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raceAhead is shifting gears

July 16, 2021, 7:48 PM UTC

Will you Connect with me? The grim numbers behind corporate diversity, we need to talk about adjunct professors, and what your kale salad really costs. Also, my colleague Jonathan Vanian digs in on AI in policing.

But first, here’s your better-way-to-be-a- billionaire week in review, in Haiku.

If you had all the 
money you could want, would you
shoot yourself into

space? I wonder. I’ve
been thinking lately about
what it means to be

useful in this world.
A dedicated spreader
of joy and jobs and

To be necessary to
our planet, long in

peril. Hey! Let’s be
useful now! Necessary,
generous, joyful.

Ellen McGirt

And now, some personal news!

I’m taking a four-week break from raceAhead to rest, think, work on other stories, and most importantly, bring an exciting new idea to life. When I return, I will have an announcement to share that I hope will meet this extraordinary moment we’re in and amplify the work we do together. I aim, as always, to make you proud and the world better.

That’s why I’m thrilled to announce that Stacy-Marie Ishmael will be at the helm for the next four weeks. Stacy-Marie is a powerhouse journalist with a depth of experience and a nearly preternatural ability to get to the heart of any matter. She’s a digital innovator, whose work building teams, communities, and editorial products at Financial Times, BuzzFeed News, Texas Tribune and Apple wowed us so much, she landed our 40 Under 40 list for media and entertainment. And hello, she can write – her weekly personal newsletter, published since 2012, is a philosophical sanctuary.

And she’s nice! “It’s such a rare privilege to be able to collaborate with Ellen on raceAhead, one of the most interesting and provocative offerings on the intersection of leadership and inclusivity anywhere.” 

Connect with me

Join us at Fortune Connect? As many of you know, I’ve been hard at work as editorial director of Fortune Connect, a virtual convening & learning platform that has become a lively and collaborative community of mid-career executive-learners on a mission to make work better and the world more equitable. We’ve been focused on three key pillars: How business can align to social purpose, how capitalism is becoming more stakeholder-centric, and how to foster a truly inclusive and anti-racist workforce. I know, right? We now have over 1,000 fellows from over 70 companies, regularly dialing in from over 35 countries. It’s been a balm in troubled times. I’m enormously proud of the work we do together.

I mention this because I’m able to hold a few seats for raceAhead readers for the upcoming Connect Summit, on July 20. Our theme is “Radical Collaboration” and we have some extraordinary speakers appearing live, including and not limited to, Ben & Jerry’s CEO Matthew McCarthy; Ford Foundation President Darren Walker; God-is Rivera, Global Director, Culture and Community, Twitter; Dr. Rajiv “Raj” Shah, President, The Rockefeller Foundation; and Anne Finucane, Vice Chair, Bank of America. I look forward to seeing your raceAhead wisdom in the chat. Seats are filling fast! Your registration link is below.
Fortune Connect Summit

In brief

Robert Williams has lived the facial recognition technology nightmare that many people of color fear.

In 2020, Williams was wrongfully arrested by Detroit police after facial recognition software incorrectly identified the Farmington Hills, Mich. resident as a thief involved with a shoplifting incident two years prior. Although Williams was eventually cleared, his arrest underscored rising concerns about the police use of facial recognition software, known to perform more poorly on people of color and women.

Williams described his Kafkaesque ordeal this week to lawmakers as part of a House Judiciary Committee virtual hearing about the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement.

He remembers how during a night out, his wife called to tell him that detectives called her to ask him to “turn myself in,” a puzzling request. When the detectives finally called him after getting his number, he asked what they wanted. A detective replied that he couldn’t say, and that “all he knows is that I need to turn myself in,” Williams remembered.

At first, Williams thought this was just a prank call. But when he arrived home, he discovered several Detroit police cars parked nearby. He said a police car then blocked him into his driveway when he was pulling in “as if I was going to make a run for it.” An officer then approached and asked him to verify that his name was Robert Williams. After confirming his name with the officer, Williams was arrested.

“I said, ‘Whoa, you can’t just arrest me for that; what am I under arrest for?’” Williams recounted. “He said, ‘don't worry about it,’ and proceeded to put the handcuffs on me.”

Williams then spent 30 hours at a detention center where he eventually learned he was arrested for suspicion of felony larceny. When he went to court the next day, he finally discussed with detectives the circumstances for his arrest.

The detectives then showed him a photo from a surveillance video of the alleged thief at the Shinola retail store during the robbery and asked if that was Williams. Williams said “No, that’s not me,” and was then shown another photo of the suspect at the crime scene. This time, a detective said, “So, I guess that’s not you either?”

“I held that piece of paper up to my face and said ‘I hope you don't think all Black people look alike,” Williams responded.

“So I guess the computer got it wrong,” the detective would eventually say, thus kickstarting Williams’s lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Detroit Police Department for wrongful arrest.

He described the effect his arrest had on his then-five-year-old daughter who turned around family photos while he was detained “because she said she couldn't bear to look at me while I was in jail.”

Williams’s ordeal has become a pivotal example of the potential dangers of police use of facial recognition software. That the technology could lead to the wrongful arrest of a Black man is one of the reasons many advocates are calling for the still-nascent technology to be regulated.

Even tech giants like IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon said last year they would stop selling facial-recognition technology to law enforcement. IBM said it would exit the entire facial-recognition business, while Microsoft and Amazon are urging some regulation before they will consider selling the software to police again.

Dr. Cedric Alexander, a former police chief and deputy commissioner of the New York State division of criminal justice services, explained to lawmakers that facial recognition technology is akin to DNA technology in its ability to “easily infringe upon someone’s Fourth Amendment rights” if used improperly by law enforcement. He said that several DNA labs have been “shut down” due to “people’s inability to carry out that professional function based on certification and accuracy.”

Said Alexander: “We don't want to find ourselves using this technology, doing the same things that we have done in the past, because what it will continue to do Congresswoman, is to drive that proverbial wedge even further apart between good policing and communities across this country, and I don't think that's a road that we want to continue go down.”

Jonathan Vanian 

On point

This unprecedented analysis of corporate workforce data will not surprise you But the shoe-leather reporting that went into it will. I am enormously impressed by the work produced by USA Today Senior Tech Writer & Economic Opportunity Reporter Jessica Guynn and a small but dedicated team in this wide-ranging package on diversity in large corporations. Guynn and her team spent many, many, many months requesting workforce data from S&P 100 companies, and then analyzing their findings. “The data shows that more than a year after George Floyd’s murder spurred corporate pledges for change, deep racial inequalities persist at every level of these companies, creating sharply disparate outcomes for people of color, especially women of color,” they write. A record-breaking 54 companies participated. One data point: The overwhelming majority of executives are white, while only 1 in 443 Black or Hispanic employees have an executive job. And it gets worse from there. “We are fundamentally a racist and sexist society. The reason why we have these issues is that Blacks, Hispanics and women are still considered and treated like underclass citizens and chattel,” diversity advocate and former Xerox chief Ursula Burns told USA Today.
USA Today

What does your food really cost you? This is the powerful question asked and answered in this new report published by the Rockefeller Foundation. It’s a systemic look at the true food chain, pun intended, now burdened by rising health care costs, biodiversity loss linked to food production, and now climate change. Bottom line, the $1 trillion that the U.S. spends on food is actually $3.2 trillion when all the costs are accounted for. As always, the disparities are alarming. The research shows that Black Americans shoulder 1.3x the proportional burden/cost of exposure to pesticides and fertilizer and Native Americans are 19 times more likely to have reduced water/sanitation access than their white peers. Time to consider the miserable lives of the people picked your cruelty-free salad, too. “There is considerable evidence that food workers and producers—who are overwhelmingly from marginalized communities, and in particular from communities of color—bear the burden of these impacts. We estimate that the unaccounted livelihood costs are approximately $100 billion of the true cost of food.”
True Cost of Food

While we’re talking about the problem in academia I’d like to resurface this extraordinary piece published in 2019. Death of An Adjunct is a searing look at the rise of the non-tenured academic, people who are woefully underpaid, vastly overburdened, often dedicated professionals who are stuck on the lowest rung of an unforgiving caste system without basic benefits, like health care. But this is the particular story of Thea Hunter, a dedicated historian who held a doctorate from Columbia, and the life her hard work afforded her. (Or, put another way, the lives of tenured professors were able to have because of her hard work.) Questioned, scrutinized, mistaken for the janitor, then gone.
The Atlantic.

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

Mood board

RaceAhead-Partial Solar Eclipse
We can't all go to space, but looking at its marvels sure is nice. Here's a rare eclipsed sunrise to send you off into the weekend.
Joseph Prezioso—AFP/Getty Images

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