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The NFL’s apparent new wokeness might be performative, but it still matters

July 7, 2020, 11:57 PM UTC

We emerged from the holiday weekend with a newly woke NFL. I think, in time, we’ll find that it will matter.

On July 2, a league source told The Undefeated that the NFL will be playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song commonly known as the Black national anthem, prior to the kickoff of each game played during the season’s opening week. It is, as I noted, a significant break from the NFL’s “gloomy past,” and just one of a variety of measures the league is considering designed to express solidarity with the victims of police violence. Also under consideration, adding a list of the names of victims, like George Floyd, on player jerseys or helmets.

If you’re surprised by the capitulation, you’re not alone. I covered the story here.

Barely one day later, the Washington NFL team announced it was prepared to re-think its name and mascot, long derided as racist. 

The team issued a press release distributed via Twitter announcing a “thorough review of the team’s name,” which “formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks.” The statement cited “recent events around our country and feedback from our community.” Native American mascots can be found on playing fields at schools all over the country, and their imagery has been hurting people for a long time.

“Native Americans are the only group in the United States subjected to having a racial slur as the mascot of a prominent professional sports team,” wrote Michael A. Friedman, the clinical psychologist who compiled a 2013 report commissioned by the Oneida Indian Nation titled “The Harmful Psychological Effects of the Washington Football Mascot.” The marketing machine that amplifies the name, “not only repeatedly exposes Native Americans to a harmful stereotype, but also implicitly condones the use of this term by non-Native Americans, which if performed on an interpersonal level would possibly constitute harassment or bullying.”

If this is performative wokeness, I’m fine with this. If nothing else, it’s a rallying cry.

It took mere moments before the news broke about the Black national anthem — and the speed of millions of Google searches — for #BoycottTheNFL to trend on Twitter. But alongside the racist discomfort was an awakening. Come opening week, millions of NFL fans might learn about the poem that became a song that has meant perseverance, dignity, and hope to generations of Black families. Those same viewers would see the views of Black players and plenty of fans publicly respected, along with Black lives, more broadly. And it doesn’t matter if a white man, in this case, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, meant it or not when he said, “We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter.”

He said it. Now, the song. The name. The marketing machine. Everything is now in play.

What matters now is what happens next.

Now that the first wave of big announcements is winding down, raceAhead will be turning our attention to the nuts and bolts of the work that must happen in the longer term.

But what comes immediately next is a tired football reference, right? So, suit up, everyone. And plan to leave it all on the field. 

Ellen McGirt

On point

The first-ever virtual Fortune Brainstorm Health conference is happening The pandemic has driven the annual convening online and was front and center for the first of two days of programming. It would be worth a subscription to get all the insights: While the pandemic is worsening the opioid crisis, the sudden need for urgent collaboration between Big Pharma rivals is yielding powerful results. I’m just “offstage” after my conversation with Dr. Erin Thomas, VP, Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, Upwork and Dr. Ashwini Zenooz, GM & Chief Medical Officer, Global Healthcare & Life Sciences, Salesforce. Our topic was race, wellness, and justice, which I’ll cover in greater depth later this week. Follow along tomorrow from Noon to 3:00 pm ET #FortuneHealth

The coronavirus: The big picture New federal data now offers the most thorough snapshot to date on who is getting and dying from the coronavirus in the U.S. Looking at nearly regional data, it’s clear: Latinx and Black residents of the United States are three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors, and twice as likely to die. The New York Times dug into the details of 640,000 infections in some 1,000 U.S. counties — and the outcomes are the same whether the county is rural, suburban, or urban. The data also show spikes in Native American communities.
New York Times

The first Black man in every marketing role If majority culture organizations begin to diversify, they will welcome a slew of firsts — the first person of any underrepresented demographic will begin to populate roles in their org charts. And these first-in-the-role individuals will suffer without specific support. This is the sage advice of Michael Jackson, a marketing and sales veteran at Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Coors, and General Motors, and always the first Black man in the gig. Mentorship matters. At Coca-Cola, he says, “I survived for as long as I did because I had a guy relatively senior in the organization who mentored me and gave me an opportunity to be successful.”
Ad Age

Now, try being a Black woman in engineering Jocelyn Harper, a software engineer and host of the Git Cute podcast, breaks life as a Black woman in tech all the way down — and, trigger warning, she nearly broke down. Hers is a story about internalized bias, gaslighting, and bad, bad managers, occasionally punctuated by a sympathetic leader who was unable to help her thrive. Her most recent job was at Capital One. “It was abusive and led to me having to go on short-term disability leave and being diagnosed with PTSD before I finally parted ways with the company,” she writes. Her detailed account is a window into what inclusion work is and isn’t.
Sailor Ghoul on Medium

Black women experience racism most often at work Here’s the thing, my colleague Emma Hinchliffe reports: If someone said something racist at the gym or a social club, you could leave. It’s an option. But Black women need their jobs. And so, we suffer. "The workplace is tied to your livelihood. You have to go there every day. You can't choose to constantly walk away," says Thokozile Kachipande, a marketing professional who has been overlooked for promotions and mentoring opportunities. Then there’s the account manager who had a white senior leader grab her hair, which was up in a puff. The leader in question, when coached on the issue, avoided her thereafter. That sort of shunning can do real damage. "Racism has prematurely ended a lot of careers," says Minda Harts, author of The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table.

On background

A famous slave trade vessel comes back to life Lancaster University lecturer and historian Nicholas Radburn worked with a team from Emory University to create a 3D model of an 18th-century slaver ship called L’Aurore. According to reviewers, it is a digital depiction of the horror that 600 humans endured during the months they were imprisoned. Radburn is a co-editor of ‘Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database’, which documents some 36,000 trans-Atlantic trips. But drawings and other data don’t really tell the tale, he says. The video experience allows the viewer to board the ship, which set sail from La Rochelle in France in August 1784 to Africa and then on to what is now Haiti. “We hope it will provide teachers, museum curators, and the general public with a different way of thinking about the slave trade that goes beyond existing images,” says Radburn.
University of Lancaster

Research: Strict schools are contributing to the school to prison pipeline issue Research from Stephen B. Billings from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and David J. Deming of Harvard, studies how schools with high suspension rates have negative effects on all students, but primarily boys and black and brown students of all genders. The negative impacts include lower grades and graduation rates. “Students who attend a school with a 10 percent higher number of suspensions are 10 percent more likely to be arrested and 12 percent more likely to be incarcerated as adults,” they find. An eye-opening read, h/t Brown University’s Matthew Kraft.

The Lost Arcade is a really good documentary about the way people love games I'm re-upping this recommendation because trust me, we need to feel this kind of hope. The Lost Arcade was a complete surprise. On the surface of things, it’s the story of a sketchy looking arcade in Chinatown that drew together a diverse group of people who loved playing digital games. But it ended up being so much more. For one, it has the best opening scene of any documentary I’ve seen in ages. But it’s also about misfits and cast-outs, of people with imagination but no homes, business visionaries disguised as maintenance people, and how communities are transformed in the strangest ways by the people you least expect. It’s also about how the shallow victories of gentrification and technology innovation don’t really matter if you’ve got friends who will battle you and quarters in your pocket, especially if you’ve got next. It was so good, that when I finished watching it I watched it again, just to be sure. 
Arcade Movie

raceAhead is edited by Aric Jenkins.

Today's mood board

This brilliant and revelatory interview of Thandie Newton published today in Vulture had us like: