Are You Racially Literate?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on May 8th, 2018.

Last November I had the privilege of attending the TED Women Conference in New Orleans, and to say that I came away from that event inspired would be an understatement. Out of all the incredible speakers that I heard over those three days, there was one talk in particular that I could not stop thinking about. The one shared below, which was just released on the TED platform yesterday and has already been viewed nearly 300,000 times. When they gave their talk at TED Women, Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo were in the midst of travelling to all 50 states to talk to people about race, and they were doing this during their gap year between high school and college. Their talk outlined how they were attempting to connect both the hundreds of personal stories they were hearing on their trip, as well as their own personal experiences on a cross-country road trip as two women of color, to the wealth of facts and statistics that have been gathered by researchers over the decades about racial inequality and the negative impact of systemic racism in America. In their talk they share their framework by identifying two big gaps in people’s racial literacy: the heart gap, a lack of understanding of our own personal experiences with regards to race, and the mind gap, a lack of understanding about the systemic epidemic of racism in this country. When I heard them speak, I realized I possessed both of these gaps, and it is likely you may have them as well.

Taking a step back, in 2016, Priya and Winona published The Classroom Index, a racial literacy textbook for educators to help them teach students on this often difficult and uncomfortable topic. They did this while sophomores in high school in New Jersey. Yes, you read that right, sophomores in HIGH SCHOOL. The success of, and interest in this book led them to embark on their journey across America to have these conversations with average, everyday people in all 50 states in order to truly understand the current state of racial literacy in this country. Their findings are set to be published in their forthcoming book, Race Across 50 States. At the time they spoke at TED Women in November, they still had 23 states to go.

When I heard that Utah was one of the states they had not yet interviewed in, I immediately invited them to come visit, which they did in February of this year. They set up multiple independent interviews, my daughter Allie hosted them at her high school, and I hosted a home based event with students, educators, and others. What they did more than anything else in each setting was listen; they really listened to each person’s experiences around race. It sounds simple, but it’s rarely simple in execution. As they said in their talk, “Today, so few of us understand each other”, and this lack of understanding is the root of so many social problems across all communities. That is why they set out to change the status quo by founding Choose in 2014 to try and raise the bar in racial literacy, which in turn led to their publication of The Classroom Index just two years later. I think it bears repeating that they did all of this while still students in high school. These two truly are Wonder Women.

Yesterday, their TED Talk was released on TED.com, and I encourage everyone to take the time to not only watch this brilliant and important talk, but to share it broadly. Whether at school, at home, in our places of worship, or in our community based organizations, these are conversations we need to be having. I hope their talk inspires everyone to take a closer look at their own experiences around race, ask and listen to others, and try to understand the many ways race and racial inequality impact our society. Priya and Winona are two of the most intelligent, compassionate, and articulate young women I have ever met, and I believe wholeheartedly that their work is going to help change the racial conversation in this country for the better.

Since TED Women, Priya and Winona have finished their tour of all 50 states, collecting over 500 interviews along the way, and they are hard at work finishing the content for their new book. As if you needed any more proof of their awesomeness, they are also currently in New York City as part of the TED Residency program, where they are the youngest TED residents in history. Despite all this, something tells me that Priya and Winona are just getting started, and I can’t wait to see where their journeys lead them next. If you would like to learn more about Choose, you can find more information HERE. You can also follow the conversation online at @princetonchoose on Twitter. Finally, their TED Talk can be found HERE, and I hope you will all watch and share it with your networks.

Their TED Talk is below, as well as an informal interview I conducted with Priya and Winona during their visit to Utah.

 

What is the Opposite of Hate?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on April 10th, 2018.

This may sound like the ultimate contradiction, but I hate the word hate. I truly do. I hate the way it sounds. I hate the way it feels. I hate the word hate. And I especially hate the fact that I can’t seem to avoid it these days. Politically and socially this word has seeped into our collective consciousness at an alarming rate, and while a lot of people have spent countless hours debating how we got to this point, I’m personally far more interested in how we move forward from here. How do we bridge this ever widening gap to find common ground and work together to move this country, and the world, forward?

Clearly, this is not an easy question, and as such there are no easy answers, but thankfully there are people who are trying to find a way forward. One such person is Sally Kohn, a political commentator and contributor to both CNN and Fox News, whose book on this very topic is available todayThe Opposite of Hate examines the current epidemic of hate and its historical and cultural roots, but more importantly, it offers insight on how we can move past this bitterly divided impasse and learn to work together. I have known Sally for many years, and so when I heard that she would be devoting an entire book to the issue of hate and how we can move past it, I knew I had to pick up a copy. Sally’s writing has previously been published in The Washington Post, Fox News, USA Today, and The Huffington Post, but this is her first full book, and I encourage everyone to pick up a copy for themselves. And if you need a bit more incentive, please check out below some questions I posed to Sally prior to this book’s publication and her insightful responses. I know I’m looking forward to delving into this issue more deeply when my order arrives later today, and I hope I’m not the only one.

Jacki Zehner: Hate is such a harsh and strong word that I actively avoid using it because of how that word makes me feel, and yet you chose to write a book about it. Why? What made you decide to address this topic at this point in time?

Sally Kohn: I don’t want to sugar coat the hard reality of what we’re facing right now as a species. And there’s no other word for it, really. We have a problem with hate. We hate each other. And it only seems to be getting worse at the moment. Whether we’re talking about racism or misogyny or Islamophobia or anti-Semitism or extreme partisan hate and bias, we have a historical and habitual problem with demeaning and dehumanizing others based on their identities. A problem that has ebbed but more often flowed throughout the history of the United States and the world, which we’ve at times made progress on however imperfectly, but also are clearly still struggling with. Arguably it’s been worse before but still, I don’t think hate needs to be at its worst now to be bad enough that we have to do something about it.

JZ: What is the opposite of hate?

SK: It’s not love. Not for my purposes, anyway. You don’t have to love someone to not hate them. But you do have to understand how we’re all fundamentally connected as human beings, how in spite of our differences and disagreements — which, by the way, I think are incredibly important and even worth celebrating — we’re still more alike than not and have more in common than not. And we all want a world that’s less divided and less cruel. And the way we get there is recognizing how we’re connected, and studies show when we connect with people outside our own bubbles, the people we think of as “other” we hate them less. The opposite of hate is connection.

JZ: I love that answer and I could not agree more. The opposite of hate is connection. Thank you. So how did pursuing this topic change you and your worldview?

SK: You’d think that writing a book about hate would be really depressing, and of course parts were, especially coming to terms with our profound history and capacity for cruelty. But honestly, I walked away from the process of writing this book feeling more optimistic about humanity than ever. Sure we have the ability to hate, but we also have the ability for stunning kindness, for forgiveness to a degree that I never thought imaginable, for seeing the best in others in spite of every excuse not to. When I met former terrorists and ex-neo Nazis and people who had participated in heinous genocides who had somehow managed to leave entire lives of hate behind, that left me feeling more inspired and hopeful about human beings than I ever imagined possible. We all have the capacity for great hate, but we also all have the capacity for its opposite — and, to me, it’s that positive possibility that makes us all so remarkable and full of promise.

JZ: You have spent a lot of time working as a social and political commentator on various news channels. What is your take on the current state of our news media? How has the relationship between the news media and the government changed since the last election?

SK: I’m deeply worried about the state of truth and fact in our world today, which I still believe in the power of journalists to defend and promote, but has obviously been deeply undermined. And in addition to each of us as individuals standing up for facts and real news, there’s a role that government I think needs to play in working with the media, in a cross-partisan fashion, to make sure that we the people have access to the facts and information our democracy needs. In addition, I also worry that the news media helped create this moment in part by sliding away from an emphasis on reporting toward over-emphasizing opinion and debate — a dynamic, by the way, I still play into. And I think it’s important there be spaces in media for discussing and debating opinions. At the same time, I worry when news media starts to borrow too much from sensational reality television… and then we elect a reality TV star President and it comes full circle.

JZ: Increasingly, Americans are dividing up and self-sorting themselves into groups and spaces where we are constantly surrounded by people who think alike and hold the same opinions as each other, particularly in the online spaces. What are the dangers of this division? How do you think this is effecting our ability to engage and connect with people who think differently about important issues?

SK: I’m an opinionated person. I literally have opinions for a living. That’s my profession as a commentator and columnist. So I want to be clear that I don’t think the problem is people having deeply held convictions and beliefs or even defending their perspectives. I think the problem is when we do so by demeaning and even dehumanizing those who don’t agree with us. And divisiveness — both conceptual and in real life — just makes the problem worse, because it’s easy to be mean to people you don’t know. And more and more of us don’t know people, don’t live around people, don’t work with people, who hold different views than we do. And then we reinforce those bubbles in the news we consume and the social media we follow. Which is why connection is the answer — making sure you have friends outside your political bubble, or at the very least following smart thinkers on social media who come from the other side of the political spectrum. And then learning how we can disagree without resorting to or reinforcing hate.

If you read this, love your thoughts in the comment section. Have a wonderful day.

500 Reasons to Support International Women’s Day

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on March 8th, 2018.

Every March 8th, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, a celebration first held in 1909 in New York, but which was formally declared an annual international celebration by the United Nations in 1975 during the International Women’s Year. Today, March 8th is officially a public holiday in numerous countries around the world, including Cambodia, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nepal, Mongolia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and there are events scheduled to mark this occasion in nearly every country across the globe. International Women’s Day is both a celebration of the accomplishments of women worldwide, and a call to action for gender equality and world peace, and I hope you all join me today in celebrating the incredible women in your life.

Every year, the United Nations picks a theme for the celebrations, and this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Time is Now. I can’t think of a better mantra coming off of the year we’ve just had. Incredible strides have been made, yes, but we still have so much farther to go. Gender inequality is not yesterday’s business, it is today’s. The Time is Now. This past year was, for me, the year that moments became movements, and movements are about people moving together towards a better future.

So what makes people move, individually and collectively? Many things, including personal experiences, values, stories of others, and yes, data. Prior to my extensive work in philanthropy, I worked in the finance industry as a trader, and I relied on numbers, statistics, and data to inform my decisions and my actions. As I transitioned out of the financial sector and into the philanthropic space, I brought this mindset with me. Though I personally did not need evidence to prove what I know to be true; that a more gender balanced and inclusive world will be a better world for all, when I truly dug into the research, I learned the depth of the need, the depth of the inequities, the depth of the opportunities, and the depth of proven interventions in need of resources. A road-map for positive change is in the research. It is not hypothetical, it is real. So not only did I search out, collect, and aggregate research and studies, but I shared them. Last year, in honour of International’s Women’s Day 2017, I published the Top 400 Reports on Women and Girls. 

The response to this publication was fantastic, and over this past year it has been an invaluable resource on more occasions than I can count. However, it quickly became clear that 400 reports, as high a number as that may seem, did not nearly encompass the scope of the research available. I continued to collect and gather research, studies, and reports, and before I knew it, that list had grown to 500 reports across 20 different categories, including Arts, Entertainment, Film & Media, Impact Investing with a Gender Lens, Philanthropy, Violence Against Women & Trafficking, Entrepreneurship, and Political Representation. There’s even a section for Masculinity and Engaging Men in Gender Equality.

I cannot promise that this list will be updated and republished every March 8th to celebrate International Women’s Day, but I’m hoping it will, so please send me any missed or new reports for inclusion in future editions to @researchonwomen and #researchonWandG on twitter, or post the link below.

Happy International Women’s Day!