Ground rules for a Zoom Thanksgiving with the fam

John Kennedy
Published in
Sent as a


7 min readNov 24, 2020

Welcome to Minority Report, a weekly newsletter from the LEVEL team that packs an entire week into a single email. From our the new rules for a Black Zoom Thanksgiving to the week in racism, from pop-culture picks to a must-read LEVEL story, it’s everything you need and nothing you don’t. If you’re loving what you’re reading, tell a friend to tell a friend.

For many of us, Thanksgiving will likely be a bit different this year. The ’vid (yeah, we said it — “rona” is out) continues to wreak havoc on American lives, with rates of coronavirus cases climbing steeply from coast to coast. The CDC has advised against holiday travel this season, so for the risk-averse who live away from family members, this fall’s big feast might be much more of a solitary affair.

One thing we’re thankful for this year is Zoom — or Google Hangout, or FaceTime, or whatever the hell you use for video calls — as it has allowed for virtual get-togethers with loved ones (albeit along with that very 2020 brand of fatigue that sets in after your seventh work-related video meeting of the day). For many, this year’s Thanksgiving (and Chrismahanukwanzakah) festivities will go down digitally, from the comfort of your own personal device. But that doesn’t mean the familial celebration has to be as bland as your auntie’s potato salad (you know which one).

(Forwarded this email? Sign up here.)

With that in mind, we’re proposing some rules for those of us doing this year’s family get-together via Zoom — and with the company temporarily waiving its usual 40-minute session cap for free accounts, we’re guessing that “those of us” is a lot of us. Here’s what to expect.

  1. Everyone knows Thanksgiving cooking begins approximately 56 hours before the big event so that stuffing and sweet potato pies are out of the way before the day-of preparations for turkey, cornbread, and mashed potatoes. One ill-timed defrost or overpopulated oven could send the whole situation into a tailspin, so send group texts — starting, like, today — to make sure all the family chefs are on schedule.
  2. Like every other year, dinner will not start on time. Snack accordingly.
  3. Sorry, homie, but you’re gonna have to play Geek Squad this year and volunteer some tech-support sessions before the big day. What good is family time if one of your relatives is on mute with their camera pointed toward the ceiling the whole time?
  4. If someone’s video abruptly cuts out while the food is being blessed, said person is definitely sneaking a bite of collard greens.
  5. Have fun with your virtual backgrounds — an embarrassing childhood photo of a cousin or sibling works just fine. (Maybe save the cool-kid memes and thug heaven Photoshops for your colleagues, because Uncle Frank is only gonna end up getting angry about it.)
  6. Just because you’re sitting in front of a computer or device doesn’t mean you can’t dress nice. Go with a button-up or nice sweater up top, and then … well, anything with an elastic waistband. What, you think judges wear pants? Not a chance.
  7. Unfortunately, there’s no kids’ table, so save the grown-folks conversation for after the young’uns log off to play Fortnite or whatever. In the meantime, ask how those virtual classes are going.
  8. Make some popcorn just in case: In the event that someone shows up with a new partner of a different race, you’re gonna get to watch a grilling even more intense than an IRL dinner.
  9. For once, you don’t have to “take a walk” in the middle of the festivities. Happy danksgiving, indeed!

John Kennedy, senior editor

This Week in Racism

🗑 The Curious Case of the Racist Science Professor Who Didn’t Believe in Science

Full disclosure: We have no idea what kind of a college Ferris State University in Michigan is. We didn’t go there, we don’t know anyone who went there, and we’re sure its doctoral program in pharmacy has enriched more than a few CVS locations in the Mitten State. But if the case of astronomy professor Thomas Brennan is any indication, we’re not gonna be pressing our kids to apply. See, once Covid-19 emerged as a global pandemic, Brennan decided to let all his crazy out, both in the classroom and on Twitter. Not only did he decry the disease as a “stunt” to instill a “leftist new world order,” and imply that it was caused by smartphones, or trot out the old Jewish-conspiracy standby, but he referred to Neil DeGrasse Tyson as a “worthless n****r.” (He used the same slur to describe both Bill Nye and the astronaut Buzz Aldrin, which is somehow both hateful and absolutely hilarious.) After learning of the tweets last week, Ferris State placed Brennan on administrative leave, a weird not-quite-fired limbo from which he’s complaining about being “unfairly portrayed as a racist and anti-Semite.” Can’t a poor guy who doesn’t believe in the moon landing or viruses catch a break? (MLive)

🗑 New Survey of Medical Residents Finds Rampant Racism Among Patients, Surprises No One

Coming out of medical school to be a doctor isn’t easy: You spend three years working as a “resident,” getting on-the-job training with supervision. And that stress is only compounded by patients’ bigoted attitudes. According to researchers who published the results of their online survey this week, 45% of Black and Latinx residents had heard racial epithets from patients or had patients refuse to accept care from them. It gets worse: 87% of the female respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment on the job, and every single Asian respondent said a patient had asked them what country they were from. Very cool! While the survey only focused on university-affiliated medical centers in San Francisco, L.A., and Durham, we’re gonna go out on a limb and guess that these aren’t exactly isolated phenomena. Keep it up, sick Americans: Nothing shows appreciation to healthcare providers quite like racism! (MedPage Today)

🗑 There’s a Special Place in Hell For People Who Threaten Bookstore Owners

The day The Little BOHO Bookshop opened in Bayonne, New Jersey, owner Sandra Dear got a note in her mailbox: “Get out, we do not want your kind here.” For three years, the threats continued, including one from a caller who said he wanted to burn the bookstore down with Dear, a Black woman, inside. Last week, after receiving a pair of emails and a death-threat phone call, Dear alerted the authorities — who the next day arrested a man, Qiuewn Zheng, who approached the store mumbling the same phrases from the emails. Yeah, so you know how we usually find some way to crack jokes about the many ridiculous ways racism pops up every day in our society? That’s not happening this time, friends. Independent bookstores are some of the most important small businesses we have; if you live anywhere near Bayonne, give Dear’s shop your business (or just order online!). Maybe you can get Zheng a copy of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! — because we have a feeling we know exactly where he’s headed. (Daily Voice)

The LEVEL Up: Culture Picks From the Editors

🎥 Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 bestseller, Between the World and Me, is framed as a letter to his then-15-year-old son about the ways that American racism shaped his own experiences. Five years later — in the midst of a national reckoning — his words feel just as timely. They’re given new life in this film adaptation that features readings by Black Thought, Janet Mock, Mahershala Ali, Phylicia Rashad, and many others, colored by archival footage, animations, and powerful imagery by rising artists like Tiffany Baker. (HBO Max)

🎧 Future and Lil Uzi Vert, Pluto x Baby Pluto (Deluxe)

Two musical kindred spirits separated by more than a decade have not only taken fans on a space trek — they’ve doubled up with a deluxe edition of their joint mixtape (eight more tracks!) just days after its release. The project finds the hip-hop wunderkinds playing off each other’s styles, rhyming about drip, drugs, and debauchery over ominous, out-of-this-world thumpers. So much for a generational gap. (Spotify)

📖 Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man

’Tis the season for Secret Santa and White Elephant corporate games — so perhaps you should consider ordering this antiracist book for your well-intentioned but clueless White colleagues. Former NFL player and Fox Sports analyst Emmanuel Acho converted his popular video series of the same name into an Oprah-approved hardcover, tackling questions about race that many are afraid to ask. It doesn’t get any more easily digestible than this. (Barnes & Noble)

LEVEL Read of the Week

Learning How to Be Self-Sufficient From the Most Important Producer of 2020

The man born Chauncey Hollis was already an all-time great thanks to tracks like “Sicko Mode,” “Niggas in Paris,” and “Clique.” But somehow, even as 2020 disrupted the musical landscape, Hit-Boy upped his game even more by helming albums for Nas, Big Sean, and Benny the Butcher. In this revealing interview with William E. Ketchum III, the producer revisits self-doubt, his insistence on doing business himself, and the feeling of having to remind people that you never left in the first place. Read the story.

You are signed up to receive emails from Level. You can adjust your settings at the link in the footer of this email.