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President Trump threatens to cancel anti-racist training

September 9, 2020, 9:13 PM UTC

The quiet part is officially a full-throated roar.

On Friday, the Trump administration directed all federal agencies to identify and eliminate their anti-racist, historical, or other bias trainings via a memo issued by the Office of Management and Budget.

The framing is ominous.

“It has come to the President’s attention that Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date ‘training’ government workers to believe divisive, anti-American propaganda,” the memo begins.

The memo specifically calls out training or material related to “critical race theory,” “white privilege,” where people are told that “virtually all White people contribute to racism,” or “benefit from racism.” The American dream is on the line, clearly.  “[I]n some cases, these trainings have further claimed that there is racism embedded in the belief that America is the land of opportunity or the belief that the most qualified person should receive a job.”

The administration is stoking the flames of white grievance at a granular level—even choosing to capitalize the word “white” in the memo—while leaning into white fatigue on the issue of race. Although interest in and engagement on tough issues around race and justice has been extraordinarily high in the time since George Floyd was killed, a recent NPR/Ipsos poll published on August 27 finds that white people were less likely than any other ethnic group to “take concrete action to better understand racial issues,” or attend a protest than any other racial group.

We tend to agree that racism is, in fact, a deeply American issue.

“Most Americans acknowledge that there is racism built into American systems,” Ipsos pollster Mallory Newall told NPR, but “at the core there is still a significant gap in willingness to do the work between white Americans and people of color.”

And now, the president has placed himself atop the white anger-and-inaction food chain as the defender of the race.

In a tweet amplifying a Breitbart story on his critical race theory “purge,” the president added, “This is a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue. Please report any sightings so we can quickly extinguish!” Then, amid a tweet storm of images purporting to be BLM-led violence, Trump took the time to answer a fan complaining that the California school system had implemented the New York Times’s 1619 Project into their curriculum. “Department of Education is looking at this. If so, they will not be funded!” he tweeted.

Stepping once more (and more and more and more) unto the breach, are the anti-racism educators.

#ScholarStrike For Racial Justice has been unfolding online yesterday and today, a movement described as both “an action and a teach-in,” designed to call awareness to systemic racism in the U.S. and elevate the conversation around police shootings and other racialized violence. Right now, teachers in the U.S. and Canada are stepping away from their scheduled work to hold anti-racism Zooms, and post videos, syllabi, research, and other resources for anyone who wants to understand, teach, or support justice-themed material.

While not timed to answer the president’s remarks, the action is the response we need, functioning as a crowdsourced archive of necessary information, and a living directory of the educators, researchers, teachers, grad students and others whose expertise should be tapped and work elevated. 

I look forward to seeing them on a corporate conference Zoom near you.

Here’s their YouTube channel. Looking for a place to start? I recommend University of Miami law professor’s Osmudia James six-minute video on the link between racist, anti-Black education and racist, anti-Black policing. (Quick preview: Segregated schools are bad for everybody.)

#ScholarStrike was started via tweet by Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and launched with help from Dr. Kevin Gannon, director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and history professor at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

The president’s attempt to shut down equity-themed dialog should alarm you—it’s a direct shot at the heart of the work that you do. But, I predict, if you spend some time following the #ScholarStrike hashtag, you will find the friends and resources you’ll need to press ahead through every breach yet to come.

Ellen McGirt

On point

Hunger for justice Nearly one in eight American households are food insecure, and alternate sources of food—like food pantries—are strained to capacity. It's one thing to read these words, it's another entirely to see what this means in the daily lives of people who but for the grace of the higher power of our choice, could be any one of us. Brenda Ann Kenneally delivers the goods with this powerful photo feature for the New York Times Magazine. “Food insecurity is as much about the threat of deprivation as it is about deprivation itself: A food-insecure life means a life lived in fear of hunger, and the psychological toll that takes.”
New York Times

COVID-19 deaths among Black and Latinx populations in America rising sharply The APM Research Lab, part of the non-profit American Public Media Group, has an ongoing project called Color of Coronavirus, which monitors the impact of the virus on communities by race and ethnicity. Their most recent update on August 18 showed wide disparities by race, specifically Black and Indigenous people. Here’s the big reveal: 1 in 1,125 Black Americans have died from the disease, or 88 deaths per 1,000; 1 in 1,375 Indigenous Americans (73 deaths per 1,000); 1 in 1,575 Pacific Islanders (63 deaths per 1,000); and 1 in 1,850 Latinx (54 deaths per 1,000. Comparatively, some 1 in 2,450 white Americans have died, or 40 deaths per thousand. (Asian deaths are the lowest of all, at 36 deaths per 1,000.). Expect a (grim) update on the data on September 16. Johns Hopkins maintains a robust coronavirus tracker here.
Color of Coronavirus project

Wisconsin has some equity work to do I’m resurfacing this report from June of this year to help bring some of the many issues in the state into sharper relief. WalletHub, a personal finance website based in Washington, D.C., used publicly available government statistics and examined racial disparities in wealth and employment and compared them state-by-state. Wisconsin came in dead last of the states in racial equity/equality. Only the District of Columbia ranked lower. The racial gap income for the state is 107%, which means that on average, white residents median yearly income is double that of Black residents.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The new Mulan is problematic The issues go beyond mixed reviews, unfortunately. Turns out, the new live-action remake of the beloved 1998 animated feature film has many of its troubles behind the scenes. According to columnist Isaac Stone Fish, the film was shot in regions across China and required the cooperation of numerous Chinese institutions. The details are in the film’s credits. “It’s sufficiently astonishing that it bears repeating: Disney has thanked four propaganda departments and a public security bureau in Xinjiang, a region in northwest China that is the site of one of the world’s worst human rights abuses happening today,” he says.
Washington Post

On Background

The Search for Racial Equity Series is an ongoing conversation hosted by Google, where some of the bright lights in the anti-racism space gather to discuss their work and the work. This episode finds Corey duBrowa, Google’s VP of global communications and public affairs, in conversation with Byron Allen, the multi-hyphenate CEO of the U.S. media company, Entertainment Studios / Allen Media Group. Allen is a fascinating person—once a 14-year-old comedic wunderkind—now a media mogul bent on justice. In June, he spent $1 million to buy two pages in eight major newspapers to host his opinion piece titled, "Black America Speaks. America Should Listen." I’ll also mention that duBrowa is no slouch as a conversation partner; he’s had groundbreaking careers at Starbucks and Salesforce before he came to Alphabet — all the while a Rolling Stone freelancer. (Whut?) He’s also been a dear friend to raceAhead. You can find all the Search For Racial Equity talks here.
Search For Racial Equity: Byron Allen and Corey DuBrowa

Here is a strange and utterly terrible story, wrenching to read but at the same time, utterly affirming. Jiayang Fan is an immigrant, daughter, writer, and now a witness to her mother’s illness with ALS. She is also the target of a Chinese propaganda campaign declaring the pair traitors to their homeland, one that has made her life a surreal misery. But the history of their survival in America is nothing short of extraordinary. Fan was barely 8 years old when she and her mother joined her father, who was studying at Yale. Shortly after, he abandoned them to pursue another relationship, leaving the mother and daughter adrift. “My mother knew that in a vastly unequal and under-resourced world she would have to secure whatever small advantages she could,” she writes, a spirit she clearly shares. Bring tissues.
New Yorker

Praying to St. Dymphna Writer Anne Thériault has written an extraordinary piece about a teenaged saint who accidentally created a humane and effective mental health system. It’s one Thériault herself would have relished, she says. “I fantasized about a system where care is ongoing and mental health isn’t treated as a binary of ‘fine’ and ‘crisis;’ where patients are considered complex individuals rather than a list of dysfunctions; where clinicians understand the difference between staying alive and actually living.” She found it in Geel, a tiny Belgian city who has a centuries-long tradition of taking in “boarders,” people with mental illnesses who come to get treatment while living happier lives integrated into the community. But Geel’s tradition of welcoming the mentally ill into their homes has a horrific origin story in the form of a seventh century Irish princess named Dymphna, a devout Christian who fled her homeland after her father went mad. What happens next is nothing short of a miracle.

Now that ‘white fragility’ has gone mainstream…Slate’s Lauren Michele Jackson took the pulse of the white self-awareness movement, expertly stoked by whiteness studies professor, author, and now workshop guru, Robin DiAngelo. While her seminal book White Fragility still has value, it seems that adherents are having difficulty moving past the confessional phase to actual systemic change. None of this was new or surprising then—this story was from a year ago—and Jackson provides a helpful analysis of other “whiteness” thinkers, an area with a significant history. But she also offers an important critique: The typical lack of black scholarship in the white awareness community is a glaring omission in DiAngelo’s work. “Among all this work lies the suggestion that nonreciprocal expertise about white behavior, white history, white ethnics, and white sociality has always been mandatory for nonwhites in America,” she writes. Simply put, for the “conversation” to evolve, the whiteness movement needs to accept the insights gathered by its first and best observers, who are black.

“Dew glistens white on grass” today, soon it will be “crickets chirp around the door” The Japanese calendar beautifully honors the moments in nature that mark the passing of time, with 72 , or microseasons, that last around five days. Although the seasons were inspired originally by the Chinese, they were re-written in 1685 by the court astronomer to, one assumes, more accurately reflect the Japanese aesthetic. It’s a lovely way to think about the world; for example, U.S. tax day falls during “first rainbows” and my birthday is right in the middle of “peonies bloom.” Please mark your calendars.

raceAhead is edited by Aric Jenkins.

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