#307: Actions > Words
Hi loyal readers. I’m very grateful that you opened today’s issue of The Highlighter. It’s a good one: focusing on race (as usual) and exploring the theme of words vs. actions. More than a year after George Floyd’s murder, and after a year of protest and (some) change, our country has (mostly) returned to the same script. Let’s talk about equity and antiracism, but let’s not do very much. Besides, we’re too busy yelling about masks, wishing the pandemic would go away, worrying about our children at school, and avoiding the news in Afghanistan and Haiti. Many of us are exhausted. We’re languishing in our cocoons. We’re practicing self-care.
Lately, I’ve found myself there, too – resting, reflecting, and reading in an effort to determine my next steps. This week’s articles helped me get unstuck, and I hope you’ll appreciate them, too. “We Talk About Racial Inequality But Do Little About It“ reminds us that this year’s pause on racial equality is not unique, that white Americans have long advocated for fairness as long as justice does not lead to personal inconvenience.
The other three pieces in this week’s newsletter build on those ideas. The second article explains the roots of anti-Asian hate on the West coast (recommended especially for history teachers), while the third and fourth selections explore various ways that Black Americans have acted – and the backlash they’ve endured – to promote a freer and fairer world.
Please enjoy. And let me know what you think! All you need to do is hit reply.
We Talk About Racial Inequality But Do Little About It
In 1944, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and sociologist Gunnar Myrdal published An American Dilemma, a two-volume study that explored the gap between nation’s ideals and its racial reality. He concluded, “The average white American does not want to sacrifice much himself in order to improve the living condition of Negroes.”
More than 75 years later, according to senior correspondent Janell Ross, not much has changed. We might be getting a little better at talking about race, but talk is cheap. Ms. Ross writes, “As the notion of white America’s inherent superiority is verbally rejected, very few are willing to use what power they have to shift the systems that have served them well. Some people who are used to winning are having trouble playing fair.” (10 min)
+ Is Time Magazine back? They’re publishing some solid articles lately.
The Anti-Asian Roots of Today’s Anti-Immigrant Politics
One reason it’s easier to talk change than enact change is that racism remains deeply embedded in our laws and institutions. This excellent history of the anti-Asian movement in California explains how white politicians and labor leaders pitted the white working class against Chinese and Japanese citizens, redefining Europeans as “native” and inventing the concept of “illegal immigrant” after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Writer Mari Uyehara points out that fear-mongering tactics worked then as they do now, as did political slogans like “The Chinese Must Go!” and “Keep California White.” So much for the California Dream. (20 min)
+ U.S. History teachers, this article is a good one.
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One institution that prefers words over actions is our public school system. Even in affluent progressive districts like Bellevue, Washington, whose ample budget funds a “department of equity,” Black leaders like Shomari Jones find themselves “losing an arm” when facing white resistance. The district’s director of equity and strategic engagement, Mr. Jones described his job this way: “I put on the flak jacket and I knew I was going to take some hits. And you get hit and you get hit, and you’re cool because you got the jacket on. But when you get hit enough times, the jacket doesn’t work for you anymore. You’re hoping there are other people who are willing to put on their jackets and take a hit for you, or alongside you. But if that day never comes, you have to decide, to what point am I willing to sacrifice myself?” (16 min)
For Black Women, Working From Home Meant Freedom From Microaggressions
Project manager Mary Smith loved working from home during the pandemic – but not because of the quick commute and the flexible schedule. Rather, she appreciated not having to worry about making sure her hair, clothes, and demeanor were presentable for her white colleagues. So when her employer called everyone back to the office, Mary quit. She’s not alone. A Gallup survey last Fall concluded what Black women already know: They’re less respected and treated less fairly in the workplace than any other demographic. And many are leaving. (10 min)
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