No. 55 – 1 Thought: Historical Thinking

American Democracy: Conversation between Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Peter Thiel, and Cornel West

This is a fascinating conversation that covers a range of topics that impact our form of government – technology, creativity, and economics to name a few. I’m not the biggest fan of Peter Thiel’s world view. I struggle with his mix of contrarianism and libertarianism, but I do appreciate that he doesn’t make many points without taking a long view of history to support his arguments. This is one of my biggest concerns with the health of our form of government. I just don’t think we’ve equipped our minds to go back far enough to connect the dots for how we got to where we are today. That sets us up to rinse and repeat history.

An early point that stood out is we’ve narrowed the definition of technology to information technology. I agree. This connects to my mention yesterday of the potential of African countries investing in R&D. Considering the continent’s challenges, there’s all sorts of white space for developing technologies around pipeline safety, transportation, solar capture, and more. The continent’s working age population is set to grow 14% every five years through 2050, according to Brookings. Consumer facing startups won’t create the jobs needed to put folks to work.The trajectory of economic inequality

This conversation is entertaining for another reason – the manner in which West and Unger physically close in on Thiel is hilarious.

Reach, Inc: Building a Cycle of Readers and Leaders

There’s nothing like being around a bunch of really sharp students. This summer, I got to hang out with the participants in Reach, Inc’s summer program and share lessons I have learned building Afara Global. 

Reach, Incorporated is a DC-based organization that trains teenagers to teach younger students. As a result of this training, the organization produces confident readers and effective leaders. From what I have seen in the time I have gotten to hang around the students, these young people are killing it. 

Along with the tutoring these students provide, they also publish children’s books. As if that weren’t enough, they research societal issues, find organizations working on them, and make pitches for their favorites to secure a share of more than $2,500 in grant funding. Like I said – killing it. 

  

The data on Reach, Incorporated’s effectiveness is strong. Imagine tutors entering Reach’s program reading between a 4th and 6th grade level, achieving two grade levels of growth in  one year of participation, while contributing to elementary school students achieving 1.5 years of reading growth. Amazing. 

Shout out to the Reach, Inc team – Mark, Jusna, Lori, Sully, and Kelly. I look forward to hanging out with the students again and supporting their work. 

Shoutout to JT for the photos. 

Thoughts on David Brooks’ Letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates

David Brooks published a review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest book, Between the World and Me this morning. A few points stood out to me:

The last year has been an education for white people. There has been a depth, power and richness to the African-American conversation about Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston and the other killings that has been humbling and instructive.

Whatever education white people have engaged over the last year must become an internal conversation on what to do based on the knowledge gained from this education. Toni Morrison does a nice job explaining the importance of white people having this conversation amongst themselves. I doubt the extent to which this education and conversation has taken place.

For you, slavery is the original American sin, from which there is no redemption. America is Egypt without the possibility of the Exodus. African-American men are caught in a crushing logic, determined by the past, from which there is no escape.

I don’t think Mr. Coates would agree. See The Case for Reparations:

An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future. More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.

Mr. Brooks should give that piece another read. Again, I doubt the extent to which this education and conversation has taken place.

I think you distort American history. This country, like each person in it, is a mixture of glory and shame. There’s a Lincoln for every Jefferson Davis and a Harlem Children’s Zone for every K.K.K. — and usually vastly more than one. Violence is embedded in America, but it is not close to the totality of America.

I am distracted by this equating Lincoln and the Harlem Children’s Zone. You mean the Lincoln who thought it would be a good idea to ship the slaves back to Africa? He probably would have done well to dwell on Lincoln as a mixture of glory and shame a bit.

The American dream of equal opportunity, social mobility and ever more perfect democracy cherishes the future more than the past. It abandons old wrongs and transcends old sins for the sake of a better tomorrow.

By dissolving the dream under the acid of an excessive realism, you trap generations in the past and destroy the guiding star that points to a better future.

See above quote from The Case for Reparations. I just don’t believe sins can be transcended. They need to be addressed and dealt with. And then you move forward.

Maybe the right white response is just silence for a change.

Nope. There has been plenty silence for centuries now. Talk. Ask the hard questions. Have the hard conversations amongst yourselves. Hopefully, after those hard conversations, we will be able to have a thorough conversation on how to move forward – together.

There’s Not Enough Space in This Room for Both God and Fear

Be sure to subscribe to David D.’s The Freedom Ring. He’s calling up sung and unsung players in the Civil Rights movement and documenting their stories. His first conversation was with his dad, David Dennis, Sr. Amazing stories about how he got his start in the movement, people he met along the way, and some really interesting encounters. This is just golden stuff. The title came from a statement Mr. Dennis shared from a debate about whether the Freedom Rides should continue.

Things that stood out from the conversation:

1. The role his Nigerian classmate played in getting him involved in the movement. There is so much importance in Africans and African-Americans connecting and sharing stories and experiences;

2. The importance of women to the movement. For example, two women were pivotal in pushing for the Freedom Rides to continue. If you have a black woman involved in your life, tell her thank you for all she does. If you don’t, find one and tell her thank you; and

3. The bravery of students my youngest brother’s age. I was a punk in college and didn’t step up to the plate in some important conversations on race led by students like David D. at Davidson. Imagine stepping on a bus with certainty that you probably weren’t going to be alive at the end of the trip. Incredible.