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The enduring whiteness of the Fed

June 26, 2020, 8:06 PM UTC

Fortune takes on the racial wealth gap, the Fed has a white man problem, Disney finally retires Uncle Remus, and Ursula Burns knows you know the answer to your own damn question.

But first, here is your racist-erasing week in review, in Haiku.

Pity the sweet cup,
once a health care hero. Will
it go the way of

The Chicks? Good-bye to
racism there in plain sight, 
hello, Lady A!

Go on now, Sambo,
PlantationsGeneral Lee,
and dead Indians!

Don’t come around here
asking for Eskimo Pies
(But keep this guy, please.)

Take care: What’s in a
name is also in your heart.
Keep Breonna close.

Ellen McGirt

By the way: Fortune is looking for submissions for our 40 Under 40 list — this is a special year of transformation and breakthrough leadership. We’re looking for stars in all sectors, so share your heroes here.

On point

Bridging the Black wealth and opportunity gap In 2016, white families had an average net worth of $171,000; Black families averaged a net worth of $17,150—almost exactly 10 times less than their white counterparts, reports raceAhead's own Aric Jenkins. As things worsen in light of COVID-19, and as we face a reckoning on systemic racism, business clearly needs to step up. But how? This was the subject of a rich conversation between John Rogers, chairman, co-CEO and chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, and Lareina Yee, senior partner and head of diversity and inclusion at McKinsey & Company, as well as a group of committed senior leaders. Click through for the big takeaways. Also of note, McKinsey published ten actions they are planning to take to combat racism in their own organization; all commitments were made after deep listening sessions with a variety of Black employees and groups. Read those here.

The enduring whiteness of the Fed: Who does it really represent? A survey of directors serving on regional Federal Reserve bank boards finds that some 72% are white and nearly 60% are men. It’s a problem in leadership, too: 10 of the 12 regional bank presidents are white, and only three are women. The overseers tend to be drawn from the banking industry, creating an insidery enclave. “While some Federal Reserve regional banks have made modest progress in gender and racial diversity, board members from the business and banking sectors continue to dominate leadership positions,” said the Center for Popular Democracy’s Fed Up campaign, which created the report.
Wall Street Journal

Ursula Burns is tired of being your go-to race explainer Since she stepped down from her role at Xerox in 2016, there have been no other Black women in the top spot at a Fortune 500 company. She appeared visibly vexed at being pressed into service, yet again, to explain where the Black people in corporate America are. "How many more years do you say to the people who have been excluded: 'Just hold on. Give them 10 more years. They'll get there,'" she said. "It's almost like [they're] speaking to the slaves who were slaves back then and [asking], 'Can you tell me how to undo slavery?' You are the architects and beneficiaries of a system today that you can undo.”

Disney may not be open, but they’re working hard behind the scenes The company's iconic “Splash Mountain” ride, based on the feature film Song of the South, is set to be “completely reimagined.” The new ride will use characters from The Princess and the Frog, Disney's only full-length feature starring a Black princess. “Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman, who pursues her dreams and never loses sight of what’s really important,” says the company in a blog post. Unlike Song of the South star Uncle Remus, the long-beloved Magical Negro who reminded white Americans of how happy slaves had been. The Song of the South has been banned from the company’s library since 1986 for its racist content; The “Splash Mountain” ride, which will be reimagined at both the Florida and California parks, opened in 1989. It was a good run, I guess.
SF Gate

Nicol Turner Lee is the new head of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution It’s big news. Lee is a longtime advocate for equitable access to digital technology and is known for her research on everything from broadband access to telemedicine, digital education, and racial bias in AI. She is currently a fellow in the institute’s Governance Program’s Center for Technology Innovation. She's a treasure! Here’s her recent photo essay exploring the digital divide facing a rural community in Baltimore. In this fascinating short video, she explores the bias that happens when the Internet knows you’re Black. Algorithms know a lot about her — she’s a parent, the kinds of shoes she likes — because of her online habits, she says. “They’ve also figured out that I come from a group of people that have been challenged by inequality in this country and experience a wealth gap. So, in many respects, I have become that person that the Internet has made me to be,” with dire consequences to her credit and employment options.

On background

And so it begins: This man was wrongly identified by facial recognition software Looking back, this will be the moment when we should have intervened. Robert Julian-Borchak Williams was arrested at his home and held overnight, accused of a crime he did not commit after facial recognition software identified him as a thief. The photo from the crime scene, though blurry, was clearly not him. “No, this is not me,” Mr. Williams told the Detroit police detective. “You think all black men look alike?” As the debate about racism in policing rages on, so too must the questions that continue to swirl around facial recognition technology and the well-documented false positives involving Black faces. One expert told the New York Times, “I strongly suspect this is not the first case to misidentify someone to arrest them for a crime they didn’t commit. This is just the first time we know about it.”
New York Times

Racial bias in a commonly used healthcare algorithm dramatically disadvantages black patients I'm resurfacing this pre-coronavirus study because it is still deeply shocking. The algorithm was embedded in a tool sold by a health services company called Optum which is “designed” to flag patients who would benefit from additional care; researchers recently discovered that the racial bias in its method reduces the number of Black patients identified for extra care by more than half. “It’s truly inconceivable to me that anyone else’s algorithm doesn’t suffer from this,” lead researcher Sendhil Mullainathan, a professor of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, told the Washington Post. Correcting the bias would more than double the number of black patients identified as needing additional medical care. The bias occurred because the algorithm makers attempted to be “race-blind.” (I know, I know.) You can read the original research brief here.
Washington Post

Police officers speak less respectfully to black drivers than white ones The paper, efficiently titled, Language From Police Body Camera Footage Shows Racial Disparities in Officer Respect, draws a clear conclusion. “Such disparities in common, everyday interactions between police and the communities they serve have important implications for procedural justice and the building of police-community trust.” The data joins a growing body of research that identifies the police behaviors that have long eroded the faith of marginalized communities. "At the very least this provides evidence for something that communities of color have reported, that this is a real phenomenon," Rob Voigt, a doctoral student in linguistics at Stanford University, told CNN.

Where are the Black designers? Find out tomorrow, June 27, at this webinar hosted by Mitzi Okou, Founder, Where are the Black Designers, and promising a wide variety of experts, including Antionette Carroll, Founder, President, and CEO of Creative Reaction Lab. Click through even if you can’t make it — there’s a survey to take, a Slack channel to join, and some commentary to get you going. (This one from Maurice Cherry, delivered at SXSW Interactive in 2015 will be a powerful reminder that we knew what to do back in the day, and just didn’t do it.)
Where are the Black designers?


raceAhead is edited by Aric Jenkins.

Today's mood board

Yesterday would have been Tamir Rice's 18th birthday. Happy birthday, Tamir.