Scott Stringer and the Wrong Question

Some Thoughts on the Power and Responsibility of White Men

Mayoral Candidate and current NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer has been accused of sexual assault by a woman who worked for him twenty years ago. He has denied the allegations—a reflection that the wrong question is being centered in the conversation.

“Did he do it?”

That’s the road everyone goes down in these situations—dividing the world into “good guys” and, basically, rapists. People who don’t think Stringer is “some kind of rapist” immediately start questioning the accuser, the situation, and trying to figure out if there was room for something to be some kind of misunderstanding.

The same thing is going on in Scott Stringer’s head now—I’m sure of it.

Because he doesn’t think of himself as a bad guy—because he thinks of himself as a good husband, father, public servant, etc.—these things said about him are simply not true.

That is why, even though he will go on to lose most, if not all, of his endorsements and ultimately the election, he will probably walk away from this situation having learned nothing.

What exactly happened is impossible to determine today—but the lived experience of that situation by his accuser should be believed. There are differing accounts of the situation, as there always are. It seems likely that Scott, in his assessment, has not thought about who he was in relation to this woman and what that meant about power, and how that impacted her experience.

This, to me, is the question that no one, especially the accused, asks enough:

“Did Scott Stringer take an extra level of care and responsibility around his use of the privilege and power that comes with being a straight white male?”

You see, straight white men are, by definition, in a position of authority in our society—never mind that he was the candidate on a campaign that she was working on. That’s even more authority and so is the physical authority that most men have—usually being bigger and stronger than the women around them.

Straight white men have the ability, in most situations, to either get what we want through a power dynamic that is both structural and socialized or not to face consequences when we try to get it.

This is an enormous advantage in any situation—an advantage that has the potential to inflict harm on others who are less powerful, whether we intend to or not.

Straight white men are, in a sense, running with scissors.

Whether or not we’re coming at you wielding them in a stabbing motion or simply not holding them with the sharp end in our palm like we were taught in kindergarten isn’t particularly relevant when it comes to whether or not we’ve caused real harm.

But that’s what people will ask.

“Did he try to stab anyone with the scissors?”

“Does he seem like a stabby kind of guy?”

As any reasonable man should have been doing over the past few years, I’ve been reviewing my own past actions. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t fall into the trap of these black and white questions.

When one starts dissecting actions in gradations, it kind of misses the larger point.

It is too easy to think, “Well, I’m not a bad guy, like so and so who did X.”

Or, “That person that didn’t work directly for me.”

In fact, Scott Stringer said that exact thing when asked about their relationship.

”She was a peer,” he said. Herein lies the overlooked problem.

Somehow Scott Stringer believes that as a straight white male candidate for office, that an Asian female, ten years his junior, was a peer simply because she wasn’t officially on his payroll or a direct report.

This is the original sin that makes him unfit for office—regardless of what he actually did or did not do in the back of that cab.

While friends and supporters will come to Scott’s defense, suggesting that “these things are untrue”, that shouldn’t ever be conflated with whether or not he failed to take extra care around his authority and power.

I don’t know any man, including myself, who hasn’t made that mistake.

I can definitely recall situations where it did not occur to me that as a visible and influential member of my professional community, or even as a straight white male, a triathlete of a certain physical stature, that I wielded power that could harm others regardless of my intention or specific action.

I was running with scissors.

It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t trying to stab anyone.

To the extent that any of my actions will ever put my reputation into question, that review is price of admission for power, be it in the form of capital, influence, votes, etc.

Most straight white men, under this level of scrutiny for public office, would fail to honestly be able to say they’ve always taken the necessary amounts of care when it came to the power society has entrusted them with.

That’s 100% ok with me. That’s the way it should be.

The standard of public office that we should hold our elected officials to is that they keep sacred the great responsibility of power and authority they are given and that they understand how to wield it from a position of empathy and awareness.

While this is something I have worked on over the years, it is something that women in our society already know how to do—especially women of color. That’s because they are not often granted such power, and worse, are often on the receiving end of its negative effects.

Our bar for electing straight white men should be higher because they have an extra responsibility.

Maya Wiley, Dianne Morales, and Kathryn Garcia don’t need a reminder of how the system and unequal distribution of power—even in everyday, well-intentioned social situations—makes things more difficult for them.

They live it every day.

Kathryn Garcia knows her experience of running the 9,000 person Department of Sanitation is a far more complex job than being Borough President or the Comptroller—but she has raised a fraction of the money that Scott Stringer has.

If you were a Scott Stringer voter that believed in his “Ready on Day One” promise, then Kathryn Garcia deserves your vote and your financial backing.

Honestly, she did before all this came out.

Maya Wiley and Dianne Morales are two energetic, passionate women of color who have been competing with Scott Stringer to win progressive votes.

The Working Families Party endorsed Scott ahead of both of them. Dianne is a single mom of color who lost the Working Familes Party endorsement to a 60+ year old white married man.

I mean, just think about that for a moment…

Who you are doesn’t define your fitness for a role, but as an elected representative of a community, doesn’t it?

Doesn’t your real lived experience show up in every single policy proposal and tough decision you’ll ever be called to make?

Maya, Dianne and Kathryn don’t need to be reminded of what the playing field looks like and I know their administrations and policies will reflect that far more than someone like Scott, who still needs to have it explained to him that just because someone’s not on your payroll doesn’t automatically make them a peer.

Whether you’re a progressive or you’re focused on experience or fitness for office or not—all three of these women deserve your vote and they’ll all be getting mine.

We have all had situations where we have been less than our best to others—but that’s not what this is about. This is about white men realizing that their best can be no less than the consciousness of what it means for others to live in our wake in everything that we do.

Scott is still failing on that by suggesting that, no matter what actually happened, he is able to be conscious of the scissors he holds.

As he obviously still has much to learn, he should not be running with them.