Well, I never thought that Facebook warring would be productive, but here I am writing this late at night after some challenging conversations. After a week of switching between grieving and sparring on social media, I’m beginning to gain some clarity (or, I’m post-rationalizing to the max. I’m never quite sure which it is). I offer you my humble perspective on the DNC this week:
From what I’ve gathered, Clinton supporters are scared shitless about Donald Trump, and they have been for a while. They’ve been waiting for Bernie to wrap up his campaign, because they feel that his voters would have united behind Clinton much sooner than now had he dropped out in April. Some are compassionate towards those reacting to the recent loss; others less so, but they are still worried about people coming to terms with the end so close to the general.
Also, there are many Clinton supporters who really admire her and see her as a hero. Some love her, I might add, in the same way that we love Bernie. They are thrilled to have their nominee, but they’ve been concerned about the unjustified and sometimes aggressive vilification of their candidate by some Bernie supporters throughout the primary.
Having been a Sanders supporter and volunteer myself, I will offer the alternative perspective, which is that the status quo scares the shit out of Sanders supporters. Many Sanders supporters feel that Clinton is a paradigm of the status quo; some feel that she is worse. Some slowly grew to dislike her just this year because the media, the DNC, and some supporters would consistently ignore, belittle, and lie about us, to her benefit. All grew tired of being told Bernie couldn’t win and that he should drop out from the start. And, because Sanders volunteers worked their asses off without any compensation (and while losing money, in many cases) to power an entirely grassroots campaign, each jab, and his eventual loss, felt increasingly painful.
These are both valid perspectives. I believe they both carry truth. But now that Hillary is the nominee, one has to ask: Why does the status quo scare the shit out of Sanders supporters? Because they wouldn’t be protesting at the DNC or considering a [strategic] third-party vote if it didn’t.
That status quo is scary because the median wage has steadily dropped since 2000, while CEO pay has skyrocketed exponentially. Because many of us are, as I wrote to someone on Facebook earlier this week, struggling to make ends meet, confronted with the suffering of homelessness every day, and feeling powerless in the wake of rapid climate change. Because millennials (and their parents) can’t really afford college, can’t afford to own property in record rates, can barely afford to pay rent in many cases, and are marrying later and later, partially as a result of financial insecurity. Because the TPP is going to strengthen patent laws on pharmaceutical products and allow corporations to sue the government millions in tax dollars for protecting workers’ and environmental rights. Because many of us have known for so long how messed up the system is, and how badly it needs to improve, and have felt powerless to do anything about our own struggles, until now.
Some of you reading this may not be confronting these harsh realities daily, but many others (like myself, living in San Francisco as not-a-techie) certainly are. We are deeply worried about the trajectory of our economy and our environment, given the downward trend that the status quo has drawn. Bernie rallied the people like no other campaign before him with a vision of creating the swift change that we so desperately need. But then, he lost, and we became terrified of the status quo slowly destroying our futures once again.
I understand that Donald Trump is a menace to this country and he would do irreparable damage to the Supreme Court. He is unlike any candidate for President anyone has ever seen. And after November, we have some real thinking to do about who we allow a platform as large as the presidential race.
For now though, I have a lot of hope that we can all find common ground going into November (fear seems to be one thing we already share in common). Specifically, I think Sanders supporters need Clinton supporters to indicate: we hear you. We understand your struggle. We’re not down with the status quo, we’re not down with our failing democracy, and we understand how urgent it is that we all work together to lobby Washington to make change happen sooner, because there is too much suffering in this country to carry on with politics as usual. Of course, it’s even more urgent is that we elect Clinton, and not Trump, to the presidency. And if you work with us to do that, we’ll work with you beyond that.
In my mind, finding this common ground on the issues sounds simple, given that they affect all of us in the end. But as Robert Reich would say, what do you think?
I am 99% sure that every outspoken supporter of Bernie Sanders has received a variation of the following at least once in this primary election:
When Hillary wins the nomination, you’ll vote for her in the general, right?
The question reeks of either desperation or condescension, depending on who you’re talking to.
Listen, it’s not about who I’m going to vote for in the general election. I’m happy to have that conversation once we’ve got our general election nominees in place. This is about a fear-mongering power play on the part of the Clinton campaign who have (without facts), convinced some voters that Hillary is our only hope to defeat the Republicans in November.
Despite the fact that every single poll consistently shows that Bernie Sanders outperforms Hillary Clinton in every single head-to-head match up against the Republicans, some voters who would normally vote for Bernie in the primary have internalized the myth that only Hillary can win. If you’ve ever wondered if mainstream [read: corporate] media uses its power to plant its biases in your psyche, wonder no more. You’ve got your answer.
Whether their urgency is driven by fear or condescension, Hillary-splainers have somehow forgotten that we’re still in a primary election. As far as I’m concerned, the nomination is still up for grabs–for another two months. Hillary-splainers also seem to be clueless that Bernie is steadily cutting into Hillary’s pledged delegate lead, and that he only needs to win 56.5% of the remaining pledged delegates to overtake her completely. I’m particularly amazed by the conversations I have with my fellow California residents who aren’t voting until June 7th but have already decided that they will support Hillary in the primary because they are convinced that she’s going to win the primary. If that isn’t sound logic, I don’t know what is.
As I said earlier, it’s a nasty and manipulative power play on the part of the Clinton campaign to use the mainstream media and gaslight undecided voters into questioning and minimizing the power of their own vote. If Hillary is going to win the primary anyway, why try? What I find most ironic is that the repeated attempts to portray Bernie supporters as “Bernie Bros”, or intolerant, flaming, White liberals who “Bernie-splain” to minority voters, have circled right back around to the Hillary camp. When you Hillary-splain to me why I should vote for her in the general election when we’re still in a primary, you are being as condescending and dismissive as us “self-righteous progressives.”
Let me just point out that this Hillary-splaining, which is what Hillary supporters do when they tell me I have to vote for her in the general or else, is a one-way street. I have never heard a Bernie supporter say to a Hillary supporter, “When Bernie wins the nomination you’ll vote for him in the general, right? RIGHT?!?!” That’s because we don’t presumptuously assume that he’s going to be the nominee. We understand that he’s up against an entire political machine, a world-famous brand name, and a ton of corporate special interest money, and we understand that every vote needs to be earned. You might describe the overall attitude as “humble.”
Furthermore, as a dedicated volunteer for the Sanders campaign, I find it even more ironic that a self-proclaimed, staunch Hillary advocate who puts no time into campaigning for her thinks it’s ok to tell me that nothing I do will change the outcome of this election. Oh, really? First of all, tell that to the volunteers that organized the Nevada precinct delegates in time to turn out for the County Convention, which flipped the state in Bernie’s favor. Second of all, if you had even a shred of understanding of what it takes to volunteer 15+ hours of your time every week and make several hundreds of dollars worth of small dollar contributions to a campaign that shakes the very foundation of your soul, I doubt we would ever have a conversation that began with “When Hillary wins the nomination…”
Here’s the truth, and I believe I speak for many ardent Bernie supporters when I say this: I had nothing against Hillary Clinton until I watched the way she campaigned in this election. When I watched her twist Bernie’s votes and policies out of context, when I watched her launch her Super PAC money against him in a primary, when I watched her slander Bernie through the same media outlets that offered him 80 seconds of free screen time compared to Donald Trump’s $1.9 billion, I became angry by the insincerity of it all. And in the same way that Hillary has alienated young voters by attacking an honest man in dishonest ways, in the same way that media outlets like CNN and MSNBC have alienated us by portraying Bernie as a crazy, idealistic, Communist grandpa, Hillary supporters are further alienating those of us who dedicate ourselves to the cause when they suggest our efforts are futile.
I am aware of the #BernieOrBust movement that refuses to “vote blue no matter who” in an effort to stick a giant middle finger up to the media for poor journalism, and up to the DNC for becoming the same corporatized war-mongering party that looks oddly like the Republicans. And I have to say, if Hillary supporters who are voting simply out of fear of The Donald, have to beg Bernie supporters to forgo their #BernieOrBust pledge to vote for Hillary in the general, take a moment to stop and think: who is the stronger candidate?
Many a time I’ve heard some Hillary supporters accuse the #BernieOrBust crowd of being privileged and selfish. It would be the voters’ faults, with their “White privilege” (even those of us who are not White), for allowing the rise of Trump–but the media that made him into a reality TV star or the DNC that severely compromised its progressive roots are off the hook. Well, all I have to say to that is, when proponents of “incremental change” Hillary-splain their logic to me while I walk past homeless men, women, and children every single day, I have no words for them. Except, maybe, “privileged.”
As Susan Sarandon bravely and accurately articulated, some of Bernie’s most fervent supporters believe that a President Trump will immediately bring the revolution because he would be an overt symbol that our country is going to Hell. I’d rather have that knowledge out in the open than cushioned in the false promises upon false promises of the dear old Establishment and the political elite.
But, let’s not make any assumptions here. If Bernie becomes the nominee, we won’t have to worry about a President Trump at all.
As an Asian American, I’m used to being dismissed from the “minority” tag, at least in general and political rhetoric regarding minorities in the U.S. Why? Because Asian Americans are considered the “model minority”; the immigrants who come here with fairly high levels of education, and whose kids are generally quiet, obedient, studious, and high-achieving in school. We’re the group that assumes semi-powerful positions in the professional world in the fields of medicine, finance, law, or engineering, which explains why Asian Americans lead all other groups in the U.S. in median household income. We’re the group that has achieved some version of the “American Dream”, more or less, and we’re the group that’s been successfully assimilated and accepted into the mainstream [read: White American] society, for all these reasons.
The status quo works for us, and so we’re generally averse to rocking the boat. It’s easier to sit in complacency in our homes in the suburbs, working our upper middle class, 9-5 jobs, raising kids and trying to precariously balance both our heritage and our fragile image as “the good immigrants” in American society, than it is to recognize the misfortune, the poverty, the injustice that exists every day outside our fortified walls for Blacks and Latinos minorities (and even working class white Americans), who are being shot or incarcerated in disproportionate amounts, and who are losing their homes and assets to banks that offer loans with interest rates through the roof. Furthermore, because of the favorable stereotype Asian Americans generally enjoy, it’s easier for us to pass off as “White” (socially, I mean) and there’s generally an urge to distinguish ourselves from Blacks and Latinos to maintain this image, until we’re hit with the reality that we are not, in fact, White (just check out this NYT article about the protests in the conviction of Peter Liang).
But I’ve come to understand through this presidential election that our six-figure salaries won’t save us anymore either; not with the absurdly high cost of healthcare premiums, nor the increasing cuts to social security, nor with the cost of college tuition inching higher and higher every year. Even before I’d heard of Bernie Sanders I was fretting about how I was going to put myself through 6 years of graduate school and pay for my own health insurance when I turned 26 and then save enough money to buy a house once I became a psychologist. I live in San Francisco and work in education now, and I pay almost half my salary in rent; I know how difficult it is to save money in this laissez faire economy as a middle class American. And I know that most of us Asian Americans, though we look to those $150,000/year jobs as the gold standard, are actually aiming to put ourselves squarely in the middle class as well, because we don’t understand that the real power lies with the millionaires and billionaires of the 1%.
The bottom line is that the status quo isn’t working for us any more than it’s working for the Americans whose families have been in the U.S. for generations. Just look at the anti-establishment sentiment that’s brought out both Trump and Sanders supporters in copious numbers.
In fact, this zero-sum, winner-takes-all capitalist system is now trickling down into our schools and into the minds of our children, who are suffering in unprecedented amounts from anxiety and depression because it’s not working for them either. This is unsurprising given how our public schools have increasingly become a means to an end for feeding workers into the capitalist structure, instead of a place for identity development, learning by exploration, and creativity.
I experienced the intensity of this pressure to “succeed” and make enough money to “survive” during high school, which was a microcosm of the capitalist game. I came from a community that was 40% first-generation Asian American, financially privileged, and high-achieving. We’ve had Asian American valedictorians for the past five years at least, and many of our students gain admission into schools like Princeton, Yale, UPenn, and MIT every year. This may sound like a good school, but ultimately the culture of cutthroat competition and the pressure to excel academically caught up to the school district this past fall when student hospitalizations and suicidal ideations were reaching alarming highs. We began to be compared to Palo Alto (“Paly”) High School, also with a large population of Asian Americans and the same high-pressure environment, now notorious for its suicide clusters. I can only guess what kinds of messages were being internalized by the students at Paly, but I bet they were similar to the kinds of things I used to hear in school that, not coincidentally, echoed the principles of free-market capitalism a la the United States.
Firstly, capitalism is a zero-sum game, where the winner takes all. In the Palo Alto article I linked above, researchers found that students strongly identified with the statement, “If someone does a task at work/school better than I, then I feel like I failed the whole task.” There’s no spectrum; there’s no metric for improvement in the way students are evaluated and evaluate themselves. I would often hear students wailing that they would never get into college over a B or a C on a test, or I’d hear students who took regular courses instead of honors or AP courses being told “good luck at Mercer” (the community college in my neighborhood), as if it were the end of their professional career. And I know firsthand how equating your self-worth to your academic “wins” (which had to be perfect to be legitimate at all) leads to self-destructive thoughts.
This zero-sum attitude is surely the reason for the widely held American belief that those who suffer have earned their suffering somehow, because they lost at the game, and they are losers. Just take a look at this open letter to Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco by tech CEO Justin Keller to get an idea of how the privileged view the downtrodden in our society (for those of you who don’t know, San Francisco’s housing crisis and absurdly high costs of living are directly impacted by the growth of the tech industry and exacerbated by the tax breaks that the city offers to keep companies here).
Keller’s attitude brings me to my next point, which is that political rhetoric most often decries the poor and labels them deserved. Our current conservatism completely fails to acknowledge systemic oppression; that we do not all start out on equal footing, especially not if you’re poor, or Black, or mentally ill, or a veteran, or undocumented. The Republican party, since Ronald Reagan, has been painting poor Americans as lowly moochers who were too stupid to “go out, get an education, work hard, and earn it”, in Keller’s words. Sadly, I’m now realizing that these were the same conservative sentiments I heard expressed in high school about teachers, social workers, nurses, and other professions earning middle class salaries. We see how our greedy, capitalist system treats those who can’t afford to pay for their healthcare costs or their mortgages and, in our desperate attempt to end up on the other side of that divide, we internalize the belief that those people just didn’t work hard enough, they weren’t talented enough, but we’re better than that because we work ourselves to death. Just this past fall, one of my good [Asian American] friends from high school, who is passionate about social justice, butted heads with her more conservative colleagues about the blatant racism on Yale’s campus on Halloween. When she told her father that they scoffed at her, he told her she should “show them” by earning a six-figure salary and driving by in her future Mercedes. And this is just one example of how deeply we as a society have internalized the link between money and power.
The focus on accelerated math, the lauding of professions like investment banking and engineering, the dismissal of art, creativity, and emotional finesse; not only are these highly gendered condescensions, they are also pervasive attitudes that mimic what is rewarded and what is not in free-market America. And they fail to acknowledge the fact that, in order to function, our society needs the teachers and the nurses and the janitors and the senior center workers and the therapists and the waiters and waitresses and cashiers. We simply cannot function without them, and yet, more often than not, we treat them like scum.
This past fall, the superintendent of my school district began to address stress levels on students by attempting to make structural changes to our academic system. It was met with extreme opposition, mostly by Asian American parents who were fearful of the consequences of moving testing into accelerated math up to 6th grade instead of 4th grade. I wrote a letter to my school in support of his vision about how we can definitely afford to reduce the culture of toxic competition and promote more community and inclusivity for a healthier, happier student body. Often, I would hear the response “the world is competitive, and we have to prepare our children for that reality” from parents who believed the district was “coddling” their children by trying to reduce stress. It was another clear indicator to me of how deeply we had ingrained the belief that we deserved so little, no matter how hard we worked.
This is why Bernie Sanders absolutely deserves the Asian American vote. Our current brand of capitalism does not work for the 99%, in which we are included, no matter how relatively privileged and educated we might be. While we slave away to the point of suicide in our studies, our tax money goes to a defense budget that exceeds spending on medicare, social security, education, veterans’ benefits, clean energy, and science research combined. While we struggle to save up and pay for our cars, our homes, or our student loans, Wall Street is potentially gambling with our hard-earned money. While the tycoons like the Koch brothers or the Walton family of Wal-Mart hoard billions of dollars in profits for themselves and their workers starve on food stamps subsidized by us, we blame and vilify the victims instead of fighting against the real bad guys. And, while we race and stumble over each other for those few Ivy League seats, we turn a blind eye to our Black, Latino, and Native American brothers and sisters who have faced unimaginable horrors from police brutality to historic, system racism; at least, until they indict one of our own.
Bernie Sanders is advocating for solidarity and inclusion. He is fighting for socialist, equitable policies because he knows how hard middle class Americans work and how little they are getting in return. He is acknowledging our inherent need for all kinds of minds, and all kinds of occupations to create a functional and enriched society. He is educating us about hard truths regarding a system we have complacently accepted, and tried to fit into, for too long. He is demanding that we organize and fight back, because that’s how real change comes about, and nothing worth fighting for is ever easily won. And, if at age 74 and after 34 years of a career in politics, Bernie Sanders still believes, we have zero excuse not to join him.
Are you ready to join the revolution?
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a strong sense of what was and was not fair. I learned the definition of sexism at the ripe age of 8, and it was my first exposure to the cruelties and injustices of the world. I’m ashamed to admit that this revelation came from early exposures to my own heritage, and I’m even more ashamed to admit that I learned about sexism through mainstream American media as I grew up in this country.
I remember learning about a hideously primitive tradition called “Karva Chauth” through Bollywood movies. I learned that it was an Indian holiday where married women fasted all day until their husbands came home from work, at which point they performed a pooja (religious ritual), all in the hopes of bolstering their husband’s longevity.
I remember learning about menstrual seclusion, about rape, and about sexual harassment soon after. I remember seeing pregnant women on screen receiving the “good wishes” of “may you have a son” from their elders. And no, these themes were never utilized for the purpose of intelligent social commentary; just for entertainment, and to reinforce the patriarchal status quo.
I remember learning that the western world wasn’t much better, hypersexualizing women in the entertainment industry, targeting women to advertise everything from skin products to diet pills, and building a history of hiring women workers as “cheap labor.” To this day, there exist examples of unequal distribution of wealth between men and women from companies to hospitals to entire female-dominated industries that are considered “less prestigious” by society, presumably because they just don’t offer the kind of salary that would make them competitive in our market-obsessed world. Female-dominated professions like teaching, social work, nursing, and other care-taking roles that require an enormous amount of emotional labor have been undervalued by American society (both perceptually and monetarily) for centuries.
Suffice it to say, I learned from a very young age that being a woman in this world is a vulnerable thing. And I grew up extremely conscious of the stereotypes, judgments, and criticisms the world makes of women and that women make of each other. Sexism was my first and harshest wake up call to the sirens of social justice, and it is social justice that has emerged as core to my identity, and I’ve chosen to dedicate my energies to the pursuit of justice to this day.
So that’s why, when Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright made sexist and manipulative comments on national television this weekend, I was outraged. Outraged that I couldn’t both be a feminist and an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders, who I believe is hands down the best candidate for women. But Gloria Steinem, who was and continues to be a “revolutionary feminist icon”, would have me believe that I’m supporting Bernie because “the boys are with Bernie.”
Her comment is not only sexist, it’s also agist and heteronormative. It blacks out an entire group of women that identify as LGBTQ+ and it’s patronizing to the young. But the biggest irony of all is that the notion that women are only as good as their appeal to men, that women “chase men” because they’re desperate for attention and approval, and that women can’t, or choose not to, think independently of men for fear of being rejected, is a classic sexist argument that has been made about women through the ages. Hell, just this past July my ex-boyfriend told me his traditional Indian mother, upon obsessively perusing the Facebook pictures of her son’s new girlfriend, thought I seemed “smart enough to know how to get a guy like [him].” I applaud Gloria Steinem, whose comment has somehow remarkably found its way into the patriarchal dogma of traditional Indian mentalities.
Meanwhile, Madeleine Albright insists that there is “a special place in hell for women who don’t support each other”, another comment aimed at the large group of young women who support Bernie Sanders. I found this particularly amusing as someone who has a strong spiritual foundation. Here, she not only confirms that we’re going to hell, but that hell exists at all. I, for one, don’t believe in hell, but what does my voice matter as a young, non-white, non-Christian woman? It doesn’t. For Madeleine Albright, the only thing that matters is that I take orders from a bigoted and exclusive elder who parades around with the high title of “feminist” as she campaigns for Hillary Clinton.
To the Madeleine Albrights and Gloria Steinems of the world: shame on you for calling yourselves feminists, because you’ve forgotten the foundation of feminism itself. That foundation actually goes beyond feminism and into the core of all the world’s major religions, which is the belief in equality. What does this mean in spiritual terms (and to feminists)? That we are all human, that we all sweat when we work and bleed and cry when we’re in pain; that we all smile and laugh in life’s most joyous moments; that no matter what form we may take as black, brown, white, red, male, female, or something in between, we all suffer in the same ways, and for that, we all deserve to be treated equally.
When Anderson Cooper asked Bernie Sanders about his religion during CNN’s New Hampshire town hall last week, Bernie revealed that he understood the concept of equality in a profound way. He said,
I believe that, as a human being, the pain that one person feels, if we have children who are hungry in America, if we have elderly people who can’t afford their prescription drugs, you know what, that impacts you, that impacts me…So my spirituality is that we are all in this together…
This is, by far, the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever heard any politician say in my lifetime. Because it signals to me that Bernie is thinking–he’s really digging deep–and going beyond the form that we take on in this life because he sees the humanity in all of us that goes beyond our bodies. He understands that the symbol of having a black president hasn’t eradicated police brutality or race-related discrimination in this country, just as having a female president will not eradicate violence against women and the de-professionalization of female-dominated occupations. Why? Because Bernie Sanders goes beyond the surface, and he understands that the root of our problems lies in the greed and dishonesty that pours into our political system in the form of money, through male and female politicians, including Hillary Clinton.
Bernie Sanders is the best candidate for women because he is the only candidate who has fired up the base without taking money from special interests. Not from Goldman Sachs, not from private prison lobbyists, not from private pharmaceutical companies, not from the oil and gas industry. He is the only candidate who has exposed how much power these special interests have over the political process. Hillary Clinton is unlikely to crack down on large corporations who benefit from tax evasion and other loopholes that, if closed, could have a HUGE impact on women by funneling billions of dollars back into our economy.
Bernie Sanders also understands that war begets more war; violence more violence. He knows that we’re already spending trillions of dollars on defense, and he wants to end the self-righteous, power-hungry behavior of the American military-industrial complex. Hillary Clinton wants to exercise that power; first having voted for the war in Iraq, then coercing President Obama to drop bombs over Benghazi, and most recently, advocating for a no-fly zone in Syria. Take a moment to imagine what we could do with all the money that’s being stored, untaxed, in the Cayman Islands, and all the money that’s wasted on our defense budget.
With these trillions of dollars, we could:
- Create jobs in disenfranchised communities which have high rates of male-on-female domestic violence. Studies show that feelings of shame–of deep and painful rejection–are the strongest drivers of violent crime. In particular, heterosexual men, who face immense societal pressure to be financially successful, and who also lack job prospects and recognition by society (generally, poor men of color) are much more likely to resort to violent crimes as an outlet for their anger¹. And disenfranchised women who depend on them for financial support are at their mercy.
- Raise the minimum wage to $15/hour (women make up over 75% of the U.S.’s low-wage workforce)
- Invest in universal healthcare coverage, which includes increasing the budget for mental health. This is crucial in a country where twice as many women as men suffer from depression.
- Invest it in our public schools that have struggled on a tragic (and strategic) property tax-based system, that largely impacts low-income communities and strips schools of basic resources and facilities (and, 87% of the U.S.’s public school teachers are women. Think about how this could impact the teaching profession).
- Fund paid family leave, which includes maternity and paternity leave. Finally, we could show some respect for female workers’ roles as mothers and caretakers; a respect that has been long-dismissed by corporations and other employers in this country as somehow insignificant and invaluable.
Those are just a few of the ways that Bernie’s policies and modeling will directly benefit women. And Bernie is free to do all of those things because he isn’t bought and paid for.
But, how, you ask, is Bernie Sanders going to achieve these things with a broken political system? Sure, maybe he’s got fewer ties to the big banks and corporations that exploit the middle class, but he’s never going to achieve his goals with the Congress he’ll inherit, and he can’t be the best candidate for women if he does nothing in office.
Wrong. Bernie Sanders’ entire campaign has risen from the margins because he knows that power doesn’t transfer well from the top down–I think of awful education policy decisions like NCLB and Race to the Top immediately–power is strongest when it comes from the ground up. And like burning, volcanic lava erupting from the core of the Earth, the American people have risen up from the ground indeed, and answered his mighty call to start a political revolution.
Change only comes when we mobilize the masses and demand that politicians in this country do their job. Bernie Sanders has this power of the people on his side. Hillary Clinton does not.
To those Gloria Steinems and Madeleine Albrights of the world, you should be proud of the young women who can see the connection between economic inequality and the burdens facing American women. You should be proud of us for seeing beyond a surface-level detail like Hillary Clinton’s gender. And you should be proud that we came to this conclusion through the intelligence of our own minds, instead of through the manipulation of the corporate media, which would have us believe that Hillary Clinton is the best candidate for women, simply because she is one.
Well, she isn’t. And I’d be damned if your shallow comments would have convinced me otherwise.
- Gilligan, James. Preventing Violence. (2001).
I wrote this (with a fire) in response to recent changes within my hometown school district; changes that I consider to be for the greater good. Unfortunately, the administration’s moves are being met with severe opposition from a small minority of (mostly Asian) parents and students, and I think it’s so unfortunate that the issue’s been divided by racial lines. Anyway, read on to get the full story!
To my WW-P community,
I am an Indian American female and young alumna of WW-P HS North. Having also attended Community Middle School, I spent a good chunk of my formative years in WW-P, and to this day, I continue to reflect back on my life as a student in these schools.
In high school, I was your stereotypical high-achiever; I played viola in the MS and HS orchestras, and I was 1 out of 5 seniors selected to perform a piano concerto during my final year at North. I was a varsity athlete who put North on the charts for the first time in my sport after winning the Individual State Championships in 2009. I graduated within the top 5% of my class with a 4.6 weighted GPA. I had a lot of friends in high school, who mostly shared my Asian heritage, some of whom I keep in touch with to this day.
In WW-P, I had so many opportunities to push my own boundaries and explore my passions. I fully recognize the privileges that the school district afforded me, from having a variety of challenging AP and honors classes, to dedicated and driven fellow students, to opportunities to travel internationally with the orchestra; all made possible by of the support of parents, teachers, and school staff. Our district is financially privileged, and our parents and teachers are themselves highly educated; both of which set us—their children—up for success, and for that, I am grateful.
However, there are severe problems going on within our school district that also need to be addressed. Despite the opportunities afforded to me, I was miserable throughout high school. I hid this misery behind my achievements because the overwhelming message I received from my peers and my community was that my achievements were all that mattered. The message was clear when I caught a friend glancing at the test I was just handed back. The message was clear when I would see people copying homework or divulging test questions to classmates who hadn’t taken the test yet, because they were only interested in the grade, instead of learning. Wails of “I’m never getting into college” from students who worked hard to earn Bs or Cs on their tests, words like “retarded”, and “stupid” exchanged between “friends”, and questions that essentially boiled down to “Whadya get?” were commonplace in high school; so much so that they became normal.
What I can tell you, after graduating from a college with a very different ethos, is that the ethos at North was not normal. It was not normal to know so many people who participated in self-mutilation because they could hide that from their parents better than they could hide drugs or alcohol. It was not normal to entertain, and listen to others entertain, suicidal thoughts in the privacy of an AIM chat on many late nights. I have a close friend who was hospitalized for attempting suicide during my senior year, and she showed all the signs of struggling that led up to the episode, but no one gave it a second thought. We—students, parents, and teachers—were all under the delusion of what constituted “normal levels of stress” to the point where we began to tolerate and accept apathy and even outright depression. Upon reflection, I can see how equating my sense of self-worth with my achievements encouraged unhealthy habits instead of developing my resilience to failure and willingness to take risks.
In a recent interview with a student at HS South, the ways in which our schools are lacking were made clear. He said, “I feel that at West Windsor, I am treated as a name and a GPA. From a young age we are crafted to put grades above mental health and sleep. In West Windsor, we learn for tests, not for life.” His words remind me of my own experiences of being stuck in a system where my success was always relative to the success of others; in a system where I felt reduced to the sum of my grades and standardized tests. In that intensely competitive climate, I did not learn to value the learning process or honor my own and others’ unique talents; I learned to jump through the same hoops as everyone else as we all clamored to measure ourselves against the same, narrow standards of success.
I realized in college that it’s possible to achieve academic rigor without fostering toxic competition. My friends in college were happier, more empathetic, more self-aware, more aware of a world beyond them, and fully invested in their learning—with out destroying their peace of mind. It’s no wonder to me that my college is ranked within the top 20 in the nation—it is amongst schools like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT and Stanford—and hasn’t had a single suicide since its inception in the 1830s.
The difference between my high school and college education was the concept of community. I was lucky to have peers in college who emulated what this meant; working hard at one’s personal goals without comparison to others, learning for learning’s sake as opposed to for a grade, allowing space for each other’s talents and faults without judgment, and keeping a watchful eye out for those who were showing signs of struggle at any stage of the game. I did not lose anything from including others in my thoughts because I knew that they, too, had my best interests at heart, and it was crucial for me to feel like a valued member of a community that, like North, was demanding so much of me academically at that time in my life. My college years became a process of unlearning my beliefs in competition and exclusivity and making way for inclusion and empathy, which has brought me lasting emotional and intellectual returns.
I urge you to consider Dr. Aderhold’s suggestions, not as an attempt to downgrade our schools, but as a step towards building this sense of community amongst students, parents, teachers, and administrators in WW-P. We can only succeed in transforming the culture with collective effort, and for this, I encourage you to get involved by engaging with the Board in respectful questioning and open communication about the issues at hand. Together, we are faced with the task of simultaneously maintaining our academically rigorous education and reducing the intense competition and constant comparison that leaves a lasting, painful mark on many of our students.
If we can come together to transform our schools, all of us will benefit from preparing our kids to be lifelong learners and self-aware, compassionate, and conscientious citizens of a democratic society; two of the highest purposes of a good education. I hope you will embrace the changes to come as opportunities to strengthen our schools and our community.
I remember the fourth night of freshman orientation week at Haverford College vividly: our Customs Team (upperclassmen who’d signed up to mentor my group of incoming freshman for the year) led us solemnly to a suite in the senior dorm, which we discovered was dimly lit with candles and sparsely populated with rolls of toilet paper. Apparently, they anticipated some tears that night.
We piled in silently and warily, and they began to lead us in the process of pluralism, where we would share the deepest, most emotional stories of our lives with these people we’d only just met. I was horrified; never before had I been asked to listen to the pain of strangers, let alone been given the chance share my own.
My team set the stage: we needed to share one at a time and honor the speaker with silence before somebody else was moved to start speaking. We were not to respond directly to the speaker or debate his or her experience. After all, pluralism was not a process designed to discern “right” from “wrong”–it was a process designed to facilitate a deeper understanding of the multiple lived experiences in the room, of the beauty of variety that existed organically in our Customs group, and of the likeness of our humanity that far outweighed our differences. I went into that room playing the roles that I usually do in front of new people; skeptical of the merits of this activity, and I came out feeling humbled, a little uncomfortable, and a lot more connected to my peers.
I think back to the meaning of pluralism now, when I read about the diatribes and death threats being exchanged between all parties involved in the upheavals at University of Missouri and Yale over the past two weeks. And this time, instead of aligning with the outrage on the left, I find myself caught between the intellectual crossfires of the “liberals” and the “conservatives”, the colored students and the white students, the “oppressed minority” and the “privileged.”
As a young, heterosexual, able-bodied, woman of Indian American heritage, I’ve been on both sides of the coin of ignorance and awareness. As a racial minority and female growing up in the United States, I’ve certainly noticed the moments that I was in a room full of whites, or men, or worse; the moments when both of those harsh realities would converge, and men would make intrusive assumptions and judgments about my race in an effort to impress me with their “knowledge of Indian women.” I’m also guilty of sometimes being insensitive to the injustices faced by homosexual or transgender men and women because I am a member of the dominant groups with regards to gender and sexuality. I hope it’s not too callous, then, to say that I understand both sides of this story–what it’s like to be marginalized and aware, and what it’s like to be the majority and ignorant, and what it’s like to be judged in both situations.
As a “double agent”, here’s my guess as to the collective psyches of the groups in conflict: students of color have endured racial insensitivity in the manner of witnessing “black face” Halloween costumes, being excluded from “white girls only” frat parties, and coming home to highly inappropriate posters of lynching on their bedroom doors. Reported aggressions either went unacknowledged or were directly discouraged by the administration at both universities, and their silence only aggravated feelings of shame and betrayal felt by students whose experiences and needs have fallen to the margins of their mostly white college campuses, and country.
On the other side of the argument are mostly white students and faculty, some of whom feel entitled to their offensive prejudices and actions without giving them a second thought, which I find to be incredibly self-absorbed and obtuse.
But I’m also willing to bet that some of these students have jumped on the bandwagon as a result of encounters with self-righteous and equally insensitive proponents of “social justice.” I’ve personally witnessed this specific breed of student–although few and far between–having attended a leftist, liberal arts college. They accuse and demonize conservative students, often for their ignorance, and sometimes for holding their conservative views, without allowing any room for discussion, mutual understanding, or growth. I’m willing to bet that the shame and humiliation that some of these conservative students felt upon these exclusionary encounters discouraged them from wanting to empathize with anyone but their like-minded peers.
On both sides of the equation are humans who have experienced shame, powerlessness, and fear at one point or another in their lives. I have to admit that all of us can empathize with those feelings; they are universal to anyone who’s ever been a child, and who’s experienced the shame of being silenced by parents, the fear of being humiliated by peers, or the powerlessness of being shut down by teachers, coaches, or any other “authority figures” in our lives. We reacted to these situations with the only tools we had: anger, sadness, or disappointment. Most likely, in return, we received an even harsher, more condescending response from the adults in our lives who were treated similarly by the adults before them, and so on. And we learned at a very young age that emotions are bad; emotions are dangerous and vulnerable and should be avoided at all costs.
Therein lay the problem: we have grown so accustomed to shunting our own feelings to the side that we can’t stand the thought of validating them in another. We say nasty things about each other when it comes to emotions, using words like “crybaby”, “emotional”, and “sensitive” in the most demeaning of ways. In the world of academia, in particular, we hide behind the facades of objectivity and rationality, and worship them as the only valid methods of discerning Truth–singular and with a capital T. We draw the line at our belief in free speech, without evaluating the merits of conscientious speech, and we all lose the opportunity to learn about the complexities of our own and others’ lived experiences as a result.
What we have learned instead in a culture that largely disregards, and even devalues [read: fears] emotions, is to reject an integral part of ourselves. In response, we justify rejecting a plea to at least consider the feelings of others by reflecting on Halloween costume choices that reduce an entire race of people to light entertainment. I remember the age-old teacher’s maxim, “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” But it’s as if we’re saying, “Other people have treated me poorly, and that’s just life. So I will treat others poorly as well.” And it is frighteningly easy to become resentful of someone that refuses to normalize their mistreatment and suffering when we have grown accustomed to normalizing our own.
I propose a radical solution that we–all of us–courageously confront our own past and present suffering. I propose that we give our pain the attention it deserves, and I suspect that when we recognize the pain in ourselves, we will recognize the same in others, whether we are white or colored, rich or poor, privileged or not. I propose that we create space for pluralism, as my orientation leaders did at Haverford, so we can share our whole selves and admit that we are more alike than we are different in our human fragility.
Maybe, just maybe, we can start to honor the multiplicity of truths that make up our subjective human experiences. Maybe, just maybe, we can come together and begin to accommodate each other in the midst of our suffering. Maybe then will we believe it a little more possible to end the cycles of mistreatment and self-rejection that we have come to accept in this world. And maybe then will we make room for ourselves, and each other, and the wholeness of our humanity.
When I first watched Barry Schwartz’s TED talk, “Our loss of wisdom“, during my senior year at Haverford, I was searching for some sort of validation for my life choices. Growing up in a majority Indian (and Chinese) community in Princeton, New Jersey, I’d been conditioned to think that there were only a few acceptable ways to add value to the world: as a doctor, as an engineer, as a businessman, and maybe as a lawyer; and by my senior year at Haverford, I was on track to pursue none of these.
My community places such a high value on these occupations over others, perhaps because they tend to bring in a lot of money, or because they’re generally held in high-esteem in our society, or because they require years and years of education, or all of the above.
I think it is safe to say that the Indian mentality towards choosing careers is pretty formulaic. On the extreme ends, it sounds like “Do what I tell you to do, do it really well, and don’t ask questions.” There’s little to no room for experimentation, exploration, improvisation, risk-taking, or failure, because the path has been pre-destined for you by your parents. Barry Schwartz, talking about rules and bureaucracy in American education, law, and financial dealings, immediately reminded me of the Indian mentality (towards life in general, but especially careers), when he said:
What happens is that as we turn increasingly to rules, rules and incentives may make things better in the short run, but they create a downward spiral that makes them worse in the long run. Moral skill is chipped away by an over-reliance on rules that deprives us of the opportunity to improvise and learn from our improvisations. And moral will is undermined by an incessant appeal to incentives that destroy our desire to do the right thing…Scripts like these are insurance policies against disaster, and they prevent disaster, but what they ensure in its place is mediocrity.
Of course, I’m not implying that it’s mediocre to become a doctor or a lawyer or a banker, either because you want to, or because your parents absolutely won’t have it any other way. I recognize that every one of us is fighting our own battles and coming to terms with our life situations, and balancing parental expectations might be in more of the forefront for some people than for others. What I am saying is that no job can be performed skillfully without empathy and practical wisdom, and that these virtues can be just as easily emulated by a hospital janitor as by a doctor.
Barry Schwartz goes on to give examples of hospital janitors who, when asked to describe what makes their job difficult, described how they sometimes bent the rules in the service of empathy and compassion. He defines practical wisdom as the following:
Practical wisdom…is a combination of ‘moral will’ and ‘moral skill.’ A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule, as the janitors knew when to ignore their job duties in the service of other objectives…a wise person is made, not born. Wisdom depends on experience, and not just any experience. You need the time to get to know the people that you’re serving. You need permission to be allowed to improvise; to try new things, occasionally to fail, and to learn from your failures.
The janitors that were interviewed had immense wisdom about what it means to take care and serve other people, despite the fact that theirs and other trade and service workers’ roles are so often diminished in our society for being “less than.” When I watched this talk, and when I think about the meaning of being of service to others, it becomes nonsensical in my mind that one act of service could ever be judged as greater than another; that treating patients as a doctor is thought of as better than cleaning up after patients and their families as a janitor.
A few weeks ago, I was indulging in my first ever nail appointment for a cousin’s wedding. The women there took such good care of me (and of my feet, which no one wants to touch); taking great pains to do my nails thoroughly and perfectly, massage my hands and calves, and help me move around without smudging anything. I just remember feeling a wave of gratitude wash over myself for being attended to so carefully and intentionally by another human being, and I wondered if others saw the great value in their simple gestures to care for the women that walked into their salon. Beauticians, after all, aren’t usually lauded in our society in the same way as white collar professionals, and yet they make a living out of treating people well. And ultimately, in life, it is how much we can empathize and care for and be of service to others that adds value to the world. And celebrating these moral exemplars–as Schwartz calls them–and emulating their ways, can restore a world in which we see the value in all kinds of work, and where everyone has an equally significant spot.
So you don’t need to be the next Bill Gates or Mahatma Gandhi to add value to the world, articulated here at the end of his TED talk:
So there’s a lot here at TED and at other places to celebrate, and you don’t have to be a mega hero. There are ordinary heroes–ordinary heroes like the janitors, who are worth celebrating, too. As practitioners, each and every one of us should strive to be ordinary, if not extraordinary, heroes…because the truth is, that any work you do that involves interaction with other people is moral work, and any moral work depends upon practical wisdom.
And how to we get practical wisdom? Stop judging others, firstly–and secondly, gain experience, improvise–break the rules and fail, learn from your mistakes. You can be sure that the hard lessons you learn along the way will serve you, and the people you work with, in whatever you do next.