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The Black Journalist Who Confronted David Duke at a Pivotal Moment

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During a televised debate days before Louisiana’s election for governor, Duke faced questions about his “diabolical, evil, vile mentality.”

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21 days ago
for so many people, change comes too late. but we are in their debt
seattle, wa
19 days ago
Seattle, WA
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My White Friend Asked Me on Facebook to Explain White Privilege. I Decided to Be Honest

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Yesterday I was tagged in a post by an old high school friend asking me and a few others a very public, direct question about white privilege and racism. I feel compelled not only to publish his query, but also my response to it, as it may be a helpful discourse for more than just a few folks on Facebook.

Here’s his post:

To all of my Black or mixed race FB friends, I must profess a blissful ignorance of this “White Privilege” of which I’m apparently guilty of possessing. By not being able to fully put myself in the shoes of someone from a background/race/religion/gender/nationality/body type that differs from my own makes me part of the problem, according to what I’m now hearing. Despite my treating everyone with respect and humor my entire life (as far as I know), I’m somehow complicit in the misfortune of others. I’m not saying I’m colorblind, but whatever racism/sexism/other -ism my life experience has instilled in me stays within me, and is not manifested in the way I treat others (which is not the case with far too many, I know).

So that I may be enlightened, can you please share with me some examples of institutional racism that have made an indelible mark upon you? If I am to understand this, I need people I know personally to show me how I’m missing what’s going on. Personal examples only. I’m not trying to be insensitive, I only want to understand (but not from the media). I apologize if this comes off as crass or offends anyone.

Here’s my response:

Hi, Jason. First off, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve quoted your post and made it part of mine. I think the heart of what you’ve asked of your friends of color is extremely important and I think my response needs much more space than as a reply on your feed. I truly thank you for wanting to understand what you are having a hard time understanding. Coincidentally, over the last few days I have been thinking about sharing some of the incidents of prejudice/racism I’ve experienced in my lifetime—in fact I just spoke with my sister Lesa about how to best do this yesterday—because I realized many of my friends—especially the white ones—have no idea what I’ve experienced/dealt with unless they were present (and aware) when it happened. There are two reasons for this: 1) because not only as a human being do I suppress the painful and uncomfortable in an effort to make it go away, I was also taught within my community (I was raised in the ’70s and ’80s—it’s shifted somewhat now) and by society at large NOT to make a fuss, speak out, or rock the boat. To just “deal with it,” lest more trouble follow (which, sadly, it often does); 2) fear of being questioned or dismissed with “Are you sure that’s what you heard?” or “Are you sure that’s what they meant?” and being angered and upset all over again by well-meaning-but-hurtful and essentially unsupportive responses.

White privilege in this situation is being able to move into a “nice” neighborhood and be accepted not harassed.

So, again, I’m glad you asked, because I really want to answer. But as I do, please know a few things first: 1) This is not even close to the whole list. I’m cherry-picking because none of us have all day; 2) I’ve been really lucky. Most of what I share below is mild compared to what others in my family and community have endured; 3) I’m going to go in chronological order so you might begin to glimpse the tonnage and why what many white folks might feel is a “where did all of this come from?” moment in society has been festering individually and collectively for the LIFETIME of pretty much every black or brown person living in America today, regardless of wealth or opportunity; 4) Some of what I share covers sexism, too—intersectionality is another term I’m sure you’ve heard and want to put quotes around, but it’s a real thing too, just like white privilege. But you’ve requested a focus on personal experiences with racism, so here it goes:

1. When I was 3, my family moved into an upper-middle-class, all-white neighborhood. We had a big backyard, so my parents built a pool. Not the only pool on the block, but the only one neighborhood boys started throwing rocks into. White boys. One day my mom ID’d one as the boy from across the street, went to his house, told his mother, and, fortunately, his mother believed mine. My mom not only got an apology, but also had that boy jump in our pool and retrieve every single rock. No more rocks after that. Then mom even invited him to come over to swim sometime if he asked permission. Everyone became friends. This one has a happy ending because my mom was and is badass about matters like these, but I hope you can see that the white privilege in this situation is being able to move into a “nice” neighborhood and be accepted not harassed, made to feel unwelcome, or prone to acts of vandalism and hostility.

2. When my older sister was 5, a white boy named Mark called her a “nigger” after she beat him in a race at school. She didn’t know what it meant, but in her gut she knew it was bad. This was the first time I’d seen my father the kind of angry that has nowhere to go. I somehow understood it was because not only had some boy verbally assaulted his daughter and had gotten away with it, it had way too early introduced her (and me) to that term and the reality of what it meant—that some white people would be cruel and careless with black people’s feelings just because of our skin color. Or our achievement. If it’s unclear in any way, the point here is if you’ve never had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.

I remember some white male classmates were pissed that a black classmate had gotten into UCLA while they didn’t.

3. Sophomore year of high school. I had Mr. Melrose for Algebra 2. Some time within the first few weeks of class, he points out that I’m “the only spook” in the class. This was meant to be funny. It wasn’t. So, I doubt it will surprise you I was relieved when he took medical leave after suffering a heart attack and was replaced by a sub for the rest of the semester. The point here is, if you’ve never been ‘the only one’ of your race in a class, at a party, on a job, etc. and/or it’s been pointed out in a “playful” fashion by the authority figure in said situation, you have white privilege.

4. When we started getting our college acceptances senior year, I remember some white male classmates were pissed that a black classmate had gotten into UCLA while they didn’t. They said that affirmative action had given him “their spot” and it wasn’t fair. An actual friend of theirs. Who’d worked his ass off. The point here is, if you’ve never been on the receiving end of the assumption that when you’ve achieved something it’s only because it was taken away from a white person who “deserved it,” you have white privilege.

5. When I got accepted to Harvard (as a fellow AP student, you were witness to what an academic beast I was in high school, yes?), three separate times I encountered white strangers as I prepped for my maiden trip to Cambridge that rankle to this day. The first was the white doctor giving me a physical at Kaiser:

Me: “I need to send an immunization report to my college so I can matriculate.”

Doctor: “Where are you going?”

Me: “Harvard.”

Doctor: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?”

The second was in a store, looking for supplies I needed from Harvard’s suggested “what to bring with you” list.

Store employee: “Where are you going?”

Me: “Harvard.”

Store employee: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?”

The third was at UPS, shipping off boxes of said “what to bring” to Harvard. I was in line behind a white boy mailing boxes to Princeton and in front of a white woman sending her child’s boxes to wherever.

Woman to the boy: “What college are you going to?” Boy: “Princeton.”

Woman: “Congratulations!”

Woman to me: “Where are you sending your boxes?” Me: “Harvard.”

Woman: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?”

I think: “No, bitch, the one downtown next to the liquor store.” But I say, gesturing to my LABELED boxes: “Yes, the one in Massachusetts.”

Then she says congratulations, but it’s too fucking late. The point here is, if no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, you have white privilege.

6. In my freshman college tutorial, our small group of 4–5 was assigned to read Thoreau, Emerson, Malcolm X, Joseph Conrad, Dreiser, etc. When it was the week to discuss The Autobiography of Malcolm X, one white boy boldly claimed he couldn’t even get through it because he couldn’t relate and didn’t think he should be forced to read it. I don’t remember the words I said, but I still remember the feeling—I think it’s what doctors refer to as chandelier pain—as soon as a sensitive area on a patient is touched, they shoot through the roof—that’s what I felt. I know I said something like my whole life I’ve had to read “things that don’t have anything to do with me or that I relate to” but I find a way anyway because that’s what learning is about—trying to understand other people’s perspectives. The point here is—the canon of literature studied in the United States, as well as the majority of television and movies, have focused primarily on the works or achievements of white men. So, if you have never experienced or considered how damaging it is/was/could be to grow up without myriad role models and images in school that reflect you in your required reading material or in the mainstream media, you have white privilege.

7. All seniors at Harvard are invited to a fancy, seated group lunch with our respective dorm masters. (Yes, they were called “masters” up until this February, when they changed it to “faculty deans,” but that’s just a tasty little side dish to the main course of this remembrance). While we were being served by the Dunster House cafeteria staff—the black ladies from Haiti and Boston who ran the line daily (I still remember Jackie’s kindness and warmth to this day)—Master Sally mused out loud how proud they must be to be serving the nation’s best and brightest. I don’t know if they heard her, but I did, and it made me uncomfortable and sick. The point here is, if you’ve never been blindsided when you are just trying to enjoy a meal by a well-paid faculty member’s patronizing and racist assumptions about how grateful black people must feel to be in their presence, you have white privilege.

He was getting stopped by cops constantly because he was a black man in a luxury car.

8. While I was writing on a television show in my 30s, my new white male boss—who had only known me for a few days—had unbeknownst to me told another writer on staff he thought I was conceited, didn’t know as much I thought I did, and didn’t have the talent I thought I had. And what exactly had happened in those few days? I disagreed with a pitch where he suggested our lead female character carelessly leave a potholder on the stove, burning down her apartment. This character being a professional caterer. When what he said about me was revealed months later (by then he’d come to respect and rely on me), he apologized for prejudging me because I was a black woman. I told him he was ignorant and clearly had a lot to learn. It was a good talk because he was remorseful and open. But the point here is, if you’ve never been on the receiving end of a boss’s prejudiced, uninformed “how dare she question my ideas” badmouthing based on solely on his ego and your race, you have white privilege.

9. On my very first date with my now husband, I climbed into his car and saw baby wipes on the passenger-side floor. He said he didn’t have kids, they were just there to clean up messes in the car. I twisted to secure my seatbelt and saw a stuffed animal in the rear window. I gave him a look. He said, “I promise, I don’t have kids. That’s only there so I don’t get stopped by the police.” He then told me that when he drove home from work late at night, he was getting stopped by cops constantly because he was a black man in a luxury car and they assumed that either it was stolen or he was a drug dealer. When he told a cop friend about this, Warren was told to put a stuffed animal in the rear window because it would change “his profile” to that of a family man and he was much less likely to be stopped. The point here is, if you’ve never had to mask the fruits of your success with a floppy-eared, stuffed bunny rabbit so you won’t get harassed by the cops on the way home from your gainful employment (or never had a first date start this way), you have white privilege.

10. Six years ago, I started a Facebook page that has grown into a website called Good Black News because I was shocked to find there were no sites dedicated solely to publishing the positive things black people do. (And let me explain here how biased the coverage of mainstream media is in case you don’t already have a clue—as I curate, I can’t tell you how often I have to swap out a story’s photo to make it as positive as the content. Photos published of black folks in mainstream media are very often sullen- or angry-looking. Even when it’s a positive story! I also have to alter headlines constantly to 1) include a person’s name and not have it just be “Black Man Wins Settlement” or “Carnegie Hall Gets 1st Black Board Member,” or 2) rephrase it from a subtle subjugator like “ABC taps Viola Davis as Series Lead” to “Viola Davis Lands Lead on ABC Show” as is done for, say, Jennifer Aniston or Steven Spielberg. I also receive a fair amount of highly offensive racist trolling. I don’t even respond. I block and delete ASAP. The point here is, if you’ve never had to rewrite stories and headlines or swap photos while being trolled by racists when all you’re trying to do on a daily basis is promote positivity and share stories of hope and achievement and justice, you have white privilege.

Trust me, nobody is mad at you for being white. Nobody.

OK, Jason, there’s more, but I’m exhausted. And my kids need dinner. Remembering and reliving many of these moments has been a strain and a drain (and, again, this ain’t even the half or the worst of it). But I hope my experiences shed some light for you on how institutional and personal racism have affected the entire life of a friend of yours to whom you’ve only been respectful and kind. I hope what I’ve shared makes you realize it’s not just strangers, but people you know and care for who have suffered and are suffering because we are excluded from the privilege you have not to be judged, questioned, or assaulted in any way because of your race.

As to you “being part of the problem,” trust me, nobody is mad at you for being white. Nobody. Just like nobody should be mad at me for being black. Or female. Or whatever. But what IS being asked of you is to acknowledge that white privilege DOES exist and not only to treat people of races that differ from yours “with respect and humor,” but also to stand up for fair treatment and justice, not to let “jokes” or “off-color” comments by friends, co-workers, or family slide by without challenge, and to continually make an effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, so we may all cherish and respect our unique and special contributions to society as much as we do our common ground.

With much love and respect,


This article was originally published by Good Black News. It has been edited for YES! Magazine. 

Read more of on White privilege and racial justice:

10 Examples That Prove White Privilege Exists in Every Aspect Imaginable

The Language of Antiracism

Leveraging White Privilege for Racial Justice


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51 days ago
Seattle, WA
52 days ago
seattle, wa
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1 public comment
65 days ago
that we still have to do this emotional labor for well-meaning white people can be so exhausting. They are taking this so personally and then ask us to calm them down, expose our pain to them, and hope that we are the last person of color they will ask to perform for them so they can avoid using Google in this the year 2020. BUT THEY MEAN WELL I know, but the IMPACT still hurts. Intention does not alter the impact of emotional pain or labor.
Oakland, CA

the revolution is no place for templates

sugar-scoop flowers peek out from behind a damp, moss-covered log. the white flowers are bell-shaped on a spindly twig standing above a patch of green wet leaves. it’s been a hard month. like these flowers, i wanted to say hello.

2020 has felt like every single month will someday be its own chapter in a history textbook. Two weeks into global protests, leaders are promising change that once felt like a pipe dream. At the same time, we know that capitalism will monetize everything it can, even protests. Police forces will take a knee with protestors one minute, and tear gas them the next. It didn’t take long for public opinion to reach a tipping point. Corporations jumped over each other to issue their own statements of support.

But what do those statements mean?

After George Floyd’s murder, Adam Rapoport wrote an article titled, “Food has always been political.” A few days later, he resigned after a photo of him in brownface resurfaced. Reading the article now, it’s clear that he believed he was the vanguard. As Bon Appetit’s Editor in Chief, he was leading the way towards the anti-racist future we need. And then it became clear that he wasn’t. What did his words mean, in retrospect? Anti-racism sells now, but it doesn’t pay people of color for their work. It doesn’t disrupt the balance of white supremacy culture in a 30-year-old magazine. The photo of him in brownface was not new. If it wasn’t resurfaced to an audience that now rejected it, he would still have his job. His statement would have assured his readers that he was on the right side of history.

The last few weeks have shown most white people and some POCs the harm that Black people face every day. If we want to end that trauma, we have to do more than write a statement. I have a couple ideas about what not to do.

Don’t use a template

This isn’t a time to use someone else’s words. Black people and people of color are all feeling this in different ways. I can’t speak to how my Black colleagues and friends are experiencing this moment. Recycling someone else’s words, or worse, quoting MLK, comes across as hollow. This isn’t a time to dissociate. It’s a time to feel, be uncomfortable, and live in that.

Don’t write beyond what you are willing to do

The worst thing we can do now is provide empty promises. I’ve read a lot of statements from my own organization and from others in my field. I’ve felt frustrated wishing these statements went further. I’ve gnashed my teeth at all the euphemisms for “murder” and “state-sanctioned violence”. But when the statement hits the website, people deserve to know where you actually stand.

When I interview people, I always use pronouns to identify myself, then leave it up to a candidate whether they will share their own. It’s a hiring practice I do that says something about our workplace culture. When I talk about anti-racist and gender-affirming hiring practices, I warn people about using these practices in isolation. If your workplace is anti-trans, don’t fool trans people into working there. Don’t let your company’s anti-racist statement fool people into believing something that you’re not.

The statement is not enough

I stressed about the statements that were flying around after George Floyd’s murder. When I made my own statements to our network of partners, I worried about how my words would come across. I realized after I hit send that the words themselves weren’t what mattered. What matters is what we do after that. We need anti-racism to seep through the pores of every non-Black person on earth. It’s not enough to join book clubs or sit in guilt. We have to change things.

There’s one achievement of mine that is going to be the highlight of my year. My state recently increased the income level that a person could earn and still receive food. Our earlier standard, 185% of the federal poverty level (FPL), was set to change to 300%. I found a study that said that an income of 300% FPL was where food insecurity dropped for most people. But for people of color, they needed to earn 400% of the FPL before they felt the same effects. I helped persuade the group to adopt the higher limit for our entire state. We now have the highest income level limit in the country! Significantly more people will be able to eat because of a decision made by people the rule will never affect.

All I had to do was speak up.

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51 days ago
Seattle, WA
53 days ago
seattle, wa
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New Wave Singer Cristina Dead From Coronavirus

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CristinaCristina Monet Zilkha, the new wave singer who recorded simply as Cristina, has died, reportedly of COVID-19 complications. ZE Records co-founder Michael Esteban confirmed Cristina's death on Facebook last night. Cristina was 61. More »
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132 days ago
Seattle, WA
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BA's Best Banana Bread Recipe

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This recipe is so easy and holds up really well to substitutions! Based on what we had on hand, I subbed spelt flour for all-purpose, cane sugar for brown, coconut oil for butter, and cashew "yogurt" in place of Greek - dumped everything in the food processor for a minute, and still turned out great. Seems as long as you make sure to include the eggs in this recipe it rises and holds together well, though in this case our cooking time had to be increased to 80 mins. Definitely will make this recipe again.


Great recipe. I used the sour cream and the loaf was very moist and good. I used pecans instead of walnuts (because I live in Texas and I have pecans). I added 8 minutes to the 65-minute cooking time. Tasted very good.... oh, and added some turbinado sugar on the top for a nice crust. This is my new favorite banana bread recipe.

slwheatleySan Antonio, TX03/22/20

AMAZING. So easy to make and works great with subbed in ingredients (we only had raw cane sugar, the grocery store was out of dark brown)

AnonymousVirginia 03/22/20

Basically the best banana bread recipe! It's soooooo easy and turns out perfect everytime. I love it and have made a bunch since I found the recipe. Its great for using up the overly ripened bananas we always somehow end up getting stuck with! I have done it with semi sweet chocolate chips (it really didn't need them at all!), also did it plain as Carla suggested but my favorite is with chopped walnuts (it added that extra textural difference which I enjoyed the most). Yeah its easy, do it!


This was absolutely delicious, as I knew it would be. I used plain greek yogurt, and the bread was moist, which a nice texture. I have to echo two very useful comments below: it's easier to check the doneness with an instant read thermometer (200F), which did mean for me it too an extra 15 minutes of baking or so.

New Jersey03/18/20

Baked this today it’s amazing!! My dad went “something smells so goodd” while it was still baking in the oven. One thing I can say is that the family approves! Definitely the best recipe, will bake this again and again, for sure.


I did flaky salt and turbinado sugar on top (per a light nudge by Carla) and walnut pieces against the advice of nearly everyone in the test kitchen and my roommates loved it! BA's best banana bread was a tasty way to eat up a couple hours during CA's best quarantine! =P

honeybear_Oakland, CA03/18/20

This is SO. GOOD. I usually use a family recipe for banana bread but the last few tries have been a little dry. This bread is so incredibly delicious and moist, with lots of banana flavor and not too sweet. I only had light brown sugar and it tastes just fine, but curious how much better it would be with dark sugar next time. Will definitely be using this as my go-to recipe in the future!

soapnanaChicago, IL03/16/20

This banana bread is the best I've ever made. Made this exact recipe with 3 large banana and a lot of semi-sweet chocolate chips and walnuts. It was amazing! I think they'd make for great breakfast muffins too.

Sangvi98Atlanta, GA03/14/20

I’ve been making this banana bread almost every week for a few months now because it’s that amazing!! I use walnuts instead of chocolate chips and add larger pieces to the top for extra crunch. It takes about 10-15 minutes longer in my oven though. Key to success: temp the middle of the bread, it’s done when it reaches 200°F. It’s so much easier than the clean toothpick test in my experience.


Delicious, simple, and accessible recipe as usual! I went with Greek yogurt and my banana bread turned out moist and flavorful. Thanks!



AnonymousLove island03/03/20

After my tried n true banana bread recipe has inexplicably gone dud the last few times I am giving this one a crack. It's in the oven right now; fingers crossed!


192 grams flour 6.25 grams soda 3.75 grams salt 220 grams br sugar 67 grams yogurt, etc 50 grams butter 100 grams walnuts

AnonymousAlbuquerque, NM01/26/20

It is really a shame that a magazine on par with Bon Appetit does not publish recipes with metric measurements. Most of the world, except for the backward USA uses the metric system. It is so much better for recipes.

SlyRedChicago, IL01/26/20

Anonymous comment!


Can't wait to try this!

Burt Herman01/24/20

My roommates lose their mind every time I make this recipe. Making it now for the fourth time and will be making it for years to come

clairenotsaffitzNew York01/17/20

This was the Easiest Recipe for Me and my Granddaughter to make together. Actually She found the Recipe and subscribed to your website.


In case you've gone through life in a state of confusion on what banana bread recipe is the best, this is the one. Every other one is propaganda. I've made this recipe a trillion times. 10/10. For me she could have used 15 more minutes in the oven, but overall I'm in love.


I made this banana bread recipe exactly as Carla did in the video. I'm not a fan of bananas, but everyone in my life is, so I thought I'd serve up a treat. I used greek yogurt, just like done in the video. The main difference was I don't have an electric mixer of any kind, so creaming the butter and sugars took a looong time by hand. The texture of the butter mixture didn't turn out exact, but the end result of the bread was delicious. Everyone I made it for loved it.

AnonymousPasadena, CA12/31/19

I am an amateur baker, this banana bread changed my life! Although I halved the recipe (because I only had 2 bananas), it still came out great! My oven runs hot, so I started with 165 C, then turned down to 150 C as I was also using a darker loaf pan. Baked it for 47 minutes. It's fluffy, crunchy top, great flavour overall!

congeetimeAdelaide, AU12/31/19

This banana bread is so good! My family loves it. Sprinkled a bit of sugar on the top so there was a nice crunchy texture. I have made this so many times now and it's never failed. Yum!

AnonymousAsheville, NC12/25/19

Love it! Although I’ve made it with both marscapone and sour cream, I prefer making it with marscapone. I had a little difficulty making it with sour cream bc of the higher water content, my bread did not set in in the middle. It’s currently in the oven for an extra 10 min. Delicious recipe nonetheless!

MatchabobaLos Angeles 12/25/19

Fantastic recipe! I used demerara sugar instead of brown as I can’t find any from the stores near me, but the sweetness is spot on. I didn’t have any mixer so I creamed the sugar and the butter first before adding Greek yogurt, and I left a tiny bit of the flour so that I could flour my chocolate and nuts before adding them. The smells it gave my kitchen is so nice! Will definitely make this again soon.

GngWilsonManchester, UK12/19/19

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141 days ago
this is spectacular!
seattle, wa
141 days ago
Seattle, WA
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Joe Biden Can’t Cure Cancer

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Once again, Joe Biden has pledged to cure cancer. At the same time, his campaign is being bankrolled by the very industries that profit from keeping treatment prohibitively expensive.

Democratic presidential candidate former vice president Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty

As the results rolled in on the night of Super Tuesday, a buoyant Joe Biden addressed his supporters in Los Angeles. Among the many colorful remarks of that speech, the Democratic nominee reiterated his promise to cure cancer — alongside Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

This isn’t the first time Biden has made such a promise. Since his son Beau was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013, Joe Biden has committed himself to the fight against cancer. Though this commitment is laudable and very sympathetic, his methods are ultimately unrealistic. As a cancer researcher who has also lost a close family member to cancer, I feel compelled to stress the errors in his approach to the problem.

Promising the Moon

Following Beau Biden’s death in 2015, the Biden family reached out to billionaire Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong and Joe Biden put him in charge of the Cancer Moonshot expert panel to cure cancer in January 2016.

To secure funding for this program, Biden negotiated with the Republicans on the 21st Century Cures Act, which allowed Republicans to rollback FDA regulations on medical devices and gave the program $1.8 billion through 2023. It should be noted that both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren opposed this Act on the grounds of protecting consumers.

In 2017, it was revealed by a STAT investigation that Soon-Shiong was in fact using the Cancer Moonshot program to market his failing start-ups under the NantWorks umbrella. Soon-Shiong overhyped the clinical breakthroughs and made false claims about his research, while his wealth and social influence grew; he bought the LA Times and San Diego Tribune in 2018, and is today the richest doctor in the United States.

Interestingly, it turned out that even his philanthropic work was funneling money directly into one of his companies. Three years later, despite his promise to “transform the War on Cancer” by 2020, Soon-Shiong is still far from delivering any cure.

What’s more, Soon-Shiong is not without prior controversy. A 2015 whistleblower lawsuit alleged that NantHealth, Soon-Shiong’s flagship startup and his umbrella corporation NantWorks, were engaged in “a multitude of fraudulent activities” and broke health information privacy laws. In 2019, he was accused of buying out a drug that would have competed with the blockbuster cancer drug on which he built his entrepreneurial empire.

While he can’t be personally blamed for the ills of Soon-Shiong, it is nonetheless deeply concerning that Joe Biden chose to promote an individual who promised the moon, only to use public funds for private interests.

Biden has also consistently shown disregard for public programs across the board, be it social security or the funding for public health programs. Originally, his Cancer Moonshot program did not include any funding for public health prevention programs, even though it has been shown that such programs — including screening — are the most effective in tackling lung, cervical, colorectal, and gastric cancers, and reducing cancer mortality rates. It was only after a host of health experts wrote to Biden insisting on the crucial role of such programs that some grants for funding were made available.

Moreover, while the 21st Century Cures Act — promoted and voted for by Biden — promises to cut red tape so as to make novel treatments more readily available for cancer patients, it also includes a $3.5 billion cut to the Department of Human and Health Services’ Prevention and Public Health Fund.

Additionally, the 21st Century Cures Act allows pharmaceutical companies to promote off-label uses of existing products without clinical trials. While this provision may have been included with the NIH basket trials in mind, it also opens the door to greater risk. Off-label drug use has a history of causing adverse health effects, as seen in the case of Lupron, a sex hormone suppressor used to treat endometriosis in women and prostate cancer in men. The drug is causing an array of health problems in twenty-year-olds who received the drug during puberty.

Health for the Few

Who benefits from Joe Biden’s program? The inequality that exists in access to cancer screening and treatment within the United States and internationally cannot be solved through neoliberal approaches.

Let’s not forget, Joe Biden was a vocal proponent of the Iraq War and also voted in favor of invading Afghanistan. Today, US war veterans deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer higher rates of cancer due to likely exposure to chemicals in burn pits. Among Iraqis, contamination from depleted uranium munitions and other military-related pollution are causing higher rates of congenital defects and cancer, especially childhood leukemia, problems that will be passed down from one generation to another.

In the United States, Biden’s support for price gouging by Big Pharma should raise concerns about who will benefit from novel cancer treatments that might emerge from the Cancer Moonshot program. Biden vote to table the Wellstone Amendment in 2000, which would have reimposed the “reasonable pricing” rule, but now on the campaign trail, Biden has praised pharmaceutical companies and continues to receive contribution from Big Pharma and associated lobbyists.

Considering the exorbitant cost of cancer drugs in the United States, and the fact that these costs are associated with early mortality in cancer patients, it really bears asking whose cancers Biden is seeking to cure.

Down to Earth

Finding a cure for cancer is a mistaken premise to begin with; increasingly, clinicians and scientists are turning to prevention and management as the realistic options for this host of complex diseases.

As a cancer researcher, I have to point out that private-public partnerships in the biomedical field has given rise to the cancer-industrial complex, which puts the onus on the individual and ignores environmental causes, all the while upholding a reductionist approach to drug development that benefits corporations.

Biden, of course, does not support a fracking ban despite the scientific studies that correlate increased cancer rates with chemicals used for fracking and other related activities. Nor has he agreed to reimpose the ban on crude oil export, which Obama lifted and has resulted in a steady expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure across the United States, resulting in skyrocketing cancer rates in industrial areas, as exemplified by Louisiana’s notorious “cancer alley.”

If Joe Biden is serious about working toward a cure for cancer, he should confront the fact that his campaign is being bankrolled by the very industries whose profits are predicated on perpetuating the cancer-industrial complex. Without adopting bolder provisions in his health care and climate proposals, his promise to cure cancer can’t be taken seriously.

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154 days ago
Seattle, WA
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