A pair of twin YouTubers offer a lesson in openness

The impact of the coronavirus on people of color may be worse than we thought, a long overdue apology from pediatricians, a lesson in inclusion from a pair of YouTubers, and it turns out that the big companies who posted solidarity statements after George Floyd are lagging behind in representation.

But first, raceAhead readers respond to the 2020 Democratic National Convention, in Haiku.

Michelle put it down
Biden then picked it back up.
We all need to vote.

Roses are red, some 
Nikes are blue, we all must 
vote! That means you too.

The “Second” Lady?
Ha! She graded papers and served.
Let her be First now.

The roll call was great!
One stood apart from the rest:
The Biggest Little

Vote for me, vote for
you, vote for us. Fix the past:
A better future.

Bonus haiku on the resilience of nature:

Wolverines are back
Stalking prey on Mount Rainier
Good news amid bad

Thanks to Kevin Bethune, Mike Spinney, Anjuan Simmons, Robert Caruso and others for contributing to the haikus.

Vote to take care of yourself this weekend.

Ellen McGirt

In Brief

One of the most surprising things about the modern age is that it has become a legitimate form of entertainment to watch people do things that I would never have considered interesting before. Unbox technology. Play video games. Whatever.

Enter Tim and Fred Williams, Gary, Indiana-based twin 22-year-old YouTubers who have upped the “watch me do something on the internet” game significantly.  

The idea behind their TwinsTheNewTrend channel is simple if unoriginal: Fans suggest a song they've never heard before. They record their reaction to it, typically filmed in Tim’s bedroom at his mom’s house. That’s it. That’s the concept.

It’s their execution that makes it so special.

Because they’re so young — and Tim's been focused on hiphop —there’s a lot of music they’re unfamiliar with. A lot. “I think we were late bloomers of everything,” Tim said in a phone interview with LeafyPage.com. “That’s why we didn’t hear none of this music.” But the two bring a tender mix of earnestness, humor, and an authentic sense of discovery to their work. They appear to be listening exactly as if a friend shared something special with them. And they're very funny.

“What’s up YouTube? Back with another video, back with another banger, back with another reaction, man!” Tim says at the start of every video. And then they start listening.  

They picked on the Hey There, Delilah vibe right away. Nine seconds after Hozier started to Take [Them] To Church, the two had to pause to acknowledge the intensity. “They didn’t even let me get ready,” said Tim, as the pair mimed putting on imaginary seat restraints. They were blown away by Dolly Parton’s Jolene. Nina Simone brought joy to Tim’s heart. Aerosmith, Tim's first-ever rock song, gave him "chills." They even checked out Pavarotti. (“Do you really think they can break glass?” asks Tim. “I think that’s just a metaphor,” says Fred.)

The two broke through to the "mainstream" after they posted a nearly eight-minute video on July 27 of their reaction to Phil Collins’s 1981 hit, “In The Air Tonight.” People familiar with the song knew there was a big surprise coming halfway through. “I ain’t never seen nobody drop a beat three minutes in a song!” Fred says, as Tim chortles, wide-eyed.

Evidently, it was really good internet. Their “Air” video now has more than 6.5 million views. Shortly after it was posted, Phil Collins woke up one morning to discover that he was trending on Twitter.

And by mid-August, “In The Air Tonight” returned to the Billboard charts after a 39-year absence.

The song was No.1 on the Rock Digital Song Sales chart with 15,000 downloads for the week ending August 13, a first for Collins. The song also debuted at No. 3 on the all-format Digital Song Sales chart and drew 3.3 million all-format airplay impressions in the week ending Aug. 16.

By way of comparison, "Air" never made it past No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1981.

For all their newfound cultural influence, it’s easy to dismiss their channel as just another internet thing. But I think it's more than that. 

The Williams brothers are sometimes hazy on the details — they didn’t really know who Whitney Houston was — but never mean. They seem to understand what a gift it can be when someone wants to share a part of themselves, and music is an easy way to get a little window into someone who lives a different life than you. They're effortlessly open-minded, and they always end up finding an authentic common ground.

Plus, it's been fun listening to your favorite tunes with some new friends.

Their channel now has 528,000 subscribers, and they've have added a Patreon and a merch strategy. Great for them. But as unexpected role models for inclusion, we could do worse.

Maybe they should write a leadership newsletter! I’d pay to watch Jim Collins read it out loud. Maybe even Phil Collins, too.

On Point

COVID-19’s impact on communities of color is worse than we realize The numbers are stark: In the last seven months, deaths in the U.S. from all causes have gone up 9 percent for white people, but more than 30 percent in communities of color overall. Worse, while the disparity of COVID was most pronounced on Black, Native and Latinx communities early on, AAPI populations are now also at high risk. Experts believe that the fuller picture of all deaths is a better way to get understand the many factors in play in equitable access to things like health care. “The toll of the pandemic shows just how pervasive structural racism is,” Olugbenga Ajilore, senior economist at the Center for American Progress tells The Marshall Project.
The Marshall Project

Where are the Black executives in executive leadership? I asked this very question back in 2016 with this story, then again with this one, in 2017.  Jessica Guynn and Brent Schrotenboer bring the story up to date with their deep dive into the question, which has yet to be answered. Their analysis shows that while corporations and boardrooms have added Black talent for years, they’re not making it to the executive suite. Worse, that remains true even when companies have diverse boards. Further, a review of the proxy statements of the 50 largest companies in the S&P 100 as of July 15 — a list that includes Apple and Facebook — showed that while nearly all issued strong statements after George Floyd’s death, of the 279 listed as top executives, only 5 (1.8%) were Black, two of whom had recently retired. What gives?
USA Today

Pediatricians own up to a racist past The American Academy of Pediatrics, which turns 90 this year, has much to atone for. One of their first great racist acts was denying admission to the first African American to pass the pediatric board exam in 1934. Dr. Roland B. Scott went on to establish the sickle cell disease center at Howard University, and won wide acclaim for his breakthrough research. But the all-white board that reviewed his application and that of another Black pediatrician thought they wouldn’t be a “culture fit.” “If they became members they would want to come and eat with you at the table,” one academy member said. The Academy has issued an apology, which was long overdue, says the organization’s president Dr. Sally Goza. “[W]e must also acknowledge where we have failed to live up to our ideals.”
New York Times

A Nigerian film about a lesbian couple takes to the internet to avoid censorship Same-sex relationships are technically illegal in Nigeria, part of a frightening but largely unenforced law enacted in 2014. So, to avoid any risk of being shut down by Nigerian censors, producer and LGBTQ advocate Pamela Adie has announced she’d be releasing the film online herself. Ife, which means “love” in the Yoruba language, is a story about two young women in love, trying to navigate a society which condemns them. The lovely trailer is here; more on the film below.

On background

A neglected historic cemetery for enslaved people is getting the respect it deserves The first-known burial in the small patch of land off of Route 416 in a town called Montgomery — not the one in Alabama, but in upstate New York — dates from 1756. The cemetery, which was in use until 1900, has some 171 sites, now only marked by white metal poles. The town has created a revitalization committee to restore the site, honor the dead and memorialize the history. Bernard Bowen, the first Black elected official in the nearby town of Walden, is on the committee. "It's here. I want to be a part of it; it's history. I may not have liked it," said Bowen. "But I want to help be part of beautifying it and acknowledging it." Oh, in case you were wondering, the current population of Montgomery is 91% white, 3.6% Black and some partial percentages of other folks.
Spectrum Local News

Why upstate New York knows only one kind of barbecue chicken It’s kind of a funny story. In 1950, Robert C. Baker, a professor at Cornell University, had a big quest: to get meat-loving Americans (ie. white ones) to each more chicken. It was a tall order at the time, but the agricultural extension specialist was determined to grab some market share from the growing pork industry. To get the locals on board, he published a recipe for a vinegar-based brine in a Cornell newsletter that ended up igniting a type of chicken-fueled mania across upstate New York that rivals the Popeye drama of 2019. The recipe was so popular that families wouldn’t show up for community or sporting events unless it was served. Put some respect on his name: He also invented the chicken nugget. Click through for the story and the recipe.
Atlas Obscura

Let’s talk about system change Sheila Cannon is a researcher and assistant professor of social entrepreneurship at Trinity College Dublin. In this fascinating piece, she explores what it actually takes to get entrenched systems and societal attitudes to change, using what she’s learned, in part from her research on the LGBT movement in Ireland and the decades-long quest to turn same-sex relationships from a crime to a human right. In this case, she’s tackling climate change, building on the momentum created by Greta Thunberg, the teen Swedish climate activist. The idea is to not adopt “token gestures” that may hurt more than they help. “System change happens when we don’t take our assumptions for granted, which allows more and more people to question the status quo,” she says. Click through for her whole rationale and be prepared to do some soul — or bottom-line — searching. “Capitalism may seem permanent, but research shows that systems inevitably change over time, and are ultimately created and reinforced by us. But in order to change anything, people must question their own role in the system first.”
Silicon Republic

This edition of raceAhead is edited by Karen Yuan.

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