Harley Barber Is Not an Anomaly

I find the case of Harley Barber to be a very interesting window into how Whiteness functions in America.  In case you haven’t heard, Harley Barber is a White woman who repeatedly said the N-word in an Instagram post.  The post got her expelled from her sorority and the University of Alabama.  A video of what she said is linked here (content warning: it’s pretty graphic).

What I find interesting about Harley Barber is how her sorority, Alpha Phi, has reacted to her.  They expelled her, rightfully so, and stated that Harley’s statements “are offensive and hateful to both our own members and to other members of the Greek and campus community. The [University of Alabama] chapter leadership and supporting alumnae moved quickly to address the offense, and Ms. Barber is no longer a member of Alpha Phi.”  This is almost always what happens when White individuals are caught being racist; their respective organizations, friends, and family act surprised, and say that the racism these perpetrators exhibited is not in line with their, and/or their organization’s, values.

These statements minimize the systematic nature of racism.  Racists do not just come into being; they are socialized into racism by their environment.  Harley Barber likely has said racist things before and has not been challenged.  She likely has also been in environments before where she was a bystander and racism was not challenged.  Most importantly, and I know this for a fact, she has been a part of environments where Whiteness was rendered invisible.  It could be a coincidence, but I really really doubt it, that Harley Barber was a member of the Alpha Phi sorority at the University of Alabama.  The Alpha Phi chapter of Alabama gained national notoriety when it posted its 2015 recruitment video.  The video went viral because every individual in the sorority appeared to be White.  That Alpha Phi was so White, and did not recognize how that would appear in a recruitment video, is a direct indicator of how invisible Whiteness can be.

I think the video also demonstrates how the lack of representation can also breed racist sentiments.  Harley, and millions of other Americans gain membership to exclusive organizations through some type of merit, be it social, financial, performance-based, or some other metric.  When organizations like sororities are supposed to be accepting and “colorblind,” but have exclusively White members, what kind of message does that send to others, and what kind of message does that send to its members?  I think that Harley must have internalized the belief that White people are inherently better, and that Black people are inherently worse.  After all, if this sorority is super exclusive, and all its members are White, does it not follow that White women have more of what it takes to be an Alpha Phi sister than women of color?  The Whiteness of her sorority was likely one amongst many experiences she has had where Whiteness was implicitly commodified and valued.  I find Whiteness so fascinating for this very reason.  To people of color, a sorority video of 40+ White girls, at a school in the South no less, having fun tells us very loudly that the sorority does not value women of color.  To White girls and women, however, they simply do not see the Whiteness that is so obviously present.

When Alpha Phi condemns Ms. Barber’s statements, it rings hollow to me, as White apologies for racism almost always do.  Harley Barber being a member of the ultra-White Alpha Phi sorority at the University of Alabama undoubtedly influenced her.  From the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991), we know that attitudes, perceived behavioral control, and social norms explain a large amount of variance in behavior.  Though other members of Alabama’s Alpha Phi chapter may not have made such racist statements publicly, I have little doubt that many of them feel similarly to Harley and may have made similar statements in private amongst themselves.  Research also tells us that when racism is confronted, individuals who witness the confrontation adopt more anti-racist attitudes later on (Blanchard, Lilly, & Vaugn, 1991).  The reverse is also true however in that when individuals hear others express affirming remarks with regards to racism, they have fewer anti-racist attitudes later on as well.  For Harley Barber to be the person who feels safe enough to say the n-word on social media, she must have had many experiences over the years that told her such behavior was acceptable.

Socialization into racism doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  It happens over time, with multiple parties.  Her mother, university, and sorority all tried to distance themselves from her, but all of them are implicated.  What friends, organizations, and family members need to be doing when they find out a person in their ranks is racist is to do some deep self-reflection.  They need to be asking themselves if there were any warning signs, what they could have done differently, and what needs to be done in the future to prevent these types of behaviors from happening.  Sure, you may not be as racist as the individual who said the n-word in the video, but do you hold any beliefs that communicate implicitly that non-White individuals are inferior?  For example, why do you think people are poor? Why are people of color more poor than White people?  Answers to questions like these can reveal racial biases.  When White individuals in close interpersonal proximity to outed racist state that the racist individual does not represent their values, it’s a cop-out and lets Whiteness off the hook.  If we are to really make progress towards racial harmony in this country, we need to talk about the elephant in the room, we need to talk about Whiteness.

What I think is sad about this whole situation is that fraternities and sororities can be a force for diversity and inclusion.  We know from Allport’s original work (1976) on prejudice that meaningful intergroup contact can reduce our biases towards individuals different from us.  I can think of few contexts more suitable for meaningful intergroup contact than fraternities and sororities.



Sorry APA, but as a Feminist Person of Color, I will not March with you for “Science”


The last time I blogged (about 9 months ago), it was also because of my dissatisfaction with the American Psychological Association.  9 months ago, I was extremely unhappy with the APA’s lack of response to the deaths of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling.  I was confused; all I had been taught in my studies was that “psychology cared” about people of color.  If psychology actually cared I wondered, why was psychology refusing to endorse Black Lives Matter?  Why was psychology refusing to publicly acknowledge systemic violence against Black Americans?

I decided I personally did not want to be among the silent.  I felt that silence in the face of such injustice was oppressive.  I along with some other Black students and Black psychologists decided that if APA was unwilling to march for Black Lives, we would take it upon ourselves.  We communicated with APA regarding our desire to do so and were largely met with resistance and confusion.  It seemed as though those higher up in the APA did not understand why we felt the need to organize a Solidarity March for Black Lives.  We received email after email about the “great things” APA was doing for Black individuals.

In my eyes, this is what separates advocacy from activism.  Advocacy involves policy and affects the underprivileged through a trickle-down effect.  Whether or not it even reaches those most in need is questionable at times.  Though it is important and definitely has its uses, the weaknesses of advocacy are rarely addressed.  Activism is built from the ground up; it is grassroots; it actively involves those most affected directly.  Because activism is grassroots, it often highlights how unaware those in positions of power are; it highlights their privilege.  That APA was confused as to why many Black psychologists were unhappy highlights the structural racism present within APA itself.

The organizers of the Solidarity March for Black Lives and I chose not to pay heed to APA’s palliative attempts to dissuade us from moving forward.  We persisted, and I’m so glad that we did.  I cannot do enough justice in describing the March here to the full effect it deserves so I will simply attach a link here for you to see for yourself.  Though it was heartwarming to see the positive feedback we received from psychologists of all colors, genders, sexual orientations, and more, APA still has chosen not to endorse Black Lives Matter to this day.

APA also chose not to endorse the Women’s March on Washington as well.  Though I myself had issues with the lack of intersectionality and lack of accountability when it comes to Whiteness that was evidenced through the Women’s March, I support what it tried to do in theory.  Women’s issues are very important.  Sexual harassment is real, Sexual Assault is real.  The wage gap is real.  Women’s struggles are real. Psychologists have unequivocal evidence to support the statement that being a woman in this country is an experience of oppression.

The lack of a stance the American Psychological Association took with regards to Black lives and women is why I will not march with them for science now.  APA’s official partnership with the March for Science but not Black Lives Matter or the Women’s March delegitimizes the latter movements.  Given the backlash Black Lives matter and feminism receives from wide swaths of the American public, APA’s delegitimization of both cuts deeply.

I feel psychology at its core, is the science of people.  APA though seems to have forgotten that fact – perhaps it never really knew.  I am flabbergasted that psychologists can get behind a movement for science but stay silent in a movement for “people.”  Are we not in the business of science AND people?

One of my previous clinical supervisors oftentimes spoke about how psychology has never realized or even accepted its mission of nobility in advancing human dignity.  This is how I feel now.  Many psychologists will heap praise upon APA for standing up for science but I cannot bring myself to be one of them.  When I hear the APA endorsing the March for Science,  all I feel is the cold shoulder of the APA as it continues to remain silent on Black Lives and women’s rights.

The Academic Lag and the Power of Social Media as a Tool of Social Justice

This new civil rights movement would not have been possible without social media.  I have no doubts about that.  The difference between this civil rights movement and the one that happened in the 60’s is that people all around the country, and the world, can now talk to one another about their struggles.  Any member of any underprivileged group can tell you how important that is; to be surrounded by people who are different from you, disagree with you, and invalidate every one of your struggles is not a pleasant existence.  Social media has helped the underprivileged connect with one another and support one another in a way that did not exist before.  It has helped us self-care in ways that would not have been possible a decade ago.  It has enabled us to stand in solidarity with one another and realize that yes, something is indeed fucked up about this country.  It enabled a revolution.

In the previous civil rights movement, activists from different parts of the country did not have an easy means of communicating with one another.  Information and its flow was severely restricted in those days.  People relied on the news and the radio to stay informed.  This is an especially problematic means of attaining information for oppressed groups.  Major news networks are only interested in telling one narrative: the rich white male narrative.  This bias is evident in everything they both report on and do not report on.  The stories of the oppressed become suppressed.  Major news networks depend on ratings for their livelihood; this means that they are aiming to appeal to the widest audience possible.  The erasure of underprivileged stories is inevitable in these types of power structures.  Thank heaven for social media.

Academia has failed to adapt to this new paradigm of civil rights activism.  Both the dissemination and procurement of knowledge in academia is largely done through peer-reviewed journals and conferences.  This paradigm is woefully outdated and cannot keep up with the frenzied dissemination of knowledge and information of social media.  First, journals only publish a handful of issues a year; somewhere around a dozen seems to be the mode.  Secondly, each issue only contains a limited number of journal articles.  Thirdly, academic writing is structured in such a way that many many pages of extremely dry and stale writing is needed to, in reality, say very little.  Academic writing is also meant to be “objective.”  Emotions are removed as they are unscientific and prone to bias.  I would argue that no substantive knowledge can really be gained about the suffering of underprivileged groups in this manner.  By removing the true nature of the emotions they might feel from journal articles, we are taking away the true nature of their voice and settling for a heavily filtered version of it that is more palatable to privileged eyes.

If academics rely on journal articles as their sole source of knowledge about social justice, they are in fact not taking in that much information; despite how desperately they might want to say otherwise, the fact remains that they are relatively uninformed.  Academics need to utilize social media to listen directly to those from underprivileged groups firsthand, to give them a real voice.  We need to partner with social media activists once the research is done so that they can spread our findings to the masses.  If the masses are completely unaware of our social justice research, what really is the point of doing it in the first place?  The bottom line is that we need to begin to work together; being that us academics are the ones in positions of privilege and power, the brunt of responsibility falls upon us to do so.

I have had the pleasure of getting to know several activists without formal degrees in social justice.  People outside the academic realm.  I can say with 100% confidence that they know much more and are more in touch with the issues than most academics.  There is a big difference between these people and so many academics.  Activists who are heavy users of social media, they are reading about and discussing the issues 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Activism is their life.  It’s not a job nor a career to them; it is every fabric of their being; it is most of what they read about and most of what they care about.  What they read is emotional and written with passion, not the stale writing so common in peer-reviewed journal articles.  They read about human suffering in a manner that no journal article could ever hope to convey.  It was people like this that organized this civil rights revolution; they were the catalysts, not us academics.  They had their finger on the pulse; they knew how others were feeling; and most importantly, they know that now is the time.

To the likely dismay of many in my field, I can say that most of what I have learned about oppression and social justice did not come from the classroom.  I learned it from the internet.  I listened to the stories people were telling over and over again until their narratives were the ones that existed in my subconscious, not the ones from White male America.  This is what psychologists and potential allies need to be doing.  All too often, I hear from allies that they feel overwhelmed and do not know how to become educated on the issues or even where to start.  The answer is incredibly simple: find the right people to follow on social media.

Allies oftentimes feel awkward about asking the underprivileged people in their social circles to teach them to be better allies, and rightfully so.  Your underprivileged friends did not sign up to be your multicultural instructor.  They owe you absolutely nothing.  In fact, you’ve probably contributed to some of their suffering unknowingly; if anything, you owe them something.  Potential allies, do your underprivileged friends a favor and find people who are willing to talk on social media about the issues you want to learn more about. These social media activists are always looking for a bigger audience so you’d be in fact helping them.  Keep in mind though, they are the ones who are really doing you the favor. They are the ones who have accepted the social backlash inherent in openly discussing social justice; they are the ones who have put their mental health on the line; they are the ones who at times even put their personal safety on the line.  They do all of this because they feel that their message is that important; they feel that they have a social responsibility to inform others.  They utilize their platforms to spread their message because they realize that others in their community may not have a platform at all. By listening to them, you’ll know how to be a better ally to your underprivileged friend and individuals from their community.  You’ll benefit too; you’ll become a better psychologist, a better leader, a better teacher, a better doctor, a better police officer…etc.  Most of all though, you’ll become a better person.

The voices of the underprivileged have been suppressed for all of human history, but now they finally have a platform to reach the masses and let others know exactly how they have suffered and continue to suffer.  If you want to be a good ally, sit down, shut up, and listen.

The Deafening Silence of the American Psychological Association

Silence is all I hear, and it is beginning to become more than I can bear.

Real social justice is about speaking up because you feel it in your bones. I know how I feel about the American Psychological Association (APA) right now, and I know that someone needs to say something.  Too many peoples’ lives are at stake to not say anything.  I care too damn much to just sit idly by and give my tacit approval to the field of psychology when I feel it is doing harm.

I will open by saying this, despite the APA’s clear explicit stance on being interested in the betterment of the underprivileged, it is no stranger to being on the wrong side of social justice.  At last year’s APA convention in Toronto, news of APA’s complicity in the Bush regime’s torturing of Muslims rocked the beliefs of many in our professional organization.  The cardinal principle of psychology, “Do No Harm,” had been clearly violated by our organization.  This atrocity did not happen in the pre-civil rights era, not in the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s, nor 2000’s;  the report came out last year.  I hope this information gives readers some context for what I am about to say next about the APA.

It should be pretty obvious to anyone following current events that we are in the midst of a critical period in our country’s history.  We are in the middle of a new civil rights movement, make no mistake about it.  Minorities, especially Black Americans are fed up with the current status quo that harms them in so many ways.  The country is divided however as White America also simultaneously sees their influence and say in this country slipping for the first time in our nation’s history, and their backlash has become very real.  #AllLivesMatter was created to suppress the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Trump became a presidential nominee, and so much more.  Protests broke out immediately once we learned of the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Peoples’ anger over the continued injustice of being a non-white male in this country has reached a tipping point.

The APA, like most large organizations, has decided to remain “neutral” by not endorsing either side of the conflict.  This is completely and utterly unacceptable when Black lives are on the line and the APA in my eyes, however, is far more culpable than the average organization.  The APA actively preaches its social justice inclinations.  We pride ourselves on being on the leading edge of research when it comes to problems of living, of humanity.  Yet now, when a humanitarian crisis has reached a boiling point, when protests and riots are occurring across the country, the APA is completely and utterly silent.  No statement has been made.  There is no activity on APA’s twitter feed regarding the crisis that everyone outside the world of psychology is living and breathing. For an organization that prides itself on advocating for those in need and using our power and privilege to advance the betterment of others, our current silence is absolutely unacceptable.  It is possible that APA may have issued a minor statement somewhere that I have may have missed given that it is such a large organization.  If I missed it though, I guarantee others did too.  Times like these do not call for small statements; they call for big ones.  APA should have made a statement that everyone should have heard by now; it should have been on the news, in the papers…everywhere.  The public should be thinking “woah, psychologists support BLM and believe it that strongly?” Facebook hung a BlackLivesMatter banner outside their corporate office for Pete’s sake.  What has APA, the organization devoted to “advancing psychological science to promote health, education, and human welfare,” done though?  I honestly can’t tell you.  There is no such thing as neutrality in times like these.  APA’s silence on the current BlackLivesMatter movement states very clearly that we think BlackLivesDon’t Matter.

The elitism we psychologists have towards current social movements disgusts me.  We feel that because we are doing the research in our Historically White Colleges and Universities, we are the most well-informed on the current issues.  This elitism leads  psychologists to, by and large, segregate themselves within their own privileged communities.  We may research the multicultural issues, but we publish our findings in journals that are only read by people within our profession.  Most potentially “useful” social justice research never makes it to the public, where it is needed, where the real battles are being waged. This leads me to wonder, why exactly are we researching multicultural issues in the first place and what exactly makes us the “experts?”

To be fair, I have zero doubt that the current social movement will be discussed at APA and the many smaller conferences this summer.  The conversations are happening, but psychologists are only having them within their own privileged circles.  Few are on the ground with the people who have the least amount of privilege, the ones who are most affected by the injustices of living in this country as a non-white male.  Our blindness to our own privilege is a deficit in every aspect of our being as psychologists.  It is impossible to understand and research a social movement if you are not actually a part of it.  If we research social movements from our privileged academic circles, it is highly likely that we will have no impact at all, and if we do, it’ll likely do more harm than good.  Furthermore, by the time APA finally convenes at its yearly convention in early August, critical moments in the social movement will likely have already passed – moments that the APA, using its considerable influence and power in America, could have done something.  We cannot sit idly by and do nothing.  Times like these demand action now.  Lives may very well be lost because of APA’s unthinkable apathy in this critical time.

The APA has not only turned its back on the disadvantaged public though, it has also turned its back on its racial minority members through its inexcusable current silence. Believe it or not, the APA was once much more an organization of privileged individuals than it is now.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 4.43.12 PMAs you can see, psychology has been making a massive attempt to make its workforce more diverse in the past decade – to a moderate degree of success I might add. Unfortunately, psychology has made the exact same mistake other organizations have made when attempting to implement affirmative action policies.  APA, Universities, corporations, and all other entities who attempt to make their bodies more diverse almost always fail to provide their new minority members with the supports they need.

  • APA doesn’t seem to realize that many of their new Black members might be severely impacted by the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
  • APA doesn’t realize that the brothers and sisters of their Black members may literally be dying in the streets.
  • Most importantly, the APA doesn’t realize that their Black members may be the next Alton Sterling or Philando Castile.

This is absolutely inexcusable.  Minority individuals in primarily White institutions already have it rough enough as it is.   For an organization supposedly committed to advocacy and social justice to turn its back on its Black members right now though… I don’t know and will never know what that feels like because I am not Black.  All I know is that thinking about the pain and betrayal they must be feeling right now brings tears to my eyes.

Last but not least, I want to talk about a topic privileged psychologists love to discuss: the chronic underutilization of mental health services by racial and ethnic minorities.  The reasons given seem to be as numerous as the number of people who give them.  They range from lack of awareness, to stigma, to cultural differences, to language differences, to lack of resources, and more.  What psychologists who do this research largely fail to realize is that they are trying to get minorities to conform to a traditionally white form of healing. Minorities rightfully distrust White culture and no amount of psychoeducation will undo that.

I want to leave you with this question:

Why should Black Americans trust the field of psychology when the APA is completely silent during this critical time in Black history?



Mind the Mindfulness Gap

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve probably at least heard of the term “mindfulness” by now.  Mindfulness in a nutshell consists of paying attention to the present on purpose without judgment.   There is a plethora of scientific evidence suggesting mindfulness reduces stress, increases focus, increases cognitive flexibility, and decreases emotional lability.  These benefits are quite desirable in a number of settings and has resulted in mindfulness’ proliferation mental health settings, school settings, and corporate settings.  America seems to view mindfulness as the panacea to the stressors of contemporary living.  What is shocking however is that despite its proliferation, very few are aware of mindfulness’ origins and the social justice implications of its practice.

The origins of contemporary mindfulness are extremely problematic so perhaps America’s lack of attention to it should not be a surprise.  America has a practice of rewriting history to serve its own needs and mindfulness is perhaps the most prominent and contemporary example of this heinous exercise.  “Modern mindfulness” began with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction treatment in the 1990’s.  Zinn was not the originator of Mindfulness’ principles however; he drew much of modern mindfulness from Buddhism.  Zinn believed however that a rebranding of Buddhist principles was necessary for Western adoption.  Thus, the religious and spiritual components of Buddhism were removed to form what we consider “mindfulness” today.

This rebranding of Buddhist principles into mindfulness is nothing less than cultural appropriation.  Western society has decided to take a minority practice and strip it of all of its context and significance.  Buddhism comes from a minority community; let us not forget that.  It was not created for White people.  The Buddhism community, in their seemingly infinite compassion and wisdom, appear open to sharing their practices with the outside world, but was their permission ever sought?  No.  Instead, the religious and spiritual roots of Buddhism were removed as one removes a pussy infectious wart.  Buddhism had to be “purified” so that it would appeal to the Western World.  The lack of attention to this gross disrespect in Western Society is astounding.

This reshaping of Buddhist principles into Mindfulness also reinforces the “yellow peril” narrative harming Asian Americans in Western society.  Western society has been afraid of Asian Americans for a long time.  We are seen as perpetual foreigners and invaders, even if we are citizens.  We are exoticized and fetishized.  We are deprived of our humanity.  We are seen as outside of American and Western culture.  Mindfulness reinforces that narrative.  The Asian roots of Mindfulness had to be purged for Western society’s adoption.  That which is our history, had to be excreted.  White people need to be more accepting of the humanity of Asian Americans and the contributions Asian Americans have made.  Mindfulness does not help that cause and instead reinforces colonialism.  It reinforces the notion that White people can take whatever they want from our culture and not suffer any sort of consequences.  This is something personally I can not abide.

Let us also not forget that millions will be made from the “mindfulness revolution.”  Now that White Western society has appropriated all of the cultural capital surrounding Buddhism by relabelling it mindfulness, White western society has also put themselves into a position where they will make all of the profits.  Who will make the money to give talks and trainings on mindfulness now?  Who will get paid to give mindfulness interventions?  Who will benefit financially from the mindfulness books?  White society.  If psychologists really cared and respected Buddhism, they would incorporate the Buddhist community in some of these benefits.  Let us not forget that though the Dalai Lama gave his blessing to mindfulness, his people are a persecuted people in need.  Instead of benefitting the communities in need that developed this practice, all of the resource gains to be had from mindfulness go now to rich White men.

There are also issues with Mindfulness’ panacea-like usage in Western society.  While being able to alleviate people’s stress and emotional reactivity is nice, it really is only a band-aid.  When mindfulness is used in impoverished schools for example, it may reduce student problematic behaviors, but it doesn’t get to the real issues.  It doesn’t address systemic racism, it doesn’t address the lack of resources given to majority minority schools, it doesn’t address the very essence of impoverished living.  What mindfulness does in its current form is coerce underprivileged individuals to conform to a White-male dominated society.

Mindfulness cannot and should not be ever used as a substitute for real social justice.  For underprivileged communities, we need to think about their real stressors, understand the contexts in which they live, and use our privilege to fight to remove those barriers.  Mindfulness in its current form is used as a substitute for real social justice.  It enables us to not have to think about the context and realities of our privilege.  Mindfulness without social justice, if one really thinks about it, is just another form of oppression.  It is a tool used by those with power towards those without power to help those without power “fall into line.”  Sounds pretty Big-Brotheresque wouldn’t you say?

Mindfulness helps one be at peace, but at times anger is an important tool for those from underprivileged communities.  Research tells us that perceptions of injustice are pretty close to feelings of anger.  If we remove peoples’ anger without addressing the injustice they face, we may feel we are benefitting those communities, but all we are really doing is benefitting ourselves.

What we really need to be doing is redrawing the line; that is what social justice is really about.  Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a tool of oppression, it can be used for good.  Conversations about its cultural roots need to begin at the very minimum.  Additionally, when mindfulness is used in underprivileged communities, it needs to be in conjunction with advocacy and activist efforts to remove some of the systemic barriers facing those communities.

I believe in potential of Buddhism principles/mindfulness to better humanity;  I really do.  Some major changes will be needed however.  Whether or not psychology steps up to that task, I do not know.  I at least will attempt to do my part.

What White People Can Learn from Bernie’s Non-White Problem

If Bernie Sanders doesn’t fix his lack of appeal with non-white voters, his bid for the presidency will end very soon.  In the first real test of his appeal with minority voters, Hillary thumped him by capturing 86% of Black voters in South Carolina.  Michelle Alexanders believes Black individuals who vote for Hillary are making a mistake and has publicly stated that Hillary does not deserve the Black vote because of her role in mass incarceration.  I agree with Alexander’s points and feel that Hillary has done a lot of harm to the minority community, especially the Black community.  The natural follow-up to Michelle Alexander’s statement though is whether or not Bernie Sanders deserves the Black/minority vote instead.

A lot of Bernie supporters would like you to believe the answer is “yes.”  They would point to his extensive and impressive civil rights record.  They would also point to his stance on racial justice issues.  They would share that Bernie understands the needs of the minority community and point to his stance on physical, political, legal, economic, and environmental violence against people of color.

Given Sanders’ past history of racial justice activism and current racial justice stance, many of his supporters are wondering why he is floundering with minority voters.  Many explanations have been offered by both White and non-White political analysts.  The two most common narratives offered are that minorities simply do not know who he is, and that if they do, they have already allied themselves with Hillary because of the Clinton name and Bill’s legacy with Black voters.

Beneath the text in the above narrative is an undercurrent of implicit racism.  The unconscious message is that non-white voters are uninformed and do not make decisions that are in their best interest.  The message also implies the reverse, that White voters do.  In essence, analysts are saying that for the political system to benefit minorities, minorities need to shape up and act like White progressives.  Fuck that.  Bernie has tied himself to this belief as well.  He trusts that as long as he keeps his message consistent, as his campaign progresses minorities will naturally learn more about him, what he stands for, and join the fold. This belief could very well cost him the election.

I don’t question the good intentions of Bernie or his supporters.  I think Bernie Sanders and his supporters genuinely want to help people of color, unlike the Drumpfs of this world.  I think the issue with Sanders  is that he, in a manner of speaking, “hasn’t dealt with his own shit yet.”  What do I mean by that you ask?  That he hasn’t grappled with his Whiteness yet, and if he has, probably not to the degree that is necessary to be a true racial justice ally.

I’m going to offer a different narrative, one that doesn’t denigrate already stigmatized populations.  I’d like to suggest the following: plenty of minorities know who Bernie Sanders is, his history of racial justice activism, and his current stance on racial justice issues, but are CHOOSING not to vote for him.  That Bernie’s non-white problem could be because of Bernie himself seems to something that is not even being considered by him or his supporters. This is perhaps the biggest problem I see with Bernie Sanders and his supporters; they do not consider that they do not and can not understand all of the minority experience. To be fair, Bernie Sanders is a MUCH better racial justice ally than most politicians.   He has at least taken the first step in becoming an ally; he has separated himself from the dominant narrative of race in America, namely, that race does not matter.  He obviously recognizes that racial injustice is pervasive.

However, he and his supporters, while understanding that racism is still a “thing,” have not truly grappled with the fact that their experiences are not universal and that they are privileged in this country because of their Whiteness.  Not once does Bernie mention White privilege in his racial justice platform.  Not once has he really acknowledged that he has benefited from being a White man in America.  If Bernie does not understand the benefits of Whiteness, he doesn’t really understand racism in America.  He does not understand that the American narrative is the White narrative.  He does not understand that his system of economic reform while good and much-needed, will disproportionately benefit White individuals. Moreover, his downfall will likely be because he doesn’t recognize that minorities see what he does not and that he does not.

It is also true that Bernie Sanders could know and appreciate the benefits of being a White man in America and is choosing not to talk about it because he is afraid of distancing his White progressive base.  This is a nice thought until you think about it some more.  If the above is true, what does that say about how much of a racial ally Bernie really is?  Additionally, what does that also say about how much credit he gives to his current base?  Hillary,  is far from a saint when it comes to racial justice but she has at least publicly kinda acknowledged White privilege?  That isn’t much, but it’s something and certainly more than what Bernie has done.

I want to like you Bernie, I really do.  For me to like you though, you need to realize that minorities will no longer tolerate receiving tiny pieces of the pie anymore.

  • Bernie, please understand that while your past civil rights activism is great, it does not necessarily make you a racial justice ally in the present
  • Bernie, please understand, your racial justice platform is nice but that should not be the only time you mention race.
  • Bernie, please understand that racism is everywhere, that racism will be present in your economic reform plan unless you actively do something about it
  • Bernie, please understand that you need to do more than acknowledge the presence of racial injustice to be an ally
  • Bernie, please understand that minorities will not trust any White man in power to help them unless he is first willing to acknowledge and address his Whiteness
  • Bernie, most of all, please understand that unless you talk about HOW racism works today to negatively impact the lives of minorities, many of us will not trust any of your plans to improve our lives

Make no mistake, if Bernie loses to Hillary, he will lose because he didn’t get our vote.  If White people learn more about what it means to be an ally as a result, his loss will not be in vain.


Pop Culture Review: Agent Carter


Agent Carter is a spy action-thriller TV show set in the 1940’s.  Its protagonist, unlike so many other Marvel and DC Comics productions, is female.  This alone makes the Agent Carter worth a precursory glance.  Undoubtedly, when Marvel executives got together, they envisioned the qualities Agent Carter embodies to be a major selling point of the show.

Agent Carter does highlight some issues central to feminism.  The show is, relatively speaking at least, bold in that depictions of sexism are frequent, overt, and jarring.  Agent Carter is sexually harassed on a frequent basis.  There are also multiple sexist microaggressions in every episode.  For it to be a feminist show Agent Carter needs to take a stand against these injustices and for the most part Peggy Carter does recognize the misogyny for exactly what it is and does not tolerate it.  It is impossible to watch Agent Carter and not be disgusted by her coworkers.  The show attempts to show the side of misogyny that we don’t talk about in society today.  Awesome.  We need more shows that do this.

Agent Carter’s empowered feminism is also central to the plot of season 1.  Very early on, Peggy Carter discovers an important revelation in a case of the utmost interest to national security.  Knowing that her coworkers and superiors are relatively incompetent and will absolutely take the case away from her if she gives them the chance, she decides to fly it solo.  The majority of the season becomes her unraveling the puzzle and hiding those findings from her agency.  This creates tension and drama as her agency is also trying to solve the same puzzle.  Agent Carter though do to her superior spycraft is always a step ahead and ends up solving the mystery before the agency.

How the show chooses to wrap up the first season though is my biggest criticism.  In the final episode as everything comes to a resolution, an important political figure comes to congratulate the agency on their impeccable work, almost all of which was because of Agent Carter.  Despite many of the agents knowing that Agent Carter did almost all of the work, one of her male coworkers greets the political figure and proceeds to take all of the credit.  This is important as the leader of the agency just recently passed away, leading to a power vacuum waiting to be filled.  Agent Carter’s male ally on the show then asks her why she doesn’t do anything.  She responds that she doesn’t need the praise and thanks, that she “knows my value” and that “anybody else’s opinion” doesn’t really matter.

This statement undermines all of the feminism displayed in season one and is a huge disappointment.  I want to first add that I agree, female empowerment is important and that women should not allow men to dictate their self-worth.  The thing is though, Peggy Carter already had that at the beginning of the show.  If she did not believe in herself, she would never have undertaken the covert operation in the first place.  This makes her statement at the end extremely empty and a prime example of “feel-good feminism.”  In the end, despite all of Peggy Carter’s hard work, she willingly accepts her position of unimportance at the agency.

Feminism that does not shake but in fact reinforces the social hierarchy and the cronyism and sexism that leads to male dominance is the most dangerous form of feminism.  If Peggy Carter had received the adulation and praise, she likely would have risen through the ranks and gained enough power to effect some real change in the agency.  She could have brought in women who were more qualified than her male coworkers.  She could have given them a chance they would never have had without a woman in a leadership position.  She could also have gotten paid what she deserved.  Yet she turns all of this down because she “already feels good about herself”.  Peggy Carter is the protagonist of a super-hero themed production company; she is supposed to be a role model to women. The only lesson she ends up teaching women though is how to do all of the work, get none of the credit, maintain the existing oppressive social hierarchy, and feel good about it at the same time.

If I had done my research, I really should have seen this disappointingly faux-feminist ending coming.  Turns out, the show’s creators and writers: Christopher Markus, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Stephen McFeely are you guessed it, all men – and White men at that. Additionally, of the show’s 10 executive producers, only one is female.  The show’s 10 directors you ask?  ALL MEN.  When will Hollywood learn that you cannot create a tv show or a movie about oppression with only the privileged in the leadership roles behind the scenes?  The fundamental lack of understanding of what the real struggles and issues are tends to always rears its ugly head.

I could also go into the show’s lack of diversity and whitewashing of history but I’ll leave that for another day.

For a show that tries to paint itself as feminist, Agent Carter is in the end, as far from it as you can get.   If you’re looking for a  superhero show that doesn’t undermine its own feminist message, I suggest that you check out Jessica Jones instead.