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Don’t talk about the Capitol siege without mentioning white privilege

January 8, 2021, 11:42 PM UTC

It’s time to take a good look at who stormed the Capitol, if you’re happy with anything in politics, perhaps it’s time to thank a HBCU, and COVID-19 has claimed an icon of inclusive design.

But first, here’s your W.E.B Du Bois “The Souls of White Folks” week in review, in Haiku.

My word is to them
mere bitterness and my soul
pessimism. And

Yet as they preach and
strut, shout and threaten, crouching
as they clutch at rags

of facts and fancies
to hide their nakedness, they
go twisting, flying 

by my tired eyes
and I see them, and I see
them, and I see them

and I see them, and
I see them again, ever
stripped-ugly, human.

I encourage you to unapologetically take good care of yourself this weekend.

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirt
Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com

In Brief

Here’s the truth: I’m slightly older than the Voting Rights Act, which means that I’m the last person who was born into my family without my full set of civil rights. I’ve never really gotten over that, to be honest. But it also means I’ve seen some things, including Robert Kennedy’s assassination, live on television.

But I have never seen anything like the madness that descended on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. We have to talk about it, and by “we” I actually mean white people, and by “white people” I actually mean executives.

This is the moment when CEOs and senior leaders stand up. Ya’ll have had some real dry runs—from standing up for transgender bathroom access, taking stands on gun safety and voting rights, to real investments in Black lives, community health, education, and skill building. Keep on with that, and I’ll keep covering it here.

But all of that has been just a rehearsal for what happens now.

We’ve been having a long and tortured conversation about what a new capitalism might look like—stakeholder-focused, purpose driven, anti-racist, and prepared to tackle the big issues with everyone at the table in some meaningful way.

I will spare you my take on the many corporate statements condemning the riots in the Capitol, with one notable exception that I did not see coming: National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons issued a full-throated condemnation, calling the rioters “thugs” and asking for Vice President Pence to participate in invoking the 25th Amendment. “The outgoing president incited violence in an attempt to retain power, and any elected leader defending him is violating their oath to the Constitution and rejecting democracy in favor of anarchy.”

Good for him.

But, if you are a leader at a company who has taken “difficult conversations on race” seriously in the past, then this is your moment to dig back in. Because if you think it was hard to walk into a conference or a Zoom room with Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor’s name on your heart, the days ahead are going to be wrenching for your Black, brown and other underrepresented employees. A mob organized by and including white supremacists tried to take over Congress, and nearly succeeded. They were egged on publicly by President Trump, whose dangerous and racist transgressions have been ignored by the privileged for years. Those same rioters, after desecrating the place with selfies and face paint, were escorted off the premises, now free to plan a second run at power. And five people are dead.

If you haven't spent time imagining what would have happened if the "protesters" had been primarily Black and brown, your Black and brown employees have. Now, if you pretend like nothing has happened, you are part of the problem.

So get talking—and denouncing—early and often. Talk with your kids, your friends, and your neighbors. Michael Bush, the CEO of Great Place To Work and a raceAhead treasure, has some excellent and very specific advice on what to say and how to take a clear stand in his latest blog post. “Don't let people speculate about how you felt about what you saw. Silence is a bad move here,” he says.

But if you lead a big team, it’s also time to listen to your employees, your most important stakeholders, about how to shape your words and commitments going forward. Let us know what you need and how it’s going. But here’s one quick tip: Do not even think about canceling Juneteenth this year. Just don’t.

On Point

Here’s how the president incited the attack on Congress If you would like some preparation for the difficult conversations ahead, start with this extraordinarily helpful piece from my colleague, David Z. Morris. What we’ve been witnessing, Morris says, is a clear example of stochastic terrorism, used by authoritarian figures around the world. “[T]hose laying blame on Trump are pointing in part to rhetoric that agitated his followers with conspiratorial lies and instilled a sense of imminent doom—while relying on them to make the final decision to act.”
Fortune

Why did nobody plan for the violence that occurred at the Capitol? Masha Gessen does a good job breaking down the difference in preparation between the January 6 riot and the many peaceful protests over the year. She also turns a masterful phrase. Nobody was afraid of the white mob, a unique and insidious form of privilege, she says. “We do not fear those whom we see as being like us; we fear the other.”
New Yorker

Well known white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, even a lawmaker, were among the rioters We will learn more about the rioters as reporting and arrests continue, but it’s worth noting that some of the most dangerous organizers had been planning this out loud for weeks, and were not shy about announcing themselves to media and the socials. The reported tick-tock of events below will hurt your heart; this excellent piece exploring the parallels between the D.C. riot and the Charlottesville violence will hurt your brain.
New York Times

It’s time to thank a HBCU Reverend and Senator-elect Raphael Gamaliel Warnock is a Morehouse alum. Stacey Abrams attended Spelman College. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is a Howard University graduate. Cori Bush, who is the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress, went to Harris-Stowe State University. About 17% of all undergraduate degrees attained by Black students are from HBCUs—oh, and Howard University produced more Black women-led startups than Harvard University, according to research from Digital Undivided. While we are temporarily distracted from unpacking the work that went into the Georgia runoff election results, respect is still due.
CNN

Yes, election-related violence is who we are, lest we forget Professor Jelani Cobb, writing in the New Yorker this past September, tried to help us remember. He walks through notable incidents as far back as 1834, noting that most people think of them as blips. But, “historians tend to look at them the way that meteorologists look at hurricanes: as a predictable outcome when a number of recognizable variables align in familiar ways.” Now, it’s full on hurricane season. “The Trump Presidency has been an escalating series of insults, each enabling greater violations of norms, ethics, and laws.”
New Yorker

On background

“The discovery of personal whiteness among the world's peoples is a very modern thing” 'The Souls of White Folk' is a remarkable essay by W.E.B. Du Bois, which first appeared in a collection of his work in 1920. It explores the deep roots of American racism, and with a singular and distinctive poetry, predicts the future of an unexamined past. I cribbed from the text for today’s Haiku, but it’s worth spending a little time with the actual essay.
Verso Books

White supremacists have a long history of responding to presidential and political dog whistles Shannon M. Smith an associate professor of history, College of Saint Benedict & Saint John's University, breaks down this history nicely, starting with the post-Civil War Reconstruction era and Klan-related resistance to integration. The song remains the same. “Today, white supremacists hope the political chaos they contribute to will lead to race war and the creation of their own white nation,” she writes.
The Conversation

August de los Reyes, a trailblazing designer and inclusive design advocate, dies of complications due to COVID-19 It’s a huge blow. De los Reyes had a stellar career in tech and games—he has Google, Pinterest, and Varo on his resume, and ran design for Xbox at Microsoft—and a fierce belief that designing with underrepresented stakeholders makes the world better for everyone. He was 50 years old. This remarkable long read about his life and work from Cliff Kuang is well worth your time.
Fast Company

raceAhead is edited by Aric Jenkins.

Today's mood board

Courtesy of Netflix.