On circumventing systemic biases
RaceAhead has been continuing to collect some important questions for the founders of The Alliance for Global Inclusion, so look for their answers next week. Today, we learn about why some Black students are thriving in lockdown, and a guerrilla education campaign that’s enlightening New York City. Many thanks to my colleague, Jonathan Vanian, who explores what the Biden Administration’s long overdue acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide actually means. Spoiler alert: It’s personal.
But first, here’s your complicated Mother’s Day week in review, in Haiku.
For the people who
have lost theirs. Or who haven’t
had an easy way
with. Or are worried
for. Or are far away from:
Deployed or estranged,
For those who cannot be one,
at least, in the way
they once imagined.
Same sex, gender fluid and
Your presence on earth
is the gift. Cherish yourself,
and enjoy the day.
Wishing a happy Mother’s Day to anyone who celebrates, and lots of love to all families everywhere.
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This past April was a big milestone for millions of Armenians around the world.
President Joe Biden formally acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, adding the United States to a list of countries including Russia, Germany, and France that recognize the horrible atrocities that occurred over 100 years ago. For the U.S. to acknowledge that the genocide did occur—that over 1 million Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1915—is a major deal for Armenians who must carry the traumas of the past with them each day.
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who has since founded the Seven Seven Six investment fund, shared his thoughts with Fortune about the significance of Biden's acknowledgment. I am half-Armenian, and I can tell you that Ohanian’s comments resonate deeply with me. Growing up with Armenian elders telling me horror stories about the genocide is something I can never forget. The Armenian genocide is encoded in my blood.
Here’s Ohanian’s lightly edited comments:
President Biden formally acknowledging the Armenian Genocide this year was one of the best birthday gifts I could have asked for. See, my birthday is April 24th, a day I proudly share with the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, an event that until now had not been formally recognized by the United States.
One of my earliest childhood memories was my great Aunt Vera sitting me down when we were still living in Brooklyn, and rather than wishing me a happy birthday, she instilled in me the importance of the day as an Armenian. She told me how our family barely survived the genocide and gave up everything to come to the United States. She told me that as an Ohanian, I carry the responsibility of our entire family in everything I do.
While it may have been a lot to impart on a 5-year-old, I recognize the importance of what she was doing—she was passing on an oral history to ensure our identity as genocide survivors could never be erased or forgotten. While the US acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide may be long overdue, it’s an important step in formally recognizing that history, especially for the Armenian Diaspora who have been forced to carry the memories of these atrocities for generations.
As for how the Armenian Genocide affects the business community, I contacted Aram Hamparian, the executive director at the Armenian National Committee of America. Hamparian has spent years urging lawmakers to recognize the Armenian Genocide and has faced intense pushback from Turkey.
Hamparian points to the sad notion that “memory can be bought and sold,” which he explained is a “lesson that we can draw from decades of Turkish denial.”
He’s now also urging companies to take an ethical stand on the issue of recognizing the Armenian genocide.
“We would like to see companies attach a moral element to the business they conduct with Turkey, decline or make their engagement conditional with Turkey not actively denying the Genocide,” Hamparian said.
Back in the day, enslavers walked freely among us, and in New York City, a trio of activists are now making sure we know their names. Their platform of choice? Stickers affixed near places named for founding New Yorkers — Peter Stuyvesant, John van Nostrand, the Boerums (of Boerum Hill) and the Lefferts (of Prospect Leffert Gardens) — among them. Enter Slavers of New York, a sticker and guerilla education campaign that uses census records and other data call out the history of slavery in New York City. (Their GoFundMe suggests bigger plans.) Elsa Eli Waithe, a Brooklyn-based comedian, is spearheading the effort.
New York Times
Some Black students were able to circumvent systemic biases during remote learning. The reason, which is now becoming a talking/data point in the workplace, is that they have found ways to access developmental opportunities that they were clearly qualified for— like advanced classes — without the in-person evaluation of academic gatekeepers. It’s also helped Black parents be more effective advocates for their kids, too. Click through for some eye-opening specifics, but here’s the bottom line: “We understood this years ago, that our children were not going to get the type of opportunities that white kids get,” Lisa Wilson, principal founder of CARE Coalition on Anti Racism Education, tells NorthJersey.com. "Education is designed for us to constantly question our humanity. That is what our educational system has done for Black people in America.”
Meet the woman who helped Moesha fans survive the pandemic. Jasmyn Lawson has been a quiet force behind the scenes at Netflix, finding ways for Black entertainment creators, particularly those with iconic properties, find their way to the platform. (Think: BAPS and Love and Basketball.) While she’s has success on the original series team, her latest victory has been making sure that iconic Black comedy series, like Moesha, Sister, Sister, and Girlfriends, are introduced to a new and welcoming audience. “There’s no way in denying that Black people, minorities and women and queer culture has had a dominance of what popular culture looks like and how it moves forward in the world,” she says. “I know people quote Jay-Z all the time but we are the culture, nothing moves without us. I feel so privileged and honored to be a part of archiving those stories.”
Mother’s Day, what a long, strange trip it’s been. While the holiday may have since been hijacked by Big Candy and Flowers, it had a much stranger semi-origin. This 1994 New York Times essay by Diane McWhorter lays it plain. “The House resolution that led President Woodrow Wilson in 1914 to proclaim the second Sunday in May Mother's Day was the only memorable accomplishment in the 26-year career of the biggest boob in the history of Congress. He may also have been the most shameless racist,” she says. Say more, Diane! Oh, she does. (“Cotton Tom” Heflin from Alabama was a Klan member and an insurgent populist. Wow!) The day is generally attributed to a letter writing campaign by a woman named Anna Jarvis, who though victorious, grew to dislike the intrusion of both consumer marketing and civil rights campaigners into her special day. That said, even earlier origins of a Mother’s Day can be found in poet and activist Julia Ward Howe’s 1870 manifesto for women to unite for peace and demand an end to all state-supported war. I’m claiming sweet Julia on this one.
For anyone who is shocked to discover that there is racism going on in here, Charlice Hurst, an assistant professor in the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, would like to have a word. In this unflinching essay, she breaks down why majority culture people fall prey to the “not here” syndrome — “denying that racism is a problem in your own organization, even when you are willing to acknowledge it as prevalent in society, outside your own organization or home.” It leads to some very painful interactions between colleagues, the calcification of systemic bias, and some deeply resigned people of color. “Regardless of Black people’s dignity, expertise, or professional achievements, employers treat Black employees as unfit to interpret our own experiences,” she begins. “They believe that what they cannot see must not exist, overlooking the possibility that they do not see racism because it does not happen to them.” A must read and share.
Stanford Social Innovation Review
The meritocracy thing is bad for everyone. The flawed concept of meritocracy, a favorite talking point of the tech community, is particularly damaging to poor and under-resourced students. The findings of a study published in Child Development, a peer-reviewed journal, are pretty clear: “Traditionally marginalized youth who grew up believing in the American ideal that hard work and perseverance naturally lead to success show a decline in self-esteem and an increase in risky behaviors during their middle-school years.” A series of educators are interviewed and validate the findings with anecdotal evidence of their own. “We have to ask different questions around school,” said one educator. “Does [school] contribute further to our [students’] marginalization and oppression?”
This edition of raceAhead is edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz
An ode to Jackée Harry, the one and only Lisa Landry. Collage: @jackeeharry on Instagram.
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