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Google Researcher Says She Was Fired Over Paper Highlighting Bias in A.I.

A well-respected Google researcher said she was fired by the company after criticizing its approach to minority hiring and the biases built into today’s artificial intelligence systems.Timnit Gebru, who was a co-leader of Google’s Ethical A.I. team, said in a tweet on Wednesday evening that she was fired because of an email she had sent a day earlier to a group that included company employees.In the email, reviewed by The New York Times, she expressed exasperation over Google’s response to efforts by her and other employees to increase minority hiring and draw attention to …

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Biden Expected to Name Top Economic Officials This Week

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to name top members of his economic team this week, including Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton labor economist, to run the Council of Economic Advisers, and Neera Tanden, the chief executive of the Center for American Progress, to lead the Office of Management and Budget, according to people familiar with the matter.The announcement — which will include Mr. Biden’s decision to name Janet L. Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair, as Treasury secretary — would potentially culminate in several women in top economic roles, including the first Black woman to lead the Council …

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‘Tokenized’: Inside Black Workers’ Struggles at Coinbase

SAN FRANCISCO — One by one, they left. Some quit. Others were fired. All were Black.The 15 people worked at Coinbase, the most valuable U.S. cryptocurrency start-up, where they represented roughly three-quarters of the Black employees at the 600-person company. Before leaving in late 2018 and early 2019, at least 11 of them informed the human resources department or their managers about what they said was racist or discriminatory treatment, five people with knowledge of the situation said.One of the employees was Alysa Butler, 25, who worked in recruiting. During her time at Coinbase, she said, she told her manager several times about …

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Ad Council’s Challenge: Persuade Skeptics to Believe in Covid Vaccines

With coronavirus cases on the rise and communities returning to lockdown across the country, a marketing push is underway to persuade skeptical Americans to immunize themselves once vaccines are ready.

The federal government, which has sent mixed messages about a pandemic that has caused more than 250,000 deaths nationwide, is not leading the charge. Instead, the private sector is backing a planned $50 million campaign to persuade people to protect themselves at a time when polls have suggested that more than 40 percent of adult Americans are not confident in a potential vaccine.

The Ad Council, a nonprofit advertising group, led a similar effort in the 1950s, when it urged Americans to get vaccinated against polio. Its Covid-19 vaccination push will be one of the largest public education crusades in history, the group said. On Monday, the Ad Council will announce the new campaign and start testing messaging. It will start rolling out public service announcements across airwaves, publications and social media next year, when vaccines are expected to be approved and made available to the public.

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Credit…Ad Council

The White House has collaborated with the Ad Council on previous public health efforts, but it is not currently involved in this one.

“Frankly, this is the biggest public health crisis we’ve ever faced, and we don’t have time to waste,” said Lisa Sherman, the group’s chief executive. “We’re working in advance, so that once those vaccines are proven to be safe and approved by all the right people, we’re ready to go.”

While the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna have announced promising updates on the vaccines they are developing, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has blamed President Trump for causing anxiety about the safety of potential immunization efforts. Anti-vaccine sentiment has been growing for decades, driven in part by a backlash against pharmaceutical companies.

Fifty-eight percent of American adults said they were willing to take a coronavirus vaccine, according to a Gallup poll conducted between Oct. 19 and Nov. 1. Another poll, conducted last month by Ipsos and the World Economic Forum, found that 85 percent of Chinese adults, 79 percent of British adults and 76 percent of Canadian adults planned to be vaccinated, compared to 64 percent of Americans.

The Ad Council has joined with a coalition of experts known as the Covid Collaborative, which concluded through its own survey that only one-third of Americans plan to get vaccinated.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study during a measles outbreak last year and concluded that “a relatively high number of individuals are at least somewhat misinformed about vaccines,” often expressing mistaken beliefs about the treatments’ association with autism and toxins. The researchers also found a correlation between belief in vaccine misinformation and low trust in medical authorities, as well as exposure to material about vaccines on social media.

Steve Danehy, a Pfizer spokesman, said in an email that “public education around the need for vaccination, as well as the rigorous process by which the vaccines have been developed, is critical.”

Public messaging campaigns can be instrumental in persuading people to act in a health crisis. Travel advisories kept many pregnant tourists and business travelers away from areas struggling to contain the Zika epidemic in 2016, for instance.

The marketing plan for a coronavirus vaccine must persuade people that the treatment is safe and effective, while also providing practical instructions on where people can get vaccinated and how they can schedule appointments, said Dolores Albarracin, a psychology, business and medicine professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“If you do not introduce information about how to achieve vaccination, simply a favorable attitude will not take people to the vaccination site,” she said. “Without an understanding of the psychological and socio-structural processes leading to vaccination, it’s going to be difficult to get the 47 percent of people who don’t intend to vaccinate to do it.”

Research by the Covid Collaborative suggests that fewer than 20 percent of Black Americans believe that a vaccine will be safe or effective. Many respondents stated that they had little faith in the government’s ability to look after their interests or cited distrust stemming from past ethics violations, such as the infamous Tuskegee study, which tracked Black men infected with syphilis but did not treat them.

“In these highly vulnerable communities that are disproportionately affected by Covid, it’s a big, big trust-building exercise from the ground up,” said John Bridgeland, one of the founders and the chief executive of the Covid Collaborative. “They trust their physicians, their pharmacists, and so we have to go very local in having trusted messengers.”

Mr. Bridgeland said that working to defeat the virus was a “historically big moment” that required moving beyond “our political divisions and the difficulties that have undermined trust in our government.”

“Our job as a country is to increase the uptake of the vaccine so Americans are actually engaged in their own recovery,” he said.

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Racism Impoverishes the Whole Economy

Discrimination hurts just about everyone, not only its direct victims.

New research shows that while the immediate targets of racism are unquestionably hurt the most, discrimination inflicts a staggering cost on the entire economy, reducing the wealth and income of millions of people, including many who do not customarily view themselves as victims.

The pernicious effects of discrimination on the wages and educational attainment of its direct targets are being freshly documented in inventive ways by scholarship. From the lost wages of African-Americans because of President Woodrow Wilson’s segregation of the Civil Service, to the losses suffered by Black and Hispanic students because of California’s ban on affirmative action, to the scarcity of Black girls in higher-level high school math courses, the scope of the toll continues to grow.

But farther-reaching effects of systemic racism may be less well understood. Economists are increasingly considering the cost of racially based misallocation of talent to everyone in the economy.

My own research demonstrates, for example, how hate-related violence can reduce the level and long-term growth of the U.S. economy. Using patents as a proxy for invention and innovation, I calculated how many were never issued because of the violence — riots, lynchings and Jim Crow laws — to which African Americans were subjected between 1870 and 1940.

The loss was considerable: The patents that African-Americans could have been expected to receive, given equal opportunity, would have roughly equaled the total for a medium-size European country during that time.

Those enormous creative losses can be expected to have had a direct effect on business investment and therefore on total economic activity and growth.

Other economists are beginning to estimate harm to the economy caused by racism in broad ways.

An important principle suggests that the person who can produce a product or service at a lower opportunity cost than his or her peers has a comparative advantage in that activity. Recent research calculates the effects of the discriminatory practice of placing highly skilled African-American workers, who might have flourished as, say, doctors, into lower-skilled occupations where they had no comparative advantage. Such practices 50 years ago — which linger, to a lesser extent, today — have cost the economy up to 40 percent of aggregate productivity and output today.

Similarly, other research estimates that aggregate economic output would have been $16 trillion higher since 2000 if racial gaps had been closed. To put that total in context, the gross domestic product of the United States in 2019 was $21.4 trillion. The researchers estimate that economic activity could be $5 trillion higher over the next five years if equal opportunity is achieved.

Right now, if more women and African-Americans were participating in the technical innovation that leads to patents, the economist Yanyan Yang and I calculate that G.D.P. per capita could be 0.6 to 4.4 percent higher. That is, it would be between $58,841 to $61,064 per person compared with $58,490 per person in 2019.

This entire line of research suggests that organizations — companies, laboratories, colleges and universities — are leaving colossal sums of money on the table by not maximizing talent and living standards for all Americans.

I have thought and written a lot about remedies. Here are a few ideas aimed at addressing discrimination in the innovation economy. First, we need more training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), like the extensive and highly successful program once sponsored by Bell Labs to encourage participation in these fields by women and underrepresented minorities

STEM fields should not be the sole target, however, because the innovation economy encompasses more than this narrow set of subjects. Two of the last three people I’ve talked to at tech firms have a B.A. in international relations and a Ph.D. in political science. Clearly, problem-solving skills matter, but these skills are not unique to the STEM majors.

Second, there is substantial evidence of systemic racism in education, which needs to be addressed. Research shows that professors are less likely to respond to email inquiries about graduate study from Black, Hispanic and female students than from people who are discernibly white and male. A system of incentives — and penalties — could hold those responsible accountable at every level of the education and training process.

At the invention stage, such as at corporate, government and university labs, my research shows that mixed-gender teams are more prolific than those whose members are all female or male. And a large body of literature has documented the positive effects of diversity in teams. Managers at each level should be held responsible for being good stewards of the resources of their companies and promoting diverse teams and behavior and, therefore, better outcomes.

When invention is commercialized and companies sell shares to the public, the wealth gaps are stark. Seven of the world’s 10 richest people on the Forbes list are associated with tech companies that commercialize inventions. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are in the top five. None among the top 10 (or 50) is Black.

The statistics for venture capital funding are striking. In 2014, less than 1 percent of venture capital funding went to businesses founded by African-American women, and in 2015, only 2 percent of all venture capitalists were African-American.

A number of worthwhile recommendations have been made to address the lack of diversity at the commercialization stage of innovation. These include:

  • Enhancing mentoring opportunities through programs such as those of the Small Business Administration.

  • Seeking and recruiting founders to invest in places like Atlanta, and not exclusively in Silicon Valley.

  • Addressing systemic racism at every level of management and within venture capital firms.

  • Diversifying corporate boards so that senior leadership will be held accountable for diversity and workplace climate. (California has done this with women on the boards of public companies.)

The Kapor Center, a think tank that promotes participation by underrepresented minorities in tech fields and education, has proposed noteworthy remedies at many stages, including at the pre-college level.

The social compact most societies have with their governments is that standards of living will rise continually and that each successive generation will be better off than preceding ones. We are robbing countless people of higher standards of living and well-being when we allow racial discrimination to flourish from generation to generation.

Lisa D. Cook, a professor of economics at Michigan State University, is a member of the Biden-Harris transition team.

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What Counts as Race Discrimination? A Suit Against JPMorgan Is a Test

Over 18 years of working as a secretary at JPMorgan Chase, Wanda Wilson had learned to brush aside remarks directed at her race.

“Wanda, do you mind if I tell a Black joke?” a colleague once asked her. Another co-worker told her that she disliked Black people in general but made an exception for Ms. Wilson.

Ms. Wilson saw no reason to complain. JPMorgan had been a good employer, giving her opportunities to rise through the secretarial ranks and providing assistance during a fraught time in her personal life. She felt proud defending her career to her family, which included several prominent civil rights activists. (Her mother is the poet Amina Baraka, and her stepfather was Amiri Baraka, the playwright and poet. Her younger brother is Ras Baraka, the mayor of Newark.)

But things soured in 2016 after a new colleague began to bully Ms. Wilson and order her around, according to a lawsuit Ms. Wilson filed against JPMorgan and its chief executive, Jamie Dimon. For the first time, Ms. Wilson felt that she was not on equal footing with her white colleagues, according to the suit. She complained to JPMorgan officials, but the bank’s response shattered her faith in her employer, she said. After she was unable to find a different job within JPMorgan, the bank fired her. She then sued, alleging race discrimination and retaliation and seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

JPMorgan said its officials had done everything in their power to make things right for Ms. Wilson. “The firm denies that it engaged in any race discrimination or harassment or retaliation with respect to Ms. Wilson’s employment,” said Joe Evangelisti, a JPMorgan spokesman.

The bank tried to have the lawsuit, filed in 2018, dismissed. This month, a judge ruled that the two sides should engage in mediation instead.

Wall Street has come under growing scrutiny for how it treats people of color, and Black employees in particular. Last year, The New York Times detailed allegations of racism at Phoenix-area branches of JPMorgan. Recently, a former head of global diversity at Morgan Stanley, a Black woman, sued the bank for discrimination.

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Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

But while such cases claim broad and systemic discrimination involving banks, Ms. Wilson’s lawsuit tells the complicated story of interactions between co-workers that can carry racist undertones. It shows how allegations of racism in a workplace can be difficult to verify, even when a company conducts an investigation. That’s especially so in the absence of explicit language or actions — such as a racial slur or blackface — that are easily identifiable as racist.

“This isn’t the ’60s or the ’50s,” said David Carlor, a financial adviser who is Black. “No one’s going to tell you: ‘Because you’re Black, go get us coffee.’ You’re just going to find that you’re the one that’s being treated most disrespectfully in the office.”

At JPMorgan, Ms. Wilson was often the first to arrive and the last to leave, according to three of her former colleagues, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. She got lunch and coffee for her superiors and ran errands that seemed well outside her job description, like buying a mirror for her boss’s office.

In March 2016, Ms. Wilson joined the audit department as an executive administrative assistant — a coveted position among secretaries because it involved handling duties for one senior executive in that department.

Around the same time, Janet Jarnagin was also assigned to Ms. Wilson’s boss as a team leader. A midlevel executive, Ms. Jarnagin’s duties included helping the audit department prepare presentations and reports, according to a publicly available résumé.

Over the next few months, Ms. Jarnagin began ordering Ms. Wilson to hang coats, get coffee and lunch, or carry out requests — such as making photocopies — by visitors to the department, according to the lawsuit.

Once, Ms. Jarnagin stood up from her desk and announced that she was “sending Wanda out for coffee,” asking if anyone else wanted to place an order with her. Other Black secretaries who had overheard Ms. Jarnagin later teased Ms. Wilson about being treated like Kizzy, an enslaved character in the book and television mini-series “Roots.”

Ms. Wilson said that she asked Ms. Jarnagin not to use the term “sending” any more, but that Ms. Jarnagin ignored her. Ms. Wilson described the incident in a 2017 interview with a JPMorgan official, a recording of which she provided to The Times.

In her lawsuit, Ms. Wilson described how Ms. Jarnagin had been making these demands only of her — the lone Black secretary in the vicinity. She tried to distance herself. When she rearranged her desk so that the two women no longer had an unobstructed view of each other, Ms. Jarnagin mocked her for trying to build a “Mexican wall” out of a stack of folders on her desk, according to the lawsuit.

Ms. Wilson complained about Ms. Jarnagin to their boss, who told her to work things out on her own, according to the complaint. She then told a human resources representative that Ms. Jarnagin was ordering her around and bad-mouthing her work. JPMorgan’s Mr. Evangelisti said the bank had begun investigating Ms. Wilson’s complaints immediately.

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Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Henry Klingeman, a lawyer for Ms. Jarnagin, dismissed the allegations. “In the high-intensity, high-stress world of New York banking, Janet was no more rude than a male employee who is assertive,” he said in an email. “That she asked an administrative assistant to get coffee for senior management is one of the criticisms made against her. There is nothing to this, much less implied racism.”

Ms. Wilson eventually emailed Mr. Dimon: “I have followed the chain of command and have not received any assistance.” Mr. Dimon did not personally respond, but her complaint was promptly shared with senior bank officials who stepped up their investigation.

Bank officials interviewed people in the immediate vicinity of Ms. Wilson and Ms. Jarnagin, two people familiar with the investigation said. The investigators determined that Ms. Jarnagin had behaved rudely toward Ms. Wilson. However, since Ms. Jarnagin had been rude in the past to other employees who were not Black, they concluded that her behavior was not racially motivated, the people said.

Mr. Evangelisti said the officials’ conclusions had been “based on information provided by Ms. Wilson at the time.”

Ms. Jarnagin was given two “coaching” sessions, including one by her boss, the people said. She was never formally disciplined, but was advised to treat Ms. Wilson more gently, they said. Ms. Jarnagin left JPMorgan in November 2017.

JPMorgan officials also did a broader “climate study” of the area where Ms. Wilson worked, the people familiar with the matter said. The study concluded that there did not appear to be a problem with racism.

However, two Black employees interviewed for the study, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation, told The Times that race was a constant undertone in their interactions with non-Black employees. One said Black secretaries felt it was harder for them to get promotions, and they believed they were underpaid. But the Black employees said they downplayed the racism they witnessed to bank officials, partly because it wasn’t directed at them.

JPMorgan officials have recently acknowledged that some employees still do not feel safe speaking up. In March, the bank announced that it had reviewed its anti-discrimination practices and identified several areas for improvement.

Things didn’t improve for Ms. Wilson after her complaint.

Mr. Evangelisti said JPMorgan gave her nearly a year to search for a new job inside the bank as well as a raise and bonus during that time. Ms. Wilson said the only job the bank offered her was a role working for a man who had become enraged at her over a disagreement with her boss when she worked in the audit department.

Mr. Evangelisti said the role would have come with the same title, grade and compensation as her prior job, “but Ms. Wilson declined the role and refused to provide any context about an ‘unpleasant exchange’ she claims to have had.”

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The White Issue: Has Anna Wintour’s Diversity Push Come Too Late?

Vogue’s September issue was different this year. Anna Wintour and her staff put it together when more than 15 million people were marching in Black Lives Matter protests nationwide and employees at Vogue’s parent company, Condé Nast, were publicly calling out what they viewed as racism in their own workplace. At 316 pages, the issue, titled “Hope,” featured a majority of Black artists, models and photographers, a first for the magazine.

For members of Vogue’s editorial team, the September edition came in the uneasy wake of an internal email Ms. Wintour had sent on June 4. “I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators,” wrote Ms. Wintour, the Vogue editor in chief since 1988 and Condé Nast’s artistic director since 2013, making her the editorial leader of all its titles. “We have made mistakes, too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes.”

Black editors who have worked with Ms. Wintour said they saw her apology as hypocritical, part of a calculated play by an executive known for her ability to gauge the public mood. Other Black journalists who are current or former employees of Condé Nast said the email and the September issue that followed it represented an awkward, though heartfelt, attempt at genuine change.

More than any other institution, Vogue has defined fashion and beauty for generations of women, and the runway looks encouraged by the London-born Ms. Wintour, 70, have trickled down from haute couture houses to fast-fashion retailers and into the hands of everyday consumers. From Manhattan to Hollywood and beyond, she has helped set a standard that has favored white, Eurocentric notions of beauty.

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Credit…Will Ragozzino/Getty Images

The rare magazine editor who is known outside the publishing industry, Ms. Wintour — she is simply “Anna” to those in the know, or those who want to be — has become a singular cultural figure. After establishing herself in fashion, media and entertainment in the first part of a career that stretches to the 1970s, she has more recently become a political power player as a bundler for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And as the orchestrator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit, better known as the Met Gala, she has transformed an affair for Manhattan’s society set into a full-blown East Coast Oscars, with luminaries from fashion, music, movies and sports on the Anna-controlled guest list.

As Ms. Wintour ascended, Vogue’s publication of “hurtful or intolerant” content rarely resulted in lasting negative attention for her. But Black journalists who have worked with Ms. Wintour, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, said they had not gotten over their experiences at a magazine whose workplace mirrored its exclusive pages.

Under Ms. Wintour, 18 people said, Vogue welcomed a certain type of employee — someone who is thin and white, typically from a wealthy family and educated at elite schools. Of the 18, 11 people said that, in their view, Ms. Wintour should no longer be in charge of Vogue and should give up her post as Condé Nast’s editorial leader.

“Fashion is bitchy,” one former Black staff member said. “It’s hard. This is the way it’s supposed to be. But at Vogue, when we’d evaluate a shoot or a look, we’d say ‘That’s Vogue,’ or, ‘That’s not Vogue,’ and what that really meant was ‘thin, rich and white.’ How do you work in that environment?”

Many of the people interviewed for this article said the racism they encountered was usually subtle, but sometimes blunt. Their main accusation was that Ms. Wintour created a work environment — and there is no facet of Vogue that she does not control — that sidelined and tokenized women of color, especially Black women.

Many Black people who worked for her said they felt so out of place in Ms. Wintour’s domain that they created white alter egos — two used the term “doppelgänger” — just to get through the workday, reconditioning their presentation and dress in a way that was mentally draining.

Some Black editors did not want to comment on the experience of fellow colleagues, but offered another view. Lindsay Peoples Wagner, the editor of Teen Vogue since 2018, said she had experienced uncomfortable moments in the industry but that Ms. Wintour “has given me opportunities in leadership, and I’ve made inclusivity a deep part of the conversations we’re having.”

Three other people of color said Condé Nast had made positive changes and Ms. Wintour had promoted them to top roles. Naomi Campbell, one of the first Black supermodels, who was on the cover of Ms. Wintour’s first September issue in 1989, vehemently defended the editor.

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Credit…Condé Nast

“The first cover try I ever did, I had no idea she had to fight for me,” Ms. Campbell said. “She’s been a very important factor in my career and my life and has been honest about what she can do and what she cannot.”

The recent tumult at Condé Nast has knocked Ms. Wintour off balance. Inspired by the protests that arose after the police killing of George Floyd in May, employees have confronted their bosses at companywide meetings and in smaller gatherings. Their complaints have led to the resignations of key editors and pledges from the chief executive, Roger Lynch, and Ms. Wintour herself, to revamp Condé Nast’s hiring practices.

“I strongly believe that the most important thing any of us can do in our work is to provide opportunities for those who may not have had access to them,” Ms. Wintour said in an emailed statement. “Undoubtedly, I have made mistakes along the way, and if any mistakes were made at Vogue under my watch, they are mine to own and remedy and I am committed to doing the work.”

Devoting the September issue — the most important of Vogue’s year — to Black contributors indicates Ms. Wintour grasps the intensity of the protest movement roiling the country. But in fashion, of course, appearances are paramount. During a large Condé Nast meeting on race in June, Ms. Wintour — who is the head of the company’s diversity and inclusion council — was conspicuously absent. Employees exchanged Slack and text messages during the session, asking the same question: “Where’s Anna?”

Long before Condé Nast employees went public with complaints about the company’s handling of race, Ms. Wintour has been criticized for Vogue’s portrayals of Black people.

For many readers, a 2008 cover of LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen was reminiscent of racist images of Black men from a century ago. The basketball star is bellowing and gripping the supermodel around the waist, and some saw an unmistakable parallel to a racist World War I propaganda poster. Ms. Wintour also drew criticism when she helped the fashion designer John Galliano, who was fired from Christian Dior in 2011 after he was caught on camera making anti-Semitic remarks and declaring, “I love Hitler.” She continued to support Mr. Galliano even after he was found guilty of a hate crime by a Paris court.

Being indisputably the most important magazine in fashion means Vogue comes in for extra scrutiny — especially in its cover selections. Last year, The Pudding, a publisher of visual essays, used algorithms to analyze 19 years of the Vogue archives and measure the average “lightness” of cover models’ skin tones. In one span, from 2000 to 2005, only three of 81 women were Black. In a statement, Condé Nast said that from 2017 to 2020, 32 percent of Vogue covers featured Black women.

Former Vogue employees said that in recent years, Ms. Wintour has not kept pace with the public’s changing attitudes on issues of racism and discrimination. At a London fashion week party hosted by Burberry in February 2017, the reality TV star Kendall Jenner showed up with a new look: fake gold teeth. Vogue noted the choice in a breezy online story written by a white contributor: “The flashing teeth felt like a playful wink to the city’s free-spirited aesthetic — or perhaps a proverbial kiss to her rumored boyfriend, A$AP Rocky.”

A Black staff member contacted one of the magazine’s executives to object, saying the story insensitively endorsed an instance of cultural appropriation, according to emails obtained by The New York Times. Other staff members brought the article to Ms. Wintour’s attention, with one lieutenant explaining by email why some people on staff and on social media had reacted negatively: “If Kendall wants to do something stupid fine but our writers (especially white ones) don’t need to weigh in and glorify it or ascribe reasons to it that read culturally insensitive.”

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Credit…Backgrid

Ms. Wintour appeared not to grasp the issue. After several exchanges, she wrote: “Well I honestly don’t think that’s a big deal.”

Condé Nast said in a statement: “The coverage itself is not cultural appropriation.”

Vogue’s content has, though, been accused of being exactly that. The March 2017 issue showcased Karlie Kloss, a white model, in a geisha outfit, with her face in pale makeup and her hair dyed black — a blatant form of yellowface. Readers condemned the layout, which was shot in Japan by Mikael Jansson and included a photograph of Ms. Kloss with a sumo wrestler. New York Magazine’s fashion site The Cut was among the many critics, writing: “One thing’s for certain: Embracing diversity does not mean styling Karlie Kloss as a geisha.”

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Credit…Mikael Jansson

A Condé Nast human resources executive in charge of the company’s diversity program fielded numerous complaints, and alerted Ms. Wintour. According to three people with direct knowledge of the exchange, Ms. Wintour responded that she took full responsibility, but added the feature could not have been cut because of its “enormous expense.”

After an online outcry, Ms. Kloss issued an apology on Twitter: “These images appropriate a culture that is not my own and I am truly sorry for participating in a shoot that was not culturally sensitive.”

The tweet angered Ms. Wintour, according to the three people, and Ms. Kloss sent a note in an effort to mollify her. “I imagine the feeling is mutual, that it was hurtful to see the criticism from our Japan trip,” the model wrote. “I had written a short piece on social media as I wanted to make known that it was never my intention to offend or upset anyone from this spread.”

Ms. Wintour’s reply the following day was icy: “Thanks Karlie another time please give us a heads up if you are writing about a Vogue issue.” (Ms. Kloss has continued to appear in the magazine’s pages.)

In the fall of 2017, there was yet another awkward exchange on race between Ms. Wintour and Vogue staff members. It concerned a photo shoot by Patrick Demarchelier that showed several dark-skinned Black models wearing head scarves.

As Ms. Wintour weighed whether to publish the images, she asked an employee by email if they might be misconstrued as racist. But she flubbed the attempt, using a dated, offensive term: “Don’t mean to use an inappropriate word, but pica ninny came to mind,” Ms. Wintour wrote.

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Credit…Patrick Demarchelier

In a statement, Ms. Wintour said: “I was trying both to express my concern for how our readers could have interpreted a photo and raise the issue for discussion, and I used a term that was offensive. And for that, I truly apologize.”

In the 2017 email, Ms. Wintour requested that a specific Black staff member evaluate the photo shoot. The employee, an assistant, told her superiors that the work was fine. The real problem, she continued, according to several people familiar with the meeting, was why a low-ranked person such as herself had been asked to assess it. The room fell into an uncomfortable silence.

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Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

For Ms. Wintour, who descends from British nobility and was recently made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, the pace of the current moment of protest may be a challenge. But she is also the daughter of a London newspaper editor and has made a career out of anticipating and responding adroitly to cultural trends.

In 2016, Ms. Wintour made a change to her pool of assistants. (She had three aides for many years, but more recently has had two.) That year, according to three Condé Nast employees, she told the company’s human resources department that her next assistant should be Black. Eventually, most of her assistants were people of color, the people said. The job is highly sought after, a steppingstone to bigger roles in fashion and media, but because it is low-paying, it usually goes to women from wealthy families. The sight of Ms. Wintour’s new adjutants made for a vivid contrast with the usual Vogue hires.

In 2017, Ms. Wintour was part of the small committee that decided to replace the departing Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter with Radhika Jones, the editorial director of the books department at The Times, making her one of the few top editors of color in Condé Nast’s history. Ms. Wintour has since championed Ms. Jones against in-house naysayers who complained that she had featured too many people of color in Vanity Fair. “My experiences with Anna have been nothing but positive,” Ms. Jones said. “She’s supportive of my vision and she understands what I’ve been trying to achieve and she has helped me to achieve it.”

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Credit…Acielle Tanbetova for The New York Times

Last month, Ms. Wintour replaced Stuart Emmrich, a former Styles editor at The Times, as the editor of the Vogue website with Chioma Nnadi, a Black woman who had been the magazine’s fashion director. And in August, Ms. Wintour was instrumental in the hiring of the superstar book executive Dawn Davis, who is Black, as the editor of Bon Appétit. (She replaced Adam Rapoport, who resigned under pressure in June after staff members accused him of running a discriminatory workplace.)

In a statement, Condé Nast said that 42 percent of its editors in chief were now people of color — all of them put in place by Ms. Wintour — and that all photo shoots are ultimately overseen by Raúl Martinez, the corporate creative director, who is the son of Cuban émigrés.

Some of Ms. Wintour’s relationships with Black editors have been rocky. André Leon Talley, a fashion titan, was one of Vogue’s most recognized personalities, often seated beside Ms. Wintour in the front row at runway shows in Paris, Milan and New York. She lavished professional and financial support on Mr. Talley, but the two had a falling-out, and he left the magazine in 2013.

This year, he published a memoir, “The Chiffon Trenches,” which reads in part as a scathing takedown of the fashion industry for its whiteness. During a promotional interview, a podcaster asked Mr. Talley about Ms. Wintour’s apology for Vogue’s “hurtful or intolerant” content. “Dame Anna Wintour is a colonial broad,” Mr. Talley replied. “She’s part of an environment of colonialism. She is entitled and I do not think she will ever let anything get in the way of her white privilege.”

Image

Credit…Will Oliver/EPA, via Shutterstock

Edward Enninful, a Black editor at Condé Nast who has led British Vogue since 2017, is among the next generation of Condé Nast leaders, and is often mentioned as Ms. Wintour’s potential successor at the magazine’s American flagship. The two are said to have a difficult working relationship, according to people in New York and London who have directly observed their dynamic. (In July, Mr. Enninful said that a security guard at Condé Nast’s London office racially profiled him, telling him to “use the loading bay.” Mr. Enninful described the incident on Instagram, writing “Change needs to happen now.” Condé Nast dismissed the guard, he said, and the post has since been deleted.)

When Ms. Wintour promoted Elaine Welteroth, a Black woman, to a top position at Teen Vogue in 2016, the appointment was heralded as a step forward for diversity. But the promotion was fraught, Ms. Welteroth wrote in her 2019 memoir, “More Than Enough.” Instead of running Teen Vogue herself, as the editor in chief, she was given a more ambiguous title, “editor,” and was asked to split leadership of the publication with two others. Ms. Welteroth felt that the structure effectively sidelined her, giving her less power than that of the previous Teen Vogue boss, Amy Astley. (A year after her appointment, Ms. Welteroth was named editor in chief. She left Condé Nast in 2018.)

“Would any of it have gone down this way if I were a White man?” Ms. Welteroth wrote.

The killing of Mr. Floyd sparked difficult discussions about race and diversity in magazines and newspapers across the country, including at The Times. Employees everywhere have become more vocal about what they see as racist attitudes in the workplace.

At Condé Nast, Bon Appétit, a rising profit center thanks in part to its popular cooking videos, has been the red-hot center of dissent in recent months, with many of its staff members quitting in protest. Before the hiring of Ms. Davis to lead the magazine, Ms. Wintour watched closely over its editorial operations, people who worked at the property said.

At the time, people of color who had been featured in the videos complained that they were paid less than their white colleagues and that Bon Appétit had whitewashed their recipes — a trend in food journalism where ethnic cuisines are recast from a white perspective. Readers flooded the comments section of Bon Appétit’s Instagram account with messages of support for those who complained.

In a post to Bon Appétit’s account, Priya Krishna, a freelancer who had accused Condé Nast of unequal pay, was quoted as saying: “I have been forced to think outside of myself and my identity my entire career. So why can’t white editors change their mindset now?”

Ms. Wintour asked to have the item removed, according to internal Condé Nast Slack messages. But by the time of her request, the Krishna post had been online for hours, and Ms. Wintour was warned that deleting it would only attract more attention. The social media team suggested posting new content that would push the item down in users’ feeds. Ms. Wintour approved the plan, according to two people involved in the discussion.

Marcus Samuelsson, a celebrity chef who signed a one-year agreement with Condé Nast as a Bon Appétit consultant, said the company’s history with diversity “was challenging,” but he added that Ms. Wintour had worked to create more inclusivity. “She championed it from Day 1,” he said.

Many people who have worked at Vogue or with Ms. Wintour said that despite her moves toward a more diverse staff, she was still responsible for a hostile workplace. They singled out two of Ms. Wintour’s best known lieutenants: Phyllis Posnick, a Vogue editor who styled the 2017 geisha and head scarf shoots, and Grace Coddington, another fixture at the magazine.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, as staff members were despondent that Mrs. Clinton had lost to Donald J. Trump, Ms. Posnick said, in a voice that three people could hear, “I knew this was going to happen. It’s all the Blacks’ fault. They didn’t vote.” The next year, when Rihanna showed up late for Vogue’s annual fashion conference — hardly an unusual occurrence for a musician — two people heard Ms. Coddington say, “Black people are late everywhere.”

In a statement, Ms. Posnick, 78, denied making the comment. “I have never and would never say something like this for the simple fact that I don’t believe it,” she said. Ms. Coddington, 79, also disputed that she had made the Rihanna remark: “Why would I say that when I am perennially late myself?”

Image

Credit…Leslie Kirchhoff

Ms. Coddington is perhaps the second-most visible figure of the Wintour era at Vogue, having stolen multiple scenes in “The September Issue,” a popular 2009 documentary about the magazine. In 2016, the year she switched her Vogue status from employee to freelancer, Ms. Coddington was photographed in her Manhattan kitchen, with a shelf of racist “mammy” figurines clearly visible in the background. The collection was roundly criticized.

In a statement, Condé Nast noted that Ms. Posnick and Ms. Coddington no longer contributed to the magazine.

Image

Credit…Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

To work at Vogue is to inhabit a kind of prep school dormitory where relationships are defined by family ties and social connections that span generations. For many younger people of color who came from less rarefied backgrounds, gaining a toehold was considerably more difficult.

Condé Nast assistants famously put up with grueling hours and humiliating tasks, a job satirized in “The Devil Wears Prada,” a best-selling novel by a former Wintour assistant and later a hit movie starring Meryl Streep as the demanding boss. The hazing is seen as a rite of passage, part of why the company has the nickname “Condé Nasty.” And while Black staff members acknowledge all that, they said that race complicates matters.

Black employees are often asked to participate, or merely show up for, high-level meetings — a corporate practice known as fronting, six people interviewed for this article said. At Vogue, they have been asked to weigh in on cover images or take part in discussions with advertisers, forums that do not typically call on junior employees.

In a statement, Condé Nast said, “Anna and Vogue and all the leaders at our brands have made concerted efforts to build inclusion into all we do every day.”

In 2016, the actress Lupita Nyong’o showed up at Vogue’s office at One World Trade in Lower Manhattan to discuss a planned photo shoot. Ms. Nyong’o sat down with top editors, who had proposed photographing her in her home country, Kenya, along with some family members. The accompanying article would also focus on her family.

Ms. Nyong’o expressed concern about how her family would be portrayed, saying she feared they might come across as cultural props, according to several people with knowledge of the meeting. After a long pause, a junior editor — the only Black staff member in the room — piped up. Addressing the actress, she suggested that the shoot would be an opportunity to showcase Africa, a rarity in any American magazine, let alone Vogue.

The shoot was a go. And the junior editor was never asked to attend a fashion meeting again.

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A Korean Store Owner. A Black Employee. A Tense Neighborhood.

The crowd was growing impatient as Crystal Holmes fumbled with the keys to the store.

Dozens of people were swarming the street around Western Beauty Supply, the Chicago shop where Ms. Holmes works. She had persuaded some of them to let her open the store so they could rob it without breaking the windows.

“She’s taking too long,” someone yelled. “Let’s go in and get it.”

Western Beauty Supply sells products like wigs, hair extensions and combs mostly to Black women. Most of the employees, like Ms. Holmes, are also Black, but the owner is a Korean-American man, Yong Sup Na.

When a few young men appeared outside the store earlier that evening in May, Mr. Na went out to speak with them. He offered some of them cash, and they walked away. At that point, Mr. Na told Ms. Holmes that he felt confident his business was safe. “They are not going to break into the store,” he told her.

A few minutes later, though, a larger group showed up. A woman snatched Mr. Na’s keys, but Ms. Holmes persuaded her to give them back. Then she ordered Mr. Na, her boss, to leave. “You don’t know what could happen,” she told him.

Even as Ms. Holmes tried to save the store from ruin that evening, when protests and looting followed the police killing of George Floyd, she understood what was causing the turmoil roiling Chicago and dozens of other cities.

“I understand where the rage is coming from,” Ms. Holmes, 40, said in an interview. “We don’t have any businesses in the community and we are getting killed by the police and killing each other, and we are just getting tired.”

In the years she has spent working for Mr. Na, customers have constantly told her that she should open her own store. But she has watched some Black women struggle as owners in the industry, and her priority has been keeping a steady job to support her family.

Outside the store, people in the crowd kept pushing for Ms. Holmes to let them in. But she couldn’t get the keys into the lock. Her hands were shaking too much.

Mr. Na, who is 65, grew up in South Korea in a home with an outhouse. He watched television by standing outside a neighbor’s window and peering in at the set. Mr. Na was in his late 20s when he arrived in the United States. He knew only one person, a friend from his village who had moved to Chicago.

Not religious but seeking to meet other immigrants, Mr. Na soon joined a Korean church. A few years later, a friend from the church bought a shoe store on Chicago’s South Side from a white man who wanted out.

“This man was upset that the Black people were moving into the neighborhood,” Mr. Na recalled in an interview. “Koreans didn’t care. This was an area that they could afford.”

Image
Credit…via Sandra Na

With no access to a bank loan, Mr. Na bought the store from his friend by using proceeds from the shoe sales. He paid $5,000 a month for 13 months. The business was straightforward.

“You were buying cheaply made goods at a low cost from a wholesaler,” Mr. Na said. “The customers were not snobby.” He also owned businesses that sold pagers, cellphones and clothing. The endeavors allowed him to pay for private school and then college for his two daughters.

Over the years, other Korean retailers told Mr. Na that beauty sales were a steady proposition, even in recessions. In 2007, he started his first beauty shop. He opened Western Beauty in 2014, on the city’s West Side, and started Modern Beauty in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville two years later.

The portion of the beauty industry that caters to Black women generates about $4 billion in sales a year. Much of those sales are rung up in small beauty supply stores, which are ubiquitous in predominantly Black neighborhoods. The stores seem like a natural answer to the numerous calls from policymakers and corporate America to create more Black-owned businesses after protests over systemic racism broke out this spring.

Yet fewer than 10 percent are owned by Black women, said Tiffany Gill, a history professor at Rutgers University. Instead, many of them are owned by Korean immigrants. Korean Americans also lead some of the largest wholesale distributors that import the hair products from China.

“These are two historically marginalized groups fighting over the same small slice of pie when there is so much more of the pie that neither has access to,” said Ms. Gill, the author of the book “Beauty Shop Politics: African-American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry.”

For years, Mr. Na worked seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. His daughter Sandra, 33, remembers one night when her father didn’t come home. He had been rushed into emergency surgery to remove a shard of glass from his face after a scuffle with someone who tried to rob the store.

The Na family lived for a time in a Latino neighborhood and eventually moved to a largely white suburb north of the city. Ms. Na said her parents had insisted that she spend her summers learning Korean, working as a tutor and taking academic enrichment classes. Ms. Na and her sister, Jenny, visited the store only rarely when they were growing up and played with the register.

She said her father never talked about the “social and racial impacts” as a retailer on the South Side. Her father came from a generation that experienced poverty and hardships, Ms. Na said, and didn’t have the time to focus on much else except taking care of his family, which included sending money to his siblings back in South Korea.

As part of a younger generation faced with fewer of these pressures, Ms. Na said, she has had opportunities to think about issues of race from a different perspective.

“But everything for my dad was about survival,” Ms. Na said.

Image

Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

Crystal Holmes grew up a world away from South Korea, in Chicago’s East Side. But like Mr. Na, she faced challenges from the start. She was raised mostly by her grandmother until she was a teenager.

“I knew I wanted better,” she said. “I always said I would never put my kids in the situation I was in.”

Ms. Holmes, a mother of two, worked for a time for a fried chicken chain, but switched to beauty supply stores when she found that many pay every week.

At the first store she worked in, the owner, a Korean man, was so impressed with her sales skills that he said he would help her open a store one day, Ms. Holmes said.

Then things soured. The owner accused her of stealing from him after he discovered the register short of cash, she said. She told him how one employee, who was also Korean, had insisted on taking turns on the register and had a gambling problem. But the owner didn’t believe her.

“I just walked out of the store,” she said. (A security tape later showed that she did not steal anything, according to Ms. Holmes.)

Many beauty supply stores have a reputation for being demeaning places for the Black women who shop in them. Ms. Holmes said she had been in numerous stores where employees followed customers or required them to check their bags at the door.

Image

Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times
Image

Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

It’s not just small retailers. Until June, Walmart kept its Black beauty products in locked display cases. “You can’t treat everyone like a thief,” Ms. Holmes said.

Mr. Na’s stores are different, she said. Women are allowed to shop without being watched. She likes to walk the floor talking to the customers about their hair and offering them advice.

Ms. Holmes sometimes accompanies Mr. Na on trips to the wholesaler to pick up inventory. She is usually the only Black person in the warehouse. Once, she encountered another Black woman from a beauty shop in Wisconsin.

“I said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’” Ms. Holmes recalled. “And she said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’”

Still, there is tension. Some customers ask Ms. Holmes why she works so hard for a Korean owner. One woman said she was like a “slave.”

Ms. Holmes, who earns $14 an hour, was able to pay for three years of her son’s college tuition but could not afford his final year. Her son, now 26, plans to go back to school. But he lost his job at a downtown restaurant during the pandemic and has a baby on the way, so college may be further delayed.

Ms. Holmes also hopes her 20-year-old daughter, who has a 9-month-old son, can attend college eventually.

Mr. Na has been encouraging Ms. Holmes to start her own business one day and offering her advice on how to get started, like how much money she will need to save.

For now, Ms. Holmes appreciates the small perks of the job. How on a good day, the store can feel like a gathering place where women talk about their lives and swap beauty tips.

On many Sundays, Ms. Holmes opens and closes the store on her own. “Some customers see me by myself and say: ‘Where are the Koreans? Are they in back?’” When she explains that she runs the store on Sundays, “they are shocked,” she said.

“It’s mind-blowing to them that a Black woman is in charge.”

Image

Credit…Haruka Sakaguchi for The New York Times

Sandra Na has also wondered why Koreans dominate the sale of Black women’s hair products.

She acknowledges that Korean immigrant communities can be “insular,” and that her father, who speaks limited English, prefers to do business and associate with other Koreans because it is easier.

But other forces are also at play. Ms. Na said her father had been shaped by his parents’ experience living through the Japanese occupation of Korea and then the Korean War. That left him with a shared feeling of grief and loss, which Ms. Na said is often referred to as Han.

It helps explain, she said, why her father typically hires Korean managers in stores where most of the employees are Black.

“Han creates a level of trust among Koreans,” Ms. Na said. “That trust goes back decades.”

Since the protests, many business leaders and public figures have sought to address racial disparities with more investment. Square, the payments company led by Jack Dorsey, the billionaire founder of Twitter, has pledged $100 million to financial firms supporting Black communities. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, has proposed a $7 billion federal fund for Black entrepreneurs.

But the struggles of Black women in the beauty supply industry show that some barriers to success are more complicated.

In interviews this summer, Black women who own beauty shops in Dallas, Buffalo and Sacramento said they were consistently denied accounts with major Korean-owned suppliers. One of the women said that as soon as she had sent over a copy of her driver’s license, the supplier stopped returning her calls.

These rejections, the women said, prevent them from stocking the most popular hairpieces, forcing their customers to shop elsewhere.

While Mr. Na is a retailer, not a distributor, he said he was aware of some of the challenges Black female proprietors faced in obtaining products.

He said Black owners were often unable to rent or buy stores that were physically large enough to allow them to work with the big suppliers.

“It has nothing to do with racism,” Mr. Na said. He acknowledged that if Black women gained a larger footing in the beauty supply industry they could seriously challenge Korean businesses.

“It is competition,” Mr. Na said. “Eat or be eaten.”

Image

Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

In the end, the group didn’t wait for Ms. Holmes to let it in. The looters smashed the window and barged inside.

Mr. Na walked across the street, sat in his car and looked on as his store was ransacked.

Like many Americans, Mr. Na had watched the footage of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck in horror. He wondered if the unrest would ever stop and whether he should bother to rebuild.

“I feel like racism is something that will never go away,” he said.

After the looting, Ms. Holmes returned to the store to clean up. Some people from the neighborhood were surprised to see her helping Mr. Na. A few customers were angry she would not let them take some of the products that had been knocked off the shelves.

“Why are you on their side?” she remembers one Black person asking her. “Why aren’t you riding with us?”

Ms. Holmes said some people were too quick to judge. “They are on the outside looking in. They don’t know the person I work for. He’s a good man.”

Image

Credit…Sandra Na

When Sandra Na drove to Chicago from Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband, she was struck by the level of destruction at Western Beauty Supply and Modern Beauty. A cash register that contained no money was smashed, the glass in the display case had been shattered, and dozens of bottles of hair solutions had been dumped on the floor.

She believes most of the looters were seizing on the chaos wrought by the protests over the killing of Mr. Floyd to steal desirable products, she said. A range of businesses across the city were destroyed that day, including pawnshops, grocery stores and Walmarts. Some of the damaged stores were Black-owned.

Ms. Holmes said she agreed that the crowd wanted only to steal merchandise from Mr. Na — not to make a statement that his store was not Black-owned.

Still, Ms. Na said she recognized that some people might begrudge small businesses like her father’s stores. “I have a hard time thinking there isn’t resentment there,” she said. “You see an outside ethnic group capitalizing on your people.”

As painful as it was to see her father’s shops destroyed, Ms. Na said she was heartened that the broader protests had spurred efforts to address systemic racism. “The attention is there,” she said.

Video

The moments when a crowd broke into Modern Beauty in Chicago.

Mr. Na was able to reopen his business with insurance money, government grants and more than $94,000 in donations from a GoFundMe page his daughters set up. In August, though, he temporarily boarded up his stores after a police shooting in Chicago set off a fresh wave of protests and looting.

Back at work, Ms. Holmes said a few customers had told her again that she should open her own store.

She’s hoping Mr. Na will help her get started. Mr. Na, who is planning to retire in the next few years, said he had been considering ways he could do so.

“One day I’ll have a store, and you come shop with me,” Ms. Holmes tells customers. “Just wait.”

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Black Products. Black Shoppers. Black Workers. But Who Owns the Store?

The crowd was growing impatient as Crystal Holmes fumbled with the keys to the store.

Dozens of people were swarming the street around Western Beauty Supply, the Chicago shop where Ms. Holmes works. She had persuaded some of them to let her open the store so they could rob it without breaking the windows.

“She’s taking too long,” someone yelled. “Let’s go in and get it.”

Western Beauty Supply sells products like wigs, hair extensions and combs mostly to Black women. Most of the employees, like Ms. Holmes, are also Black, but the owner is a Korean-American man, Yong Sup Na.

When a few young men appeared outside the store earlier that evening in May, Mr. Na went out to speak with them. He offered some of them cash, and they walked away. At that point, Mr. Na told Ms. Holmes that he felt confident his business was safe. “They are not going to break into the store,” he told her.

A few minutes later, though, a larger group showed up. A woman snatched Mr. Na’s keys, but Ms. Holmes persuaded her to give them back. Then she ordered Mr. Na, her boss, to leave. “You don’t know what could happen,” she told him.

Even as Ms. Holmes tried to save the store from ruin that evening, when protests and looting followed the police killing of George Floyd, she understood what was causing the turmoil roiling Chicago and dozens of other cities.

“I understand where the rage is coming from,” Ms. Holmes, 40, said in an interview. “We don’t have any businesses in the community and we are getting killed by the police and killing each other, and we are just getting tired.”

In the years she has spent working for Mr. Na, customers have constantly told her that she should open her own store. But she has watched some Black women struggle as owners in the industry, and her priority has been keeping a steady job to support her family.

Outside the store, people in the crowd kept pushing for Ms. Holmes to let them in. But she couldn’t get the keys into the lock. Her hands were shaking too much.

Mr. Na, who is 65, grew up in South Korea in a home with an outhouse. He watched television by standing outside a neighbor’s window and peering in at the set. Mr. Na was in his late 20s when he arrived in the United States. He knew only one person, a friend from his village who had moved to Chicago.

Not religious but seeking to meet other immigrants, Mr. Na soon joined a Korean church. A few years later, a friend from the church bought a shoe store on Chicago’s South Side from a white man who wanted out.

“This man was upset that the Black people were moving into the neighborhood,” Mr. Na recalled in an interview. “Koreans didn’t care. This was an area that they could afford.”

Image
Credit…via Sandra Na

With no access to a bank loan, Mr. Na bought the store from his friend by using proceeds from the shoe sales. He paid $5,000 a month for 13 months. The business was straightforward.

“You were buying cheaply made goods at a low cost from a wholesaler,” Mr. Na said. “The customers were not snobby.” He also owned businesses that sold pagers, cellphones and clothing. The endeavors allowed him to pay for private school and then college for his two daughters.

Over the years, other Korean retailers told Mr. Na that beauty sales were a steady proposition, even in recessions. In 2007, he started his first beauty shop. He opened Western Beauty in 2014, on the city’s West Side, and started Modern Beauty in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville two years later.

The portion of the beauty industry that caters to Black women generates about $4 billion in sales a year. Much of those sales are rung up in small beauty supply stores, which are ubiquitous in predominantly Black neighborhoods. The stores seem like a natural answer to the numerous calls from policymakers and corporate America to create more Black-owned businesses after protests over systemic racism broke out this spring.

Yet fewer than 10 percent are owned by Black women, said Tiffany Gill, a history professor at Rutgers University. Instead, many of them are owned by Korean immigrants. Korean Americans also lead some of the largest wholesale distributors that import the hair products from China.

“These are two historically marginalized groups fighting over the same small slice of pie when there is so much more of the pie that neither has access to,” said Ms. Gill, the author of the book “Beauty Shop Politics: African-American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry.”

For years, Mr. Na worked seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. His daughter Sandra, 33, remembers one night when her father didn’t come home. He had been rushed into emergency surgery to remove a shard of glass from his face after a scuffle with someone who tried to rob the store.

The Na family lived for a time in a Latino neighborhood and eventually moved to a largely white suburb north of the city. Ms. Na said her parents had insisted that she spend her summers learning Korean, working as a tutor and taking academic enrichment classes. Ms. Na and her sister, Jenny, visited the store only rarely when they were growing up and played with the register.

She said her father never talked about the “social and racial impacts” as a retailer on the South Side. Her father came from a generation that experienced poverty and hardships, Ms. Na said, and didn’t have the time to focus on much else except taking care of his family, which included sending money to his siblings back in South Korea.

As part of a younger generation faced with fewer of these pressures, Ms. Na said, she has had opportunities to think about issues of race from a different perspective.

“But everything for my dad was about survival,” Ms. Na said.

Image

Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

Crystal Holmes grew up a world away from South Korea, in Chicago’s East Side. But like Mr. Na, she faced challenges from the start. She was raised mostly by her grandmother until she was a teenager.

“I knew I wanted better,” she said. “I always said I would never put my kids in the situation I was in.”

Ms. Holmes, a mother of two, worked for a time for a fried chicken chain, but switched to beauty supply stores when she found that many pay every week.

At the first store she worked in, the owner, a Korean man, was so impressed with her sales skills that he said he would help her open a store one day, Ms. Holmes said.

Then things soured. The owner accused her of stealing from him after he discovered the register short of cash, she said. She told him how one employee, who was also Korean, had insisted on taking turns on the register and had a gambling problem. But the owner didn’t believe her.

“I just walked out of the store,” she said. (A security tape later showed that she did not steal anything, according to Ms. Holmes.)

Many beauty supply stores have a reputation for being demeaning places for the Black women who shop in them. Ms. Holmes said she had been in numerous stores where employees followed customers or required them to check their bags at the door.

Image

Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times
Image

Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

It’s not just small retailers. Until June, Walmart kept its Black beauty products in locked display cases. “You can’t treat everyone like a thief,” Ms. Holmes said.

Mr. Na’s stores are different, she said. Women are allowed to shop without being watched. She likes to walk the floor talking to the customers about their hair and offering them advice.

Ms. Holmes sometimes accompanies Mr. Na on trips to the wholesaler to pick up inventory. She is usually the only Black person in the warehouse. Once, she encountered another Black woman from a beauty shop in Wisconsin.

“I said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’” Ms. Holmes recalled. “And she said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’”

Still, there is tension. Some customers ask Ms. Holmes why she works so hard for a Korean owner. One woman said she was like a “slave.”

Ms. Holmes, who earns $14 an hour, was able to pay for three years of her son’s college tuition but could not afford his final year. Her son, now 26, plans to go back to school. But he lost his job at a downtown restaurant during the pandemic and has a baby on the way, so college may be further delayed.

Ms. Holmes also hopes her 20-year-old daughter, who has a 9-month-old son, can attend college eventually.

Mr. Na has been encouraging Ms. Holmes to start her own business one day and offering her advice on how to get started, like how much money she will need to save.

For now, Ms. Holmes appreciates the small perks of the job. How on a good day, the store can feel like a gathering place where women talk about their lives and swap beauty tips.

On many Sundays, Ms. Holmes opens and closes the store on her own. “Some customers see me by myself and say: ‘Where are the Koreans? Are they in back?’” When she explains that she runs the store on Sundays, “they are shocked,” she said.

“It’s mind-blowing to them that a Black woman is in charge.”

Image

Credit…Haruka Sakaguchi for The New York Times

Sandra Na has also wondered why Koreans dominate the sale of Black women’s hair products.

She acknowledges that Korean immigrant communities can be “insular,” and that her father, who speaks limited English, prefers to do business and associate with other Koreans because it is easier.

But other forces are also at play. Ms. Na said her father had been shaped by his parents’ experience living through the Japanese occupation of Korea and then the Korean War. That left him with a shared feeling of grief and loss, which Ms. Na said is often referred to as Han.

It helps explain, she said, why her father typically hires Korean managers in stores where most of the employees are Black.

“Han creates a level of trust among Koreans,” Ms. Na said. “That trust goes back decades.”

Since the protests, many business leaders and public figures have sought to address racial disparities with more investment. Square, the payments company led by Jack Dorsey, the billionaire founder of Twitter, has pledged $100 million to financial firms supporting Black communities. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, has proposed a $7 billion federal fund for Black entrepreneurs.

But the struggles of Black women in the beauty supply industry show that some barriers to success are more complicated.

In interviews this summer, Black women who own beauty shops in Dallas, Buffalo and Sacramento said they were consistently denied accounts with major Korean-owned suppliers. One of the women said that as soon as she had sent over a copy of her driver’s license, the supplier stopped returning her calls.

These rejections, the women said, prevent them from stocking the most popular hairpieces, forcing their customers to shop elsewhere.

While Mr. Na is a retailer, not a distributor, he said he was aware of some of the challenges Black women proprietors faced in obtaining products.

He said Black owners are often unable to rent or buy stores that are physically large enough to allow them to work with the big suppliers.

“It has nothing to do with racism,” Mr. Na said. He acknowledged that if Black women gained a larger footing in the beauty supply industry they could seriously challenge Korean businesses.

“It is competition,” Mr. Na said. “Eat or be eaten.”

Image

Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

In the end, the group didn’t wait for Ms. Holmes to let it in. The looters smashed the window and barged inside.

Mr. Na walked across the street, sat in his car and looked on as his store was ransacked.

Like many Americans, Mr. Na had watched the footage of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck in horror. He wondered if the unrest would ever stop and whether he should bother to rebuild.

“I feel like racism is something that will never go away,” he said.

After the looting, Ms. Holmes returned to the store to clean up. Some people from the neighborhood were surprised to see her helping Mr. Na. A few customers were angry she would not let them take some of the products that had been knocked off the shelves.

“Why are you on their side?” she remembers one Black person asking her. “Why aren’t you riding with us?”

Ms. Holmes said some people were too quick to judge. “They are on the outside looking in. They don’t know the person I work for. He’s a good man.”

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Credit…Sandra Na

When Sandra Na drove to Chicago from Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband, she was struck by the level of destruction at Western Beauty Supply and Modern Beauty. A cash register that contained no money was smashed, the glass in the display case had been shattered, and dozens of bottles of hair solutions had been dumped on the floor.

She believes most of the looters were seizing on the chaos wrought by the protests over the killing of Mr. Floyd to steal desirable products, she said. A range of businesses across the city were destroyed that day, including pawnshops, grocery stores and Walmarts. Some of the damaged stores were Black owned.

Ms. Holmes said she agreed that the crowd wanted only to steal merchandise from Mr. Na — not to make a statement that his store was not Black owned.

Still, Ms. Na said she recognized that some people might begrudge small businesses like her father’s stores. “I have a hard time thinking there isn’t resentment there,” she said. “You see an outside ethnic group capitalizing on your people.”

As painful as it was to see her father’s shops destroyed, Ms. Na said she was heartened that the broader protests had spurred efforts to address systemic racism. “The attention is there,” she said.

Video

The moments when a crowd broke into Modern Beauty in Chicago.

Mr. Na was able to reopen his business with insurance money, government grants and more than $94,000 in donations from a GoFundMe page his daughters set up. In August, though, he temporarily boarded up his stores after a police shooting in Chicago set off a fresh wave of protests and looting.

Back at work, Ms. Holmes said a few customers had told her again that she should open her own store.

She’s hoping Mr. Na will help her get started. Mr. Na, who is planning to retire in the next few years, said he had been considering ways he could do so.

“One day I’ll have a store, and you come shop with me,” Ms. Holmes tells customers. “Just wait.”

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Motel 6 and Home Depot Drop Ad Agency After Its Founder Calls Ad ‘Too Black’

Motel 6, Home Depot and Keurig Dr Pepper have cut ties with the Richards Group, an advertising agency in Dallas, after a report that its founder had made racist remarks in a meeting last week.

During a Zoom gathering of more than three dozen Richards Group employees on Thursday, a creative team working on the Motel 6 account presented an idea for an ad to Stan Richards, who founded the Richards Group in 1976. Mr. Richards responded to the idea by saying, “It’s too Black,” according to a person at the meeting, who said the ad would have featured Black, white and Hispanic guests. Mr. Richards, who is white, added that the ad might offend or alienate Motel 6’s “white supremacist constituents,” the person said.

A Richards Group spokeswoman confirmed that Mr. Richards, 87, had made the “too Black” remark, but said in an email that he was trying to convey that the proposed ad “was not multiculturally inclusive enough.”

When asked about Mr. Richards’ comment on white supremacists, which was first reported by the publication AdAge, the agency spokeswoman said, “Although his comments did reference that group, that quote is not correct.” Mr. Richards apologized to hundreds of the agency’s employees on a Zoom call on Friday.

Motel 6, which is owned by the private equity firm Blackstone Group and has more than 1,400 locations in North America, terminated its relationship with the Richards Group on Monday, saying in a statement that it was “outraged” by Mr. Richards’ remarks.

Home Depot, a Richards Group client for more than 25 years, was the next company to cut ties with the agency, saying on Wednesday that it had “immediately begun the process of finding a new advertising agency.” Keurig Dr Pepper also said that it was ending its relationship with the agency, which has worked with beverage brands such as A&W, Clamato, Crush and Dr Pepper.

The Salvation Army, another client, said that it was “deeply concerned” by the comments but “encouraged by the fact that Mr. Richards has made an apology.”

The Richards Group, which describes itself as the nation’s largest independent ad agency, also has worked with the grocery chain H-E-B and the retailer Hobby Lobby.

Glenn Dady, a creative director who was tapped in December as Mr. Richards’ eventual successor, will immediately take control of the company’s operations, the agency said on Wednesday. Mr. Richards, whose name is on the University of Texas at Austin’s advertising school, will remain the agency’s owner.

“We understand and regret the pain and concerns of all those who were deeply troubled by the words our founder spoke,” Mr. Dady said in a statement. “He can’t take them back. We can only ask for forgiveness and promise to learn and be better.”

Motel 6 said it will continue to use its famous slogan — “We’ll leave the light on for you” — which was coined more than three decades ago by the radio personality Tom Bodett after the Richards Group recruited him to be the Motel 6 spokesman.

The roadside chain agreed last year to pay $12 million, mostly in damages, after its employees were found to have provided Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents with information on 80,000 guests.

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