NOW, the National Organization for Women is apparently still struggling to not be racist, even after a previous meltdown in June when members made allegations against NOW president Toni Van Pelt of racial discrimination. Still, the feminist organization founded by Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Pauli Murray, and Muriel Fox in 1966 is fighting its own obsolescence with yet another racist scandal. According to The Daily Beast, a woman named BJ Star is running for re-election on NOW’s board, framing herself as a woman-of-color, specifically as an Asian-American candidate. There’s just one small problem. “Star, born Barbara Bencsik, had never identified herself as such in previous campaigns and lists herself as white in voter registrations dating back to 1984,” The Daily Beast reports.
It can’t be said, definitively, what Star’s racial heritage is but as the Daily Beast reports, several NOW members who have worked with Star personally were unaware that she identified as anything other than white. NOW also hosts a yearly caucus for women of color which Star has allegedly not attended in the last five years. Star, who seems to have taken a page from the long line of white women portraying themselves as women of color angling for some perceived advantage, was previously the president of the West Pinellas chapter of NOW.
It gets murkier, as the Daily Beast reports: “Some members have attributed her sudden urge to run as a woman of color to a little-employed provision in the NOW bylaws that allows each region to have an extra seat on the board if it is occupied by a woman of color—a provision created to incentivize more diversity on the board.” If Star loses the election, she can still get a seat on the board under this loop-hole, despite the fact she just recently began identifying as an Asian-American. At the age of 71.
The messy debate on whether a woman who identified as white for 71-years can quickly embrace her alleged Asian-American heritage to represent women of color is perhaps not the most promising sign that NOW is currently equipped to deal with anything related to race. The Daily Beast writes,
In emails obtained by The Daily Beast, the chair of NOW’s elections committee said she had shared the concerns about Star’s claims with the committee and would “report back once we conclude our review.”
Star’s supporters, however, have tried to flip the logic of diversity and inclusion on those who are speaking out. In emails about the issue obtained by The Daily Beast, one board member wrote, “So suddenly we no longer believe women of color??” Another member said Star had moved to Asia at one point to “learn more about her people and ancestry.” (“I’ve lived in the US all 56 years of my life and that still doesn’t make me a white person,” Anderson retorted.)
To be a fly on the wall of that email thread. NOW’s struggle in dealing with racism at the highest levels of the organization raises questions about whether or not the organization has evolved far enough beyond its 1966 ideology to advocate for women in 2020. But the most important question raised here is what DNA kit did BJ Star take to discover she was any percent Asian?