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April 13, 2021

Corporate America is once again wading into the political arena, this time, for justice.

At issue is the confirmation of President Biden’s pick to run the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Kristen Clarke, who is currently on leave from her role as president & executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), may be one of the most qualified civil rights thinkers in the country. But suddenly, and without merit, she has been the focus of heated partisan opposition, including what feels very much like a campaign led by Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, who has devoted several segments of Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss her candidacy.

In one conversation, he interviewed the widow of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner; in a famous and controversial case, activist Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing Faulkner in 1982, sparking protests that occasionally resurface to this day. Carlson accuses Clarke of supporting Abu-Jamal, which is not true — she had nothing to do with the case at all. And yet, Maureen Faulkner is convinced she is. “She hates white people, that’s my honest to God true feeling,” she said on air of Clarke. “And she wants to defund the police. She’s a vile woman. And she’s dangerous.”

Irin Carmon, writing in New York magazine deftly debunks the charges against Clarke, and identifies the smear campaign as being a page from a familiar and problematic playbook. “It’s impossible to argue that Clarke, a lifelong civil rights attorney who started her career in the division and has held just about every related senior position but leading it, isn’t qualified for the job,” she writes. “But the earlier bad faith attacks on Clarke have already traveled from cable to the U.S. Senate.”

Now, allies have come to her side.

In an unprecedented move, general counsels from a wide range of industries — including Uber, Home Depot, Qualcomm, Lyft, JP Morgan Chase, Paypal, Northrup Grummond, Edward Jones, and Intel — have signed their names to an open letter asking Congress to confirm Clarke. They cite her qualifications in detail, and the moment we’re in:

“The need for a strong leader with Ms. Clarke’s stature at the helm of the Civil Rights Division is an imperative, especially at this moment. The global pandemic has affected communities of color in ways that compel us to understand and challenge how structural issues in our society could produce such a disproportionate impact. The horrifying events of January 6th revealed the vulnerability of our democratic institutions. And the convulsive response across the country to the death of George Floyd made plain the imperative that we must re-dedicate ourselves to improving legal protections for underserved communities.”

You can read the letter in its entirety here, and I suggest you do. It’s a clear and inspiring read, and if nothing else will be good prep for any nonsense that may bubble up during Clarke’s hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is currently scheduled for tomorrow at 10 AM Eastern Time.

“If you were inventing a nominee from scratch… you’d come up with Kristen or someone very, very close,” Justin Levitt, a former colleague who teaches law at Loyola Law School told Reuters.

She deserves a fair hearing.

Ellen McGirt



On point

The shooting of Daunte Wright is a terrible and familiar pain  Important details are unfolding in the death of a young man who was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on Sunday. But for communities of color, the pain of the moment is amplified by the ongoing and deeply troubling testimony in the Derek Chauvin trial. Now is the time for all good allies to stand ready to share their fear. Understand the data that’s available about police shootings and race. Familiarize yourself with ways to hold the police accountable. Embrace the context: This piece from FiveThirtyEight has a wealth of sentiment data that suggests that the support for police reform initiatives is shaky at best within white communities. But most of all, it’s time to be prepared to understand the lives of your coworkers. Do you know how they’re doing?

Why can’t Black people in the U.K. swim? Now I know you know why, but it’s news to lots of people. Only 2% of Black people in Britain are swimmers, and it appears that most others suffer from a term filmmaker Ed Accura calls “Blaquaphobia,” the inherent fear that Black people have of water. It comes, in part, a history of discrimination and misinformation that keep people of color away from pools and from a potentially lifesaving skill.  Accura, who learned to swim at age 53, first published a  short film about the phenomenon, and then a feature length documentary/drama film called Blacks Can’t Swim: The Sequel . It explores the cultural barriers that prevent people of color from feeling comfortable in pools–from swimming caps that don’t fit to myths that Black people aren’t buoyant—and that put them at risk. Accura reluctantly learned to swim when he became a parent. “I live near the Thames and I said to myself, if anything happened to her and I couldn’t help, I would never forgive myself.”
The Guardian

The “White Lives Matter” rally that wasn’t The rallies that were planned across the nation last Sunday were largely under-attended, which was a relief. But reporting indicates that the reason is problematic—it's not that their membership is waning, rather that it's more difficult for them to organize. “The poor showing underscores how the country’s unpopular and disorganized extremist movements have been driven underground by increased scrutiny from the media, law enforcement agencies, and far-left activists who infiltrate their private online spaces and disrupt their attempts to communicate and organize,” reports NBC News.
NBC News


On Background

The trouble with Stephen Miller Although it seems like a lifetime ago, the former adviser to President Trump was an influential figure with an ugly point of view: White nationalism. It permeated his entire portfolio, says Jean Guerrero, an investigative journalist, in this opinion piece. "In the White House, Miller strangled legal pathways into the U.S., dismantling asylum, slashing refugee admissions, and choking green card access,” says Guerrero. It wasn’t about crime fighting. “Miller was fixated on families. His concern wasn’t national security. It was preserving existing demographics.” Miller is back with a new legal organization that’s dedicated to finishing that work, which is why normalizing his white surpremacist views is so dangerous. “Miller is not a pariah and never really was. White supremacists have long held positions of power, and their influence persists — from the news media to entertainment,” says Guerroro. “We can dismantle white supremacy only by confronting how pervasive and basic it is.”
Los Angeles Times

Here’s an idea: Return what you took  This is the compelling premise behind David Treuer’s latest essay, part of a new Atlantic series Who Owns America’s Wilderness?He goes deep into the problematic history of the westward movement of colonizing forces, one that is dear to raceAhead’s heart. It is a story of plunder and murder and systematic cruelty. “By the time the militia’s campaign ended, many of the Miwok who survived had been driven from Yosemite, their homeland for millennia, and forced onto reservations,” he writes. “Thirty-nine years later, Yosemite became the fifth national park.” You can’t have a serious conversation about reparations without facing history and acknowledging the original inhabitants and caretakers. The wild, untouched lands, ready for conquest is a convenient lie. “The idea of a virgin American wilderness—an Eden untouched by humans and devoid of sin—is an illusion,” he writes. Now what?
The Atlantic

The U.S. has a more complex history than most people seem to realize Historians, researchers, and writers have been working overtime to help provide the much-needed context to explain the moment we’re in and why it shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s worth reading and sharing as many as possible, perhaps for one simple reason — they are the best answers to the “can we just move on?” argument. In this piece, Paul Musgrave makes it plain: We are doomed to reliving racist resentment and violence because we never connect the dots. “As debates over how to understand Jan. 6, 2021 demonstrate, until recently most practicing American social scientists reflexively dismissed such events as incidental, regrettable exceptions to a democratic, rule-based system.”
Foreign Policy

This edition of raceAhead is edited by Daniel Bentley


Today's mood board

Thomas Jefferson Skate Park, East Harlem, NY. Photo from @nycgirlsskate.

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