Everybody is racist

February 12, 2020, 8:34 PM UTC

This is the web version of raceAhead, Fortune’s daily newsletter on race, culture, and inclusive leadership. To get it delivered daily to your inbox, sign up here.

We interrupt this Wednesday for a brief lesson on racism.

For no particular reason, raceAhead’s news blurbs are particularly grim today—nasty and insidious incidents of racist behavior, bigoted baiting, name-calling, and the persistent, systemic racism in an institution which just can’t shake it, no matter how hard they try.

Well, I suppose you could say there is a particular reason.

Before you dig in, I’ll refer you to this wonderful 2019 TED Talk from Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, a psychologist and data scientist who is helping police departments address racial bias through the work at his think tank, the Center for Policing Equity.

Their motto: How do you measure justice?

While his work focuses on one particular segment of society, his premise will be familiar to anyone in any workplace: You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and when it comes to race, we’re measuring all sorts of things all wrong.

To begin to fix that, he says, we need to define racism correctly.

While the entire talk is affirming, this is the nugget that I believe will be most helpful to you today, and in your work in general:

“All of my research, and the decade of work I’ve done with my center—the Center for Policing Equity—actually leads me to a hopeful conclusion amidst all the heartbreak of race in America, which is this: Trying to solve racism feels impossible because our definition of racism makes it impossible—but it doesn’t have to be that way.

So, here’s what I mean.

The most common definition of racism is that racist behaviors are the product of contaminated hearts and minds. When you listen to the way we talk about trying to cure racism, you’ll hear it. ‘We need to stamp out hatred. We need to combat ignorance,’ right? It’s hearts and minds.

Now the only problem with that definition is that it’s completely wrong—both scientifically and otherwise.

One of the foundational insights of social psychology is that attitudes are very weak predictors of behaviors, but more importantly than that, no Black community has ever taken to the streets to demand that white people would love us more. Communities march to stop the killing, because racism is about behaviors, not feelings. And even when civil rights leaders like King and Fannie Lou Hamer used the language of love, the racism they fought, that was segregation and brutality.

It’s actions over feelings.

And every one of those leaders would agree, if a definition of racism makes it harder to see the injuries racism causes, that’s not just wrong. A definition that cares about the intentions of abusers more than the harms to the abused—that definition of racism is racist.”

It’s a revolutionary idea and a lifted burden for anyone who feels stymied by people who resist inclusion efforts: They don’t have to abandon, or even examine, why they are attracted to racist ideas. And, they don’t have to love people different from themselves! But, they do have to stop hurting them. And that’s a design problem worth tackling.

Ellen McGirt

On Point

President Donald Trump and presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg each claim the other is racist The president said, "WOW, BLOOMBERG IS A TOTAL RACIST!" in a now deleted tweet that accompanied an audio clip of a 2015 interview in which the former New York City mayor defended his stop-and-frisk policy. Bloomberg, who has apologized for embracing the failed, racist policy, said in a statement that Trump is the one "with racist appeals and hateful rhetoric," and said that "I will do everything I can to defeat you between now and November."
NBC News

Anonymous racist comments spoil a Black History Month panel at a Utah university A student panel for Black History Month at Brigham Young University (BYU) was disrupted after students in the audience submitted racist questions that were then posted on a screen behind the speakers. The five panelists were there to discuss their lived experiences as people of color or immigrants on campus. They couldn’t see the questions, but the audience tittered along: “What is the percentage of African Americans on food stamps?” “Why do African Americans hate the police?” and “Why don’t we have White History Month?” BYU has a long history of race-related issues. Click through for more.
Washington Post

Report: White supremacist groups are expanding their racist propaganda efforts on college campuses The posters and flyers blend in with the usual college fare but are far more sinister. Messages championed by white supremacists like “America Is Not for Sale,” “One Nation Against Invasion,” and “Reclaim America,” doubled last year, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League, an increase they attribute to greater vigilance on behalf of people to report the incidents. It’s a movement born out of the 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist rally. “This is all about optics and entry points to a broader white supremacist movement,” Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told the New York Times. “We need to understand that there is a connection, ideologically, from a piece of propaganda on these campuses to an attack in our communities.”
New York Times

An Archbishop on the Church of England: “Deeply institutionally racist” This was the painful declaration of the Most Reverend Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at a meeting of the Church of England’s ruling body, the General Synod. His remarks were in response to a motion from the body to publicly apologize for racism in the Church and their behaviors toward the Windrush generation, who are Commonwealth citizens from Caribbean countries who immigrated to the U.K. between 1948 to 1971. "I'm ashamed of our history and I'm ashamed of our failure. There is no doubt when we look at our own Church that we are still deeply institutionally racist.” They vow radical change.
BBC News

On Background

Women of color are tired y’all. Can you guess why? Sayu Bhojwani, a writer and advocate, is unflinching in her answer. “Women of color leaders are guarding a dirty little secret—our work is eroding our mental, physical, and emotional health,” she begins. “We are slowly wrecking ourselves as we try to transform political organizations, foundations, media rooms, nonprofits, the publishing industry.”  And it’s just getting worse. She explores our own complicity, which I admit, was painful. But it ends in a good place. “But we can’t keep playing a game in which the rules are rigged against us,” she says. “Instead, we must commit to valuing ourselves and our time in ways that feel uncomfortable at first but can lead to a shift in culture more generally…”

A stolen slave auction plaque in Virginia and an unexpected confession People don’t read the plaques—until they do. This is the tale of how a small plaque embedded in the ground of Charlottesville's central Court Square came to represent a bigger story about what gets remembered and who gets admired. The plaque commemorated the “slave auction block,” barely noticeable in the shadow of Confederate monuments. When it was stolen this week, people assumed it was white supremacist shenanigans. It was not. And then the hole in the brick pavement was replaced with another, a much better plaque. Enjoy.
Washington Post

The lost culinary history of African Americans I thought I knew a lot about a lot of things after four years on the race beat, but I absolutely had never heard of Charity “Duchess” Quamino, the “Pastry Queen of Rhode Island.” And I lived in Rhode Island for years! Quamino, originally from Ghana, had been enslaved in Newport cooking for an elite family, and eventually went on to become a culinary entrepreneur—as did a man named Cuffy Cockroach, famous for his turtle soups. Click through for more history.

Tamara El-Waylly produces raceAhead and manages the op-ed program.


“I am here because I was loved, and invested in, and protected, and lucky, because I went to the right schools, I'm semi-famous, mostly happy, meditate twice a day, and yet, 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. 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. Systems are just collective stories we all buy into. When we change them, we write a better reality for us all to be a part of. I am asking us to use our power to choose. I am asking us to level up.”

—Baratunde Rafiq Thurston, in a 2019 TED Talk.

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