A Letter to my Feminist Daughter….


I talked to you the day after the election and you asked me, how was Donald Trump elected President of the United States?  How, you asked me, did tens of millions of Americans vote for an unqualified, unprepared, inexperienced man instead of for a qualified, prepared, experienced woman?

Hillary Clinton may not have been perfect, but there was no doubt that she was smarter, more prepared, she had policy recommendations, you said, and Donald Trump didn’t have any of those things.


In a contest of flaws, Donald Trump easily won.


How do I tell you that my generation of feminist failed you, that the glass ceiling is still nearly as intact as it was when I was your age?


You, my daughter, will have to work twice as hard, be twice as good, be twice as prepared and you still might not get the job.


Did we get complacent after we elected a Black man to the office of the Presidency of the United States not once but twice?  Did we assume too much as women like Hillary Clinton were able to rise into positions of power?  Did we feel too secure in our world when the US Supreme Court protected what remains of Roe v. Wade and made marriage equality the law of the land?


How do I explain to you that tens of millions of Americans voted for a man who has been accused of sexual harassment, perhaps even assault, who has engaged in racial discrimination and racial bigotry, who wants to build a wall to keep out Mexicans who he assumes are rapists or murderers, who wants to keep out Muslims refugees fleeing war-torn countries in the middle east because he assumes they are terrorists?


I don’t have to tell you that Americans have been electing White men who are racists and misogynists and homophobes and xenophobes for years…you need look no further than Mount Rushmore to see men who owned slaves and endorsed eugenics.


But it’s not just in politics, we give men, of all races and ethnicities, a “pass” every weekend when we turn on our television sets and watch rapists and child abusers and batterers run down the field or court or glide across the ice.


Remember how many women, of all races and ethnicities, donned their Ray Rice jerseys just a week after they watched him punch his then fiancé Janey Palmer unconscious demanding that he be allowed to play?


And, of course, it’s not just athletes, it also entertainers and powerful business men, like Roger Ailes who continue to succeed even after being found guilty of the worst acts of oppression and bigotry.


We also give a “pass” to the men who live in our neighborhoods, the men who we work with our worship with.  Men we encounter every day are allowed to achieve despite the ways in which they treat women and children, and racial minorities and religious minorities and members of the LGBTQ community.


The election of Donald Trump, as shocking as it is, is a powerful reminder that despite all of the progress we have made, we are a long way from true equality.  That we must fight fiercely not only to bring down more barriers but to protect the gains we have worked so hard to achieve.


Imagine this, you may have less of a right to make decisions about your reproductive life than I had at your age.  Who could have imagined this?


When you and your brother were little, you had placemats featuring all of the US Presidents that you ate your breakfast and lunch on every day.  One day at breakfast your brother, 2 ½ years older than you, turned to you and proclaimed that the only way you would get into the White House was by marrying the President. I never believed he said that because he valued you (or me) less, but because his placemat made it clear, only White men were US Presidents.


Sadly, another election cycle has gone by and the US Presidents placemats, though they now include a Black man, still send the message to girls (and perhaps more importantly boys) that women do not belong in the White House unless they marry the President.

And, in some ways, that’s exactly why this election hurt so much, because Americans didn’t think working twice as hard or being twice as qualified was enough.  Americans were not yet ready to value a woman’s contributions on their own merit, instead they evaluated her in part based on her relationship to her husband and held her responsible for his transgressions.


I don’t want your value, my daughter, or any woman’s value, to be determined by their father, their brother, or their husband.  You don’t need a man to prove you are valuable.  Your value is inside of you.  Don’t ever forget that.

THEY ALL COME HOME: Returning Home From Jail or Prison

When Lamar M. exited the bus arriving at the New York City Port Authority from the Clinton Correctional Facility in the Village of Dannemora, upstate New York, he was lost.



The last time he was in the city was 15 years, 3 months and 27 days ago. He was sent to prison for selling crack cocaine.

Having spent the last 15 years incarcerated, Lamar did not have a reliable place to stay, few friends or family and no job.

Although clean, he knew the temptations pulling at him—even while incarcerated—would kick in and he really wanted help.

This story, true, happens every day in almost every major city and small town across America. And, while the total numbers vary—depending on who is counting and who is counted—the challenges for these cities and towns is how to systematically incorporate the flow of mostly men (but some women) into society as newly functioning productive citizens.

It is, after all, harder than it sounds as movies and folklore have it “you committed the crime, you did your time now resettle and become a productive citizen.” It is not that easy!

But, since these newly released prisoners are less likely to have participated in rehabilitation programs than prisoners in the past, they come back with few if any skills. This is a black mark that does not help the re-entry process.

Then, there is the issue of meeting the requirements of parole. Far more prisoners return to their respective communities on parole than on unconditional release. This means the urgency for a job (and housing) is imminent.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that, as sociologist Devah Pager showed in her experiment {Pager, Devah. 2003. “The Mark of a Criminal Record.” American Journal of Sociology 108(5): 937-975} society treats Blacks and Whites looking for work differently. That is, race matters. But, so does felony status. Black men returning from prison find they have at least two strikes against them.

And, as we show in our research so does access to friends, family, business associates ALL who can help establish the connections and networking needed to be successful.

Also, very important is that public housing restrictions work against securing a place to live; in some states felons are banned from living with friends and / or relatives in public housing while trying to get settled.

At last check, Lamar did not make it. The temptations mentioned above pulled him back to drug dealing and in one deal that went wrong he accidentally (according to him) shot a women who later died in the hospital.


As a three-time offender, Lamar M. is now serving a life sentence.

Hence, as a society we need more expansive and effective, user-friendly ways to make re-entry doable for those men and women who have completed their punishment and want to move on with their lives.


For more, see: Angela J. Hattery and Earl Smith, Prisoner Reentry and Social Capital: The Long Road to Reintegration.


Social Dynamics of Family Violence 2nd Edition

Social Dynamics ed 2 cover

We are thrilled to announce the publication of our newest book, the 2nd Edition of the Social Dynamics of Family Violence!  The ONLY book on the market that examines all forms of family violence–child abuse, elder abuse, intimate partner violence, violence in LGBTQ families–using a feminist, intersectional frame which identifies the causes of family violence as relations of power.  Race, class and gender are explored in each and every chapter, including how police and social workers respond depending on the identity of the perpetrator and the victim.  Using a sociological lens our discussion moves way beyond individuals and examines the social structures that produce family violence, including demography, culture and the economy.  New to this edition we expand our discussion of culture to include transnational marriage migration in the Hmong community as well as an entirely new chapter on institutional gender based violence in the military, the Catholic church, fraternities and SportsWorld. We propose models for social change that would reduce inequalities overall and result in declines in all forms of family violence.  We’d love to see you a copy of the Social Dynamics of Family Violence, 2nd Edition 🙂

Privilege is the Power to Control….


So, this week a large Southeast university made the decision to accept a $30 million dollar gift in exchange for re-naming the law school after recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.


There have been a variety of negative responses to the decision to rename the law school, petitions have been circulated, meetings have been held, even state assembly people have weighed in. This blog is not about the decision to rename the law school, this blog is about my experiences watching two white men try to defend it, which provided a window into the deepest forms of power and privilege.


Power is often defined as the ability to make other people do things. What was on display this week is the fact that power can also be the ability to prevent people’s actions from impacting one’s own life.


Last week I watched and listened as two White, heterosexual, upper-class men defended the decision to name the law school after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. They both defended the decision using similar language which is not surprising given that they both participated in making the decision. But, I think it goes much deeper than that. They both employed a similar defense of the decision because they both occupy particular positions of power.


Let me start by saying that to the best of my knowledge both men are good men and probably have the best of intentions. But, because of their power and privilege, both could defend the decision by invoking the framework of “disagreement.” Both men acknowledged forcefully (and deliberately) that they vehemently disagreed with some of Scalia’s decisions, specifically his position on marriage equality. I use the term deliberate because prominent members of the university community identify as members of the LGBTQ community.


For men like these two, Scalia’s decisions and positions can be interpreted as nothing more than a disagreement.


For those of us with fewer privileges and less power, because of our positionality, our very human and civil rights are violated by Scalia’s decisions and positions. If Scalia had his way, members of the LGBTQ community would not be allowed to legally marry the person they love and have committed their lives to. For Black and Hispanic people, Scalia’s decisions with regards to school segregation prevented them from sending their children to the best resourced schools in their communities. If Scalia had his his way, women would not have the legal right to determine their reproductive trajectories: abortion would be completely illegal and access to other birth control measures would be limited. For thousands of incarcerated people, sitting in prison for decades, convicted of crimes they did not commit, Scalia’s pen removed their legal right to have their DNA tested. Imagine that, Scalia argued that even in cases where there is DNA evidence that would likely exonerate an inmate, he argued that the US Constitution does not guarantee the individual the right to prove their innocence and gain their freedom.


None of these people, myself included, has the power to prevent the impact of these kinds of decisions on our daily lives; our civil and human rights lay at the mercy of Supreme Court Justices like Antonin Scalia. So, it is no wonder, that for us, we cannot view his decisions and positions as merely a disagreement; his decisions and positions determine our access to the opportunity structure and pursuance of the American Dream: who we can marry, when or even if we choose to have children, where our children can attend school, and in the case of innocent people rotting in prisons, their chance for freedom.


Power is more than the ability to make others do things. Power is the ability to prevent the behavior of others from impacting the daily lives of the privileged.


The distance between those with power and those without is the difference between a “difference of opinion” and the protection of one’s civil and human rights.

Darryl Hunt…you will be missed……

Darryl Hunt


As a writer, I tend to process difficult things by writing about them….and so I turn to this outlet as a way to process the death of a dear friend who died much to soon…..

 Earl and I first saw Darryl Hunt shortly after Christmas in 2003, not long after he was released from prison, at the Winston-Salem WalMart. We recognized him from the news accounts. What struck us was his demeanor, he appeared to us to be mesmerized and perhaps overwhelmed by the incredible variety and sheer volume of items stocking the WalMart shelves. We were curious about the experiences of someone who is incarcerated, confined in a cage, for decades, for a crime they did not commit. And, we wanted to know how we could help.

We reached out to Mark Rabil (our daughters participated at the same gym) and soon we were having lunch at the LightHouse Café in downtown Winston-Salem. Mark offered to introduce us to Darryl and our decade long collaboration began soon thereafter

 Anyone who has met Darryl, even once, is captivated by him. He is the most humble person, remarkable for someone who was so severely mistreated by the criminal justice system, and really by much of the Winston-Salem community for so long.   He has a way of pulling you in. You want to be around him. He has an aura about him.

How could we not get involved in the social justice work that Darryl committed his life to?

  • We served on the board of the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice
  • We attended galas and holiday parties and the premiere of the HBO documentary: The Trials of Darryl Hunt
  • Every Thanksgiving we donated a couple of dozen turkeys so that the associates would have something to contribute to their holiday celebrations
  • We brought Darryl to our classes and invited him to give lectures as far away as Colgate University in upstate New York when we were on sabbatical leave
  • Our sociology students were the first to work on the innocence part of Darryl’s project—not much publicized–, opening and reading letters from prisoners who sought Darryl’s help and support as they proclaimed their innocence

But after being involved in many different ways, we soon realized that as professors—teachers and scholars—the best way we could help Darryl was to understand Darryl’s experience in the broader context.


Many other people helped Darryl tell his story.


We set out to tell the story of Darryl.


  • Why did so many exonorees look like Darryl? (46%, or half of all the people exonerated are Black men.)
  • Why did so many exonerations involve the rape and/or murder of a white women by a black man? (A crime that occurs only 10% of the time, but accounts for nearly 70% of the exonerations?)
  •  Why are exonerations disproportionately present in a relatively small number of jurisdictions? (Cook County, Illinois—Chicago, accounts for nearly 10% of all exonerations nationwide along with does Dallas County, Texas and New York City)

And, what we learned, and what we have shared in public lectures, in our classes, and in many publications is that there are indeed patterns to exonerations because there are patterns to wrongful convictions.

As in all other areas of the criminal justice system, black men are mistreated. They are lied to, they are manipulated, they are railroaded into confessing crimes they did not commit. Prosecutors withhold evidence just to get a conviction. And, these are not just random events. They are clustered. They occur in patterns. They are not just a set of unconnected mistakes; they are in fact the deliberate miscarriages of justice.

 And, as a result, hundreds of black men, (and white and Hispanic men), have spent nearly 20,000 combined years in prison for crimes they did not commit.



And equally tragic, when law enforcement and prosecutors collude to lock up any black man instead of the real perpetrator, the real perpetrator often goes on to commit other crimes. We know now that Deborah Sykes was not the only women brutalized by Willard Brown. The Innocence Project in New York City projects for the crimes of rape and murder that every time a perpetrator is free—and the wrong man is incarcerated—the real perpetrator commits, on average 3 more rapes and/or 2 more murders.


When we fail to get it right, everyone loses.


The more we learned about exoneration, the more we learned about the prison industrial complex, mass incarceration, and the process of re-entry. We worked with Darryl to research the impact of his re-entry program on associates who participated.

 Our research revealed that associates who committed to Darryl’s re-entry strategies and programming were more successful than others in making the transition to life in the free world.


We could not have been more pleased when Darryl agreed to endorse our book which came out of the research we conducted with his associates

 Prisoner re entry book 

So, how do we continue to tell the story of Darryl Hunt?


We will continue to teach about exonerations in our classes and continue to show The Trials of Darryl Hunt. We will continue to do empirical research on exonerations and other aspects of the Prison Industrial Complex.


We will turn our research to the final question of Darryl’s life: How many years of life does wrongful incarceration, locking innocent men (and women) in cages, often for decades, innocent of any crime, rob from them after they are released? What is the impact of decades of incarceration and the stress of knowing you are innocent on the health and well-being of exonorees?


How many men (and women) like Darryl will die decades too early because of the accumulation of their mistreatment?


Darryl used to often say: “If it can happen to me it can happen to anybody.”


We say back: But why did it have to happen to you?


Today we grieve the loss of our friend. As Mark Rabil said: “He finally got the death penalty.

It isn’t fair.


MISSING BLACK MEN (part 2): Homicide

homicide police line


This post is not about the politically charged term “Black-On-Black-Crime.”

Rather, it is about the early life death –or YEARS OF LIFE LOST (ILL)–of young black men between the ages of 15 and 34.  Most of whom are killed by other black men. The mortality risk for young black men is increasingly high as more and more guns are finding their way into the culture of the American inner city, space where hundreds of thousands of black Americans live.

What We know

We know that homicide is an intra-gender & intra-race crime.

Epidemiologists (Wintemute 2015) have long noted the public health epidemic of firearm violence in the US, noting:

During the ten years from 2003 to 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, 313,045 persons died from firearm-related injuries in the United States. These deaths outnumber US combat fatalities in World War II; they outnumber the combined count of combat fatalities in all other wars in the nation’s history. The total societal costs of firearm injuries were estimated to be $174.1 billion in 2010.

Epidemiologists have also noted this trend among young black males, beginning most notably directly after the end of the Vietnam war up through the present. We learn that firearm violence (homicide) is among the leading cause of death for young black men ages 15–34 in 2012.

The concentration of mortality from firearm homicide is highest among young black males–moreso than among black females and / or white males–solely because this group is highest for engaging in risky behavior. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta tracks these risky behaviors and notes that for the age group being killed there are six.  These are:

  1. Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence
    2. Sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection
    3. Alcohol and other drug use
    4. Tobacco use
    5. Unhealthy dietary behaviors
    6. Inadequate physical activity

While not conclusive this list of six risky behaviors gives us an indicator to rely on especially indicator #1 and helps us to understand the following CDC table;

causes of death

To illustrate, I have chosen the cities of Chicago and Baltimore where the number of homicides have escalated in recent years.

Since homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men–they are approximately 10 times more likely to die of murder than whites of the same age group–it stands to reason that we should know why these early deaths are happening?

A recent headline suggested that in the city of Chicago 75% of those persons murdered are Black and that 71% of the known murderers are Black (http://bit.ly/20yQ90w). One chart from the same newspaper shows the homicide victims by their age and we can see that for age cohorts between 17 and 35 is where most of the deaths take place.


The following chart shows the homicide victims by their race.  This is interesting in that the only double digit percentages are for both Hispanics and blacks.


In the news across 2015 and 2016 there was constant reminder of how dangerous it is for young black men in the city of Baltimore, home of the Netflix TV series The Wire. In Baltimore there was for 2015 a homicide rate of 47 per 100,000 people. In 2015 Baltimore had over 340 homicides with Freddie Gray being #88 after a fatal ride in the back of a police van in April.

Out of a tally of the 100 most recent homicides for 2015-2016 – 89 of the 100 were black victims. And, with 90% of the homicides being black young men we also know that the perpetrators are also young black men.

When looking for the reasons why this is happening we get the usual answers: geography; poverty; lack of schooling; single family home; no fathers involved in parenting etc.  Yet, this can’t be all there is to the story?

What We Don’t Know

One thing is definite: we don’t know why these young men are killing each other (Hattery and Smith 2012).  Sociologically, then, the question becomes why do young black men kill one another at such alarming rates?

As stated above I don’t think it is all about concentrated poverty or concentrated geography or fatherlessness. One good starting point–never  mentioned in this research topic–is alienation.  Alienation has been defined by a lot of theologians and scholars and the term carries a lot of different meanings.  Here we go with the work of Emile Durkheim who saw alienation as having at minimum five features: (1) powerlessness, (2) meaninglessness, (3) normlessness, (4) isolation and (5) self-estrangement.

According to Durkheim, normlessness or what he calls ANOMIE takes place when acceptable social norms are no longer accessible. That is, when individuals become cut off from society (friends, family, social relationships) and have no real grounding they lose touch socially, psychologically, economically etc.  This detachment or alienation or anomie can and often does bring the individual to decision making that is irrational.

Irrational decision making with gun in hand can and often does lead to the violence of homicide.  As demonstrated here in Chicago and in Baltimore and many, many other major urban centers for 2015 and 2016 this means hundreds of thousands of young black men are dead.  For young black men this means for the above mentioned dates approximately 5000 young black males have been killed by another black male.




“If it’s not a public health problem, then why are all those people dying from it?”

–Dr. David Satcher, Centers for Disease Control


Knowing that young black men are killing other young black men is a conundrum. For the real question is what is to be done? How can interventions, predicting when/where this lethal violence will take place so that it can be thwarted?  I am not sure. I do know that the literature on the topic spells out (a) jobs, (b) better schooling opportunities, (c) m0re hands on parenting etc.  Yet, we do know by the time these young men are adults it is too late.  Whatever the strategies are they have to start early on and become a systematic part of the acculturation process.



  1.   It would be interesting to follow up on the research of Frank Sulloway in his massive book Born To Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, an Creative Lives to see where young black males who commit homicide are located in their family birth order. He says that it is typical for the youngest of siblings to follow a path of violence.




Durkheim, Emile. 1933. The Division of Labor in Society. NY: MacMillan Co.

Hattery, Angela and Earl Smith. 2012. {New edition 2016} The Social Dynamics of Family Violence.

Mydans, Seth. 1980. “Homicide Rate Up for Young Blacks.” New York Times  http://nyti.ms/244LV5j

Ollman, Bertell. 1977. Alienation. London: Cambridge University Press.

Sulloway, Frank. 1996. Born To Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, an Creative Lives. New York: Pantheon Books.

Wintemute, Garen. 2015. “The Epidemiology of Firearm Violence in the Twenty-First Century United States.”  Annual Review of Public Health 36:5-19.



A feminist votes for Hillary Clinton…Never in my lifetime

File Mar 01, 5 19 22 PM
So, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog that interrogated Hillary Clinton and posed some really difficult questions of Hillary Clinton.

I concluded several things in that blog:

1. Hillary Clinton is not my ideal woman candidate;
2. It is reasonable to demand that Hillary Clinton respond to critiques of some of previous positions, including her support of dismantling welfare and mass incarceration, both of which have been detrimental to the Black community
3. If not now, when?

Luke warm on Hillary Clinton I was surprised by the emotion I felt this morning when I opened up my Democratic ballot and saw her name there. I was surprised that it mattered so much to me to cast my vote for a woman. A woman who will undoubtedly be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

I grew up with stories about my grandmother, Goldie Secor Hattery, who was not able to vote until the passage of the 19th amendment.

Despite having Hillary Clinton on the primary ballot in 2008, I never actually believed I would see, in my lifetime, a woman make a serious run for President of the United States.

And, as I shared my elation with my kids, Travis and Emma, both of whom are in their 20s, I realized that they have grown up in a generation of young people who have never not seen women and Black people on the ballot.

I realize that for my children, a diverse slate of candidates, though obviously not diverse enough, is all they have ever known. It is par for the course. Perhaps they believe that the presidential slate will always be diverse, whereas I worry that for me, both Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and the election and subsequent election of Barak Obama, feel like an anomaly, a one time thing.

Despite my critique, I felt proud as a woman and a feminist to cast my ballot for Hillary Rodham Clinton. I felt proud for my grandmother.

My wish is that my children never need to feel this pride; for them a diverse slate of candidates will be the norm rather than an exception to the rule.

Hillary Clinton’s “Trouble” with Young Women Reflects Tensions in 21st Century Feminism

young women with bernie sanders signs

For weeks now the political pundits and talking heads have been trying to understand Hillary Clinton’s lack of appeal, indeed more like her total loss, of young women voters, who overwhelmingly support Bernie Sanders.


Many theories have been offered, including the belief that young women today don’t see their gender identity as their primary identity, or that young women today don’t feel constrained by gender—gender equality means I can vote for whomever I want to—or that young women believe that gender equality has more or less been attained.  These are the tensions feminists today are grappling with.


Younger women visibly and vocally bristled at the calls by Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright that they must vote for Hillary as a matter of their gender.


Let me be clear about a few things.  Many young women do not identify with the label “feminist”.  I’m not sure Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders identify with the label either. So, this is not a blog about who subscribes to the label, but rather its an attempt to understand why the first legitimate woman candidate in the traditionally “women’s” party is struggling with women and young women in particular.


But first a caveat: As a feminist scholar who has consumed more op-eds and blogs about Hillary Clinton in preparation for offering my own perspective, I agree 100% that our expectations of women are shaped by gender role expectations and that Hillary has to what all women have to do: work twice as hard to get half as much.  She is regularly judged harshly and unfairly.  And, this is not an attempt to do that.  Though quite possibly many of my feminist friends will conclude that I have done the same thing to Hillary: judge her in a way that a man would never be judged.

That is not my intent at all.  I do think any of us, and especially a feminist, has a right and indeed an obligation to ask difficult but fair questions and demand clear, thoughtful answers from anyone we are considering for President of the United States.

I also acknowledge that Hillary Clinton suffers from the same dilemma as Obama.  She cannot let gender define her campaign, and yet if she doesn’t focus like a laser on gender issues, she is criticized for not being concerned with feminist issues.

Though I can’t speak for young women, or even all women my age, I can say that I’ve been struggling to unpack my own lack of enthusiasm for Hillary. Here are some of my thoughts…


  1. Hillary is very second wave…Ok, I intentionally did not use the term “second wave feminist” because I have not actually heard Hillary identify as a feminist, though many feminists, including Gloria Steinem seem to invoke that identity when they urge women to support her. Hillary embodies all of the qualities that Black and multi-racial feminist wrote in reaction to: Hillary is an upper class, well-educated, cisgender, heterosexual, White woman.

And, though women with these various identities can certainly embrace Black feminism and intersectionality, full disclosure: I embody many of these identities and yet embrace and indeed invoke an intersectional approach in my own work, Hillary’s rhetoric doesn’t explicitly evoke intersectionality. Sure, she talks about poverty and she acknowledges that the system of mass incarceration needs significant reform, but she doesn’t explicitly make the link between poverty and mass incarceration and race: it’s POOR BLACK MEN who get locked up and whose families and communities are decimated as a result.


  1. Hillary fails to truly acknowledge her privilege. The pundits and political commentators have argued that part of the resistence to Hillary is that she is an “establishment” candidate.  New York Times op-ed by Frank Bruni argues that this issue is actually much deeper than simply arguing that Hillary is part of the establishment. Hillary’s very existence is one of extreme privilege: she has an elite education, she was educated at the most elite institutions in the world: Wellesley and Yale. But she also rarely talks about the struggles she faced as one of the few women at Yale law school, or the barriers she experienced as a young lawyer or as a mother juggling work and family life.

Hillary’s experiences are not all that different from many women and minorities: they are complex.  Understandably, she doesn’t have the luxury to opine about the discrimination she faced while simultaneously taking advantage of privileges like affirmative action policies that have historically benefitted White women like her.  This narrative won’t play well with young women or minorities.  That said, there are important lessons that can be learned and shared.  Perhaps if she acknowledged these benefits and then vowed to go a step further and ensure that affirmative action will continue to be applied to women of all racial and ethnic groups and to all marginalized folks: men color, members of the LGBTQ communities, people with disabilities, Jews and Muslims and other non-Christians and the like her privilege would be less of a negative issue for her.  And she would undoubtedly remind young women that she understands some of what they face and she could vow to work for universal childcare, the protection of reproductive rights.

[I note that Obama faces many of the same tensions: his daughters attending the prestigious Sidwell Friends school was controversial in a way that it would never be for a White president.]

           3. Hillary isn’t talking about dismantling systems of oppression. Any feminist worth their weight in salt knows that gender equality is only possible when systems of oppression are dismantled, and not just patriarchy, but capitalism, racial domination, heteronormativity and the list goes on and on. In this regard, Hillary sounds like a typical “liberal” feminist more interested in reforming Wall Street than Sanders, who talks of dismantling Wall Street and other oppressive class based systems, like access to higher education and health care for all…sounding more like a “radical” feminist. And, though Audre Lorde argues that the master’s tools will never be able to dismantle the master’s house, its Bernie Sanders, not Hillary Clinton, who acknowledges that there is a house that needs dismantling.

I do think Hillary should answer for some decisions she has made that have had disastrous effects of women and children.  For example, the welfare reform she supported when Bill Clinton was president decimated the lives of Black women.  Just as Obama should be called to answer questions about his support for a gutted equal pay act (The Lilly Ledbetter Act) or his rhetoric about mass incarceration that has come with little action.  Americans deserve to ask complex questions about complex issues.  And, we should be able to ask these questions without being labeled as anti-feminist or racists.

This post isn’t about whether I endorse Hillary Clinton or would vote for her (I will).

This blog is about trying to unpack and complicate the reality that Hillary is not connecting with young women.  And, perhaps this blog is also my attempt to ask some difficult questions of Hillary Clinton and hoping that the answers will move me from being luke warm on Hillary to endorsing her enthusiastically.

If I were an advisor to her campaign, a job I would never want, my advice to Hillary would be simple:


  1. Read some Black feminist/intersectional theory! (I can recommend a year’s worth of reading). “None of us is free until all of us is free.”
  2. OWN your privilege instead of trying to sweep it away.  Situate it in a context that allows you to be an ally to those who are marginalized.
  3. Propose policies that will dismantle systems of oppression rather than reform them. Only when the master’s house has been dismantled will true equality flourish.

And maybe, just maybe, talk to some young women and learn about what matters to them.  Sanders’ support among young women appears to be fueled by his ability to speak to issues that are most pressing to them: student loan costs, health care premiums, reproductive rights, universal child care, among other things.

For Blacks “it’s” Never Enough…According to Bristol Palin


FILE - In this July 27, 2012 file photo, Bristol Palin attends the "Dancing with the Stars: All Stars" panel at the Disney ABC Television Critics Association session in Beverly Hills, Calif. Palin says she's pregnant for a second time. The daughter of 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin announced the pregnancy on her blog Thursday, June 25, 2015. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision/AP, FIle)

“What more do black people want? They complained about slavery – we abolished it. They complained about oppression in the 60’s – we made sure there was no more of it. Then they started bitching about how America has never had a black president – we gave them Obama. Now they’re trying to make it look like we’re intentionally depriving them of money and fame. I mean, come on, people! You’ve got drug dealers, you’ve got rap and hip-hop singers, you’ve got just as much money as white people, and not to mention, your numbers are growing. It seems to me like we ought to be complaining about you, not the other way around!” Palin fumed.




When I first read these comments, I couldn’t find words to express my sentiment. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that one can go to the “easy” explanation and say Bristol Palin is crazy, or she’s ignorant, or even that she’s a racist.   And, perhaps each of these is probably true. But, I decided to think more about Bristol Palin’s remarks and attempt a more complex and nuanced analysis.


Whereas Bristol Palin’s remarks are repulsive to many of us, I fear that Bristol Palin’s remarks resonate with and represent the concerns that many White Americans do feel. In my previous blog (Reflections on Martin Luther King, JR and President Obama), I argued that Donald Trump and Marco Rubio’s popularity could be understood as tapping into the sentiment among working class White Americans that the United States has become a land they don’t recognize, one in which opportunities are becoming increasingly available to Black and Brown people and less available to them.


Bristol Palin’s statements reflect an even deeper sentiment: that not only are opportunities evaporating for Whites, but that White resent this changing landscape because they already feel like they have done enough to right the wrongs of slavery and the Jim Crow era and that Blacks continue to press for me. The old “give them an inch they’ll take a mile” adage.


And, though I could take Bristol Palin’s statement point by point and offer evidence to refute each, see our book African American Families: Myths and Realities, instead I’ll offer a broader stroke comment. Bristol Palin and millions of Americans who subscribe to her beliefs, are really expressing a resentment based on their sense of entitlement. Like parents who get angry when the kids complain about what is prepared for dinner and threated them that they should feel lucky they have a plate full of nutritious food to eat and they are admonished to feel grateful, millions of White Americans believe that Blacks should feel grateful to them for what they have been given; as Bristol Palin noted: “we” abolished slavery and “we” ended Jim Crow segregation and “we” gave them Barack Obama. And, OK, so I said that I wasn’t going to nit pick her with data, Blacks should feel grateful for all of these things despite the fact that the unemployment rate for Blacks is twice that of Whites, that Black men are ten times more likely to go to prison than White men, that 50% of Black children are born into poverty, and that despite a Black president, Blacks are significantly under-represented in every occupation that is prestigious and lucrative, including as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, as college professors, or as US Senators—there are currently no Black US Senators.


Blacks, Bristol Palin seems to suggest should, like a child eating dinner, be grateful for what “we” have given them. And, not ask for more than “we” believe they deserve. It’s almost as if to say, “you can’t have everything!”


And, of course, never mind that fact that unlike the parent who cooked the unwanted dinner, its not White’s who dismantled slavery or Jim Crow segregation, these institutions were dismantled on the backs of Black people while the majority of Whites did everything they could, including establishing and fighting for the Confederacy, to prevent the dismantling of these systems.


So, this is really more like the child cooking a meager meal while the parent actively sabotaged the attempt—by not going grocery shopping, hiding the pots and pans, and even turning of the gas—and then telling the child whose efforts have produced an inferior meal to be grateful for what they have been given.


I’d suggest Bristol Palin go back to school and learn a bit more history, but then again, I’m afraid that’s where she developed these kinds of beliefs to begin with.


Finally, its probably not ignorance that led to Bristol Palin’s developing this ideology, its white privilege…the profound and unchallenged ability not only to control the circumstances—the abolition of slavery or the cooking of the meal– but to shape the narrative as well.



Several news stories are asking the question: “where have all the Black men gone?”  In fact the phenomenon has become known as the “missing-Black men phenomenon.”

This post is interested in looking at three seemingly unrelated yet interconnected occurrences in the lives of Black men since about 1960.  These are:

  • Vietnam
  • Drugs
  • Incarceration

And, while this post is not definitive, here we see the interrelatedness of these three “moments” and how all three work to remove Black men from their communities, from the probability of building a life of marriage & family and absence from the labor market — hence, not building  financial, human, or social capital.

It is important to remind the readers that America up through 1955 was a segregated society.  It was not until 1948 under President Harry S. Truman that the armed services were officially desegregated and not yet fully desegregated when Blacks were being sent to Vietnam.

Two hundred fifty years of slavery; Ninety years of Jim Crow; Sixty years of separate but (un-equal); Thirty-five years of racist housing policies, racism in the labor force (& US military), separate & un-equal -schooling, etc.,  yet, these Black soldiers went to Vietnam to fight for freedom.

Black soldiers, living in a segregated United States fought long and hard in Vietnam.



Black in vietnam

The Vietnam war (1964-1972) was American’s first integrated war. At least officially. There were all-white units in Vietnam and all-Black units as well (Terry 1984). American soldiers, Black and white, did fight side by side. Yet the issues for this blog are the disproportionate numbers of Blacks sent to Vietnam in terms of these young men’s representation in the general population. Few women soldiers were sent to Vietnam.

Four million Americans served in Vietnam from the early beginnings of the war in 1955 until it was officially ended April 30, 1975. Of that number approximately 58,151American soldiers were killed (Karnow 1997). Anyone who has payed attention to the “nightly news during the era of the war know full well that the “official” count of soldiers killed is an undercount (Sheehan 1989).

Just as the official numbers of those soldiers killed is low is it close to impossible to acturately know the number of young Black men who were sent to Vietnam and who came home from the war.  Black soldiers were drafted in huge numbers to fight in Vietnam from states with all-white draft boards, including: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Having all white draft boards especially in the south creates situations where disproportionate to their numbers in the age group of potential draftees, Blacks were sent to Vietnam at twice  the rate as their white counterparts.  That is to say, Black soldiers were recruited to fight in a war when at home they were discriminated against, living in states still operating under the last vestiges of Jim Crow.

That recruitment got a boost from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s Project 100,000. Project 100,000 began in 1966 intended to recruit Black and low income whites from the south. Especially important to understand in this movement to recruit Black soldiers for Vietnam is how disproportionate the numbers were.

Blacks were 45% of the 100,000 troops recruited mainly into the Army and Marines, those the most likely to see combat.

Considering the number of young black men eligible for the draft, their numbers in the age cohort 18-25, and the number of them sent to both the Army and the Marines, then it is conceivable to note they were overrepresented in frontline combat units which resulted in their being also overrepresented in total causality counts – however skewed these may have been.

Some would argue deliberately so!

According to Wallace Terry (author of Bloods: An Oral History of The Vietman War By Black Veterans) over 60 percent of the men on the front lines, dubbed “Soulville,” were black and they accounted for more than 23% of American fatalities even though blacks comprised only 10% of America’s overall population.

While the numbers vary, depending on the source, the argument here is that of the 47,356 battle deaths in Vietnam –wherein 23% of those deaths were Black soldiers– one black soldier killed in Vietnam is one soldier too many.

The argument here is that Vietnam is the first chapter in the “where are the Black men” story that has been a running commentary since the 1980’s.

A second chapter is drugs.

Some would argue that the returning soldiers from Vietnam were so traumatized that they took to drugs to ease the pain. This may be the case but it is not entirely so. Many black soldiers took up drugs while in Vietnam.

In the popular movie American Gangster the “Black Mafia” kingpin Frank Lucas is supposed to have had business dealings with the Vietcong to import heroin and marijuana into the US via dead soldiers coffins.


soldier snorting crack

American soldiers in general stationed in Vietnam and black soldiers specifically used readily available drugs including–but not limited to–heroin, marijuana, morphine, barbiturates and opium and brought these habits back home with them.

Many returned stateside addicted to some type of illicit drug.

Add to this the growing tensions around the embattled civil rights movement especially in the south and the murder of Dr. Rev Martin Luther King in April 1968, joblessness, despair and a lack of hope all pulled together to join with the inner city crisis of drug use and abuse, many Vietnam veterans got pulled along.

Perhaps in response to the high rate of drug use in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the early 1980s heralded in the War on Drugs. This war, rather than providing treatment for addicts and those traumatized by their experiences in Vietnam, criminalized many of the drugs that returning veterans, especially Black men, who returned not as heroes but as baby killers, used to ease the pain.  Lost in the War on Drugs were Black men who died of drug-related illnesses, including HIV, overdoses, untreated addiction, and those lost to the system of mass incarceration.

One way to gauge the destructiveness of drugs in the black community is to look no further than the controversial book by Michael Javen Fortner entitled “Black Silent Majority.”   According to the author the drug epidemic in Harlem New York, residents began to feel the ancillary impact of the drug epidemic, not just the crime, but also the rise of gangs, and in parts of New York, Baltimore, and Chicago, gangs control entire neighborhoods and are responsible for the skyrocketing rates of black on black homicide.  Much of this violence is related to the drug trade.


black men in prison

Drug using and drug dealing can (and often does) lead to prison time.  Between 1973 and 1988 the nations drug laws became more harsh. In New York State, under the moniker of the “ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS” prison sentences became longer with the 15-years to life sentence for selling two ounces, or possessing four ounces of cocaine or heroin (http://www.prdi.org/rocklawfact.html).

These stringent new rules for drug use and abuse and the sale of illicit substances are centrally important to the story of mass incarceration.  In fact it can be argued that drugs cements prison population increase to the proliferation we see today.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates there are some 2.3 million people in the US incarcerated.  These data become more illuminating when you break them out to areas like probation, parole, home arrest etc.  Suffice to say that the US remains the world leading “jailer” far surpassing every other nation around the globe.  Furthermore, the majority of people, including Black men, under the control of the criminal justice system, were convicted of non-violent drug offenses.  As we have noted elsewhere, prison becomes a place to warehouse undesirable populations.


This post links the three interrelated phenomena of (1) Vietnam, (2) Drugs and (3) Prison in order to respond to the questions surrounding issues of “where have all the Black men gone?”

By looking carefully at these three items it become easy to see that death abroad and hopelessness at home as well as the L O N G stretches of prison time can account for some–if not most–of the missing Black men.

Starting with Vietnam these black men went to war against a foreign enemy who were not nearly as close to intruding on their citizenship rights as White Supremacy groups were doing at home. They were caught in a system of war and oppression that were designed to ensure that they would never gain any sort of freedom.

Secondly, the drug epidemic hit the inner cities hard bringing with it violent assaults and gun violence.

Finally, all of this violence comes full circle and you can see why some are asking where are the missing black men? Taking stock of these three items and their intersections contributes to the debate about missing black men.



This post is part 1 on this topic.  Part // will address the issue of homicide among Black males.


Fortner, Michael Javen. 2015.  Black Silent Majority. Cambridge, MA:. Harvard University Press.

Hattery, Angela J. and Earl Smith. 2010. Prisoner Reentry & Social Capital. Maryland: Lexington Books.

Karnow, Stanley. 1997. Vietnam: A History (2nd Edition). New York: Penguin Books.

Sheehan, Neil. 1989. A Bright Shining Lie. New York: Random House.

Robbins, Lee. 1993. “Vietnam Veterans’ Rapid Recovery From Heroin Addiction: A Fluke or Normal Expectation?” Addiction, 88: 1041-1054.

Terry, Wallace. 1984. Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans. New York: Random House.