The Establishment has forcefully pushed the explanation that Clinton lost due the fact that “working class whites” voted for Trump because they are racist. I was surprised to hear this theory, because as a poor white person, I know that the rich always vote for Republicans and the poor have very consistently voted for Democrats. This holds in exit poll data back into 1984 (we’ll talk about the income data and exit polls in general in a separate post, but that data can be found here). This year, Clinton only won those making 50,000 a year, while losing the other income groups.
Some have noticed that Trump won more uneducated voters, and called these people working class. This seems strange for two reasons
- Trump also won the educated white vote.
- Only 30 percent of the country has a BA and BA’s are no guarantee of social status in a country where there is limited social mobility
More detailed contextual information is here. After seeing these arguments, it was suggested that Clinton won the cities, where the poor are assumed to be nonwhite (there are in fact, poor whites in urban areas, I used to be one), while Trump won rural, white voters living in poverty. This theory will be deconstructed by looking at the precinct by precinct data. That data, which goes beyond exit polls to actual vote totals, can be found using this link. Please send the LA Times money for being kind enough to make big data accessible to everyone.
We’ll be looking at few case studies that will demonstrate that the majority of poor whites continued to vote Democrat, as they have for decades, while the turnout and share of voters from the upper classes increased over time. Over several days, we will explore examples that demonstrate that it was, in fact, the rich who voted for Trump.
Today we will be talking about the town of Gridley. Gridley is a town in the NorthEast portion of the state, north of Sacramento. It has one of those cute founding stories that many of these former Gold Rush towns have. The population of Gridley is about 6,584. This makes it a small town that is mostly rural. Indeed, there is no real urban area in Gridley. As you would imagine, this town, like most of the towns that surround it, is white. In fact, it is 65 percent white. There are two sides to Gridley. Gridley and East Gridley. A set of railroad tracks divides the two. The median family income in Gridley is 29,957 and over 20 percent of the county is living in poverty. Houses in Gridley sell for $180,000, but right across the tracks in East Gridley they sell for 650,000.
Clinton won Gridley with 56% of the vote, but lost in East Gridley. In East Gridley, which is the “right” side of the tracks with the substantially higher housing costs, Trump won with 54% of the vote. You can also compare turnout numbers. The residents of the wrong side of the tracks only had 272 voters, whereas the haves in East Gridley had 506 votes. This conforms with the national data that demonstrates that the poor barely voted at all.
The bottom line here is that in a town that is both rural and white there is a clear difference in voting patterns. The poorer portion voted for the Democrat, the haves in the East voted for the Republican. This is consistent with voting patterns in American presidential elections going back to 1984.
The working class white hypothesis, continues to be the only one being put forward in mainstream media. Given the paucity of data to support that and the abundant and growing data to support the fact that Trump was elected by the upper class, it seems like strange behavior for a society to claims to love empiricism so much. I’ll let you make up your own mind for now about why they seem to be clinging to this narrative so much. In the next several posts, we’ll be exploring exit poll income data changes over time, the representative cases of Sacramento, Grass Valley, Oxnard, Nevada City, and some interesting correlations with recent data about the health of poor whites.
I’ve been in the community organizing and activism game for a long time. I was an activist in junior high, which is when I got a teacher fired for being both incompetent and bigoted by circulating and organizing a petition. I’ve been doing that work ever since. In high school, myself and other community leaders ended the racial violence that permeated our poor, but diverse campus. I helped bring the first Black History Month rally to our campus. I also intervened to get access to advanced classes for my friends, among many other fun stories I’ll save for another time.
When I got to college, I wanted to study and not be involved. But unfortunately, as one of only 12 percent of the Stanford campus that was poor and one of the 3 percent that was both poor and white, I sort of realized quickly that I didn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter. Among my many acts on campus, I was instrumental in creating the first group for poor and first generation college students at an elite institution. I also forced Stanford to adopt class as part of their Acts of Intolerance protocol and participated in creating and advocating for training for staff members who were dealing with poor and traumatized students. One of my last acts was to speak at a rally against Arizona’s “show me your papers law” as a working class person who implored others to fight alongside my immigrant neighbors and to fight racial injustice. As a teacher, my curriculum included the teaching of every single movement in the 60s and my signature unit was on the Black Freedom Struggle where I featured the Black Panthers. I also closed the achievement gap between my nonwhite and white students and poor and rich students in my first semester of classroom teaching. So now that I’ve stated my credentials, I hope you can hear what I am about to say to you. Race is a profoundly salient and destructive construct, whose systematic oppression has brought hell on earth for far too many. I will fight it, always. I would happily die for the cause of fighting it.
But if you think that my talking about class or my talking about being poor and white is somehow taking away from that fight or demonstrates that I think class is more important, you are being an unhelpful dick and I have to question your motives.
Do you know how many universities in this country even have researchers studying class as a category of analysis? I do. And it’s very fucking few. There is very little research that has been done and this is partially why I am not in a doctoral program. I was rejected from several schools because I studied class, even though my work also involves the study of race.
Here’s how little we understand about class in this country: several of you require that I regularly provide evidence that I grew up poor. All the time. Everyday. Every fucking day for ten years, I have had to prove that poverty was a problem for me to self proclaimed socialists and Marxists.
Only one editor on the entire Stanford campus would accept my writing on class and I’m married to him. When I got to Stanford they wouldn’t even use the word “low income” because of the “stigma” involved. It took four years just to get them to do that. I hate interacting with most of the people who claim to be my ally because say things like, “those people are poor because they don’t work hard enough.” I spent four years just fighting to be able to say the truth, and most of my opposition came from people who claim to be helping the oppressed.
And I get this. There are limited resources and people of color have suffered a lot and it feels like and has historically been the case that we’ve pitted these two against each other. I understand why that concerns people. I understand why people assumed things and silenced me. That fear is real.
But… I also think we are ALL adults who can do things differently and talk about both at the same time. And I also think that dividing us up, such that we don’t work together is exactly what the oppressors want. We can support each other at the same time. I can ride hard for people of color and also get justice for the poor. I can even do it with my white passing skin.
How do I know?
I’ve been doing it my whole life.
Because I’ve never lived anywhere where I was in the racial majority and my family is mixed and I’m also mixed. And this is true for literally every poor white person I know, including the bikers. And we don’t let people we love be oppressed without at least trying to do something about it. We see it as a communal struggle, regardless of how we personally identify.
I am not asking to take anything anyway from anyone. I am simply asking, rather nicely, for a fucking seat at the table. Need me to do something to fight racial injustice? I will happily show up anytime. So if you could stop misrepresenting my position that would be great.
I’ll never forget the last night of the monologue show I put together my senior year while three of my relatives died due to substandard healthcare. We called it Wealth of Words and it was a series of monologues where people simply spoke about what it was like to be poor at Stanford. During the Q&A, a very prominent activist for the Asian American community asked me if we “were engaging in class warfare?”
It’s funny how they only call it class warfare when it’s the poor fighting the rich, isn’t it?
You want to tell people to check their privilege? Then check yours first. Y’all have been talking a big game about socialist uprisings, now is the time to see if you mean it. Because here’s what I know, the people that will be paying for the left’s failures to stop Trump are mine. The college kids at Yale are protected and sheltered. It’s my people who will pay the cost of this in their blood. I have played nice up until now, but if it’s the difference between hurting your feelings or having all of you hate me and preventing the deaths of my own folks, you might as well start hating me now. This is the last time I’ll be asking.
When I was 22, in the careless days of my mostly drunken youth, I was coming out of relationship with someone, who for a variety of reasons, wasn’t terribly cool about my class background. Which had grown to be pretty standard operating procedure; I had grown to expect my best-case scenario to not be treated like nuclear waste. The words “damaged goods” had been used more than onceThings had gotten so bad that I was mostly just grateful when they managed to make it through a half an hour without saying anything terribly offensive. And if they laughed? I was so starved for the way love is expressed through laugher that I fell in love with just about anyone who laughed before they expressed horror. This experience and four years of frustrating battles with my peers and staff at Stanford had turned me into a cynical, angry, radical pain in the ass. After ending a relationship with one of the most stereotypical privileged white male social justice dudes (hereafter known as PWD) you’ve ever met, after having him spit venom at my sister and refuse to come with me to funerals when I needed him, and of him crying about how hard his life was, while I was just trying to keep my students and myself alive, I said something stupid which now has come back to get its karmic retribution. I said I wasn’t going to date privileged men anymore. At first I was joking, then I started saying it out of spite so that I could horrify my female peers, then I became deadly serious. Those of you who have followed my blog the last several years will remember this as the relationship I had to flee from last year.
There were a lot of reasons why PWD didn’t work out when I was younger, and one of them was that our class backgrounds were so vastly different and he was deeply disturbed by mine. This is probably normal; hanging out with me is like having to deal with cognitive dissonance whiplash all day. I’m sure it was stressful and frustrating and because this person lacked empathy and context and I recognize that it was trying. I also recognize after almost two years of a relationship that made me hate myself that my banning of his “kind” was probably justified as a reaction to the fact that actually he had been incredibly causal and self-righteous about being emotionally abusive. The problem with that reaction is that it lumped a whole group of men together, that shouldn’t have been lumped together and that I, of all people, should have known better.
The relationship I fled from, didn’t work for a variety of reasons. We have very different approaches and attitudes towards life. It turns out that I reserve my kindness and patience for my students and seem to have a much harder time accepting and making excuses for dudes when they don’t perform like me. He didn’t want the kind of intellectual life I wanted and admittedly, it probably is pretty draining to hang out with me ALL DAY and listen to the insane variety of thoughts and reading I do and have to try to keep me intellectually entertained, especially because in my case, boredom leads to depression. Which is to say, that part of the reason our relationship didn’t work was the also the difference in our class backgrounds. We had grown up in the same neighborhood, but I was too far into being a Stanford alum for us to work. There was no way to go back once I left and I never fully belonged in the first place.
So I left that and I moved down to LA. I started hanging out with Ross, as friends for a long time. We had a lot conversations about what words meant because it turned out that words meant different things to us because our backgrounds were so different. But the point was that he had the conversation. We also had conversations about what words meant because we both have the intellectual habit of needing to pick apart words. My past isn’t exactly easy for me to hide (I may be white but no one believes my ass didn’t grow up poor, even when I’m trying to pass it takes the average rich person about 5 minutes to figure out I am not one of them, less if they are exceptionally smart or wise or if I’m not trying really hard to code switch) and Ross had read a lot of my writing for a long time. He read my memoir in its initial draft and I kept sort of expecting him to have the kind of breakdown guys used to have. I mean, I’m used to making dudes cry because of my childhood. So used to it in fact that I stopped talking about it, not because its triggering or unpleasant for me but mostly because it is unpleasant for everyone else. The breakdown I was expecting him to have never occurred, and I could tell you its partially because he’s technically a deviant among the rich and has always hung out with working class people or because he’s an incredibly imaginative writer but both of those don’t get at the root of it, which is that he’s just incredibly empathetic and sees people as people. And if I were still the same 22 year old shithead I once was, I probably would have seen none of it.
Since I had only strayed far from my own class background and only seriously once when I was much younger and no one believed there was any danger of me settling down with anyone, I sort of didn’t expect any backlash from my friends about this. I mean, for inter-racial stuff, sure. I expected that. We don’t talk about these cross-class relationships often, sometimes we talk about mixed-race relationships but given that Ross is Jewish and I’m mostly just trailor trash with some native thrown in and therefore incredibly pale, we didn’t really have the cross-race issues. Although Ross was raised Jewish and I was raised by “recovering Catholics” our actual religious and political views are very neatly aligned. Although we still have conversations about culture and I will never understand the way Ross experiences the world as a Jewish person, this rarely poses much conflict for us. But the class difference is vast, tangible and present. So when my friends started expressing their concerns about his background, they didn’t really have a choice but to frame it in terms of class.
Some of my friends thought Ross was doing the intellectual equivalent of “slumming it”, meaning that while he found me fascinating in an exotic way he’d eventually wisen up and end up with his own “kind” because of my inherent inferiority in his mind. In other words, they assumed that he is so classist that despite my two degrees from Stanford, he would always look upon me as inferior to the girls who were raised rich. Besides being super personally offensive to Ross, this argument, understandable though it was, eventually came to really hurt me. Because it denied the half of myself that actually shares the fact that Ross and I are both also elite graduates from the same institution. My community never lets me forget that I’m not all the way from the hood anymore. But it also hurt, because even supposing that Ross should see my class background as inferior it meant that my friends saw few redeeming qualities that another sane and not blind human being should see. Like I dunno, the fact that I’m a good cook and I give massages. Or that I’m incredibly compassionate. Or that I’m entertaining and funny. You know, the other traits that define me besides my pain and struggle. The things that have allowed me to thrive despite struggle, all those cool, wonderful things that my community claims to see are in fact visible to other people who are not from my class background.
Some of my male friends from working class backgrounds had more specific concerns related to a lifetime of having to compete with men like Ross. Some of them sort of viewed him as your stereotypical villain from the movies. This happened for good reasons; I have countless well educated working class male friends that have actually had girls break up with them because they had less money. This struggle is very real and I have very much fed into the perception that owed it to the community to stay away from privileged dudes. I had become a symbol in their minds, and because I had been so loudly against marrying people for money (I am still am because its immoral and a shitty way to treat people), they kind of assumed that I’d be one of the “good girls” and stay within my community. It took nearly four weeks before I realized how much I believed in my responsibility to the community and to the men I grew up with but it couldn’t change the basic fact that I fell in love. I struggled with my guilt for months, worried most of all about what message it would send to my male friends. For his part, Ross felt he couldn’t really challenge this, he said he understood how they felt because he’d feel that way too. But at the end of the day, my affection and loyalty to Ross won out. He had to fight hard for that, because for me the fact that he came from money was more of a barrier than an enticement and because I didn’t trust him. To avoid making this thing too long I’ll skip the listing of hoops he had to jump through, but suffice it to say he jumped through them, probably getting a few burns in the process because he saw enough in me to overlook how difficult this was going to be. And just so we are clear, both Ross and I understand and understood these concerns. Ross anticipated them far better than I did and sometimes had to explain them to me. These concerns are borne out of oppression and anger and a lifetime of bad experiences. They were concerns that not long ago, I too would have held. However, none of this makes it any less stupid.
The reason I call it stupid is because it reduces two very complex people down to a single identifying marker. It makes us our demographics and ignores the fact that although the both of us are probably compatible with literally no other person on the planet, we somehow work well for each other. We like to refer to this a “complementarily cray.” It isn’t enough that our intellects are well matched, I have lots of very smart friends, it is also that through some weird magic we happen to have very similar ways of looking at things while simultaneously making each other better people. I can feel the physical difference of his pressance, I am in less pain now than I have ever been in my life. He manages to keep my anxiety in check. We finish sentences and somehow really like living with each other when we’d be terrible roommates to anyone else (as always, a continuous apology to anyone who has ever had to live with me). And we’ve both been on the planet long enough to know how rare that is, how hard it is to find fellow mutants whose mutations happen to work in complementary and not destructive ways.
I can’t tell you how many times in the last year someone close to me told me that if I held a high intellect as one of the central standards in my dating life that I would die alone forever or that it was going to be really hard to find someone who would tolerate my intelligence because apparently really smart women are lepers. But again, this was understandable. This was not untrue. It was just shitty on an individual level. It had been suggested that I make more of an effort to appear stupid to attract men or that I let go of my long standing Bonnie and Clyde fantasy in the name of stability. This idea has been with me for as long as I can remember, which is to say that for as long as I have been old enough to date I have had the perception of myself as somehow untouchable because of my brain. So when an actual genius tells you that he loves that you are smarter than him and that he tells his friends you are smarter than him and demonstrates that he really means it by the respect he gives your intellect, you certainly aren’t going to just take that lightly. But I was not prepared for that actually happening in real life so sometimes I settled and sometimes I settled on being alone. I’ve been lucky because my parents have a really good marriage going back almost a decade and a half under absolutely insane conditions. The lesson I learned from my parents is that marriage is only worth it if you find someone as compatible with you as my parents are with each other. So this was a precondition for me and because everyone kept telling me this was impossible, I started making lots of jokes about ending up alone with cats. Then this dude had to come along and ruin all my fantasies about solitude.
The funny thing about this is that our even matched intelligence meant even matched neurosis. You know all those annoying traits I had when I was younger? The detachment? The commitment-phobia? The intentional attempts to push everyone away from me before they can hurt me? Yeah. I was SUPER FUN to date. Suddenly gives you a new perspective on it when you have to watch your own behavior reflected in someone you really love. Might mellow you out. Might make you less of a hypocrite. Might also make you more understanding and compassionate. It might also make both of you a giant pain in the others’ ass for several months. But what it’ll definitely do is grow your ass the fuck up.
So I’m typing this from Los Angeles because we both did some growing as people in directions that were not part of either of our plans. I’ve learned that Maya Angelou was right, love costs all that you are and ever will be and yet it is only love which will set you free.
This post is from Ross Raffin, who I felt could better speak to this issue than I could.
In the first decade of the 21st century, non-violent revolutions by popular mobilization have overthrown dictatorial governments in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Tunisia, Egypt, Kyrgyztan. In that same decade, Occupy Wallstreet managed to do little more than become a national joke. When American mass mobilization has worked in recent times, it was because the goal itself was spreading awareness. But beyond minor, short term victories by animal activist groups an others who target the funding of private organizations, nearly all of the grassroots, non-astroturf liberal movements in America’s newest century have been an embarrassment.
While the causes of this can be argued, a surprising impediment to the solution exists: a knee-jerk reaction to any advice given to an excluded group by “allies” not from that group. While Serbians gladly took notes from American operatives, while Tunisians and Egyptians were tutored by Georgians, and while Kyrgyztan’s grassroots movement were trained by what are commonly known as “white boys,” liberal movements in America shunned the very idea of tactical advice from an “outsider.”
Now, the roots of this grip are quite understandable. Tone policing and respectability politics have long been used to force oppressed minorities to behave in a way that comforts the masses at the expense of the oppressed group. But if a 1 percenter walked up to Occupy and said “hey guys, did you know that are nearly 200 other non-violent tactics you could be using that don’t involve sitting in the middle of the street assuming bankers will call for new laws if you make their commute too long?” then this “ally” has violated his duty to stand silently by and watch the movement burn itself to the ground.
In this model, the “good” ally waits for the entire Occupy Movement campaign to collapse
rather than suggest a change which could accomplish it’s goals. It is strange, then, that this role of “good ally” is only slightly less harmful than active sabotage by an agent provocateur.
So, as a “ally” and “cracker,” I am going to do what a REAL ally does: weigh the costs of inserting myself into a dialogue whose issues primarily impact an excluded group with the costs of sitting back and watching that representatives of the group engage in harmful tactics.
The immediate response of “non-crackers don’t need saving” is absolutely correct. However, it is just as wrong to say “as part of the cracker culture, even if I know a way to help out excluded minorities, I’m going to keep my mouth shut so non-crackers like me better.” If a non-cracker stumbles and trips, it’s not racism to hold a hand out if he wants to be be pulled back up. Especially if the cracker and non-cracker’s next move is to bean the nearest Klan leader in the face.
But if all “allies” care about are how they’re perceived, they’ll let the non-cracker stumble and fall. Let him or her run up against the Klan with no backup because to give any help would make you look “oppressive.” Or perhaps, the ally thinks the best to help is to do whatever the non-cracker says, and if the ally sees a Klansmen about to stab the non-cracker in the back, the ally should simply stay silent and hope the non-crackers requests help before its too late.
Unless the civil rights leaders are to be accused of tone policing, then it is time to make crystal clear the difference between oppressive tone policing and effective strategy and tactics. Nothing Yale students have encountered even remotely resembles the physical and spiritual harassment of civil rights protestors. The mere fact that they weren’t able to hit back when hit, shoot back when shot, and spit at when spit on is an exponentially greater “tone policing” than saying “Don’t spit on teachers because they say something that may be racist.”
There is a litmus test for when something said should be disregarded as “tone policing” versus “effective strategy and tactic.” If the following questions are answered with “yes” then feel free to rage on a cracker.
1. Is the intent of the advice primarily to increase comfort levels of members outside the excluded group?
2. Implementing the advice either will not effect the prospects of achieving an ideal outcome or the advice will hurt those prospects.
3. If a civil rights leader used these words, you’d suspect they were alien impersonators. (Real-life example: “When you talk about poverty, it makes your privileged classmates feel uncomfortable like they don’t know as much as you.”)
4. The advice has no empirical evidence or argument for why it will achieve the goals of the protest.
If the answers to all four of the above questions are “no,” then it is irresponsible for a cracker to keep to him or herself simply because he/she wants to seen as “politically correct” at the expense of social progress.
Here are some real-life examples of when advice was tone policing or not.
Tone Policing: After responding to classmates who say “All Lives are Equal” you are told “you were aggressive with your classmates in the way you questioned them.”
Effective Strategy: When raising awareness of institutional racism, it is suggested you keep media attention on the fundamental problem instead of creating an over-reaction guaranteed to suck the media narrative into entitled rich kids and race wars.
Tone Policing: When a woman suggests lysistratic protest (“if men don’t support planned parenthood, don’t fuck ’em), and is given the response of “well, that’s heteronormativity.”
Effective Tactics: If you’re bringing attention to multi-faceted aspects of racism through a list of “demands,” alumni and donors who put pressure on universities will ignore pay discrimination between minority and non-minority faculty when framed as “give all minority facultly a raise.” A simple rephrasing of “stop pay inequality between minority and non-minority staff” would lead to investigations into pay rates. Instead, the news gets to run stories about race-based special preference.
Tone Policing: After responding to a professor, in class, about his comment that “students should learn the dominant language because they can only do higher order thinking in it” the professor says “this isn’t the appropriate place for that debate.”
Effective Strategy: Instead of focusing on less-than-symbolic tactical overreach as an end unto itself (such as firing a professor for a comment), follow in the footsteps of greatness and plan civil rights campaigns around a series of tactics with an ultimate goal which will impact core institutional problems regarding racism. Forcing unreasonable resignations over ambiguous comments wins an insignificant battle while leading to lost ground in the greater war.
Tone Policing: “Every time you talk about your childhood and high school it makes me sad, why do you do it? It really alienates people.”
Effective tactics: If you’ve got to give your movement a hashtag, lean away from self-evident racial puns that border of resembling the subtitle of a Daily Show segment.
Tone Policing: “The fact that you talk so much and are so passionate, it’s really sort of too masculine
It has taken months for me to figure out how to write this post. At first I ran away from it, avoiding it, burying it, rejecting it. Then I spent a long time trying to find a way to wrap it in a pretty bow and make it nice. It was always there in the background haunting everything I did. Eventually I couldn’t hide anymore and I decided that I just had to be honest and raw. That’s something I’ve lost in the last few years as I have adjusted to this new environment. I used to scare people like a monster with my mouth and the things that came out of it. So I learned to codeswitch and say it with a smile. But it wasn’t enough, my edgy-ness, my having-lived-life-ness was unprofessional and it was no longer socially acceptable for me to say what I thought. I began to see myself as something that I had to hide and when I couldn’t hide it, I hid from everyone.
So here it is. As honest as I can say it.
When I was a child I would walk through my house and get hit and ask why and the sociopath I pretended to be my father would tell me it was just for gp, general purpose. I got accustomed to it, it was actually one of the less terrible pieces of my existence. Being hit, I could deal with that. I could deal with the insults causally said to me in the house, slut, fat, bitch, whore. The best part of my years were my trips to my grandmother’s house where at least we’d have enough to eat, and instead of the beatings I just got called fat. These were the easiest parts of my existence, so when people ask me why I was successful in school, I don’t know how to tell them that school, with all its ridiculousness, with the lack of books and the food and the never fitting in, was the thing I fantasized about, because at school, I was undeniable.
My mom used to hide my test scores from my siblings to spare them the comparisons. I was the family scapegoat. When I asked her why she was so hard on me in particular she said it was because I could handle it and because she didn’t want me making the same mistakes. This is why my mother never felt the compulsion to tell me that there was anything I did well, she was afraid that if I knew my power that I would be an uncontrollable nightmare. When the sociopath went to jail I was 14, the beatings and the names didn’t stop, though the attempted rapes did and for that I felt blessed. I took the blows and the words from my sister and my grandmother because I knew that it was the only way for them to express their anguish. I’ve had people tell me that they were cruel to me because I was only one who could take it, a lot. That’s why by the time college rolled around, I could survive any critique. And I could also survive that treatment from the people who called me their girlfriend. I survived it by making myself numb, so numb, in fact, that I don’t really remember my childhood and now don’t even know when I dislocate my jaw or hip.
I was weird for a Stanford student in many ways, but the one that seemed to interest people the most was that I was not an outcast in high school. I wasn’t universally loved, either. When I was 14 a group of girls decided that they were frustrated with my popularity and confidence and they shouted whore at me in the hallways and wrote me letters in which they told me how terrible I was. They threatened to beat me up shortly after I had finally escaped someone that had been beating me for the fun of it. I wish I could tell you that the adults intervened but in my neighborhood the only real adults were the more competent kids. So as my now former friends attempted to dethrone me, the black girls at my high school came to my defense and said “if you touch her, then you deal with us.” I was surprised to say the least. I was used to using that line to defend people, just 2 weeks before the mean girl shenanigans started I had a guy beat up for sexually assaulting one of the girls that now threatened me. For six months, this torment continued but it ended up just back-firing and making me more powerful, mostly because they were never able to get me to admit that they had hurt me. Instead I sent their letters back written with comments in impeccable satire. By sophomore year, I was undisputedly running things, and I was doing it from my home because my health forced me into independent study.
People at Stanford didn’t seem to have an explanation for my experience in high school. I never had the heart to explain everything to them and I don’t think they would have heard it if I did. My first boyfriend in college spent one night calling me a whore and telling me it was because I was the kind of girl who dated the kind of guys who beat him up. But I was not that girl, I had more power than any of the men at my school did. I had no way of translating that to anyone and it made people uncomfortable and so, once again, the people around me tore me down to make themselves feel better, and I let them because I was used to being the sacrifice. By the time I reached Stanford, I had no self-esteem. Unlike my peers, I had never had a point in my childhood where I was simply safe and loved. When I was an infant, my mother’s husband held a gun to my head and threatened to kill us all if my mom left him. No one was even at my birth except my teenaged mother and there are almost no pictures of me from my childhood because my grandmother was angry with me for being born. I never developed a basis of worth or a belief in myself. To this day, I only think of myself as having the right to exist if I am doing something for someone else, which is why it has been so hard for me to be ill. My fiancé has faced the uphill battle of teaching a stubborn, brilliant, and profoundly wounded creature to believe that she is a human.
My junior and senior year of college I dated a very confident and happy young man who was the picture of California’s finest. Behind closed doors, he hated it when I upstaged him. When we took classes together, I would spend the evenings afterwards trying to make him feel better about the fact that I was the stronger academic. In the logic class, I solved all of the proofs and he stole my solutions and was happy when a slight mistake in transcription of sentences, not the proofs-mistakes that I was making because my headaches were so severe-would cause him to get a higher grade. I met him after returning from China, an experience that had been painful for me. The people on the trip with me often made me feel excluded, the girls fed on my bodily insecurities and the most banal statements about my childhood disturbed them. I was drinking, heavily, 4 nights out of the week and waking up with tears streaming down my face. I was hurt by the first boy who understood where I came from and called me beautiful even as he fucked other girls to prove to me he could. When I got back from China, my little brother got his girlfriend pregnant while still a senior, and my 13 year old sister was raped. I hid these facts from everyone and so I found a boy who would take joy in my doing so and who hated me when I was most myself. My life only continued to spiral out of control as time went on, and by the time I returned from my first summer in Germany, where I acted as my boyfriend’s house wife, my one positive female role model was dying and I knew that was not going to be able to finish my honors thesis. Instead of understanding that this happened because I was human, I took on all of the culture, exacerbated by all of the abuse, that said that if you didn’t do something it was because you didn’t work hard enough. “No excuses”, I learned, only applied to poor children. For me there is no safety-net, there is no gap year, no rehab and no help getting jobs. It made me constantly aware that despite all I had done, I was always one bad day away from hunger. My failure to write this thesis conveniently made my very insecure and very privileged boyfriend feel much better and he continued to feed the fuel by calling me lazy and picking on my weight with his friends the summer after I graduated in Germany. Of course, he got a lot of help from me when it came time for him to write his honor’s thesis.
Do you see the pattern yet? Do you see how I’ve been torn down by so many people who hated my fire? So many people and so many times, that people made sure I had no idea what I was capable of so that they could feel better about what they weren’t. But this isn’t just a personal story, because I am a woman in a world that does that. When men are sold something it is in order to make them feel and be great, and when women are sold something it is to cover up their inadequacies. Advertising is fundamentally an abusive boyfriend no matter what your background is. I feel the sting of irony as an exceptionally talented historian, who pointed out that Disneyland was bullshit at 4, succumbing to this. On the outside, I was the snarky bitch who smoked cigars while wearing a trench coat and short skirt and told people exactly who they were. On the inside, I was a profoundly damaged little girl who had no self worth. And I wish I could tell you that the turning point happened after breaking up with that boyfriend, and in some ways it did, and in the more surprising ways it didn’t.
When I broke up with him, I promised myself that I would never let anyone do that again and for a while the only way I knew how to prevent that was to become cold and untouchable, so I started letting the image of me as a sassy cat lady build. I put into place what I needed to be in the right relationship, but I hadn’t yet found the way to build a life that would allow me to be my best self. I entered Stanford’s Teacher Education Program (STEP) and suddenly found myself in a program that had a fundamentally core belief that required them to make me feel like shit about myself, because you see in education ideology, people who have an easy time performing do so because they are more confident and take away from the learning of others. It is why as a little girl, I had trained myself to count to ten before answering questions. It was why as a little girl, teachers would relish in my failure, and wouldn’t accommodate me when I was sick. It was why as a little girl, I would get perfect scores and be told it wasn’t enough. Very few teachers were supportive and kind to me in school, which is why my behavior was often atrocious.
STEP got on me early. They would refuse to call on me. Take me aside and tell me that I was hurting the other students. Call me domineering when my adult classmates handed over group assignments to me to finish for everyone. Refuse to give me any credit for any group assignments. Relish and then refuse to help me when I struggled. Pick on me and tell me I would never be good enough. My classmates would come to hate me and tell our supervisors that I was making it hard for them to do their best. They would report when I was sick and take pleasure in tearing my assignments apart. The few who stood up for me would find themselves shut-down. I became a complete nervous shadow of myself, and at precisely the same moment, my body hit its limit. STEP was merciless. It was everything that I was promised would stop when I entered Stanford and when I was an undergrad, Stanford lived up to that. Most professors seemed to love having me in the classroom and encouraged me to be successful. And I wish now, that I had been more open about my childhood and that I had had more support because if I had, I might not be as ill as I am now. Unlike my friends, I had no direction and no networks to figure out what to do with my Stanford degree. I have always been able in the classroom to hide my insecurity with my intelligence, so I never let on that I was confused. I could be ignored because I was white and helping me wouldn’t result in the same kind of public relations coup. I went into STEP because even though I desperately wanted to write and do research, I was dealing with too much and didn’t know that I was good enough to get a PhD. I thought that my failure to write my honors thesis meant that I was incapable because I unable to get past the 3 deaths that happened in the fall of my senior year, while also being forced to run the first-generation low income community group, First Gen Low Income Partnership. But I had no support, no community, no help because I was poor white trash. The only people I ever knew that had college degrees were teachers and everyone kept telling me that I needed to continue my activism for poor students. My boyfriend at the time encouraged me to teach because he was the “better” fit for PhDs. So I went into education.
Education is a female dominated field, and I thought because it was going to be a bunch of people who cared about children that we were all going to be super nice to each other. Which made the shock of reality even more difficult for me. This time it wasn’t one professor, it was a program. It wasn’t one group of girls, it was nearly everyone except those that had to work closest to me. I was ignored, ridiculed and then made to sit in meetings where I was told to apologize for the honor because I was making people feel bad with my presence and words. They took a very badly wounded soul and pushed me into the ground. I guess that’s how I ended up in work environments that replicated the pattern. That’s why I had to leave the classroom prematurely.
My body paid the price for this. It took the damage, quite literally. It took the damage when I was beaten and when I fought as a little girl. It took the damage as I struggled through Stanford, fighting the whole damn way for everything I got. It took the damage when I taught four classes, vomiting in between each one and then sat in class vomiting in secret every half an hour, because I was too afraid to let anyone know that I was sick. It took the damage when a very scared little boy injured me. It took the damage all year, as I struggled to climb up the stairs and into my classroom. It took the damage when I pulled a 14 hour day to prove that I was teaching the kids because some of the women on staff felt the need to tell my supervisor that I was bad at my job because I showed them up. It has taken the damage, being the only consistent protection I’ve ever had.
It has taken it everyday that I’ve hated it for not being thin enough. It has taken it everyday that I joked about how grateful I was to be smart because I was not beautiful. It took it when a boy told me to lose weight because I “could” look better. It took it when a boy told me his friends thought I wasn’t thin enough. It took it when I didn’t stand up for myself when a boy fucked another girl because I thought it was what I deserved. It took it every night I drank so that I could endure the social interactions with my peers who thought appropriate party chatter included bigotry. It took it when I rushed to class after my weekly toradol injection so that I didn’t have to deal with any emails from my supervisors at STEP about how I couldn’t possibly be sick because I could come to class and perform. It took it when I went to work limping only to have to spend vital work time responding to constant emails demanding to know why I wasn’t failing the students like everyone else on campus. It took it every single fucking time.
And what bothers me most, is that my story is not isolated. It is trapped in context. My story is the story of a gifted woman being torn down so as to not offend men. My story is the story of a kind, gentle soul being made rough by women who were scared to find out what her existence meant for them. My story is the story of a passionate, caring individual being isolated because the color of her skin didn’t fit into the narrative. My story is the story of a beautiful, womanly young girl hiding her body because she wanted to be taken seriously.
And I wonder how many gifted, kind, passionate, beautiful people we’ve ruined because we were scared of their power.