We need to go back to school

Former Pennsylvania senator, failed presidential candidate, and current CNN commentator Rick Santorum did the people of the United States a service this week by reminding us of our roots.

In remarks he made to the conservative group Young America’s Foundation last week, and widely circulated by Monday, Santorum made it clear that he had forgotten some essential facts about the founding of the country. 

“We came here and created a blank slate,” Santorum said, referring to European colonialists set on violence. “We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes we have Native Americans, but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

The uproar was blessedly immediate.

Fawn Sharp, the president of the National Congress of American Indians, did not mince words. “To correct the record, what European colonizers found in the Americas were thousands of complex, sophisticated, and sovereign Tribal Nations, each with millennia of distinct cultural, spiritual and technological development,” she wrote, after demanding Santorum’s dismissal, calling him an “unhinged and embarrassing racist.” 

And then there is the business with The Iroquois Confederacy, or the oldest living participatory democracy on earth. It’s a long story and easy to miss when you’re busy with a political career, but it is the story of five nations — the Mohawks (or Kanienkehaka), the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Oneida, and the Seneca — who ended a long period of conflict with an epic council meeting, some deep consensus building, and the adoption of a Law of Peace in 1744. Their work became the foundation of the Iroquois Confederacy Constitution, which, and I mean this quite literally, informed the U.S. Constitution in substantial ways.

Benjamin Franklin was so impressed with their work, that he referenced it in his own Plan of Union, which he presented to the Albany Congress in 1754. Iroquois Great Council members were present at his invitation. Franklin also invited Iroquois representatives to address the Continental Congress in 1776.

Oh, and Indigenous people are also responsible for the agriculture and subsequent economy adopted by the Europeans, along with countless contributions to architecture, sports, popular culture, and informed the foundation of the environmental movement.

Hell, even Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, borrowed heavily from Blackfoot organizational thinking to create his now famous hierarchy of human needs — a triangle that charts human development from basic survival to the quest for self-actualization. Maslow conducted research on a Blackfoot reservation in 1938 and was struck by the collective generosity of the tribal members as and explored their ideas about human society — and their response to their racist tormenters. Fun fact: His triangle graphic ended up looking an awful lot like theirs! “The Blackfoot conceive of reality in the form of a tipi, made up of different levels that converge into each other, so it is easy to see the similarity with Maslow’s model,” writes Steve Taylor, PhD in Psychology Today.

The continued erasure of Native American intellectual life is equally easy to see, and in my view, a cultural crime. And yet the impulse to cherry-pick a complicated past continues to be an irresistible impulse. 

Here’s just one recent example.  

Idaho’s state senate just approved House Bill 37, a controversial public education bill that sounds egalitarian in spots, but has become a hotly debated topic in the state. It begins by declaring that educators and students “respect the dignity of others, acknowledge the right of others to express differing opinions, and foster and defend intellectual honesty, freedom of inquiry and instruction, and freedom of speech and association.” It comes with a big catch. There is to be no study of any curriculum or historical material that claims that racism or sexism informed the country’s past. Further, “The Idaho legislature finds that tenets…often found in ‘critical race theory,’ undermine the objectives outlined in subsection (1) of this section and exacerbate and inflame divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or other criteria in ways contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being of the state of Idaho and its citizens.” 

History isn’t a matter of opinion, no matter how deeply held. Santorum was wrong. Maslow was, too. And so is anyone who looks the other way when given the opportunity to understand the historical record. Without the facts, we stand to lose much more than a founding myth. It’s an equitable future that’s really at stake.

Ellen McGirt

On Point

Since we’re talking about education… Fortune has launched a new platform called Fortune Education, a new resource designed to help busy professionals figure out what programs you’ll need to get where you want to go — especially now, as online education has clearly become the best resource for lifelong career development. Our first list highlights the best online MBA programs. Later this year, you can expect rankings on the best traditional, part-time, and executive MBAs, along with recommendations for the top data science and analytics degree programs. We have a lot of new editorial brainpower behind the new platform, let's get smarter together.
Fortune Education

Black lives are shorter, even next door Health disparities play out in the lives of families in quiet and terrifying ways, as this extraordinary piece from Linda Villarosa poignantly shows. It begins with a tour of the Englewood section of Chicago, which was once a “promised land” destination for Great Migrationers from rural Mississippi, like her grandparents. The promise has been razed. And, she writes, “it is Chicago, not the rural South, that has the country’s widest racial gap in life expectancy: In the Streeterville neighborhood, nine miles north, which is 73 percent white, residents live, on average, to 90 years old; in Englewood, where nearly 95 percent of residents are Black, people live to an average of only 60.”
New York Times

Descendants of men who were abused in the Tuskeegee study, seek to calm vaccination fears It is a noble turn of events for the family members of the men who were experimented on and denied care in the notorious study, which unethically preyed upon Black men. The study, despite its later disavowal, remains a powerful proof point that the federal health care establishment has a terrible and racist past. The support of family members can help, say experts. “The infuriating reality is that 40 years later, the health system and our society in general has done absolutely nothing to take away that distrust,” says Reed Tuckson, co-founder of the Black Coalition Against Covid-19. “The number one factor that we are fighting against now is the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. In every meeting, every conversation, it comes up — never does it not come up.”
Washington Post

AllRaise publishes its 2020 state of venture report  The group, whose mission is increase the number of women and non-binary company founders, is now in its third year. While the community they’ve built is incredible, the funding situation remains dire. Their report appears to reflect a common pattern in difficult times: Money flows to familiar players.  According to their data, 2020 was the third year that saw record-setting deployment of venture dollars, with more than $156 billion now in play. The issue? Investments in female-led and mixed-gender teams declined at almost every level from angel, seed to late stage C and beyond. And while a few new women became checkwriters last year, among them, there was only one African American and zero Latinx. While we’re talking about diversifying venture, check out my colleague, Rey Mashayekhi’s deep dive into an industry that’s, uh, early in its diversity journey.



On background

East v. West in graphic form Graphic artist Yang Liu moved from Beijing to Berlin, Germany when she was just thirteen. As an adult, she began to use her art to help describe the not-so-subtle differences between how people thought and behaved in her two cultures. Her work is deceptively simple, red and blue posters illustrating everything from attitudes about the boss, anger management, queuing up in a line, and telling the truth. When placed side-by-side, they become a bridge to understanding. “Many situations are better understood if they can be seen in relation.” Her posters were published in an art book called East Meets West.

Newly revealed documents shed light on the lives of enslaved people It is truly a trove worthy of a feature film opener: Stacks of business documents, customer correspondence and other records, found dusty and abandoned in a West Virginia attic. The attic is owned by the descendants of a salt mine magnate named William Dickinson, who operated in the early 1800s. That trove, combined with another, paints a deep, and deeply chilling picture of the Dickinson family’s robust trade in buying, leasing, and selling enslaved people. It’s not the cotton fields we’re used to. “We don’t appreciate often how much slavery was worked into the very fabric of American society,” says a curator of the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. You’re going to want to put on your do-not-disturb for this one.
Los Angeles Times

Zora Neale Hurston and Eleanor Roosevelt collaborated on the first realistic Black baby doll Black children had long preferred playing with white dolls to black ones, studies dating back to the 1930s believed the culprit was internalized racism. Well yes, but posited some, it might also be because most available black dolls were either racist stereotypes or white dolls painted a funny color. Activist Sara Lee Creech decided to create a beautiful and realistic black doll, shared her idea with Hurston, someone else wrangled Roosevelt, who so loved the idea she held an informal focus group with Mary Bethune, Ralph Bunche, and Jackie Robinson, to consult on the doll’s appearance. The Ideal Toy company manufactured the Sara Lee doll, which first appeared in the 1951 Sears Roebuck Christmas Catalog.
Open Culture


This edition of raceAhead was edited by Daniel Bentley.

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Chloé Zhao became just the second woman and first Asian woman to win the Best Director Oscar on Sunday for her movie Nomadland which she also wrote and edited.

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