Newsletter #181: The Color of Money


If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money? Many people say they’d share the jackpot with friends and family. But what if your financial success did not come suddenly, and in fact emerged as a result of your hard work? Today’s lead article explores how our racial identity impacts how we think about money and the responsibility we feel to share our wealth (or not). Please read it!

Also in today’s issue, you’ll find great articles profiling Nikole Hannah-Jones (my favorite journalist), telling the grim history of Chinese American expulsion in California, and exposing wacky people who like to own exotic animals and run private zoos.

At long last, after months of rain and cold, Highlighter Happy Hour is back! Join fellow subscribers on March 7 at Room 389 in Oakland beginning at 5:30 pm. Meet new people, chat about the articles, and win spectacular prizes. Get your free ticket here!

The Color of Money

Ever since her takedown of Rachel Dolezal, Ijeoma Oluo has been one of my favorite writers. Last year, Ms. Oluo wrote So You Want to Talk About Race, a New York Times bestseller. In this essay, Ms. Oluo receives her first royalties check and quickly chooses to use the money to build a home for her mother. When her mom, who is white, responds with ambivalence, not wanting to be a burden, Ms. Oluo notices how Black and white families approach success differently. Whereas Black success centers on strengthening the family, white success focuses on independence from the family. Her Black friend sums it up: “White people don’t buy their parents homes. They put their parents in homes.” (8 min)

Nikole Hannah-Jones on Journalism, Racial Injustice and School Segregation

For a long time, I’ve admired the work of Nikole Hannah-Jones (here’s a must-listen), correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant. In this interview, Ms. Hannah-Jones shares how she came to investigative journalism, how Ida B. Wells shaped her values as a Black reporter, and how studying history calms her, no matter how painful it is, because “it explains it all.” (5 min)

The Expulsion of Chinese-Americans from Towns in Northern California

Here’s an example of history explaining it all. Three years after the Chinese Exclusion Act, the city of Eureka (“one of California’s best-kept secrets”), in response to a gang-related incident that left a white man dead, forced all of its Chinese residents on a ship headed for San Francisco. This “Eureka Method” quickly spread up and down the West Coast, offering a “peaceful” way to expel Chinese Americans from otherwise all-white towns. (15 min)

How Lily the Bear Triggered a Fight Over Private Zoos and the Lives of Animals

Bradley Gerwig owns Lily the Bear and operates a zoo out of his backyard. Apparently this is normal behavior. About 90 percent of U.S. zoos are privately owned, and there are few restrictions to owning exotic animals. (I’ve always liked lemurs.) Here’s the story of what happened when PETA found out Mr. Gerwig was keeping Lily in a cage and feeding her two gallons of dry dog food a day. (20 min)

Reader Annotations: In this thoughtful response, loyal reader Nicki interrogates the prevailing notion that college leads to the American dream.

“If I were to oversimplify what Success Academy (#169) stands for — college at all costs — then the points raised in the story, “Here’s Why So Many Americans Feel Cheated by Their Student Loans” (#180) illustrate many reasons why higher education may not be the “great equalizer.” To the extent that I firmly believe higher education is a vehicle for social mobility, I wonder how much of my belief is shaped by the “education gospel” Grubb writes about. It is likely I have internalized this idea, but what is the alternative to higher education that would also lead to a greater likelihood of social mobility? Would I recommend my own offspring to pursue higher education despite financial strain? I 100% would. What does this mean?”

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