White privilege – An example of exactly how not to think about racial inequality.

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Over the last few hundred years, Western liberalism has enjoyed a long series of well-deserved moral victories over the evils of  slavery, sexism, racism, ableism, ethnic bigotry, religious prejudice, anti-LGBT bigotry, and a host of other social ills.  All of these battles were fought to advance the principle that every person deserves an equal opportunity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And so Western liberals found themselves repeatedly fighting for the rights of the downtrodden, the minorities, the oppressed.  These victories were hard fought and rife with misery, to be sure, but we in the West undoubtedly live in a better world today due to the efforts of our liberal forebears.  And there are many more battles to fight – more work to be done.  Remnants of the old prejudices and bigotries still influence many people to this day, though it is far less socially acceptable than it once was*.

Despite these many victories, I’ve begun to notice a faction within the Western political left (a bastion of western liberalism  since the latter part of the civil rights movement) that has begun to see the world through what might be called “oppression-tinted” lenses.  To many on the western political left, we continue to live in a bigotry smorgasbord of sorts.  And while I strongly identify with the desire to support the downtrodden and oppressed, I must also recognize that not everything can be reduced down to a binary description of oppressors and the oppressed.  Being a big fan of John Stuart Mill’s idea that a person who knows only their own side of a case knows little even of that**, I will do my best to summarize the opposing side’s arguments in a way they would accept before criticizing those arguments.  In my first post of this series, I’ll be discussing the concept of “privilege.”

Privilege

A privilege is generally understood as a right or benefit given to one person or group, but not to another person or group.  In teaching their children, for example, parents use privileges all the time.  A child might be given regular healthy food for dinner, for example, but have to earn the privilege of getting dessert by behaving well or doing homework/chores.  In this case, all of the children are treated equally with respect to receiving the necessary basics (healthy food), but some might receive the privilege of dessert based upon the quality of their behavior.

But I don’t think that modern leftists are really referring to this type of privilege.  Instead, they describe a wide range of advantages given to some – but not others- due to systemic inequalities in the legal and social arena.  They sort these categories of privilege into things like white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, Christian privilege, cis-gender privilege, and many others.  They argue that our society is structured to provide these privileges in a systematic fashion to only certain groups.  To return to the parenting analogy above, many modern leftists seem to be arguing that some children are receiving the necessary basics (healthy food) as the default while others must earn the healthy food – and let’s not even get into desserts.  And many modern leftists encourage those benefitting from privilege to “check” their privilege.  The intent here is to get someone to understand how they benefit from their privileges and how the lack of those privileges affect others.  You can even check your own privilege here.

Privilege

In this short piece, I won’t have time to go into every version of privilege on offer.  So I’ll instead talk about the most common privilege mentioned – white privilege – and discuss implications from there.  In her influential piece “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack“, Peggy McIntosh lists 50 privileges that she thinks she is afforded due – primarily – to her white skin.  I doubt McIntosh would claim that her list is exhaustive, but since it is nevertheless quite extensive I’ve reproduced it here in the below three columns:

  • I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  • I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
  • I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
  • If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  • I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.
  • I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
  • I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  • I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for  advancement than to jeopardize mine.
  • I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  • If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  • When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  • My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
  • I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  • I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
  • If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
  • I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
  • I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.
  • I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
  • Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
  • I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
  • I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
  • I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fi t school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.
  • I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.
  • I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.
  • I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
  • I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  • I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  • I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
  • If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
  • I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
  • I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
  • I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.
  • I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.
  • I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
  • If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.
  • I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps,  professionally.
  • I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
  • I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
  • I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
  • I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
  • I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
  • If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
  • I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.
  • I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.
  • I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.
  • My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.
  • I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.
  • I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

 

You may be wondering why the left column has so many items listed and so few are listed in the middle and right columns.  That is because I recognized some common themes in the items and sorted them by column accordingly.  The column on the left can be thought of as the “healthy food” column.  I think it’s entirely fair to say that – in an ideal society – everyone should have these.  Race should be completely irrelevant to whether a person experiences the items in the left column.  No one should need to earn these.  Like healthcare in the US, having them should be the default as they are (largely) a prerequisite for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The middle column might be thought of as the “dessert” column, in that they shouldn’t be the default (or available at all, really).  In an ideal society, no one’s race should give them extra credibility, or an increased chance at getting accepted at University, or give them an excuse to be ignorant of other cultures.  (I won’t get into the topic of affirmative action at the moment, but suffice to say I can see legitimate concerns on both sides.)

The right column contains items that I was genuinely confused by.  I’m not sure that it’s just because they’re worded poorly or if they’re just really situational.  For example, as a Caucasian I shouldn’t expect to see members of my race widely represented on the television if I move to Kenya, Mexico, or South Korea.  Academic departments should focus on the published work relevant to their disciplines (and related disciplines) rather than the race of those doing the work.  Being able to avoid people who I’ve been trained to mistrust (or who have been trained to mistrust me) isn’t necessarily a good thing.  Maybe my training was based on an unwarranted stereotype or prejudice?  And the same could be said about those who mistrust me.  Lastly, I’m not confident that anyone should be able to arrange to be protected from the negative consequences of choosing to ignore minority perspectives.

The most interesting thing about the above table to me is that the items are disproportionately “healthy food” items.  Which, if we grant McIntosh’s premise that white people are receiving a disproportion number of benefits in our society, means that the majority of McIntosh’s so-called “privileges” of being white are actually just necessities that most white people are appropriately receiving – but most racial minorities aren’t.  In an ideal world, we would expect everyone to have these.  Which makes them not really “privileges” at all.

So I would suggest that the way forward isn’t to alienate potential white allies by calling them out for having what everyone should have (e.g. “How dare you have the privilege of healthy food to eat!  Check your privilege!”).  It’s to ensure that everyone is, in fact, getting what they need.  From McIntosh’s list, it seems that white people are already largely where they should be in terms of having access to necessities.***  The important work is in bringing other racial minorities up to that same level.  That is where our outrage, our passion, and our efforts should be focused.

And the next time someone suggests the presence of some form of inappropriate privilege, think critically about it.  Are they talking about some benefit that is being unfairly given to someone on an arbitrary basis? (e.g. race, religion, sex, gender, disability, etc…)  If so, this “privilege” may well be something worth our concern.  On the other hand, are they really just using “privilege” to talk about something more like healthy food?  If that’s the case, then perhaps it’s time to delve a bit deeper with that person and help them explore the unhelpful consequences of this idea.

 

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*Imagine the response you’d receive today, versus 100 years ago, if you spoke in favor of racial apartheid in, say, a job interview.

**paraphrased

*** Though anyone who has spent any time amongst poor white people will rightly call this into question as well.

 

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Appropriating geek culture. Mine! Not yours!

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Last Saturday night, I joined tens of thousands of people across the world in watching Critical Role – a live streamed game of Dungeons and Dragons played by some of my favorite voice actors. In this case, they streamed from Hillbert Circle Theater in Indianapolis during Gen Con, the largest tabletop gaming convention in North America.  Early reports suggest approximately 1000 people bought tickets to watch the live session at the Hillbert Circle Theater.

The accessibility and success of the Critical Role series has brought in hordes of new fans and players of Dungeons and Dragons. One potential consequence of this influx of new fans is very familiar to those who have been part of geek/nerd culture for the last few decades: the dreaded Gatekeepers.  With the increasing permeation of geek/nerd culture into mainstream culture, some older (and mostly male) members of the culture feel that it’s their job to police who can take part in their culture.  Those of us within the culture have heard all the stories:

  • Teenage girl walks into a comic book store and starts looking at comic books. Dude behind the counter asks her if she’s here with her boyfriend (implying that she’s a girl so she wouldn’t come in here herself).
  • Female cosplayer comes to a convention dressed as Wonder Woman. Older man proceeds to grill her on her knowledge of Wonder Woman trivia going back decades. If she doesn’t happen to know every single piece of esoteric lore, older man dismisses her as being a “fake geek girl.”
  • Girl playing a tabletop game with guys at a store mentions that she may step out for a bit to grab some food. One of the male players suggests that she could just ask the male store employee for a piece of his pizza. When she balks at his suggestion, he asks her “Are you easily offended?” She responds “no.” He then points out that she has boobs, so of course the store employee will give her a piece of pizza. Uncomfortable that she’s being reduced down to the characteristics of her body, rather than the contribution she’s making to a shared fun gaming experience, she never comes back. (I happened to witness this one personally.)

There are a couple of major underlying themes with gatekeeping. Firstly, it largely comes from males.  Sadly, sexism remains a problem even within geek/nerd culture.  Secondly, it involves a form of identity politics born out of shared feelings of oppression.  Older geeks/nerds know what it feels like to be ridiculed, bullied, and taken advantage of by their peers.  Those of us who grew up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s remember this very well.  Waxing philosophical about Star Trek, reading the latest X-Men comic during lunch, or gushing about the recent escapades of your 5th level Moon Elf Rogue were all the sorts of things that were guaranteed to get you laughed at, ostracized, and/or punched repeatedly in the face.  Best to be demure and quiet.  Best to stay off the other kids’ radar.  We kept that shit to ourselves for a reason.  And on the occasion when we could attend a convention with others within our culture, we reveled in the shared passion for the things we loved.

Fast forward to 2016 and geek/nerd culture is now mainstream culture. And everyone wants a piece.  (Just look at the movie box office results.)  Sometimes people show what I consider to be a genuine and loving appreciation of the source material (see: Deadpool, Gamers: Dorkness Rising, Critical Role).  For other media creators, I feel that their work is just an attempt to cash in on my culture – and it ultimately comes across as shallow and fake to me (see the film Knights of Badassdom or any of Uwe Boll’s films).  Sometimes I even suspect that these kinds of mediocre efforts do more harm than good, creating a stereotype of geeks/nerds that harms their ability to integrate into the broader culture.  But even though I feel this way, I nonetheless guard myself against being a Gatekeeper.  I don’t own geek/nerd culture.  No one does.  I have no right to tell someone how they should appreciate or understand or represent the culture to which I belong and love.  I’ll certainly vote with my wallet, and I’ll certainly say whether I like or dislike someone’s work.  And, given the opportunity, I’ll even try to talk with the creator of the thing I dislike to share with them how much more there is to experience and appreciate in my culture.  But that’s generally about as far as I feel I can go.

Gatekeeping is an age old human tendency that arises out of a sense of victimhood coupled with divisive identity politics. We see it in religions.  We see it in political parties.  We see it with various ethnicities or sports fans.  And today we even see it in western progressive leftists – a group that prizes inclusivity and acceptance.  There, the idea of “cultural appropriation” is taking hold.  Cultural appropriation is the notion that a person can adopt cultural elements from marginalized groups without understanding or acknowledging the value of those cultural elements to those groups.  A person is said to be “appropriating” a marginalized culture if he/she 1) is a member of or identifies with a dominant culture, and 2) fails to appropriately appreciate the culture.  So this is something that only a member of a dominant culture can do to an oppressed culture.  A sampling of examples include:

If you’re like me, you found yourself increasingly scratching your head at these the farther down the list you went.  It certainly starts off seemingly well.  Personally, I have a hard time differentiating the use of the “Redskins” name from other derogatory racial epithets, so it seems like a case of being pointlessly insulting.  And on the occasions that I’ve had to discuss the matter with others, I’ve argued that the team should change its name or adopt a representation of Native American culture that isn’t so pointlessly insulting.  Either that, or we should be just fine with a bunch of non-white soccer players naming their team the “Crackas,” “Gringos,” or “Hilbillies” while using a picture of a shirtless redneck drinking beer and racing a lawn mower.

Samsung

Someone get that man a beer, stat!

 

Perpetuating stereotypes about any racial or ethnic group, good or bad, is something I agree we should avoid.  Instead of trying to reduce cultural groups down to stereotypes, we should be doing our best to accurately represent the tremendous variation within those groups.  And that’s a hard thing to do, particularly because no one is in a place to say that they understand the totality of any group.  Social Psychologists spend their lifetimes trying to do this, and nevertheless still are extremely reluctant to make specific generalizations.

But as we continue to move our way down the list, I’m seeing an increasing level of what looks like Gatekeeper behavior.  No one speaks for or owns all of Hinduism.  And yet the Universal Society of Hinduism, the group that leveled the initial cultural appropriation charge against Gomez, seems to think that it does.  This is a strange claim to make given that “Hinduism” is a tremendously varied group of religious beliefs.  To paraphrase what Professor William Harman, author and editor of Dealing with Deities, once told me, “When it comes to Hinduism or India, anything you can say about them is both true and not true – depending on where you are and who you talk to.”  And to say that Gomez should only wear the Bindi if she appreciates it to the satisfaction of certain Hindus smells strongly of Gatekeeping.

And I can’t help but think that the same principle applies to Halloween costumes, yoga, and foreign food.  No one owns the culture(s) to which they belong.  I can’t honestly tell someone that they should appreciate some element of nerd/geek culture to my satisfaction before they can make use of it.  And neither can you.  If someone is making an attempt to enjoy something or be passionate about something, who are we to tell them that they’re doing it wrong?

Instead, we should think of these kinds of situations as an opportunity to be more inclusive – not less.  You don’t like how someone represents or uses something you’re passionate about?  Engage with that person.  Share what you love about it and why.  Now you’re giving them a chance to look a bit deeper and appreciate your thing even more.

Prime example:  Remember when The Book of Mormon came out on Broadway?  The show poked all kinds of fun at Mormonism.  It certainly didn’t take the religion seriously at all.  But the Mormons didn’t get angry at the show’s creators and accuse them of appropriating something they didn’t appreciate the right way.  No, the Mormons took this as an opportunity to have a conversation.  They sent their missionaries to stand outside of showings of The Book of Mormon and offer to talk to theater goers after the show.  By all accounts, this strategy was an exemplary success – giving thousands of people the opportunity to learn more about Mormonism directly from people who were very familiar with it.

That’s how I’d like to see my fellow western progressive leftists approach this.  The next time we see someone borrowing from our culture in a way that we don’t like or we see as harmful, take it as an opportunity to talk with that person.  Give them an opportunity to expand their understanding of the thing you love.  Don’t shut down any possibility of discussion by accusing them of appropriating, or demanding an apology.  Talk to each other.  Give them the benefit of the doubt that you would hope would be given to you.  And do it while honestly admitting to yourself that you don’t own the culture(s) to which you belong.

Visiting a gas station with a transgender friend

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I am human

A few months ago I accompanied a transgender friend (we’ll call her Julie) to pick up some snacks from a local gas station just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee where I live.  She was about to join my wife and I for some hobby board games back at our house, and we needed snackage.  So we drive down to the nearest gas station to our house.  I remember walking in next to her and splitting off to grab a couple of things.  Meeting her back at the line to the checkout counter, I began to take note of how both the customers and the employees were looking at her.

Everyone was intensely and unabashedly staring at her.  Seeing as we live in the American South where folks tend not to approve of transgender people, I quickly moved closer to her and began to chat amiably.  The stares made me feel immediately concerned for her, so I wanted everyone to see that she wasn’t alone.  I’m not a small man, and sometimes my mere presence has diffused situations.  But even that seemed to have little effect.  I remember trying to appear as comfortable as possible while chatting with Julie, and she seemed to adopt the same approach.  We finished our business at the checkout counter and left to then enjoy a day of delightful board games.

I’ve never asked her how she felt while we were there.  And when I consider asking her, it occurs to me that this is what it’s like to be Julie on any given day that she doesn’t happen to “pass” perfectly as female.  Everywhere she goes, this sort of response is quite possibly the norm.  Being with Julie in that moment gave me a small window into what it’s like to be her – to never know if someone might try to make good on the threatening stare they’re leveling at her.  I’m used to being able to cruise below everyone’s radar, making my way through the world without most people even batting an eye so long as I don’t behave strangely.

But Julie doesn’t have that luxury.  Despite how she feels on the inside, she doesn’t pass perfectly as female all the time on the outside.  And that makes me terribly afraid on her behalf.  I fear getting a call and hearing that my friend has been beaten up or killed by some idiot bigot.  And this is no idle fear, mind you.  Transgender people face a significantly higher risk of physical and sexual abuse from strangers when compared the general population.  I’m sure that Julie has developed a pretty effective sense for which places are safe, but she isn’t perfect.  And she won’t always have someone to stand alongside her against bigots wishing to do her harm.

This is one of the reasons that the recent “Bathroom bills” making their way through the American South concern me.  Ostensibly enacted to protect children from an imaginary wave of transgender bathroom predators, these laws merely function to put people like Julie in extremely dangerous situations.  The last thing someone like Julie needs is for a ridiculous law to force her into a men’s bathroom here in the South.  We may as well be putting a big “bigots please beat the hell out of me” stamp on her forehead.  And all in the name of protecting people?

As a father of a six year old, I’m absolutely in favor of protecting kids from sexual predators.  But let’s focus our energies on places where this is actually a historically demonstrated threat. (Far more children have been molested by authority figures in churches than by transgender people in public bathrooms.  How about we start with church authority figures?)  Transgendered people aren’t any more likely to be pedophiles or child abusers than are cisgendered people (i.e. people whose gender identity matches their genitalia).  They just want to pee in peace.  And as civilized people, we have no reason to deny them that peace.
P.S.  If you’d like to provide support to transgender folks who just want to pee, take a look at the IllGoWithYou Ally Project.

Update: I invited Julie to read the above, and she noted that she doesn’t even notice the stares anymore.  This may be because they’re so common, but it may also be because people look away before she can notice them staring.  I don’t recall her looking any of the gas station employees or customers in the eye during our visit, so I’ll have to keep an eye out the next time I accompany her somewhere.  To this day, what strikes me about the situation I described in this post was how unabashed the people were in staring, and how immediately threatened I felt on Julie’s behalf.  To be sure, feelings of threat don’t necessarily equate to actual threat.  I may well be biased in favor of seeing threats where they don’t actually exist.  (I also tend towards taking on a protector role with people I care about.)  That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I should discount those feelings either.  And the above-linked national statistics on violence against transgender people do suggest that my fears are not entirely baseless.

 

The Muslim Reformation and Obama’s Realism

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I’ve long considered religious faith, when understood as a method of coming to conclusions about reality, to be among the worst problems plaguing humanity.  I’ll expand upon my reasons for that in a future post, but suffice to say I’ve long been motivated to help people reason their own way to this conclusion as well.  I think the world would be a significantly more prosperous, egalitarian, and peaceful place were this to happen.  But recently I’ve begun to think that helping people to move away from religious faith, while still admirable, isn’t alone necessarily the best and only path available to us.

Last year I read the excellent Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz.  In it, Nawaz points out how tremendously unrealistic it is to think that the solution to Islamist extremism is to de-convert the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.  And he’s got a point.  Cultural change takes time, especially when the beliefs needing revision are strongly held.  As much as I’d like to say that the solution to Islamist extremism is to engage people in dialogue and help them work through the problems that accompany their religious faith (see Street Epistemology), a broader multi-pronged approach seems more likely to be effective/practical at this point.

As a result, I’ve come to agree with people like Maajid Nawaz, Asra Nomani,  and Maryam Namazie who favor an Islamic Reformation.  And I’m not the only one.  Well known atheists like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and many others have shifted their efforts to more unambiguously support Islamic reformers.  (Nawaz’s well-articulated distinctions between Muslims and Islamists appear to have been extremely helpful in this regard.)

Interestingly enough, Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent article in The Atlantic presents President Obama as coming to very similar conclusions – albeit from the opposite direction.  From the beginning of his presidency, Obama has echoed the patently absurd notion that Islamist extremism has nothing to do with Islam.  This, despite the never ending stream of specifically Islamic theological justifications that Islamist extremists offer us through their propaganda on a daily basis.  Or the violence that makes absolutely no sense in the absence of Islamic theology (Throwing gay people from rooftops, the recent attacks on Christians in Lahore, Pakistan during Easter celebrations, or the murder of Asad Shah).

Obama’s concern about naming Islamism as an underlying causal problem appears to be that it could enflame the xenophobic bigotry of the political right in the U.S., further stigmatizing non-violent Muslims and putting them at greater risk of violence.  And that’s certainly a concern I share.  But I agree with Nawaz that failing to be straightforward about the situation at hand only feeds a narrative that Obama – and liberally minded folks in general – doesn’t understand what’s really going on.  And this comes across as classic denialism.  As a result, the only people willing to loudly talk about the problem of Islamism are the xenophobic bigots.  And so, we liberals have ended up ceding the discussion to some of those least capable of constructively addressing the issue.

I am pleased to see that, privately, Obama appears to recognize Islamism as a significant underlying problem.  I’m not convinced that he’ll be publically forthcoming about that during the rest of his term.  Nor am I convinced that either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders will publically recognize it if either of the two of them are elected.  But perhaps they might find other, less publicized, ways of supporting a reformation in Islamic theology?  Perhaps they might nudge the prodigious power of the US media voice to support reformers?  Perhaps they might find ways to fund organizations seeking to confront Islamism’s theology, or assist refugee Muslims with assimilating into their newfound cultures?  I’d prefer that this be more broadly coupled with a publically stated opposition to Islamist theology.  But it would be better than the head-in-the-sand denialism of the “nothing to do with Islam” canard with which we’ve so far been inundated.