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So many Americans still struggle to win the vote

August 19, 2020, 12:08 AM UTC

Former First Lady Michelle Obama offered a clear and full-throated call for a united electorate and a better democracy in her speech at the virtual Democratic National Convention last night.

She began by condemning the Trump presidency in no uncertain terms.

“Whenever we look to this White House for some leadership or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division, and a total and utter lack of empathy,” Obama said. And she affirmed her belief in his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. “Joe knows the anguish of sitting at a table with an empty chair, which is why he gives his time so freely to grieving parents,” she continued. “His life is a testament to getting back up, and he is going to channel that same grit and passion to pick us all up, to help us heal and guide us forward.”

But despite the divisive and desperate times in which we live — “if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can,” she said — she also asked us to stick to the high road, even now.

“Going high is the only thing that works, because when we go low, when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others, we just become part of the ugly noise that’s drowning out everything else,” she said. “We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight.”

It was a powerful moment and a poignant preview of today’s solemn remembrance: A century ago today, white women won the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment. It would be decades of bloody struggle before Black women secured theirs. A similar fate befell Native American women, who were embraced early on by suffragettes enthralled by their matriarchal societies, only to be forced to advocate alone after the victory was in sight. The stories of hundreds of powerful BIPOC voting rights and equity advocates have been scrubbed from history, a legacy of inclusive leadership that would have served us well over the 20th century. 

And yet here we are, lifted up by the first Black First Lady at a time of tremendous pain, on the eve of an anniversary that excluded her from the very system she worked so hard to transform. A message mirrored, as always, by Black women activists, organizers and advocates who are asking us to believe in our ability to finish the work. Obama’s answer, spelled out in a now best-selling charm necklace was: V-O-T-E.*

Yes. And as we all know, the call is more complicated than it seems.

In the middle of a pandemic, a gerrymanderingvoter suppression and now a postal service crisis, it’s clear that the vote must be re-won for many Americans. 

Inextricably linked with the right to vote must be the responsibility to ensure that anyone who is eligible should be allowed to cast their ballots safely, securely, and without fear. This country made an ugly mistake a century ago. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind this time. 

Ellen McGirt

*The “vote” necklace was created by BYCHARI, a Los Angeles-based, sustainable jewelry design line founded by Jamaican-born designer Chari Cuthbert. Yes, Michelle Obama thinks of everything.  

On point

The Guggenheim announces a diversity plan to address charges of racism Complaints about the storied New York museum began to swirl last year after guest curator Chaédria LaBouvier went public with allegations of racist treatment and discrimination during her time presenting the 2019 exhibition of the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. This past June, some 200 current and former employees published a letter entitled “A Better Guggenheim,” with a detailed action plan for equity and improvement. After an independent review of the allegations related to the Basquiat exhibit, number one on their list, the Guggenheim has announced a two-year initiative to work on the rest — including hiring and development of professionals of color and a new committee to review acquisitions and exhibitions through a racial equity lens.
New York Times

Glossier under fire for failing to support Black employees while wokewashing My colleague Emma Hinchcliffe interviewed 18 former Glossier employees, all of whom worked at the company’s New York City flagship or Los Angeles retail store. Many had stories to tell about being left to fend for themselves in the face of overt racism — brace yourself for a blackface story — or microaggressions from customers, particularly galling considering the company’s inclusive mission and donations to anti-racist causes. But when retail staff were laid off earlier this month, the complaints were made public in an open letter. “On most occasions, we editors [the term used for retail associates] had come to expect no intervention and little recourse — not even reassurance of our safety,” they write. Managers “cultivated a commitment to a customer satisfaction that undermined workers’ wellbeing so completely that it strayed from conventional deference to the buyer and instead for an ingratiating model — one that was totally submissive and deeply humiliating, particularly for those of us who are BIPOC.”

You into diversity? Companies are hiring! A growing list of companies and institutions like the Guggenheim are now building out their diversity staff (looking at you, Glossier), and that just might be a problem. "If you're a Black person in corporate, you're sort of saying, 'What took you so long to awaken to the plight and challenges that we have as Black people — not only in society, but inside our walls?'" said Paul Francisco, the chief diversity officer at State Street tells WBUR. He offers essential tips for anyone starting from scratch. Malia Lazu of Berkshire Bank offers the best advice for anyone considering a new diversity job. "If businesses are looking for a chief diversity officer to fix their racial woes, I would say my grandmother's good old saying, which is: 'Show me your budget and I'll show you what you care about,'" she said.

Pinterest hires its first Black board member The news out of Pinterest, long thought to be the kinder, woker tech company, has not been good. In June, two employees on the company’s public policy team, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, went public with claims of unequal pay, discrimination, and retaliation. Then, Francoise Brougher, their former chief operating officer, filed a lawsuit this month, claiming she was fired for raising issues of gender discrimination. And to call attention to allegations widespread discrimination, some 350 out of 2,400 workers staged a virtual walkout last Friday. The walkout delayed the announcement of Andrea Wishom, president of real estate company Skywalker Holdings and former Harpo Studios executive, to its board of directors. In a statement, CEO Ben Silbermann said the search took months. “Andrea has spent her career outside of Silicon Valley and has a vision for reimagining the board/employee relationship.”



On background

Don’t wokewash. It won’t work We are now in the “statement fatigue” phase of our racial reckoning. Granted, it’s a fine line — you can’t say nothing, but companies need to be mindful that their big, splashy statements leave them vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy. (CC: Whole FoodsPinterest, and Adidas.) Erin Dowell and Marlette Jackson, equity and inclusion professionals writing in the Harvard Business Review, tapped their own networks and their own expertise to compile this playbook for anti-racism work at the corporate and individual level. It’s excellent; please include them on your holiday card lists. This line stood out: “A commitment to corporate structural evolution means that executive leadership must be willing to change the way in which the organization works.” I’ll be needlepointing this on a pillow.

Is Thailand gearing up for a revolution? A new generation of activists have been taking to the streets in Thailand, demanding widespread change. More than 10,000 people showed up at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument over the weekend, a risky move in a country known for its military crackdowns. “We have no choice but to come out,” one woman told the New York Times. “This government has got to go.” The movement is largely focused on breaking up corporate monopolies, removing the military’s hold on political leadership, and decentralizing power through democratic reforms. A fascinating read.
New York Times

Stop “playing devil’s advocate already.” Seriously, stop It’s a sketchy move under the best of circumstances, but when it’s about race, it’s downright insulting. Advice columnist Daniel Mallory Ortberg responds to a Black reader who was sent an article during a discussion with a white friend that resurrected the racist belief that some races, ahem, have lower IQs than others. The friend then covered his tracks with a “hey, I’m just saying that this is what people say” disclaimer. Yes, Ortberg says, you can be upset by this. “Why does he feel like it’s important to communicate those beliefs by proxy, and why did he think it was important to communicate them to you specifically?” Either say what you’re going to say and own it, or admit that you just don’t know what you don’t know about race. Gah.

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Karen Yuan.

Today's mood board

New method of sorting the mail, as practiced by Southern slave-holders, or attack on the Post Office, Charleston, S.C.