On culture and diversity in corporate America.

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March 31, 2023

Happy Friday. It was a big week for big apologies. Let’s dig in.

While most of the world was falling for fetching photos of the Pope rocking a puffer jacket this week (they were A.I.-generated, of course), the Vatican issued a statement that repudiated 500 years of papal-blessed colonial plunder.

The Doctrines of Discovery, issued in the 15th century, were a series of decrees known as papal “bulls,” which authorized colonial powers to seize lands and enslave Indigenous people in the “New World” and Africa as long as they were not Christian. While the Vatican attempted to withdraw the order 40 years later, the protocapitalist and missionary zeal they inspired could not be undone. The decrees became foundational to U.S. property law and allowed white colonizers to destroy Indigenous lives, wealth, and sovereignty throughout history; the citation was used in a dispute with the Oneida Indian Nation of New York as recently as 2005.

“It renounces the mindset of cultural or racial superiority, which allowed for that objectification or subjection of people, and strongly condemns any attitudes or actions that threaten or damage the dignity of the human person.” Rev. David McCallum, executive director of the Program for Discerning Leadership based in Rome, told NPR.

More importantly, it’s what Indigenous people have been requesting.

After listening to the lingering impacts of Canada’s residential schools on their community last year, the pope surprised the crowd by personally apologizing to Taylor Behn-Tsakoza, a youth delegate with the Assembly of First Nations in Canada. But she said then that she wanted it to come from the institution. “I’m hopeful that when he comes to Canada, he will take it that step further,” Behn-Tsakoza said.

Also this week, Scott Trust, the owner of the U.K.-based newspaper the Guardian, apologized for the newspaper’s founders’ role in transatlantic slavery and announced a £10 million ($12.3 million) investment in a decade-long initiative dedicated to restorative justice.

The announcement was triggered by the findings of the Scott Trust Legacies of Enslavement report, commissioned in 2020 and published on Tuesday. Turns out that John Edward Taylor, the journalist and cotton merchant who founded the newspaper in 1821, had significant links to slavery, as did nine of his 11 partners.

The Trust is directing its apology and reparations work “to the affected communities identified in the research and surviving descendants of the enslaved for the part the Guardian and its founders had in this crime against humanity,” the paper stated. The restorative justice projects will focus on the Gullah Geechee region of the U.S. and Jamaica. And the outlet plans to expand its coverage of Black communities in the U.K., the U.S., the Caribbean, South America, and Africa.

Apologies so long after the fact may seem like pointless exercises, but they bring hope to anyone seeking justice.

Matthew Wildcat, a member of the Ermineskin Cree Nation and an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, summed it up in a reaction to the Vatican announcement. “It’s historic. It’s a humongous symbolic victory, I think, for Indigenous peoples who have pushed for this,” he told CTV News in Edmonton. “It is hard to put a finger on what the actual effect will be.”

Ellen McGirt

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ruth Umoh.



On Point

Kate Spade is under fire for appropriating Indigenous design
A Kate Spade skirt looks remarkably like one created by Noah Pino, an Indigenous beader and textile artist, who referenced the traditional ribbon skirt worn and beloved by some Indigenous people in North America. Kate Spade's version, which retails for $328, got the attention of Indigenous people online almost immediately. Click through for more examples of cultural appropriation and some simple solutions.
The Star

4chan targets trans people
Following a mass shooting in Tennessee, in which a shooter who allegedly identified as trans killed six people at a Christian school, the online community launched a meme with a doctored image appearing to promote a #TransDayofVengeance. Right-leaning news outlets, including Fox’s Tucker Carlson, picked it up.
Media Matters

LeBron James expands his Akron school 
The public I Promise School opened in 2018 and has been serving third through eighth graders. Now, the school is adding strategic services designed to support the entire community, like job training and a nearby 22-unit apartment building that offers free transitional housing for I Promise families.

Financial pressures facing wealthy AAPI families 
Merrill Lynch examines some 50 affluent respondents from ethnic communities broadly identifying as AAPI and finds that compared to the general affluent population, they are twice as likely to feel responsible for assisting aging parents financially and three times more likely to support family members abroad financially.

On Background

A handy guide to cultural misappropriation
Simon Fraser University in Vancouver has published a thoughtful resource that can help people distinguish between borrowing themes for creative inspiration or tribute and creating work that disrespects or does unintentional emotional and economic harm to a group of people. These are not always easy aesthetic distinctions but are sometimes legal ones. For example, the Navajo Nation owns some 90 trademark registrations that prevent designers from appropriating their imagery.
Simon Fraser University


Parting Words

"Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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