Performative Diversity, a Juneteenth Tragedy, and a Virtual Walk On Black Wall Street
Your cheat sheet for the race and racism news of the past week
In this week’s roundup of race-related news, we’ve got questionable allyship, lying law enforcement, and (metaphorical) ghosts. We’ve got people fighting against lipstick-on-a-pig corporate diversity efforts and sunlight revealing ugly truths that lay buried for years. But don’t give up: We conclude with a heart-warming story of how one man is using his love of birds to heal both wounded raptors and wounded people.
Why buy into diversity, equity and inclusion when you can rent?
Diversity initiatives and consultants have become big business in the aftermath of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the murders of eight people at Asian massage parlors in Georgia. But what is really being sold here, and who’s getting paid? The Cut’s Bridget Read delved into the multi-billion-dollar “diversity boom” and what it is and isn’t doing to make workplaces more inclusive and less, well, racist. As you might guess, the credibility and efficacy of different diversity, equity, and inclusion purveyors vary widely. This piece is definitely worth a read, especially if you’ve ever WTF’ed your way through a cringey sensitivity training.
The cool taste of co-opting a movement
The same tobacco companies that got generations of Black people hooked on smoking menthol cigarettes are now trying to pitch themselves as allies in the fight for racial justice, Huffington Post reports. In April, the FDA announced that it would ban menthol in cigarettes and cigars — studies have shown the minty flavor masks the harshness of tobacco and makes it more addictive. Menthols have been marketed more aggressively in Black and low-income neighborhoods, and 85% of Black smokers use them. That spurred concerns that the ban could be used as an excuse for police to target Black people for possessing or smoking menthols. But the FDA says consumers aren’t the ban’s target — suppliers, manufacturers and retailers are. That hasn’t stopped tobacco companies like Altria (which makes Marlboros and Black & Mild) from approaching Black organizations and civil rights groups in an attempt to get them to oppose the FDA’s ban.
How a tragedy all but ended Juneteenth in one Texas town
A park in Mexia, Texas, used to be the site of one of the largest Juneteenth celebrations in the state and maybe in the U.S., drawing up to 20,000 people. It was part historical ceremony, part cookout, part county fair, and part family reunion. The celebrations had been attended by generations of Black people from around the region since the 1890s. That all changed dramatically in 1981, when three Black teens drowned in the park’s lake after being arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana. The three sheriff’s deputies who arrested the teens had overloaded a motorboat intended to take them to a command post on the other side of the lake. The boat capsized, and the teens (who had no lifejackets and might have still been handcuffed) drowned — but the deputies all made it safely to shore. An all-White jury later found the deputies not guilty of criminal negligence, and the incident haunts the town’s memory to this day. There’s much more to this story, and you can read about it in this article at Texas Monthly.
Layers of deceit surround Black man’s in-custody death
Ronald Greene repeatedly apologized, said “I’m scared” as Louisiana State Police repeatedly shocked him with stun guns, put him in a chokehold, punched him, and dragged him by his shackled ankles before he died, according to body camera footage obtained by The Associated Press. Not only did troopers lie and blame his in-custody death on a car accident, but the AP now reports that the ranking officer at the scene spent two years denying the existence of the video showing Greene’s violent arrest and claiming that he was continuing to resist after being restrained. Please be aware that both of the stories linked here contain images that show the beating Greene suffered and the marks on his body after death.
Greenwood reconstructed — at least virtually
If you’ve ever wondered what it might have been like to walk the streets of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street before it was destroyed by an angry White mob, you have a chance to find out. This New York Times interactive reconstructs some of the district’s streets, bringing to life the various businesses and Black entrepreneurs who prospered there. It’s a bittersweet feeling to see how rich and diverse Black life was in Greenwood, and how much its residents were able to achieve just decades after slavery ended.
“You care for birds, and they heal you”
Rodney Stotts is one of only a few Black falconers in the United States. His mission: Rescue, rehabilitate, and train birds of prey, and in the process, heal his community. A new documentary follows his efforts to create a new raptor sanctuary and bring at-risk and inner-city D.C. youth closer to nature through falconry. “Being a falconer is going to teach you everything. It will break you. You can be the hardest person in the world, and yet it will break you down and rebuild you,” says Stotts. The Falconer premieres June 1 on PBS stations.