Representation and The Sassy Black Friend™: Why I Love Orange is the New Black*

I, Candice Olivia Nelson, would like to propose a swift and painful death to the word “sassy.” It’s a fun way to place someone into a box where they have to act like a court jester 100% of the time and, should they show any emotion, it’s not taken seriously. My particular axe to grind is with the media, where the characterization of someone that is “sassy” is flat out painful. Which brings me to my least favorite use of the dreaded s-word: the Sassy Black Friend™.

Popular on television and movies, the Sassy Black Friend™ is very easy to identify. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the friend is a woman, her wardrobe consists of  bright skinny jeans and an attitude, and her favorite activities include neck swerving, calling her white best friend “girl,” and making snappy one liners. Oh, and she is rarely given a love interest, gets to show any emotions (especially anger, lest she become the Angry Black Woman), and the character is often most disliked by the fan base. Now, it’s not to say that a black woman isn’t or can’t be like this; I happen to appreciate snappy one liners and I call my friends “girl” all the time. But it’s a pretty big problem when many black female characters act like this. I thought it was a passing thing, but a quick glance at Disney Channel shows that they start the stereotypes young so that they can keep it fresh. It’s utterly ridiculous, insulting, and reminiscent of depicting black women as a “mammy” stereotype. A piece of media with the Sassy Black Friend™ is a very good indicator that a creator is not only lazy and very bad at their job, but has probably never interacted with a black person.

Now, why am I talking about the Sassy Black Friend™? For two reasons. First relates to the June 6 premiere of Orange is the New Black on Netflix.  For those that might not have heard of the show, the basics are that a white woman is serving about 15 months in prison for being part of a drug ring with her ex-girlfriend  years prior to her incarceration. However, the most interesting thing about the show is not the main character, who most fans of the show consider  the least interesting character, but all the other women in prison with her. The show does a particularly great job in making all of their women of color characters INTERESTING, which is a miracle because it could easily fall into dull old stereotypes. Their black characters aren’t just one-liner spouting plot devices, the Latina characters aren’t just spicy stereotypes, and it actually addresses the impact poverty and oppression had a role in putting most of the women in prison. Their characters may be witty, but that’s not their characterization; they are more than a one-liner because they’re people with diverse and interesting experiences that landed them in prison. Also, it’s a show that *radically*  has a black transgender woman, the overwhelmingly great Laverne Cox, playing a transgender woman (a transgender woman is not a man in a wig, so stop casting men in wigs to play transgender women). And to prevent this from sounding like a paid advertisement, I feel like it’s important to mention that television networks have finally caught on that non-white women are actually complex people and not stereotypes based off of porn categories, Law and Order episodes, or Disney Channel shows. Shows are slowly, but surely, introducing full casts made up of all or have their main characters being primarily people of color, or POC (shoutout to Friday Night Lights, Sleepy Hollow, Elementary and Grey’s Anatomy) that have personalities outside of being a racial stereotype. Further shoutout to ABC, who’s leading the pack and not only gave Shonda Rhimes the power to control Thursdays, but is introducing four shows that have mainly POC characters.

The second reason, which brings it back to the Moxie Project, is thinking about feminism and the importance of representation in the movement. The reason I didn’t mention the representation of white women in this post is because, quite honestly, white women are the face of feminism. Right off the top of my head, I can think of about 20 white women characters on television and in movies that are lauded for being great depictions of being empowered and aren’t bland damsels in distress in impractical clothing. Which is great…if you’re a white woman. As much as I like Amy Poehler and Margaery Tyrell (I might watch too much television), I’m sick of  seeing them treated  as though they represent all women. I’ve stopped pretending that watching another white woman go on a journey of self discovery and get character development, while her East Asian friend is shoved into the background and given a stale personality, is a step in the right direction for all women, and it’s time my fellow feminists also acknowledge that it’s not. It’s simply mirroring the mainstream feminist movement and the idea that when white women’s concerns are addressed, sexism is magically solved. Feminism needs to stop shoving women of color under the rug and acting as though sexism is the only thing all women worry about or that the struggles of upper-middle class white women are applicable to everyone in the movement.

I’ve enjoyed my time at Legal Momentum so far,and I truly value the experience. However, one of the more jarring realizations was that the board of directors has more men than women of color. It is really important that feminism and feminist non-profits/companies seriously consider how well they represent all women, especially as a feminist organization. Feminism without intersectionality is not the feminism I want to be a part of.

I am no longer willing to play the sassy black sidekick in a movement that is meant to include all.


*That’s not to say the show is 100% criticism free. The show makes one too many prison rape jokes, it sanitizes the prison (especially private prison) experience, they could do better with Asian representation, and Jason Biggs’ character is terrible and has way too much screen time. Also, it’s pretty sad that I have to rely on a show about women in prison to see any decent representation, but I take what I can get.

An Open Letter To Somaly Mam, My Ex-Hero


You are the reason I’m in New York right now.

One day, two summers ago, I was surfing the web when I came across the “Half The Sky” documentary, in which you were featured. On a whim, I watched it. You left me completely captivated. Your story was unbelievable (but the kind of unbelievable that made you think, “wow, I want to change this!” not “hmm, she might be lying”). I started researching everything I could about sex trafficking. I read “Half the Sky” and “The Road of Lost Innocence.” Consequently, I enrolled in my first Women’s Studies course, “The Politics of Sex Work.” That course is the reason I’ve chosen to become involved in the Duke Women’s Center. My involvement in the Women’s Center is why I chose to apply to Moxie.

So you see, in this bizarre and convoluted way, you are the reason I’m here.

Imagine my shock, then, when I found out you were a fake. A few weeks ago, my dad forwarded me an NPR podcast. I read the headline, “Activist Icon Resigns, As The Threads Of Her Stories Unravel. Who could it be, I wondered. Never in a million years could I have guessed that you, known for telling “your story” with what seems like such emotion and honesty, are a liar.


You claim that you were trafficked into sexual slavery at a young age, escaped prostitution by marrying a Frenchman, and then rescued thousands of girls from similar situations. It’s a horrific but inspiring story.

The only problem? It’s not true.

After years of research and travel throughout Cambodia, Newsweek Writer Simon Marks concluded that your stories simply don’t fit together. What’s more, several of the girls you claim to have “rescued” have revealed that you coached them and convinced them to lie. Critics have called you a “psychopath” and a “narcissist,” some even going so far as to compare you to the pimps from whom you have supposedly rescued thousands of girls.

But, even though what you did was undeniably wrong, I can sort of understand why you did it.  In only one week working in the development office of a nonprofit, it’s become incredibly clear to me that money is the backbone and decision-maker for most charity work. But you went too far in trying to get that money, and, in doing so, you actually undermined your mission. Now, instead of focusing on the issues, people are focused on your personality and lies. Each year, 4 million people are trafficked, and 2 million of those are girls between the ages of 5-15. In the USA, the average age of entry into prostitution is 13, and that number is even smaller in other areas of the world. Amnesty International defines the tactics used by traffickers – isolation, threats, and forced drug use, for example – as psychological torture. But you have taken this very real and horrifyingly pervasive issue and made it about yourself.

There’s a phenomenon in social psychology known as the identifiable victim effect. It refers to people’s tendency to be more moved (and thus more likely to give money!) by personal stories than by data and analysis. This effect is particularly strong when the victim is attractive, is articulate, and has a “rags to riches,” inspirational story, like you claim to. It’s even more convenient when the victim can appeal to donors’ fantasies about rescuing beautiful women from the Third World. Clearly this strategy worked for you…for a while.

But it’s still wrong, and here’s why: First, nonprofits are reliant on the trust between donor and recipient, and you, as one of the world’s most prominent activists, completely shattered that trust. Second, your drama has distracted us all from what we should be focusing on: the persistence and pervasiveness of sex slavery. Third, you’ve cast doubt on those of us (and we do exist) who fight violence against women with integrity and truth.


Katie M. Becker
Disappointed Former Admirer and Honest Activist

Confronting My Privilege

Tonight I had the privilege of meeting Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist who recently produced a film about the process of coming out as an undocumented immigrant. He reminded me that I have never known what it means to be an American. I have lived in Holland for eighteen years with a passport that I received based on my father’s nationality; I have owned a passport that has sat in a drawer for many years, while he has had many more years of giving back to a nation that disenfranchises him. Now I have started to question my place in my own country that faces immigration discrimination.


I have never come to terms with my privilege, a term that did not even enter my vocabulary until this year. In the past week I have compared my Dutch framework to the American society in which I struggle to situate myself. In recent days I have realized that I have known privilege in my very own homogeneous society, always lacking the vocabulary to describe what I saw.

My country has faced serious religious stratification since 1964. Labor shortages in Holland and unemployment rates in Turkey logically made a “recruitment agreement” with Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries seem like a logical step. A decade later their families started to follow the guest workers to the country where they had first been welcomed. Our government has been unable to accommodate the influx of immigrants, and sees the solution in placing them in asylum centers for an indeterminate time.

I have known for many years that not being Muslim in the Netherlands has made me privileged in so many ways. The education system benefits those who grew up in monolingual Dutch families by forcing twelve-year-olds to take a test, and segregating us into different high schools that basically define our future. Our conservative politicians speak of deporting immigrants, and condemn Islam. They have widened the schism between religious groups; demonize and dehumanize the immigrant population, causing illogical fears in people due to the supposed loss of their Dutch identity. Some political refugees come from corrupt and life endangering places to arrive in a supposedly “progressive country” to become faced with marginalization. They have become the folder in the immigration office that never gets read, the scapegoat to blame, and the uneducated in a corrupt educational system.

I have started a conversation with myself questioning my privilege. I have started to come to terms with the religious discrimination occurring in my own country. I still struggle to define my role as a white female in a US society that historically has stratified based on race. I cannot keep assuming that I am exempt from privilege in the US because I am foreign. I have opened the door to my questions, rendering me confused about the intersection of my identity with my nationalities. I hope to eventually turn this confusion into more clarity, but for now I face my privilege with more questions than I have answers.

If you would like to read more about immigration politics in the Netherlands, read this article.

Pro-Life is a Cabaret!

Pro-Life is a Cabaret!

This past week I saw Cabaret on Broadway and participated in a Reproductive Justice Walk through lower Manhattan. Through the entire walk, I kept imagining Sally Bowles, one of the main characters of Cabaret, and how she encapsulated the fears of many pro-lifers. That if abortions were easily accessible, all these promiscuous women would come out of the woodwork to have abortions left and right as if were as simple as ordering a latte. Sally did have multiple abortions and she was a promiscuous person, but she also embodied the sensational.

She used flash! She used glitz! She used her body and her sexuality to get what she fancied, and she gave no apologies for her actions if it meant getting what she wanted. She shut her eyes to the truths presented to her and very much wanted to live in her world where the most important things were a stage, an audience, and most importantly, a party. The world was changing, and she stubbornly shut her eyes and stomped her feet against such change

Now, while pro-lifers would detest Sally Bowls’ reproductive choices, they’re practically bosom buddies when it comes to methodology in such sensationalism. I’m from Texas, and right now, our candidates for governor are campaigning, and while our pro-choice candidate, Wendy Davis, visited California for a fundraiser, she was greeted with this image.

Abortion Barbie. ABORTION-BARBIE-570

Wendy Davis’ head photo shopped onto a Barbie with a plastic baby coming out of her stomach splashed against a background of juvenile polka dots and pink. Like how did anyone think this was okay?! While I understand that this happened in the middle of a campaign and that mudslinging is proven to be one of the best ways to influence voters, how is it possible to engage in a serious dialogue about abortion if it boils down to which side had the most shocking photo?

Since the time Anthony Comstock and his desire to curtail all things immoral to Abortion Barbie, the censoring and exploitation of the subject of abortion has rendered us unable to have a national dialogue that isn’t in one way, shape, or form sensationalized from either side of the debate. It’s about flash; it’s about glitz. It’s about using legislation to curtail a woman’s autonomy over her own body and to regulate her sexuality without even asking her for her opinion. It’s about ignoring statistics of women who die from alleyway abortions and the financial burden an unwanted pregnancy puts on families, and instead, using a woman’s body as a platform to push a patriarchal party agenda onto a national audience. The world is changing, and they’re refusing to listen to such change.

But let’s not have a serious discussion about the why women choose to get abortions and why men find it necessary to regulate women’s bodies, old chum! Pro-life is a Cabaret!

Moxies Have Zero Tolerance For Gender Violence

On June 3, all nine Moxies volunteered at the Sanctuary for Families Zero Tolerance benefit.

By being part of this event, we pledged:

I will no longer be a bystander to gender violence.
I will speak up when I hear a sexist comment.
I will learn more about the impact of gender violence.
I will speak out about gender violence in all its forms.
I will speak up for those who have been silenced.
I will talk to my children about healthy relationships. (Not relevant to us yet, but nonetheless important!)

Here are some photos from the night:

Katie, Julia, and Amari, the three Sanctuary interns, have a LONGGGG day of set-up.

Katie, Julia, and Amari, the three Sanctuary interns, have a LONGGGG day of set-up ahead.

The room venue looked gorgeous.

The room venue looked gorgeous.

Thematic, anti-GV centerpieces.

Thematic, anti-GV centerpieces.

Sanctuary interns all dressed up!

Sanctuary interns all dressed up!

The other Moxies arrive to help.

The other Moxies arrive to help.

With Nicole, our fearless site manager.

With Nicole, our fearless site coordinator.

It's been a long day for these three...

It’s been a long day for these three…

...but it was 100% worth it.

…but it was 100% worth it.

The event raised $1.9 million towards helping and advocating for victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking.  It was an honor to be a part of it.