The Sarah Problem
How mediocre white women discredit Black Leaders
We all know what a Karen is and today I would like to tell you about Sarah. Sarah slides under the radar because everyone is paying attention to the loud Karen asking to speak to the manager. Sarah wants the same thing as Karen but she is underhanded and manipulative about it. She starts a whisper campaign so insidious that by the end you’re the villain and no one remembers she started it. Sarahs are dangerous. Beware of the Sarah.
Sarah Baxter, a former Sunday Times Editor tweeted about her underhanded whisper campaign about the “Kamala Problem” and I was activated. Normally I just ignore these attacks. Maybe I might like a tweet of a mutual criticizing it or a some peripheral engagement but this one had gone too far. It was the picture. That was it.
Now unlike a lot of coward blowhards talking out of their behinds, I will admit that I did not read the article. They don’t deserve my click. As much as the the half truths and distortions in the article might anger me I had already reached peak anger over the picture they chose to use.
You might not know but I was one of 236 cadets to graduate from the United States Coast Guard Academy in May 2007. Our speaker was then president George W Bush. I immediately recognized the picture. For a moment I was First Class Monetta Wilson, department head, yearbook editor again; but now with big auntie energy.
I immediately knew how much effort went into this picture. I knew who took it. I knew how many people made it happen. Seeing the picture used in this way made me very sad for everyone involved in the picture because they did not consent to being used in this way. I was sad that they were being used this way because I knew the audience that this picture in this article was aiming toward. I knew the message they were trying to send to that audience.
Make no mistake this picture is saying look they are trying to erase you. It is saying Madam Vice President Harris is like the female cadets in the picture. It is saying that they are in their positions because of affirmative action and therefore incompetent.
I know that this is the message that they are trying to convey because of the many times these same words were said to me. I know it because of how many of my classmates were shocked when someone they respected made these ignorant racist proclamations in all white company. I know because I was a black female international cadet who consistently outperformed her classmates for four years only to have C students on probation look down on me. I know!
I also know that admissions was happy to have Vice President Harris as a speaker for graduation because it would boost recruitment; particularly minority recruitment. I haven’t kept up with my Alma Mater because I have chronic illnesses that make my energy very limited and lots of other reasons but I can tell you that there were four Black female cadets in my class of over two hundred and one the following year.
Admissions must have been really happy at all the pictures they would get with Vice President Harris. When President Bush came to our graduation they pulled high performing cadets from Texas for many roles. Pictures of cadets making the longhorn sign with the president were on recruiting material that summer. They probably got a bump in applications from Texas that year; not that they needed it.
Every single person who works at CGA is involved in graduation; and a lot of the New London Community too. Our commencement ball was at Mohegan Sun to give you some idea of how much graduation impacts the community. When the President or Vice President attends it’s even more involved. Not to mention there are always protesters and every graduation and the national news networks. It’s a lot of moving parts and the public affairs office coordinates a lot of it and ensures it runs smoothly every year.
Leading up to graduation the public affairs office is so busy and they’re on top of everything. I know this because I had to go there as the yearbook editor to get pictures. They knew who I was as soon as I walked through the door. They’re good, they’re really good. There’s some shots only the PA folks can get for various reasons.
They don’t charge for pictures like Getty Images and other services. Crediting them with the image in this makes it seem like they’re endorsing your article. And they can’t comment on it because the military is apolitical. However, active duty military personnel and veterans are a large voting block and this article is directed at them. They’re decision makers in companies with significant lobbying power. This article is directed at them. I believe this picture was specifically chosen to send a specific message to them.
Of all the people affected by this hack piece the one I’m most concerned about is the third class cadets on a Coast Guard vessels right now. Third class summer was one of the hardest times of my life. I wanted to jump into the Bering Sea just to get a break from the racism, the prying questions, the subtle threats and the gas lighting.
The New Statesman is just the type of publication someone on a Coast Guard vessel would read then corner you in the mess hall while you’re desperately trying to keep crackers down and interrogate you. They would ask prying questions like why are there so many girl cadets in the picture? They asked me why their ship got so many cadets. They asked how comes they got two black cadets. They asked me if I thought someone whose child was gay should be president. They would pull pictures and ask if I knew a specific cadet. Honestly I blocked a lot of it out because I needed to survive. It all came rushing back when I saw it.
There was a Sarah on the ship. He was an OS1. She was a white presenting Latina. She started a whisper campaign. Of the ten cadets on the ship two of us were Black women. We were both on the night shifts. I was one double four to eights and she was on mids. She got to sleep in after coming off watch at 4 am and I went to bed early to get on watch at 4 am. We were in 16 man berthing with the enlisted women. We had barely been there a week working long hours when my Black classmate was laying in her bunk and hear the Sarah ask our white female classmate “Why are the Black cadets so lazy?”.
You see what had happened was that my classmate had impressed everyone with her performance. I had impressed them by showing up and never asking to be excused from duties even though I had the worse case of sea sickness they had ever seen. We hadn’t complained when we were pepper sprayed. People were talking about us. They were saying we were going places.
In the conversation that ensued after the question Sarah asked who wrote our performance evaluations and who was in charge of our duty rosters. That question was designed to start a whisper campaign to cast doubt on our abilities and tank our careers. I had to put an end to it! At the next cadet meeting with our supervisor I let it be known that I will not tolerate discrimination and I will go outside the chain of command if I had to.
For the next few weeks I was in a state of hyper vigilance. The constant conversations about affirmative action and the repeated questioning about why we were on that ship only made things worse. It’s an experience that I wish on no one. Unfortunately it’s an experience that many Black people have while in the Military.
When the president comes to your graduation they tell you the negative press that will come out of his visit is not about you. No one tells that to the fleet. One guy told me we made the president look bad. I’m still not sure what I did because the President wasn’t even at CGA graduation that year, and neither was I.
The military is a reflection of America and as much as it is different than the place I wrote about in my first article on here, white supremacy still permeates every level of society. Therefore it is entirely possible that this article written, by a clout chasing Sarah, to cast doubt on Vice President Harris’ ability to govern and to hold the highest office in the land can have far reaching consequences for people who were just doing their duties.
So next time you see a Sarah asking questions about whether someone is qualified for their job or suggesting someone else would do a better job ask yourself what their end goal is. Or better yet ask them. They will either be silent, vacillate or tell the truth.
The truth is that just like Karens, Sarahs want everything to be centered on them. They only want marginalized people to exist if they’re suffering. They are determined to keep Black Women in their place. They see high achieving black women as uppity, reaching above their station. They feel threatened by our beauty, grace and excellence and are determined to see us “humbled” by whatever means necessary. Sarahs are just more dangerous than Karens because their tactics are hidden and often more effective.
So remember if you see something say something because the silence of those not directly affected by her actions is how Sarah’s gain support. The quiet affirmation is how they gain power. You can fight this particular Sarah by donating to the Eclipse Legacy Fund at the Coast Guard Academy to ensure that Black cadets have access to the support they need to flourish.