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raceAhead: The Two Super Bowls

raceAhead: The Two Super Bowls

The 2018 Super Bowl was one for the record books, particularly for Eagles fans. Congratulations to all who held out hope, and sending strength to all the sanitation professionals who are facing a very busy day in Philadelphia.

Though nobody tracks data on cognitive dissonance in sports entertainment, I suspect this year’s Super Bowl would have broken records on that front as well. You didn’t have to care about either team to come away from the event with a very different view of who really lost.

This is, in part, because the NFL has become an unwitting crucible for a country divided on race.

Barely six years ago, Colin Kaepernick was the toast of League, a soft-spoken, tatted, brown-skinned quarterback poised to capitalize on the progress the NFL seemed to be making. Flash forward to today, and things are, well, different. Ratings are on the decline, and the League has found itself grappling with complex social issues, including the health of its players, in ways that seem increasingly ineffective.

Sportswriter Mike Tainer puts it this way:

Somehow, silently kneeling for a few moments before a few football games made Kaepernick the absent protagonist of the American drama, the touchstone of a broad social movement, the reminder that nothing—not even the Super Bowl—can ever be apolitical again until we become serious about addressing social injustice and healing the rifts caused by the bigotry we naively believed was already defeated.

From that perspective, last night was a nailbiter on many levels. Will Pink take a knee? Will President Trump tweet about the game? (Or at least to warn Tom Brady off trying his hand at receiver.) Which advertiser is going to get race or inclusion wrong? What would Prince do?

It’s part of the reason why there are two, very distinct, Justin Timberlakes knocking around post-game conversations today.

One did a fine job singing, dancing, and selfie-taking last night. But the other Timberlake’s career thrived at the expense of his one-time Super Bowl partner, Janet Jackson—and his tone-deaf tribute to Prince wounded those who believe that the late musician would never have wanted his posthumous image projected and performed with by anyone. The Timberlake you saw says a lot about the way you’re processing the world right now.

The same is true for Dodge Ram’s polarizing super bowl commercial.

The ad used the audio from one of Martin Luther King’s last speeches played over images of people helping each other and ended with the phrase “Built To Serve” and the Ram logo. To some, it was common fare, a big brand touting the American spirit of service using familiar markers. But for many, many others, the reaction was immediately negative. “Black people cant kneel and play football but MLK should be used to sell trucks during the super bowl. Unbelievable,” said comedian and YouTube personality, Akila Hughes, summing up the outrage.

“It’s the wrong mistake to make given everything that’s going on in the U.S. right now,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, offering a different kind of game day commentary to The New York Times. “There’s so much emotion right now around race in this country that this was a high-risk move, and clearly it’s not going over very well.”

But regardless of the cognitive dissonance of hearing King’s voice in an ad for trucks, the sermon they used, the “Drum Major Instinct,” has a message worth revisiting.

King spoke about how the quest for attention, the need to compete with our neighbors, and ironically, advertisers’ push consumers to live beyond their means lead people into a series of traps. “I got to get this coat because this particular coat is a little better and a little better-looking than Mary’s coat. And I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car.”

It also pertains to race, and the “need that some people have to feel that they are superior… and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first,” he says.

Giving up the need to be first, best, or only is almost heresy in a competitive society. But to be solved, issues of race and equity (and in the NFL’s case, player safety) will have to be owned by all, including big brands and consumers, fans and quarterbacks. Getting good at cognitive dissonance is going to come in handy for everybody. (Speaking of which, YouTube user Nathan Robinson re-worked the ad with King’s more relevant remarks about advertisers. Brace yourself.)

King ends his sermon by poignantly describing his wishes for his own funeral, words that would be necessary just two months later. “If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral,” he begins. Forget the awards, the accomplishments, the fancy people he’d met. “Instead, I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.”

On Point

A new consortium of early Facebook and Google employees seek to undo harm the harm they believe they’ve done The new group, called Center for Humane Technology, is planning an anti-tech addiction campaign that will be launched with the help of the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media. At issue is the possibly irreversible harm to kids who are tethered to their phones and tablets. “We were on the inside,” said Tristan Harris, a former in-house ethicist at Google who is heading the new group told CNBC. “We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works.” The sentiment mirrors what other executives have been saying. Chamath Palihapitiya, an early Facebook employee and current venture capitalist, said last year that Facebook is, “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” CNBC

At the University of Illinois, an Indian mascot endures Chief Illiniwek was officially retired from service at the University in 2007, after years of protests from Native Americans and other advocates. But unofficially, the Chief continues to make appearances on campus, stoking painful arguments about tradition and respect. One such tussle, which turned physical, was between an anti-mascot professor and filmmaker and a board member of the Honor the Chief Society. It took place in a men’s bathroom on campus. Advocates are calling for a replacement mascot, in the hopes it will appease determined Illiniwek supporters. “A bullet wound can’t heal if you just put a Band-Aid over it,” said the professor. New York Times

In the #MeToo era, women seek justice that may never come In an age when powerful men are suddenly being called to account in public, most women who have been harassed during their careers will never have a Me Too moment. The problems stem, in large part, from the challenges associated with the legal system — proving old harassment charges and statutes of limitations for filing a claim. But it also means that many women must come to peace with the fact that justice will never come for them. Employment attorneys, increasingly deluged with requests, are reluctantly delivering the news: “I’m sorry to say that there’s probably not anything we can do to help you.” SF Gate

Remembering the bloodiest civil rights event in South Carolina history Fifty years ago this week, shots rang out on the campus of South Carolina State University. State troopers opened fire on students protesting a segregated bowling alley and other injustices; 28 students were shot, three were killed. It is known locally as the Orangeburg Massacre, but there’s little awareness about the event outside of the state. And that, say advocates, compounds the tragedy. “There is so much confusion about what happened, and it needs to come out,” says Cleveland Sellers, who was shot during the massacre. Sellers is the father of former state lawmaker Bakari Sellers. “Because they always think of their state as being on the side of justice and stability, and not having this kind of shoot-to-kill operation on students on their college campus.” Post and Courier

The Woke Leader

Repurposing abandoned prisons into education centers Even through a squint, you can still see the rigid contours of the facility it used to be. But Noran Sanford, a social worker helping formerly incarcerated youth in North Carolina, remains hopeful that the work being done to transform abandoned prisons into community farms and education centers will continue to give purpose to young adults at risk and healthy food to needy families in the community. GrowingChange launched in 2011, and has won fellowships and followers; the model is being studied by criminal justice experts as far away as the Netherlands, and students at UNC and MIT are helping to design site plans for further refurbishment. Over a three-year period, the prison-to-farm program has reduced recidivism rates by 92%, says Sanford. Nationswell

A new book prize is launched for thrillers that don’t include sexual violence against women Founded by the author and screenwriter Bridget Lawless, the Staunch book prize opens to entries this month, and the winner will be announced November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is a brilliant idea. “As violence against women in fiction reaches a ridiculous high,” Lawless says on her website, “the Staunch book prize invites thriller writers to keep us on the edge of our seats without resorting to the same old cliches – particularly female characters who are sexually assaulted (however ‘necessary to the plot’), or done away with (however ingeniously).” The Guardian

A self-taught photographer captures the unique beauty and loneliness of Hong Kong In this arresting collection of photos, Harimao Lee creates a sense of scale and isolation by placing human figures within the vast and beautiful backdrop of Hong Kong. Using drones, stunning aerials, and rooftop shots, he creates a sense of solitary reverie within an urban jungle. As a group, the photos tell the story of one man trying to find his place in a big and busy world. “I just keep trying to add more elements, like love and culture, so that my photos can arouse the viewer’s sympathy. It’s more important to transfer a message or story to the audience than the beauty of the photo itself,” he says. Enjoy. MyModernMet