculty.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required)

Low-income kids and tweens spend more time on screens than more affluent ones This is the finding of a new study from the nonprofit technology and entertainment review organization, Common Sense Media. While wealthier kids have more access to technology, they tend to use it less. Lower-income teens spent more than eight and a half hours each day on all screen media (including games), compared with six hours and 49 minutes for their higher-income peers. Poorer 8 to 12-year-olds used screens for nearly six hours a day, compared with four hours for wealthier tweens. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely a thing. "We’re not really saying this is a bad thing or a good thing, but that this is a difference," the report’s lead researcher told Recode. "It’s a difference we may want to look more closely at."
Recode

HBO’s 'Watchmen' under fire for failing to stick to canon The new series is truly astonishing, and longtime raceAhead readers will understand why the decision to set the alt-history world in Tulsa, Okla.—and start with a depiction of the massacre on Tulsa’s Black Wall Street, one of the worst single incidents of racial violence in our history—was a powerful one. But the fans of the comic upon which the series is based are upset because they feel the producers have taken things too far ideologically, mining themes of white supremacy and race that weren’t originally there. But series star Regina King has some words for those fans. First, they were already warned, do not expect a sequel. "This is not a remake," she says. The source material was only a start. Now, she says, it’s time to do some work: "I need you to dig a little deeper to tell me what it was that made you feel uncomfortable."
Digital Spy

 

On Background

A map that lets you see how your world has changed over the past 750 million years While it won’t help you better understand gentrification, it will help you place your current surroundings into a broader context. Plus, it’s a lovely use of data. Ancient Earth was created by Ian Webster, who has also curated the world’s largest digital dinosaur database. Some 220 million years ago, my St. Louis neighborhood was welcoming the first small dinosaurs and the first flying vertebrates, the long-ago ancestors of the birds my two cats so faithfully attempt to capture. There was a world before race, colonialism, and conflict: Sometimes a little perspective will set you right.
Smithsonian

Reclaiming the term 'redneck' The original term was an inclusive one, and it dates back to 1921 when black and white coal miners in West Virginia rose up against exploitative mine owners and protested brutal and unsafe working conditions. The march, precipitated by a series of strikes, turned into a war, quite literally, becoming one of the bloodiest labor conflicts in U.S. history. Mine operators had long sought to sow racial discord by breaking strikes by importing underpaid black miners, but the United Mine Workers union fought against segregation and for pay equity.  The miners faced a paid army of mercenaries, including private planes who dropped bombs on the workers. Miners wore red bandanas to identify each other while fighting.
The Guardian

Schoolgirls in the 1800s had to embroider their own maps and globes out of silk to study geography The globes, along with stitched map samplers, were a radical act of gender-parity in education and did the double duty of being beautiful. The practice started in schools in England and was transported to America from the late 18thcentury to the mid-1840s. In some cases, the cover story was needlework lessons, but in most cases, the true point of the classes was the science itself, the first STEM subject open to girls and women. It marked a shift in educational theory—that women’s education shouldn’t be strictly limited to developing social polish and accomplishments. Here is some background on the curriculum developed by a Quaker school in Pennsylvania, and more information on the embroidered globes and maps here.
Cartographic Perspectives

 

Quote

"If wheat grows from my soil, / The bread you bake will make you drunk. / Both dough and baker are crazy. / The oven recites a drunken poem. / If you visit my grave, / My tomb will make you dance. / Be sure to bring a tambourine. / Don’t be sad at God’s festival."

Rumi