On Fear and Failure

No one talks about the fear of failure. Everyone online is winning, crafting their aesthetic, a ball of success, laughing at bitches as they shine in their villain era. OR, they’re soft, it’s velvet couches, luxury loungewear and freshly ground coffee slowly poured in a Chemex. OR, it’s grind culture. Hustle harder boo. You have the same 24 hours as Beyonce. While ya’ll sleeping your favs are up at 5am posting #gymlife selfies and broadcasting lives about catching flights not COVID. TikTok and IG provide the scaffolding for my toxic voyeurism. Everytime I scroll, every new post or video is like a leather lash braided into my psychic whip. The intensity of my self-flagellation increases with every 30-second clip of a random stranger, someone decidedly aspirational with an opaque source of income living their absolute best life. I fucking haaaaate myself. I’m not aesthetic, my Peloton is a casual acquaintance at best and unlike every thinker/writer/scholar I follow on Twitter, I haven’t written anything in many moons. 

See, I’m ace at conjuring vivid and explicitly detailed scenes of my impending failure. And because I’m absolutely fucking certain that I’ll fail, because I’ve spent so many years living in that certainty, I’ve become frozen. Stuck in a cryotank of excuses. Well Zeba and Nikole have already written about that. You’re closer to 40 than 25 girl, the moment has passed. You have no audience because you don’t “get” personal branding. And for that matter, wtf does branding have to do with writing anyway? Writing doesn’t pay and the rent in Cali has you in a chokehold. But none of that matters because it’s already been written about, or currently being written about, by bitches that are smarter, quicker, more connected, bolder, than me. 

So I sit and I agonize and I mourn and I dream. Dream of actually trying to walk into the brilliance of my purpose before life inevitably snuffs me out. Mourn the wasted years when I could’ve been writing instead of burrowing into my depression. Agonize on whether I should just…..try it. In her Masters Class episode Maya Angelou said something that has stuck with me. “So try to live your life in a way that you will not regret years of useless virtue and inertia and timidity. Take up the battle. Take it up. It’s yours. This is your life. This is your world.” I burst into tears when I heard that. Her brown eyes seemed to be staring straight into mine as she spoke. Maya was talking to me. No one else. Her ability to excavate my soul and unearth the source of my affliction almost made me believe there is a god. 

So here I am. Writing this. A meditation on the price of fear. On paper I’m ok. I report to a 9-5 and get my share of raises, promotions and recognition. I’m a parent. I’m a spouse. I have a nice car. I live near the beach. I have lots of things and I want for nothing. For a girl born in crack-era Watts it’s a small miracle I’ve made it this far. But it’s all trash. It’s basura. I wake up, I wife, I mom, I work, I Netflix, I TikTok, I sleep. Capitalist America says lock into this cycle for another 30 years (or more) and then go quietly into that good night. 

The cost of this life has been utterly staggering. I float through days of middle-class respectability like a haint, just substantial enough to be felt, but not fully formed. Many people struggle with the “what is my purpose” question. Not me. Rather, I exist with the existential cancer of knowing exactly what will satisfy my soul, and yet letting decades slip by as I allow myself to be continuously dragged by fear. I’m exhausted by it all. I want to be blood, sinew, bone, hormones. A fully fleshed creature. And I can’t be fully fleshed unless I reject the conditioning that has me believing I ain’t shit. That I’m doomed to fail. That it’s already been done with a level of excellence I could never achieve. Fuck that noise. I’m taking what’s mine.


My stomach turned when he violently slammed her desk backward. I could feel my heart rate slow nearly to a stop as he dragged her five feet across the grimy linoleum of the classroom floor. She was young, female, and black. He was older, male, and white. At issue was teenage insouciance. She wouldn’t give up her damn cell phone.

I avoided watching that video for a week. I didn’t want to read the hashtags on Twitter. I didn’t want that weary, impotent rage to blanket my mind once again. I simply wished it wasn’t real.

Why is it that mild rebellion becomes a kindling for violence when it features a black cast? What element comes into play that transforms routine encounters between law enforcement and commoners into theaters for racial animus? What made this particular 16-year-old such a looming threat?

These are the facts: A black female student at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina was glued to her cellphone during class time. After refusing to heed the demands of both her teacher and an administrator to leave the class, a School Resource Officer was called in. The officer, Ben Fields, is seen on cellphone video immediately escalating the situation.

After the student refuses to comply with Officer Fields’ demand to follow him out of the classroom, the video clearly captures him grabbing her by the neck, slamming her backwards while she is still seated at her desk, and finally dragging her to the front of the room. Her fellow classmates are shown taking pains to stare at their desks in an effort to avoid witnessing the brutal scene.

Following the incident, the student was released to her parents. Although some students argued in defense of Fields, his brutal tactics led to his termination. Officer Fields has faced lawsuits for excessive force and violation of civil rights. One suit was largely dismissed in 2007. A second suit, filed by a former student at Spring Valley High, will be heard in January 2016.

As I’ve written before, the presence of video thrusts the public into the heart of the assault. The existence of the video shot by the student’s classmate obviates the public’s reflexive need to pretend the officer couldn’t have possibly been that brutal. The dispassionate oculus of a zoom lens is a necessary tool in the fight to expose the heady reality of race and policing in American classrooms.

In widening the scope of the analysis, it becomes easier to understand how punitive educational policies strangle the potential of black students to fully engage in and benefit from school. The ability to test the boundaries of acceptable behavior has become a privilege reserved for white kids merely deemed to be going through a “phase”.

At the heart of this brutal incident is the introduction of school policies that effectively criminalize students for bad behavior. Resultantly, unacceptable behavior is met with criminal liability instead of course correction and empathetic guidance. The pivot toward early criminalization of students is exemplified in South Carolina by the Disturbing Schools Law. This 1962 statute makes it unlawful “for any person willfully or unnecessarily to interfere with or to disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers of any school or college…” Conviction leads to a misdemeanor charge and a fine.

This disturbingly vague law opens innumerable pathways to the criminalization of a significant portion of the 59% of black students served by the school district encompassing Spring Valley High. Indeed, recent studies conducted by the Department of Education bear this out. The data is clear. Black students are 3 times more likely than their white peers to be subject to disciplinary action that separates them from a learning environment. Add to that the introduction of police officers in schools, and the inevitable result is a punitive atmosphere in which disadvantaged students face early forays into the penal system for petty rebellions.

Officer Fields has been fired. Both the F.B.I. and the Justice Department are investigating the assault. Unfortunately, the individual fate of Officer Fields will have a net zero impact on the multitudes of black children navigating an educational system that is not built for their success.

She was young, female, and black. Why did she have to be that?

Reading is Fundamental: Vol 2

BLM Girlsjpg
Photo/Laura Ming Wong

The New Yorker visits the murderer Darren Wilson in a piece succinctly named: The Cop. Fine work, whether or not you agree with the writer’s conclusions and inferences.

The tension between white libs and the supporters of the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been evident almost since the sheet was laid over Mike Brown. Imani Gandy looks to history and finds some parallels in her excellent article, MLK and the White Progressive.

On a related note, the NY Times continues to make pains to demonstrate how “down” they are with a video of some prominent activists of Black Twitter.

Have you seen the Charleston Syllabus?! Amazing. Love the notion of crowdsourced knowledge in the digital age.

Nipsey Hussle is a mysoginistic piece of shit. Read about his hateful, anti-black women comments here. This fiasco is exactly why I identify as a black feminist, and not simply a feminist.

I finally picked up Ta-Nehisi Coates new work, Between The World and Me. I’ve read a few reviews that took issue with his portrayal of women. Which, I think is healthy. We should always challenge our public intellectuals to face their own bias.

Also, there’s this:

ISIS and the Theology of Rape by the New York Times. Made me absolutely sick. Religion, violence, and sex combine into a hellish vortex. Sexual slavery. Prayer and ablutions between rape sessions. Horrifying.

Finally, Big Brother just sold you a new iPhone 6. The New York Times published a disturbing  investigative piece on AT&T’s collaboration with the NSA. At what price, safety? It’s a question we need to relentlessly confront.

Follow me on twitter! @thepolicyfade

Will Someone Please Think of the White Women?! Or, why Patricia Arquette is a tone-deaf bitch.

Arquette Oscars Speech
Patricia Arquette accepts the award for Best Supporting Actress
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty

During her acceptance speech at the Oscars last Sunday, actress Patricia Arquette made an attempt to rally white feminists by calling for equal pay. On the surface, Arquette’s standard issue rallying cry was the sort of policy-lite that could be hashtagged and memed for days. However, things went south backstage when she was asked to elaborate her onstage comments. In a breathtakingly ignorant move, Arquette asserted that white women had done their part in agitating for the civil rights of “everybody else” (read: blacks and gays)—and now it’s their turn. Her response betrayed a fundamental flaw in mainstream, American feminism—the repeated failure to acknowledge the socioeconomic ramifications of intersectionality. In other words, the movement’s failure to recognize that one can be both a feminist and a poc and even, by god, LGBT. She offered the following wisdom behind the curtain:

“And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now”.


In her self-righteous bid to briefly don the “activist cape”, Arquette denied the ongoing struggle of people of color and LGBT citizens. Her reflexive universalization of the experiences of leisure-class white women revealed an unsophisticated understanding of the fight for equality. The actress’s failure to recognize the interplay of race, class, and gender mirrors broader issues within feminist movement.

Black feminists in the academy long ago recognized the immutable reality of intersectional identities. Pioneering work by Kimberle Crenshaw (who coined the term intersectionality) and bell hooks, among many others, attacks the notion that one has to be either a feminist or a woc. Most feminists of color recognize that systems of oppression do not operate in isolation, and thus reject the dictate that the struggle for minority rights is a separate and competing agenda.

Unfortunately, the popular imagination still clings to the framework first put forth by Betty Friedan. This is a framework centered on middle-class, college educated white women. Today, the daughters of Friedan’s peers want to lean in and be compensated appropriately for it. Essentially, these women want to compete on the battlefield of capitalism and achieve financial parity with their white, male counterparts.

Arquette’s appeal conveniently ignored the fact that black women and Latinas routinely earn less, dollar for dollar, than their white peers. An analysis of Census data conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that while white women earn 78% of the earnings of their white male counterparts, black women only earn 64%, and Hispanic women make even less at 53%. A quick look at the numbers muddles Arquette’s simplistic argument for fair pay.

The data collected by AAUW shows that race has an almost decisive impact on the lifetime earnings of women of color when compared to those of white women. Furthermore, deeper analysis of the numbers demonstrates that higher education amongst women of color does little to mitigate the persistence of the pay gap. Arquette’s use of a heteronormative, white, male-vs-female dualist framework to attack gender-based pay discrepancies erases the unique challenges faced by women with intersecting identities.

Ultimately, rather than taking a moment to seriously question an economic system that is highly stratified and marked by crippling inequality, the actress instead chose to unconsciously endorse a mode of production that must necessarily keep a significant percentage of the population on the bottom rungs. Instead of insisting on parity in a grossly unfair system, Arquette would have been better served to call for the structural changes that would make such concerns largely null and void. Perhaps next time Patty, you can struggle for women across the race-class-sexuality spectrum.

Actually…don’t bother. Intersectional feminists can agitate just fine for our damn selves.

On The Inevitability of Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton Getty Images
Getty Images

First Lady, senator from New York, 2008 presidential contender, secretary of state. These are the bold descriptors invoked when politicos and observers discuss the bona fides of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The perpetual-campaign mindset of the American media has created an atmosphere of frenzied speculation surrounding the 2016 presidential election. This state of affairs has contributed to the development of an insidious notion that crosses partisan lines —the inevitability of a Clinton run, and perhaps, presidency. This sort of fatalism is dangerous to the democratic process because it discourages the serious exploration of alternative candidates in favor of a narrowly circumscribed contingent of acceptable contenders.

The assumption of Clinton’s ascendency to the Democratic nomination is founded on the nebulous contention that America is “ready for a female president”, and thus women will deliver her to the White House. It betrays a perception of American women as an undifferentiated mass that will eschew thoughtful consideration of her policies in favor of groupthink that employs gender as a litmus test. The final assumption, and perhaps most critical to this assessment, is the overt acceptance of a dynasty in American politics. Many will point swiftly to the Kennedys, the Bushes, and perhaps even the Pauls. While the focus of this piece is on the Clintons, the formers’ attempts at dynasty are no less problematic.

At the time of this writing, two pro-Hillary Super PACs, Ready for Hillary and Priorities USA, are conducting closed-door meetings in preparation for her run. Their highly seasoned staff (many are vets from both the Clinton and Obama campaigns), and ability to marshal vast financial resources, virtually ensures that Clinton’s cloud of inevitability will darken the landscape long before her declaration. Closer to the candidate, unofficial campaign advisers have begun consultations with Clinton about the technical requirements of running a campaign. Maggie Haberman of Politico reports that, “publicly, Clinton insists she’s many months away from a decision about her political future. But a shadow campaign on her behalf has nevertheless been steadily building for the better part of a year — a quiet, intensifying, improvisational effort to lay the groundwork for another White House bid.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times Magazine describes the former Secretary of State’s gravitational pull, Politico breathlessly reports on Clinton’s shadow campaign, and Time describes her political momentum as unstoppable. These three rather reputable outlets represent a larger trend towards shaping the political conversation in a manner that presupposes the outcome.

Amongst the 2016 hopefuls, Clinton has attracted the most feverish speculation about a possible run. Thus, it raises a question—does the coverage influence the polls? Or do the polls influence the coverage? I suspect that the incessant speculation surrounding her potential presidential bid may lead some respondents to favor the candidate with the most hype.

Recent polling data from Iowa demonstrate Clinton’s clear lead in virtual matchups with various opponents. The October Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll shows Clinton with strong leads over Governor Chris Christie, Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, and former Governor Jeb Bush. Mitt Romney proves the rare exception and leads Clinton 44-43. However, Romney’s edge is trivial, as it falls squarely within the margin of error.

Other numbers from Iowa demonstrate Clinton’s almost absurd lead amongst dems. According to another poll administered by the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg, 76 percent of likely Iowa Democratic caucus voters have a “favorable” view of Clinton. The former secretary of state’s horrifying gaffe about leaving the White House “dead broke” clearly hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of Iowa dems.

However, in the thick of the horse race, the salient issues remain unexamined. It’s easy to periodically weigh in on current affairs, such as the annexation of Crimea or the emergence of ISIS, without leaving yourself open to questions about what a Clinton foreign policy would actually entail. The complacent acceptance of a candidate simply based on her family name and celebrity, instead of her policies, goes against our democratic culture.

Inevitability and democracy are, and always have been, mutually exclusive. Clinton ’16 is virtually inevitable, and that reality is fraught with dangers to our political future.

“Most of her fellow Democrats are signaling scant interest in taking her on. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a hero of the left, has repeatedly said she would not challenge Clinton in the primary. Likewise, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota—who might otherwise vie to be the first female President—have said they would support her candidacy. ‘I think if another woman ran against Hillary, she would bring down the wrath of women around the country,’ said one veteran democratic strategist, echoing a widespread view inside the party that Clinton earned another shot at history when she surrendered gracefully to Barack Obama in 2008.”

The above passage from David von Drehle in Time provides a sharp glimpse into the bloated inevitability surrounding Hillary Clinton’s political future. Democracy at its core is about the people having choice in their political affairs. The notion of Hillary as a foregone conclusion, even before she declares her candidacy, is a toxic manifestation of the intermingling of party politics and the cloying cult of personality that hovers around the Clintons. Much has been written about their vast political network and its sometimes-decisive impact on Democratic Party politics. In fact, the Hillaryland machine has been noted for precipitating the swift death of certain opponents’ political careers.

Nevertheless, viable alternatives to the corporate-lite brand of Clintonian politics do exist. Both Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand are serious policymakers that can bring significant value as the first female President. (Let it be noted that Gillibrand’s junior status in the Senate arguably prevents any serious traction in 2016).

Clinton’s obvious inability to effectively tackle the rampant class-anxiety permeating post-Great Recession America came roaring into the spotlight in the wake of her claim that she and former-President Clinton walked out of the White House “dead broke”. A contention that many Clinton observers immediately assailed. Her latest attempt at faux populism came this month while stumping for Boston gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley. In a naked attempt to woo the progressive wing of the party, and align herself more closely to the positions taken by Warren, Clinton heaped praise on the liberal champion, and offered pat critiques of corporate culture and Wall Street excesses.

Senator Warren, in contrast, has been known as a dogged champion of the middle-class since the publication of her landmark work The Two-Income Trap. More recently, her instrumental contribution to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
demonstrates her willingness to take the political hits necessary to reign in Wall Street. Warren’s tenure in the upper chamber has been spent sponsoring strong bills that call for serious student loan reform. The latest bill, officially known as the “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act”, ultimately failed to pass. Warren was 2 votes shy of a victory. The broader point, however, is that Senator Warren isn’t just hanging out in the Senate waiting for reelection. She’s taking her principles to the table.

Senator Gillibrand, a young upstart from New York, has taken on the herculean task of dragging the scourge of rampant sexual assault in our military into the light. She has deployed her hard-won political capital to shatter the veil of silence on such a dishonorable phenomenon and change the rules of the prosecution game. One would be hard pressed to argue that her status as a woman on the Senate Armed Services Committee didn’t have an impact on her decision to champion this issue.

These two Senators, at sometimes-great political cost, have decided to tackle serious issues that have festered in the background of our culture for years. So, why aren’t they stepping to the fore in the 2016 race? Well, according to the received wisdom of our political class, it’s Hillary’s turn. Women are ready for Mrs. Clinton, and woe to the sorry broad naïve enough to challenge her.

At this point, it’s important to reiterate that my personal stance on Clinton is really beyond the point. I’m not attempting to cast doubt on her fitness for the Presidency. Nor am I suggesting a preference. Rather, the critical issue here is the absence of a meaningful, serious choice. Each time another elected representative declines to initiate a healthy competition for the most important office in the world, and each time voters fail to attack this lack of courage and imagination, American democracy dies a little.

The specter of defeat in politics is an immutable facet of the landscape.
Some of our most qualified elected representatives have declined to compete for the chance to forge a future in which America remains the strongest nation on the international stage. This writer, for one, would like authentic choices in 2016. Token candidates need not apply.