Read on the street 6 June 2020
"Nothing says that you don't belong in an economy than having a cop kill you dead in the street.”
I awoke on Wednesday morning to those words from Andre Perry of the public policy think-tank Brookings Institution on the radio.
Unusually for a report about institutionalised racism, this was the business news slot and Perry went on to articulate deftly the various ways in which racist attitudes pervade American society and act to stifle social mobility for black people.
The unemployment rate for African Americans in the US is roughly double that of white people. Black neighbourhoods are devalued by an average of 23%, or $48,000 per home, when you strip-out the impact of crime, educational provision, and other factors to enable a like-for-like comparison. That means if you were to lift a property out of an African American neighbourhood and place it down in a predominantly white neighbourhood, its value would rise instantly by nearly one-quarter.
As Perry points out, that is money that could be used to send kids to college, to start a business, to put a deposit down on a new home. In short, “the money that people use to lift themselves up,” he noted. Aggregated across the US, Perry calculates that black communities are denied $156bn in total, simply through racism.
“It’s sad but true,” he continued “that the same racist thoughts that compelled a cop to kneel on the neck of an unarmed man and kill him in the middle of the street are the same attitudes that employers have, banks have, that folks in education have, and those attitudes are baked-in to so many of the structures in the United States and they all throttle the economic trajectory of blacks."
You can listen to Perry’s short Today programme interview with Dominic O’Connell here (from 16 minutes into the show) and a longer conversation on the same topic from the Brookings Institution podcast here (from six-and-a-half minutes into the episode).
It was a timely reminder to me that ‘Black Lives Matter’ as a cause or a campaign needs to be as much about investing in people’s lives and livelihoods as it is about preventing wrongful deaths.
As a privileged white man in the UK, I acknowledge that I am not well qualified to tackle this subject and do so with a degree of discomfort. However, we all have a duty and a stake – economically, as well as morally – in eradicating racism so I think it is better to write than not.
As Perry himself concludes: “There’s nothing wrong with black people that ending racism can’t solve.”
I hope you have a good weekend.
US police: counterprotestors or peacekeepers?
Many of us will have been watching scenes in the US with horror this week, appalled by the heavy-handed tactics being deployed by some law enforcement agents against protesters with legitimate grievances. Survey data shows that police officers across America have very different attitudes on race and policing than those held by the general public, with the vast majority of officers believing they treat black people fairly and that there is little evidence of discrimination. The figures quoted are from 2016, admittedly, but there seems little reason to believe things have improved markedly since then and it doesn't bode well for hopes that tensions between protesters and police will end anytime soon. This piece by FiveThirtyEight, the polling aggregator, provides a good overview of the issue.
Read in FiveThirtyEight.
The little queen of deconfinement
Before we began working from home some 12 weeks ago, I made part of my daily commute by bicycle. I’d drive the first 20 miles from home to the outskirts of Edinburgh and cycle the remaining seven or eight miles to our office in the city’s west end. Apart from helping me beat the tedious rush-hour traffic jams while, simultaneously, getting my daily fix of exercise, it guaranteed that for at least one waking hour each day I wouldn’t be staring at a screen or through one. Well, while I’ve been off my bike it seems many more people have been getting on to theirs, with huge rises in bicycle use recorded across Europe and the US. This could be cycling’s moment, not just as a leisure pursuit but as a viable and widely popular means of daily transport. As the French environment minister, Elisabeth Borne, puts it so beautifully here, “the bicycle is the little queen of deconfinement”.
Sex, mugs (of tea), and rock’n’roll
With a survey this week revealing that nearly half of Britons are drinking earlier in the day than normal during lockdown and one-third admitting to binge-drinking more often despite pubs being closed, off-licences are presumably in rude health even if their patrons are not. The same research highlighted that those respondents who have managed to cut back on their alcohol consumption – around a quarter – reported feeling better both physically and mentally as a result. If these examples from the famously hedonistic realm of rock’n’roll are anything to go by, greater creativity is another happy by-product of sobriety they may also be benefiting from. If it’s good enough for Johnny Marr, it’s good enough for me.
My whole wide world went Zoom
Zoom, the teleconferencing provider most of us had never heard of three months ago, posted a remarkable set of financial results this week. The company’s Q1 profits had risen by a multiple of 136 compared to the same quarter last year, making Zoom more profitable in a single quarter than it had been during the whole of 2019. This deconstruction of the Zoom user experience on the brilliantly insightful Built for Mars website provides a glimpse into the world of those UX professionals who obsess over the finer details of products and services in a bid to create perfect consumer experiences. This link comes with a warning, however: this is an online rabbit hole that may take some extricating yourself from…
History is written by the victors
Like many others, I’ve been transfixed by the Netflix documentary series The Last Dance over the past few weeks. A 10-parter that charts in great detail the staggeringly successful Chicago Bulls basketball franchise of the 1990s, its central character – and, at times, bullying villain – is the peerless Michael Jordan, whose single-minded pursuit of victory at all costs was one of the defining characteristics of that team. Some of his former teammates apparently don’t care much for Jordan’s version of events, prompting Barney Ronay in this piece for The Guardian to reflect on a sporting genius who is almost certainly, also, an unreliable narrator.
Portraits of humanity
This striking collection includes just a few of the 200 images shortlisted for the portraits of humanity award. Just when we needed it, these photographs offer a glimpse of a world beyond our own. One not dominated by screens and staring intently at our own glum face on Zoom. One not limited by the confines of space, time, four walls, and a queue at the supermarket. They are something bigger, and better. Like a deep reassuring breath or the feeling of your feet against the earth. They are real.
Read in The Times.
Written by David Gaffney, Partner