Welcome back to Productivity, Without Privilege.
If this is your first time with us, please keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times. We cannot be held liable for lost items on the ride, but if you do lose something make sure to alert a staff member immediately.
So let’s get started.
Last Tuesday was election day in the United States, which means that the political pundit class (of which I’m not remotely a member) is hurriedly spinning up the kind of horse-race journalism that will likely do nothing more than alienate literally everyone and obfuscate issues that actually have significant impacts on real people, all in the name of “objective journalism,” but this newsletter isn’t about that. I want to talk about something specific: racism, and whose experiences are centered in discussions about it.
No surprise, right? But stick with me here—one thing that the election revealed is the sheer number of people, specifically white, middle-class people who find themselves whipped into a frenzy at, and I mean these quotes as scary as they should be, “Critical Race Theory.” So what exactly is Critical Race Theory? Well lucky for everyone, that link is a story I edited for WIRED that answers the question, written by a scholar who’s been in this field of study for far longer than it’s been a term you could hear on the evening news. But even CRT isn’t what I want to talk about. What I really want to talk about is this tweet from CBS News, below.
Since I’m not sure if there’s alt-text, the tweet reads “How young is too young to teach kids about race?”
At first blush, a privileged person may think “what’s wrong with that question?” But as someone who doesn’t have the privilege of not thinking about race, allow me to explain why this tweet is getting dragged left and right, at least across my humble section of Twitter: Children of color don’t get to be taught about race. They have to live it, experience it, and experience the ramifications and systemic issues around their race from the moment they’re born. As my friend, journalism professor, and the wizard in my D&D group Robert Hernandez put it, this question had to be aimed at white parents, because people of color have to deal with it from the start.
Other folks on Twitter have taken to sharing their first experiences with racism as a response, and they—like mine—are all from VERY early ages. As in, before schooling is even involved. I won’t narrate them all, but here’s an eye-opening selection: One person was 7 when they were beat up for being Asian. One was 4 when they were questioned about the race of their father. Another was on his first day of school. Another was 5 when Goofy wouldn’t take a picture with him (but everyone else was fine) at Disney World—which is funny because it reminded me of the time I went to Disney World as a child and Mickey wanted nothing to do with me or my parents when we wanted a photo either. I’d almost forgotten that memory.
And then, of course, Bernice King mentioned that she was 5 when white supremacy took her father from her.
So I thought I’d use this week’s newsletter to share my own first experience, which I actually had in the book, but got cut for space. When I was young, I lived in Europe for several years, so it wasn’t until I came back to the United States that I got a rude awakening. Here’s what happened:
I think I was about nine years old when I first really, truly learned that I was different from everyone else.
It was a hot summer afternoon in Georgia, and I was leaving my friend’s house—I was excited because I’d gotten to see her so maybe my heart was fluttering and I wasn’t thinking as clearly as I should have been. Young love will do that to you. But it was almost time for the streetlights to come on, which meant I had to say my goodbyes and hop on my single-speed to ride home. As I turned out of the cul de sac she lived on and onto the suburban street that led down toward my house, I stumbled.
I don’t remember why—maybe my shoelace got caught in the pedal, or maybe I just took the turn too sharply—whatever the reason, I tipped over to the left, and as I fell, my left leg scraped a line of upturned bricks, arranged almost in a jagged, toothlike decorative pattern around a neighbor’s mailbox, near the curb. In an instant, the bricks cut a deep, long gash horizontally across my left leg. I rolled away from the bricks--and my bike—and screamed. I don’t remember much aside from that, aside from the white-hot pain and the blood, but I do remember seeing, maybe a hundred feet or so away, a pair of men who were either movers or delivery men, who were wrapping up some work at a house maybe a door or two down from where I was lying on the ground.
I reached out and shouted for help.
They stopped. Then looked at me, then closed the cargo door to their truck, got into the cab, and drove past me, away.
Now, even to this day, I don’t know if the reason they didn’t help me was because I was a lanky, eight-year-old black boy lying in the street, or just because they were two white men with a job to do and had a schedule to meet and no time to baby kids who fell off their bikes, but I’m pretty certain that, were I an eight-year-old white boy shouting in pain and begging for help, they would have come to at least see what was going on.
But they didn’t. They drove past me, looking right at me, and as their truck veered around me and up the street, I realized that no one was going to help. Shakily, I stood up, blood running down my leg from a wound that I know now was probably down to the muscle tissue, and got back on my bike, and rode home as best I could with one leg, blinded with pain.
I still have the scar on my left leg from that moment, and I treasure it. Not because of the loving way my father irrigated the wound, cleaned it, and applied gauze and antibiotic ointment to make sure it wouldn’t get infected. Not because of the way my mother helped me get around the house while it was healing. I treasure it because in a small, unfortunate way, I grew up a little that day. It took me years to look back and realize it, but I realized that even if you’ve never even met someone, some people are just going to treat you differently than they’d treat someone else. Some of us have social baggage we have to carry that we never asked for, and never wanted. And as unfair as that is, all you can do is come to expect it, and be ready for it.
I worry that burnout can’t be reversed and has fundamentally changed me as a doctor and a person, by Sudhakar Nuti: The pullquote near the bottom of this piece at STAT really says everything that you need to know about it, and while I normally wouldn’t tell you to scroll down before reading, the pullquote will make you want to read it even more. Ultimately, burnout isn’t a thing that creeps up and you just need time away from a job to push back, it can have longer-lasting, more insidious effects on you. It need to be fought all the time, and many of us may not even know that we’re in its clutches until we don’t know what to do about it.
African scientists race to test COVID drugs — but face major hurdles, by Abdullahi Tsanni: This isn’t a story about productivity, but it is a story about race, class, and international politics. Namely, that scientists in Africa are eager to get their hands on drugs to help treat COVID, not specifically vaccines, but drugs to ease symptoms, treat opportunistic infections, and generally preserve a patient’s health, but right now they’re having an unacceptably difficult time getting them.
Hand in Hand grieves the loss of Engracia Figueroa, by Blithe Riley: This piece, written at Hand in Hand, a network of people who employ domestic workers who lobby and campaign for better working conditions, pay, and protections for domestic workers (imagine that!) actually highlights a horrific story: Engracia Figueroa, an advocate for people with disabilities, passed away because (and this is the short version) United Airlines destroyed her wheelchair, which was custom-designed to support her spinal cord injury and left leg amputation, as the article says. The loaner chair United provided caused her discomfort and injury in the form of a pressure sore, which subsequently got infected, which subsequently took her life. The whole story is terrible, but it’s a reminder that privilege comes in many forms, and advocacy for any of us should be advocacy for all of us.
A lot of that stuff was pretty heavy, wasn’t it? It’s okay, I’ll ease things out with something a little lighter.
If you follow me on Twitter or follow my work at WIRED, you know, stuff beyond my book, you’ll know that I also stream on Twitch! I stream on WIRED’s channel on Wednesdays, and I try to stream on my own channel on Fridays. And this past week was the launch of a particularly fun, chill, and heartfelt zen puzzle game called Unpacking, which is available on PC and consoles for about $20. That’s not a bargain, I know, but the GIF above is from one of my recent playthroughs of the game last week, and I’ll probably keep playing it. It’s...just a really well told story through environment and player engagement. There’s no dialogue, you never see the human characters of the story, you just learn everything you need to know about them by...well, unpacking their stuff when they move into a new home.
So give that a shot this week, and try to take it easy. It’s rough out there, especially heading into the holiday season. Be good to yourself, and the people around you. Oh, and if you haven’t already, do preorder my book, Seen, Heard, and Paid: The New Work Rules for the Marginalized. I’d appreciate it very much if you did. Talk soon.