Yellow Stars, Pink Triangles, and Blue Crescents

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As part of their systematic program of dehumanizing people in concentration camps, the Nazis made Jews and gays wear yellow star and pink triangle badges, respectively. In the case of the Jews, this eventually led the Nazis trying to kill them off in the world’s most reviled case of genocide. They were also made to wear yellow stars in public, too. Gays were subjected to execution, bizarre medical experiments, castration, and jail sentences.

I bring these horrific atrocities up for a reason. The United States is in danger of succumbing to a dark fear that the country will consistently victimized by Islamic State terrorists, radicalized criminals who state Islam as their cause.

Bigotry waged against Muslims is reaching an all time high in this country, perhaps worse than the period of time immediately following 9-11. Hate crimes are increasing.

To be clear, the acts of radicalized terrorists are those of extreme fundamentalists, nor do they speak for the vast majority of 2.6 million Americans who state they are Muslim. Angst against American Muslims is fueled by the United States’ own radical conservatives, the Christian right and extreme Republicans.

The worst of the worst, presidential hopeful Donald Trump wants to close the borders to the Islamic peoples of the world, all one billion of them. In prior statements (since deflected as taken out of context), the demagogue Trump said he is willing to create a database — the modern registered list — of Muslims.

These rhetorical statements and the actions they imply are dangerously close to taking yet another dark step, requiring all Islamic people to wear blue crescent badges. Fortunately, all of these “solutions” are unconstitutional in our Democracy.

The Inexcusable Rhetoric of Racism

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Image by Padraig Rooney.

Trump’s defense is to have minions state that this is no different than when the United States put Japanese citizens in internment camps during World War II. This was one of the most cruel and embarrassing moments in U.S. history. Forty years later, Republican President Ronald Reagan signed a law apologizing for racism and paying reparations to those Japanese citizens.

Don’t think Donald Trump is alone in his fear-mongering demagoguery. Another leading Republican Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has stated the United States should only accept Christian refugees from Syria because they won’t commit acts of terror.

Christian right leader Jerry Fallwell Jr. suggests that all Americans should carry guns to shoot Muslim terrorists. Because guns are the answer, right? We don’t have enough armed American psychopaths going on mass murder rages. Now let’s arm more people and encourage them to shoot threatening Muslim Americans.

The real issue is ignorance and fear. Ignorant American citizens who don’t understand others, and are now reacting to fear. These people are preyed upon by their so-called political leaders. The end result of this rhetoric? Inexcusable wide-spread racism and bigotry.

This groundswell of hate supports the Islamic State’s rhetoric that Americans hate Muslims. Further, the angst meets the terrorist group’s goal of inspiring fear.

A Time to Be Active

We need to look at the moral fiber of this country. Do we truly believe in the principles outlined in our Constitution, the principles of tolerance and freedom? Or will we succumb to fear and hate-mongering.

If you think it can’t happen, that we won’t force Muslim Americans to wear blue crescent badges or register at the police station in every town they visit, then just consider what happened to Jews, gays and others in Nazi Europe; yellow stars, pink triangles, and horrors beyond the imagination. That Western “civilized” country succumbed to the fear and war mongering of Adolf Hitler.

Informed Americans need to be active in politics right now. It is a time to participate in debates, and make sure your voice is heard. More than anything, this is a time to fight racism and make sure that every American — regardless of race or religion — is welcome as part of our community.

It’s also a time for people to start taking Donald Trump seriously. The GOP has been forced to acknowledge Trump may actually win the Republican ticket. Like the Huffington Post, the rest of us, too, must come to grips with Donald Trump’s demagoguery and damaging statements.

We cannot allow the Donald Trumps and Ted Cruzes of the world destroy all of the great freedoms protected by the United States’ Constitution. To quote one of our founding fathers John Dickenson, “By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.”

Redskins Need to Rebrand

The Washington Redskins need to rebrand. The mounting pressure makes it clear, from mainstream media to federal lawsuit, people want Dan Snyder to change the name of his team, often viewed as a racial slur against Native Americans.

To me, the issue has come to a fore. I can not buy any gear, purchase any tickets, or support this team so long as it insists on calling itself a racist name. I will not spend one dollar on Danny Snyder’s football club so long as they are called the Redskins.

This is not an issue of liberal protest. I am a Washingtonian of 20+ years, a Nationals partial season ticket holder, and a regular at many local sporting events. Even the Green Bay Packers CEO came out against the name, calling it derogatory.

The last two times I publicly critiqued brands were BP in 2010 during the oil spill, and Komen for the Cure in 2011-12. I don’t criticize brands often because done frequently as a marketing consultant it creates conflict of interest issues, including a better than thou attitude that doesn’t build a strong reputation. I also know what it’s like to be on the receiving of a post like this.

Know that my motive is personal and as a consumer in the Washington marketplace. If the Redskins were to come to me, offer me tickets or a consulting contract, I would tell then “no thank you.” That’s how strongly I feel about the matter.

Dan Snyder also feels strongly, as he told the USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”

And like so many other issues in the past, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell lacks the foresight to see the conflict the name continues to cause.

That’s an unfortunate polarizing attitude. I think Danny Snyder and the NFL will have to change the name whether they like it or not. It will become increasingly apparent that the Redskins name is bad business. More and more customers will walk no matter how good the team is.

ESPN published a great story showing the negative business effects of Native American names, and how ensuing name changes create increased revenues. Done right, a name change could galvanize the franchise.

Let’s hope Dan Snyder is humble enough to change his words. Somehow I doubt it. Until then, don’t expect to see me wearing burgundy and gold.

What do you think?

Antisemitism in the United States

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Last week I received two off-color remarks about Jews. It didn’t surprise me, I’ve experienced periodic antisemitism throughout my life in the United States.

Perhaps last week’s remarks were spawned by my beard, a salty rabbinical looking thing that I usually shave. Maybe they had nothing to do with me at all. It really doesn’t matter what spawned them, they revealed an ignorance that’s existed through millenia.

I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia called Glenside between the ages of 2-8. We were the only Jewish family in an Irish Catholic neighborhood.

Things did not fair well for us. Our cars were vandalized, a swastika was painted on our door, our house egged periodically, and yes, my sister and I were bullied ceaselessly by neighborhood children, our supposed friends, who teased and beat us regularly, turning trips to the playground into an anxiety ridden game of Russian Roulette.
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The State of MLK’s Dream Online

Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. day as an official U.S. federal holiday. It is during this holiday that MLK’s famous “I Had a Dream” speech plays on TV stations, radios and is discussed on the Internet. Perhaps the greatest aspect of the dream was hope for a meritocracy where his children, “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

How are we doing with racism, segregation and diversity in conversations online? Particularly as social media empowers, giving everyone a digital printing press. Has the digital divide fallen or is it sill rearing its ugly head? Are we talking? And to each other?

To compliment the thoughts below, Influential1 Founders Mike Street and Dupé Ajayi interviewed in a point, counterpoint format on four questions. Influential1s seeks to highlight many un-recognized influencers in the urban space.

The Economic Divide of Access Still Exists

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Mobile and social media have done a lot, with minorities adapting Twitter more than the whites. But there’s still a lot of work to do. A recent Pew study revealed that Internet use is still an economic privilege. Consider this: Some 95% of Americans who live in households earning $75,000 or more a year use the internet at least occasionally, compared with 70% of those living in households earning less than $75,000.

The technology gap gets more pronounced with less income. The median white family income in 2009 was $54,461, the media hispanic family income was $38,039 and the median black income was $32,584 (U.S. Census Bureau). You do the math on who is getting the short end of the digital divide stick.

Mobile and social media have done a lot to provide equal access in the past few years, but there’s still a gap. What is that gap in your mind?

Mike Street – Mobile, social media, and all of the above have brought communications to a whole new level. But I feel that while we have much more access to information, African-American’s and Latinos are not leveraging these platform or creating new platforms in order to create the next level of technology. This is the new gap.

We’ve turned the digital divide into the digital crack but now there is a whole new divide that needs to be closed. While both communities are consumers and content generators, the pace to compete within the startup space is VERY slow. It troubles me on many different levels but this fact drives me to be out there more and to help highlight and honor minorities working in this space.

Dupe Ajayi – To me, that gap is tied to education and economics. Last year I sat on a panel that Mike hosted and almost got into a fist fight over this one! The other panelist’s argument was the digital divide comes as a result of minorities choosing to spend their money on items such as sneakers and bags as opposed to tech gadgets that would open up help close the gap.

I agree with [Mike] to some extent but feel education is key: inform people as to why it will pay in the long run to invest in tech. Furthermore, educate people on the fact that the use of tech tools goes way beyond social networking: you can use them to find a (better) job, get money for school, find resources to help you start your own business, etc.

Blacks and Latins Get Shut Out

Think this is untrue? Let’s look at the social media marketing blogosphere’s defacto barometer the AdAge 150 and its top 20. The only minorities in the top 20 are Brian Solis and John Chow. As you scroll through the list of the actual 150, the numbers don’t get much better.

When the issues of social media rise up to the mainstream media, who gets cited? When the Quora fight du jour occurs on who the social media experts are occurs, who gets listed? Conference speakers? Etc., etc. The reality is that — at least within this market space — we are an almost all white homogeneous group. Intentional or not, digital segregation lives on. It does validate arguments that social media communities often polarize diverse groups of people.

Why is it harder for African and Latin Americans to receive notoriety in the mainstream conversation?

Mike Street: This is the million dollar question and I don’t have the answer to this. This was one of the main reason why myself and my business partner, Dupe Ajayi, decided to create Influential1s.com. We had had enough of seeing list of the best of social media that often excluded any diversity. So what we are doing is using the Influential1s.com platform as a showcase to highlight the efforts of people of color working in digital, marketing, social media, fashion, and beyond.

Dupe Ajayi: The question of the hour! I think mainstream media has made the decision to not highlight these people. It has to be. Mike and I both know of people who are ‘killing it’ in the social space across many specialties. However, when we look at ‘Top Ten’ lists, the faces of color are almost non existent. To add to the curious dilemma is that fact that minorities are top users of all things social.

I believe that we have been satisfied with striving to make the mainstream lists and then settling when we get a bit of recognition. This issue is at the foundation of us launching influential1s.com. We want to say, “Hey we’re here and we are a force.” We also want to truly celebrate our colleagues.

What Are the Answers?

The digital divide has more questions than answers. It’s hard to point in any direction with the surety of a silver bullet. Online, mindful inclusiveness is critical. Are you subconsciously shutting people out.

Long term, one thing is certain, focusing on education opportunities for minorities provides a key foundation point for equal opportunity. It addresses financial opportunity to some extent and gives individuals a better chance for success. There are so many more areas to focus on culturally and economically, so keep an open mind as to how you can help.

What is the answer in your mind?

Mike Street: The answer is for us to be fully visible and sit at the table. I’ve been in the NY tech space for years and have gone to several events, even recently, where I am the ONLY person of color. But I feel that it is important to work to opening these doors, helping to create safe spaces for African-American’s and Latino’s to prosper in the digital age. I run an African-American tech group called Black’s in Technology. I recently took over this group and will be working on providing solid networking opportunities that will help African-American working in this space to create new platforms like Foursquare.

What Would MLK Think?

One can only think MLK would be happy to see so many new tools open to minorities in general. At the same time, he would not be thrilled with the lack of progress in achieving equal stature in positions of authority, whether that be digital leadership or political standing.

He might have said that while freedom is within everyone’s grasp now, so few attain it. For every Barack Obama, there’s a dominant white U.S. senate. MLK would likely be focusing on empowering people to succeed and use digital tools to better their lives, as well as creating new opportunities for minorities.

Also, it is certain that MLK would not be happy with the lack of civility in U.S. political life. He would have been horrified by the Arizona shootings, and the political discourse that preceded them.

How would MLK view the current state of the interwebs?

Mike Street: I think MLK would be happy overall with the political activity going on now. Communities of color are more involved in the political and civil rights movement and using Facebook and Twitter as a means of organizing. However, I feel he would think we need to be a bit more proactive and helping to fully solve any issue that affects the quality of life of Americans

Dupe Ajayi: I think he’d say there is work to be done. I am a service junkie. I’ve spent the past few years dedicated to the non-profit movement because I really want to see change happen. I’ve spent time in learning and mastering social because I feel that these tools can be used to effect change. MLK would say that while finding out who wore what when and tweeting about it is cool, lets use our social networking muscle to create equality, jobs and level the playing field.