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Happy New Year! Nothing is going to change

January 5, 2021, 10:09 PM UTC

It’s tempting and fun to make predictions for a new year, particularly when they’re optimistic. All the things are seeds now. What will they grow into?

It’s also fun to read predictions because they so often turn out to be wildly wrong. 

That said, this is a tough year for prognosticators. The challenges we face together are enormous, while the challenges we face individually feel overwhelming. And the people who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 are, in so many cases, the same people who have been disproportionately affected by systemic barriers to their health, wealth, growth, and dignity. It makes watching the chaotic vaccine rollout even more fraught. 

So, let’s dive in. As of January 2021, the workforce is up against it:

  • The pressures of caregiving and homeschooling during the pandemic has forced women out of the workforce in devastating numbers. It will take years for them to make up lost ground.
  • Ugly politics around the census count has sown further distrust of the government and health care system. This will likely lead to undercounting that will leave vulnerable communities even more underserved going forward. 
  • All while inequality is getting worse. According to new research from the London School of Economics and the King’s College London, fifty years of “trickle down” tax cuts for the wealthy did nothing but bounce right back up to make them wealthier.
  • And while the business community’s willingness to tackle heady issues of race and inclusion have been notable this year, there are early signs that, well, not much is changing. 

So, here’s my bold prediction: Nothing will change. No change in diversity and equity, no remedies for the sick and disenfranchised, no representation for those shut out of civic life, no comfort for the lonely.

Now, what are you going to do to make me wrong?

Ellen McGirt

On point

Alphabet workers have unionized After years of organizing, more than 225 Google engineers and other employees have launched their union. “The past few years at Google have been tumultuous: secret military AI projects, multi-million dollar payouts to execs who sexually harassed our coworkers, profiting from hate speech, & more,” the Alphabet Workers Union wrote on Twitter. “Coworkers who've voiced concerns have even been fired, illegally, as retaliation.” More below.
New York Times

Will 2021 be the year investors get with ESG? ESG stands for Environmental, Social and corporate Governance issues—but will meaningful ESG benchmarks become a priority for institutional investors? All signs—and some pretty compelling studies—point to yes, according to a piece from Responsibility for clarity and compliance needs to come from the general counsel’s office. “You’re getting more and more investors going to the C-Suite and to the board and the general counsel and corporate secretary should certainly be aware of what is happening on a policy level to be a meaningful participant in those discussions,” says the general counsel of the Society for Corporate Governance in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The 25 VCs least likely to invest in Black start-ups This list, compiled by the Black Founders List—a community for Black company founders started by Yonas Beshwared ( and James Norman (—paints a grim picture of Silicon Valley and other venture investors. Some of the most storied names in investing have failed to back a single Black founder of any gender. While the list of firms with zero investments is longer than those who have even one or two, it’s compelling to see it one place—and who is clearly making an effort. Don’t overlook the power of a good list, y’all.
StartUp Pill

Tlingit/Athabascan artist Rico Lanáat’ Worl has designed a new stamp for 2021 The stamp will feature “Raven,” the bringer of light to the world, and a figure of great significance to the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. “I hope that as a designer I can represent on a national scale the modernity of Native people—that we’re engaged in modern culture while still carrying forward our traditional heritage,” Worl said in a statement. For more on the beautiful Raven story, click here. View the stamp below.
Indian Country Today

On Background

How the history of colonization fuels epidemics Physician and medical anthropologist Dr. Paul Farmer has an interesting take on where and why some epidemics take hold, and where they don’t. In this two-part interview with Democracy Now, he explains how centuries of inequality are to blame for the outsized impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. “[All the social pathologies of our nation come to the fore during epidemics,” he says. In part two, he explains the deep lessons of Ebola in Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone. “[T]he response was hampered by the fact that the attention was largely to containment, not to care,” he says. “And, of course, this generated very painful echoes from colonial rule, which in that part of the world was largely a 20th century phenomenon. This is not remote history, as you know.”
Democracy Now

Colonialism in images As a reminder that colonialism is “not remote history,” it’s worth spending some time with this vast collection of images and audio collected by government-appointed British colonial anthropologist Northcote Thomas. The collection includes deeply dehumanizing images of men, women, and children in West Africa between 1909 and 1915, reflecting the contempt of the colonial impulse. In 2019, the project that documented the collection won the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Best Research Film of the Year Award, an initiative that captured modern-day responses to the original research. If you are of West African heritage, you will see the faces of your elders, and it will hurt your heart.
The Guardian

So, how do we fix economic inequality? This guide for high-income countries published by the nonpartisan Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) offers real food for thought. It also has excellent, up-to-date data on the shrinking middle class around the world, poverty, and some promising news about global inequality and globalization. Good to share and bookmark. Oh, and here’s one headline: The United States remains the most unequal high-income economy in the world.

raceAhead is edited by Aric Jenkins.

Today's mood board

The eyes of the nation are on Georgia, and Ne-Yo. (Just kidding about Ne-Yo—though this really is Ne-Yo).