As long as today’s conversations shape tomorrow’s policies, we will always need to talk about race

March 11, 2022, 9:12 PM UTC

Happy Friday.

Moving forward, I want to devote this space to your voices whenever I can. (Don’t worry, haiku fans, you can now find them on my Twitter feed.) As the world becomes more complicated and, quite frankly, more at risk, I believe more dialog is the way to go.

Let’s start with my International Women’s Day column on the state of gender equity.

Turns out many of you were delighted to think about me as a wee Avon Lady, but even more delighted to think about the networks of meaning and support in your own lives that were hiding in plain sight.

“There’s such power in sharing our stories,” wrote one reader. “I love that you were an Avon entrepreneur. I’m so thankful for my parents who did (and continue) to sacrifice. I’m thankful that I’m at a point in my life where I am being able to turn some of that back to them and (perhaps more importantly), grateful that I get perspectives like these to help remind me of what we as people need to be doing in the world.”

My recent column on Ukraine, Empathizing with Ukrainian refugees: Is it because they’re white? stirred up a little more controversy, mostly from people who felt it was not the time to bring race into a desperate situation.

“People are dying for protecting their country, homes, families,” wrote one Europe-based reader. “The refugees spent hours in very hard conditions. And to bring up such stories is for me taking away focus in this critical time for Democratic World.”

I can empathize with this point of view. But, and I say this with deep respect, I believe it is my job to focus on more than one thing at a time, and history has taught us that the words we use today will inevitably inform the policies of tomorrow. Ignoring the impulse that violence in “civilized” places like Ukraine is a shock worthy of our heartstrings, but not places like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, would be a missed opportunity to explore underlying and convenient bigotries in the way war and peace are waged…or not.

Now that other commentators have made similar points—yes, even the funny ones—I feel encouraged that these kinds of conversations can help voters, policy-makers, and other stakeholders make better decisions going forward. Who knows? Maybe we could even eliminate the need for ad hoc interventions, like the Black organizers who have halted their work to raise funds to help the Black and brown residents attempting to flee Ukraine. (More on this below, from Jonathan Vanian.)

I believe plenty of people increasingly expect leaders to think this stuff through—or expect to receive their own version of negative mail.

#PrinceWilliamIsRacist trended on Twitter today after Prince William made obtuse remarks while visiting London’s Ukraine Cultural Centre. “Everyone is horrified by what they are seeing. The news every day, it’s almost unfathomable,” he said. “For our generation, it’s very alien to see this in Europe.” (Here’s the video and reporting by the Independent.)

The Cut’s Mia Mercado did a pretty good job recounting some of the violence the Prince may have seen during his lifetime if he’d been paying attention:

“I suppose war is alien in Europe if you don’t count the Troubles in Northern Ireland that spanned from 1968 until 1998. And the Yugoslav wars during the 1990s. And the annexation of Crimea in 2014. And, as multiple people have pointed out on Twitter, the royal family’s own history of colonialism and the violence that comes along with it.”

Paying attention can be distressing, I get it. But now, more than ever, it’s worth the work.

Wishing you a safe and peaceful weekend.

Ellen McGirt

In Brief

Executives should care about what happens to the many Black college students trying to flee Ukraine amidst Russia’s invasion.

As Tokunbo Koiki, one of the founders of the Black Women for Black Lives (BW4BL) organization, explains, these are “medical students, these are STEM students, these are engineering students.”

“These are students who are going to be the future,” Koiki says.

Koiki and two other Black women recently created BW4BL to help raise money for Urkaine’s Black population, particularly students, whose lives have been thrown into chaos.

“It started with a tweet,” Koiki says, describing how she became aware of disturbing instances of racism involving Ukraine’s Black community by following social media accounts. Black students trying to escape the country were “physically removed off the train by Ukrainian soldiers,” she says. Those who managed to make it to the Poland border found themselves segregated from white Ukrainians. White refugees were grouped in one area while people of color have been coalesced into another.   

“Things that we saw in the '60s in the U.S. and in South Africa are now happening in 2022 in Ukraine in East Europe,” Koiki says.

The idea that Ukraine has a sizable Black population may surprise people unfamiliar with the country. For instance, Ukraine is home to many Black students who come from African countries to study science and technology at the country’s universities, she says. A Black student from Zimbabwe does not have the “luxury” or “privilege” of attending prestigious universities like Oxford, so they migrate to countries like Ukraine where it’s more likely they can continue their education, Koiki says.

Additionally, “Countries like Ukraine and all the Eastern European countries still have ties with the African countries because of colonialism,” she adds.

So far, Koiki says BW4BL has raised 144,658 pounds (over $188,000 in U.S. dollars) via PayPal and Gofundme. That money will help pay for services like transportation to flee the country, she says, noting how the cost for services and food has skyrocketed in recent weeks due to the war and inflation.

One Black doctor who left Ukraine is using the funds to journey back to the country to give medical supplies to people on the border, she says, highlighting the unique ways people are using the funds.

Koiki, a senior social worker in her day job, says she has 22-years of experience spearheading fundraising efforts and believes “very much in giving back to my community.” The least she could do to help those in times of war was to use her fundraising experience to organize something that could make a positive difference in disrupted lives.

“It’s bad enough that people should have to deal with fleeing war, it’s outrageous that they have to then be fictions of racism, victims of anti-discriminatory practices, victims of anti-Blackness while trying to just get out into a safe place,” Koiki says.

Jonathan Vanian 

On Point

Speaking of more voices, I'm pleased to welcome Amiah (pronounced “ə-MEE-ə”) Taylor to the raceAhead family. Amiah is taking a break from her science writing graduate work at Johns Hopkins, and has joined Fortune as an editorial fellow. Amiah previously freelanced for NBC LX, Well + Good, and the Observer, wearing various editorial hats. She’s also worked as a technical editor on CBD for Dummies, taught ESL and creative writing, and even founded her own nonprofit, Black Phoenix Ink, devoted to Black children’s literature. She received her B.A. in English and creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University. She’s based in Delaware.

Amiah will be writing stories and summaries for raceAhead. Here’s her recent piece on how 'Black Panther' director Ryan Coogler was falsely accused of robbing a Bank of America when he attempted to withdraw his own money from his account. 

Emmett Till Antilynching Act of 2022 will be signed into law pending the President’s signature  The Senate unanimously passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act of 2022—which would make lynching a federal hate crime punishable up to 30 years in prison—on Mar. 7 by unanimous consent. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called lynching one of the most shameful aspects of America’s history and said anti-lynching legislation was long overdue. The history continues to harm the Black community: A recent study from the University of South Florida found that counties in the South with the highest number of racial terror lynchings have the lowest life expectancy. Schumer is looking forward to President Biden quickly signing the bill into law. Some form of anti-lynching legislation has been working its way through Congress for 100 years, with 200 failed attempts. More on Emmett Till’s life and murder here.

Supreme Court weighs in on gerrymandering  The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a pair of orders on March 7 that temporarily upholds congressional maps drawn by the North Carolina and Pennsylvania Supreme Courts, a setback for Republicans in these stays. At issue is whether or not lawmakers have free rein to draw gerrymandered congressional maps irrespective of their states’ constitutions. Republican lawmakers have been continuously attesting that state lawmakers have the sole power to make determinations on how individual states conduct federal elections, a viewpoint that rests heavily on a reading of the Constitution that has been rejected on an ongoing basis for over a century by the U.S. Supreme Court. While the Court will return to the issue in the future, it won't be before the 2022 mid-term elections.

On Background

How to give and get credit  The virtue of being humble can very quickly transform into the disadvantage of being underrecognized or dismissed in a white supremacist culture that often minimizes the talents and achievements of people of color, especially Black women. This excellent article by Ruchika Tulshyan, an award-winning inclusion strategist and the author of Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work, highlights ways to amplify women of color in the workplace such as recommending women of color for high-visibility assignments and roles and equitably redistributing office “housework.” In the office and in life, we all need to champion Black women and women of color and give them their roses as the idea generators and leaders that they often labor as without formal credit or recognition. “Women of color experience an even more acute form of invisibility. They often find that their ideas aren’t heard until they’re repeated by a man or white person. If you find that you don’t have trouble getting attention in meetings, but the woman of color next to you does, you can repeat the idea (even if you don’t identify as a man), credit her, and then get out of the way.” 

Spend some time with Cornell West  Prominent African-American philosopher Cornel West disagrees with Kanye West’s take on rebranding Black History Month into Black Future Month, citing the continuous need for the Black establishment of history, love, and dignity as paramount in combatting white supremacist narratives. West previously commented on “spiritual bankruptcy” following his resignation from Harvard, and now dives further into the idea of “spiritual decay” as public figures such as Trump dodge personal accountability and answerability. West is returning to New York to teach at the Union Seminary; he praises philosophers and great minds from James Baldwin to Richard Wright and Jeff Stout, but lingers specifically on the recently departed bell hooks as a “real intellectual giant.” On the Democrats, West notes that the political party is in “deep trouble” but still praises Biden as a better president than his predecessor. “The neoliberal vision of brother Biden, which, in his own individual case, is predicated on crimes against humanity in terms of mass incarceration, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the Wall Street bailout that led toward the collapse of so many poor and working people’s life chances…But he’s still better than Trump. Now, good God almighty, we wonder why we are so desperate.”
New Yorker

Today's summaries were written by Amiah Taylor, and this edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

Parting Words

"Let the people see what they did to my boy."

Mamie Till-Mobley, after viewing the brutalized remains of her 14-year-old son, Emmett. Her decision to hold an open casket at his funeral in 1955 is now credited with galvanizing the civil rights movement in the U.S.

This is the web version of raceAheadFortune’s newsletter on race, culture, and inclusive leadership. To get it delivered daily to your inbox, sign up here.

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