On culture and diversity in corporate America.

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July 23, 2021

This is the web version of raceAhead, Fortune’s twice weekly newsletter on race and culture. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.


Hi, stacy-marie ishmael here. I’ll be writing and hosting raceAhead for about the next month, while Ellen McGirt is working on an upcoming project. As part of my mini-takeover, I’ll be swapping out Ellen’s excellent week-in-haiku with a new Friday feature I’m calling “3 Questions With…” My goal for this miniseries is to reintroduce you to some of the industry leaders I most respect, people who are breaking down barriers and lifting others up alongside them. 


Please do send me your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions for the newsletter —  I welcome a good note (or even a usefully cranky one). 


On with the show.


To describe Veronica Chambers as a writer and editor would be both true and a considerable understatement. She’s written and co-authored more books than seems possible for someone who’s also holding down a full-time job as editor of Narrative Projects at the New York Times.


Veronica’s most recent book, Call and Response: the Story of Black Lives Matter, is for younger readers. 


Veronica is also a world-class gift-giver and host. Her answers to 3 Questions With…are just as I expected: a total gift at the end of a long week. 


What would you do if you had more power?


Veronica Chambers: In the ’90’s, after the riots in LA, the Korea Society had a program in New York where a group of African-American kids and Korean-American kids spent a year meeting after school and studying language. Then in the spring, they took a trip to Seoul together—all paid for by grants. 


Race in America is stubbornly binary. I’d like to fund programs like the Korea Society one where kids of color could study a language and culture, then travel together. My time in places like Tokyo and studying languages including Spanish (my family’s from Panama), Japanese, Russian and French have been transformative. 


It helps to add a third base to a persistently binary system. I’m not a mathematician, but I think of it — creatively—  like a triangle or a pyramid. Adding another point of reference is stabilizing and expansive. 


I believe language and travel are critical means of leveling up for young people and they remain a luxury. I’d like to be involved in changing that. 


Courtesy of Veronica Chambers

What do you find yourself recommending to everyone right now?


VC: We listened, as a family, to American Spy by Lauren Wilkerson. We all love spy novels and Wilkerson’s story of an African-American FBI agent ricochets between Harlem, Martinique, and Burkina Faso. It’s so satisfying to see a woman of color pick up the John Le Carre mantle in such an entertaining, thoughtful way.


Who’s someone whose work more people should know about?


VC: I’m obsessed with the work of Martha Jones, a historian who wrote a ground-breaking book on women and voting rights called Vanguard. I first met Martha when I led the team covering the suffrage centennial at the Times.


A good aperitif to her work is an essay she wrote for us on how black women use names to invoke power. That she has the same name as the Dr. Who character is just the universe reminding us that Martha, like so many black historians, is also a futurist – her work not only excavates our past, it helps us shape and imagine the future.


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On Point


Gold medal for inclusivity to Allyson Felix While athletes from all over the world are suiting up in Japan, some will be more remarkable for their absence. Becca Meyers, a deaf and blind swimmer who won three gold medals and a silver for Team USA in 2016, dropped out after being told she wouldn’t be allowed to bring her personal care assistant with her to Tokyo. Namibia’s Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi won’t be running the women’s 400m on account of their “too high” natural testosterone levels. And of course, Sha’Carri Richardson was booted from Team USA’s track and field contingent after testing positive for the intoxicant found in marijuana. Others, like Spanish synchronised swimmer Ona Carbonell, will have had to leave her breastfeeding son at home. For some, this year’s games will have been an object lesson in how structural discrimination affects even people at the very pinnacle of their careers. For Allyson Felix, it will be another opportunity to use her voice (and channel her sponsorships) to forge a better way. Felix, alongside her sponsor Athleta and The Women’s Sports Foundation, is helping fellow moms at the games pay for childcare with $10,000 grants


On Background


Sexism, racism and video games You might not have heard of Activision Blizzard, a video game holding company with annual revenues north of $8bn, but the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing certainly has. The labor regulator is suing the company for its “pervasive ‘frat boy’ workplace culture” and other allegations of systemic discrimination detailed at length in a 29-page civil rights complaint filed on July 20. Video games in the US are a multibillion dollar industry; by some estimates, bigger than movies and sports combined. The competitive stakes are such that just this week both Zoom (yep, that Zoom) and Netflix announced their own attempts to get in on the action. Apple likes to say that iOS is the world’s largest gaming platform, bigger than Xbox and PlayStation, as a wink in the direction of how much revenue mobile games contribute to the company’s bottom line. Gaming is also an industry rife with horror stories about “crunch” and burnout, and notorious for being actively hostile to women, and especially women of color, a harsh reality that is gently parodied in Apple’s own sitcom, Mythic Quest. Games are pop culture, and pop culture both reflects and shapes how we understand and navigate the world. Bad behaviour tolerated at the highest levels by the people and companies who make games translates into retrograde depictions of women, endemic homophobia, and virulently racist tropes played out on hundreds of millions of screens. I’m also obliged to note, as a person who loves video games and has played them all my life, that it is equally a creative arena to which many people have devoted their considerable talents to making a space that is welcoming to all. You’ll meet one of those people, Tanya DePass, in today’s Big Move



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Mood board / The Big Move


[caption id="attachment_3101535" align="alignnone" width="683"] Tanya DePass, aka cypheroftyr, is the founder of I Need Diverse Games, an organization dedicated to improving representation and inclusion at all levels of games and gaming. DePass is featured in the new documentary “Game Changer”, directed by WNBA star and filmmaker Tina Charles. [/caption]


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