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The new way tech workers of color are protecting themselves when speaking out in the workplace

January 28, 2022, 8:57 PM UTC

We’re just banning books all the time now, aren’t we? W. Kamau Bell wants us to talk about Bill Cosby, your state is likely failing people of color, and a Florida State Senator says the quiet part out loud. All that and Jonathan Vanian reports on a new worker-movement that aims to protect whistleblowers—particularly important for employees of color fearing backlash.

But first, here’s your Neil Young, Joe Rogan (and now Peter Frampton and Barry Manilow) Spotify controversy week in review, in Haiku.

Old man, look at my
life, I’m a lot like you could 
be: So what happened?

Love lost, such a cost
Give us things that don’t get lost
in the noise of the

coins rolling home to
you. Does it mean that much to
you to mean that much

to the same old town?
Sometimes first, sometimes last, look
how the times go past

Old man, look at your
life, in my eyes. What do you
expect you will see?

Wishing you a richly musical weekend.

Ellen McGirt

In brief

It’s hard for workers of color to stand up to management, particularly those in the technology industry.

The fear of retribution for speaking out against troubling policies or questionable management practices can be frightening for people who represent the minority. After all, who has your back in the case that you believe human resources may not?

A new worker-driven phenomenon taking place in the tech industry, however, could be useful for people of color who may fear becoming whistleblowers. In the latest issue of Fortune’s print magazine, I reported on the rise of crowdsourced strike funds. In recent years, workers at companies like Google-parent Alphabet and video-game giant Activision Blizzard have established these labor funds as a way to help fund workers who want to strike or engage in activism at their companies.

Although unions have typically had strike funds for years, workers in non-unionized industries like tech have been forming their own. Jane McAlevey, a senior policy fellow with the Labor Center at the University of California at Berkeley, told me that these funds can help give workers some power in a world with rampant inequality.

“The idea that anyone is talking about strikes again, I think, is a good thing,” McAlevey said, noting that union strike funds have deteriorated over the years amid shifting union strategies. The fact that workers appear to be striking more so than they have in recent years could mean that these kinds of funds could play a major role.

Jordan Flowers, a Black Amazon warehouse worker from Staten Island, told me about the significance of strike funds in his life speaking out against his employer. As a recipient of the Solidarity Fund, Flowers has been able to continue his activism and speaking out at labor rallies while on disability due to medical issues related to his Lupus diagnosis.

The Solidarity Fund, while originally created for Alphabet workers during a tumultuous time of at the search giant, has since offered stipends to workers at other tech companies, like Amazon. Recipients don’t merely have to be engineers—they can also be warehouse workers like Flowers or contract workers.

“To have an organization support me, to help put money in my pocket and help me survive during this pandemic, it’s a great value,” Flowers said.


Jonathan Vanian 

On point

How equitable is your state? If you live in the U.S., the Commonwealth Fund can help you find out. Achieving Racial and Ethnic Equity in U.S. Health Care: A Scorecard of State Performance explores the systemic issues that drive racial and ethnic disparities in health and well-being. Lack of action underlies the problem. “Dramatic disparities in the quality of health care, meanwhile, are tolerated. And while the effects of structural racism persist in all states, policy leaders in some states are reluctant to take actions that could mitigate health inequities, like expanding eligibility for Medicaid as provided for under federal law.”
The Commonwealth Fund

Unpacking Bill Cosby For anyone who grew up loving Bill Cosby, feeling seen by his portrayal of family, humor, and Blackness, or otherwise enjoying the world he made, what now? This is the fundamental question that W. Kamau Bell, comedian, producer, author and television host feels is necessary to explore in a new, four-part docuseries, We Need To Talk About Cosby, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival before coming to Showtime on Jan. 30. How do we talk about Cosby that speaks to the very divergent realities that people experienced? “The gap from ‘my hero’ to ‘my rapist’ is unfathomable,” he says. “But we have to try.” In the spirit of dream hampton and Surviving R Kelly,  I agree and trust his judgment.

A powerful response to the “white discomfort” bill  Florida bill HB 7, which would limit how race is discussed in the classroom and workplace was passed by the Republican majority in the Florida House this week. A similar bill appears in the Florida Senate, both were drafted after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed anti-critical race theory legislation called “Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act,” or Stop WOKE Act. State Representative Ramon Alexander took the opportunity to voice his disapproval of the measure. While his response is illuminating for policy and political reasons, any person of color who works in a majority culture organization and has had to sit through painful—and clearly biased—deliberations, will recognize his anguish and admire his restraint. “I’m really sick of this stuff,” he begins. “It takes a lot to even mentally prepare to participate in this type of situation.” Talking about guilt and white feelings is one thing. “But you can only imagine how I feel just reading the bill.” His entire 8-minute response is worth your time, trust me. Video compilation courtesy of Kevin Cate.

Oh, the books we will ban  Ridgeland, Mississippi Mayor Gene McGee is taking the book banning spree that’s been happening across the country to a whole new level. McGee is withholding $110,000 of funding from the local county library system until they purge all LBGTQ+ related reading material from the system, citing his personal religious beliefs. Another new low: The ten-person school board in McMinn County, Tenn., voted to remove Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel from curriculum, citing “objectionable language.” Maus was first published by Art Spiegelman in 1986, depicts Jews as mice and Nazis as cats to tell the story of his parents’ experience in Auschwitz. You can read the (painful) minutes of the school board meeting, here. Turns out there may be some big money behind the book-banning efforts. “We’ve noted that there are a number of groups like Moms for Liberty, Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education that have particular views on what is appropriate for young people, and they’re trying to implement their agenda–particularly in schools, but also taking their concerns to public libraries as well," Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tells The Guardian.
The Tennessean

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

On background

Will the U.S. need a memorial to burned books? If we ever do, this poignant work would be an excellent model. The Empty Library Memorial is in the Bebelplatz area of Berlin, and begins as a glass plate set into the road. Peer down, and you will see an underground room lined with empty shelves. On May 10, 1933, the Nazis burned some 20,000 books written by Jews, Communists and others on the site. Created by sculptor Micha Ullman, it was a chance to capture the emptiness and silence that the absence of books suggests. “When I look at the glass I see the sky’s reflection. In Berlin’s case–there are usually clouds too. As far as I’m concerned, they’re like smoke. So the books in the library are burning almost every day,” he said in a rare interview.

Mood board

A person holding the graphic novel "Maus" by Art Spiegelman.
A quote from one of the ultimate banned books, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury,"The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are." 
Maro Siranosian—AFP/Getty Image

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