I’ve had this post saved in my drafts for over 5 months now. I was fearful of posting it out of the high possibility that I could offend many of the people that inspire me to be a better activist. Though some of these sentiments have shifted, I realize now how important this personal statement is to my development as a feminist since my journey abroad. And so, I hope that when you read this you understand I am critiquing a system rather than individuals or white, middle class feminist women.
A professor of mine once said that the United Nations is a community of white, male non-retires thus making it difficult for others to enter the system and create change. I have come to believe the same holds true for the feminist community in NYC, except they are a group of predominantly white, middle class women.
When I left for Costa Rica last year, I simultaneously disengaged myself from the feminist community in the United States. My experiences in NYC and LA had made me resent the world of feminism. I saw many powerful feminists have their voices hidden by mainstream feminist outlets because they chose not to focus on commonly discussed topics such as reproductive justice, or sexualities. And though I witnessed many well-known leaders within the feminist community who were supportive, they didn’t want to share their power in order for the younger generations, women of color, working classes etc so that they may be recognized. I was tired of feeling let down, and sometimes ridiculed, by those whom I looked up to. Of course, there were exceptions and some strong friendships have been made.
While I believe passionately about the many causes and fights within the movement, I can’t help but get the sense that this is a community in the United States that heavily focused on recognition. Though there is an immense amount of support, it’s often followed by sentiments of, “I know better and, I can do this event, job, petition, etc better.” The companionship that I’ve found has often been about self gain - who can I mentor, how can I get my name through the door, who is the best person to network with for this project.
But I don’t think this “problem” has to do with individual people, rather it is the effect of the system in which feminism and feminists exist within. The United States, especially NYC, is a competitive place and it takes a long time to get your foot in the door. Of course, once you have gained access and recognition the thought of someone else taking your place is daunting and so people hold on tightly, almost perpetuating the system that they experienced as activist and writers in their twenties. Hello! Why is it that the same women have been running the largest and most well-known feminist organizations (i.e. Ms.) for such a long period of time without passing the torch to others?
As much as we say there is an increasing focus on intersectionality within feminist circles in the United States, we need to put more emphasis on our communities and ask ourselves how we move forward in a way that encourages mutual learning and respect between all ages, classes, genders, races, etc within feminism. How do we empower younger generations, women of color, working classes, etc to do the feminist work that they love as a career path without continuing a cycle that perpetuates competition over teamwork and growth?
A woman cries as she waits with other flood victims at the Convention Center in New Orleans, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005. Officials called for a mandatory evacuation of the city, but many residents remained in the city and had to be rescued from flooded homes and hotels and remain in the city awaiting a way out. (AP Photo/Eric Gay), http://www.flickr.com/photos/nabibhr/5407928368/
On Monday, August 29th 2005, all eyes where on Hurricane Katrina when it hit the state of Louisiana. It was the fifth deadliest storm among recorded Atlantic hurricanes and the relative lack of status, power and resources put many women of color at risk in the hours during and years after Katrina’s wake (Knabb, Richard, Brown, Daniel & Rhome, Jamie, 2005).
Thousands of New Orleans residents – overwhelming poor, largely people of color, and majority black – were left alone to face one of the worst “natural” disasters in US history. In the case of Katrina, women, men and their accompanying children were left to die on the streets, in prisons and in nursing homes. Those who survived, were victims of sexual and physical violence in places of refuge, and were criminalized as “looters” by local authorities for fighting to obtain provisions such as food, water, medicine and diapers. Hurricane Katrina reminded the world of an ugly truth: the lives of women, the vulnerable, poor, and nonwhite remained insignificant to the US government (South End Press Collective (Ed.), 2007).
Despite the sheer number of women present in New Orleans, as well as their transparent economic disparities, the nation made no provisions to assist these families as Hurricane Katrina rolled in. No government official sought to ask what the needs of these women were in the event of a massive storm nor did they provide the adequate support necessary to provide them with either protection nor assistance in Katrina’s aftermath.
Rather, it was women’s rights organizations that stood up for these women. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence was and remains a radical grassroots organization that challenged the economic, political and social structures of New Orleans that placed women of color in dire positions. INCITE! understood that women living at the intersection of systems of oppression were paying the price for militarism, the abandonment of their communities, and the ongoing racial and gender disparities in employment, income and access to resources and support (INCITE!, 2005). As a collective organization, they demanded that there be no further criminalization of survivors of the hurricanes and that attention be placed on those with the least access to privilege.
This evening, we sit quietly as Hurricane Isaac hit Haiti and now strikes New Orleans. Though we are well aware of the hazards and inequalities ‘natural’ disasters can inflict on a community, it appears as though most media attention has been placed on the 2012 GOP Convention, and feminists speaking on race and gender issues online remain silent on the potential impact of Isaac.
What has lead to such silence? Have the continuous strikes on our lands by “natural” disasters jaded us? Why are we so preoccupied with politics when destruction may come to the people of New Orleans once more? When did we become a community that waits for a disaster to strike before we take action?
In the moments before and in the wake of a disaster, there exist great possibilities for radical activists and local community members to address the deep veins of social injustices that exist and will likely remain long after the roads, homes, levees and bridges are rebuilt. We must not adopt the strategies of our nations government – we must address the issues that come with disasters head on, and before they arrive. Let us name the issues that still exist for women and men living in poverty in the city of New Orleans. Let us use our voices and fight for those who are, quite literally, silenced in the moments of a disaster.
This tribe called “Women of Color” is not an ethnicity. It is one of the inventions of solidarity, an alliance, a political necessity that is not the given name of every female with dark skin and a colonized tongue, but rather a choice about how to resist and with whom.
Aurora Levins Morales, My Name is This Story from Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios. (via art-is-the-word)
Credit: Herald Sun, Ladies and friends will dress to tramp in ‘SlutWalk’
Though feminists today are discussing women of color’s presence within the movement many of us continue to remain underrepresented and silenced. The feminist community still has a long way to go in giving women of color a space to speak outside of the shadows of their white counterparts.
For this reason, it comes as no surprise that a women of color is speaking out on the disparities that exist in the now infamous, SlutWalk. As Aura Blogando points out in her blog SlutWalk, A Stroll Through White Supremacy, the issues that women of color face go far beyond being called a Slut. Few women of color have the freedom to even protest authority figures without facing some kind of legal and often physical, repercussion. If a Latina or black women were to take the streets in little to no clothes shouting, “respect my rights,” do we really think the media would pick it up? Do we believe that white feminists would follow? If anything, the media would call us crazy and white feminists would blog about it from home.
Hugo Schwyzer, one of the lead organizers of SlutWalk LA, asked me a really good question: Does this critique mean the Slutwalk is irredeemable as a movement? Absolutely not. Despite the lack of inclusion women of color are experiencing, there is still a very serious issue around “slutdom” and the belief that women (and men) bring on rape and sexual assault because of their clothes and/or sexual activities. The key is really to make sure that all voices are represented and that all people have the space and freedom to speak on how this issue affects them to a large audience.
I understand that Aura feels tokenized and that feeling is unfair. I feel tokenized all the time and yet for me, it is a choice. I have chosen to identify as an antiracist activist and thus am often the token women of color speaking on issues relating to race and gender. But, it is still an emotional struggle and I do often wish people would ask me and other women of color activists to speak simply because they think we have something important to say. It’s sort of a catch-22.
So despite the loneliness that I often feel when asked to be a part of or critique these events as the black female voice, I will attend SlutWalk with the hope that my presence will make others think about the implications the term “Slut” has on women of color. I will walk with other women and men at SlutWalk to be an example of change and show feminists that our movement is about providing a space for all people to speak out.
Willamina, Oregon: Megan and Talina from So Your Engayged
I have always thought a great deal about weddings. The engagement, the ring, dress, the party and, of course, the honeymoon… It has never been so much about the institution itself; it’s the energy, colors and vibrations around it that really draw me in.
No, I don’t need a lecture from my fellow progressives. I am fully aware of how messed up the marriage system is. In fact, I strongly believe that marriage should remain within the church. Only those who have a faith that is worshipped within those walls should claim the religious title of “married” without it relating to social and economic benefits.
But I digress… For years I have been dreaming up the perfect party for all those around me. As a child, I used to sketch entire wedding layouts in notebooks. My mom would encourage me to show my drawings to her friends, all of who thought I was quickly headed for a career in wedding planning.
I took classes at FIT in New York City and learned how to make patterns and sew my own dresses. I even applied to intern with Martha Stewarts Weddings (Luckily that internship didn’t work out for many reasons).
I have no desire to prove my love for my partner solely through marriage though up until the age of 16 I thought you were supposed to do it that way. Yet I do still conjure up different scenario’s – a party in the woods with lanterns and decorated tents or on an island with candles and seashells - and run them by my partner ever so often just to nourish that creative side of me.
But two things are different now. One, I’m not legally allowed to marry the person that I love in this state. On top of that, our domestic partnership paperwork looks much more like a contract that tells us which rights are different from a “normal” marriage. The other, there are no women who look like me when researching weddings.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at J.Crew or The New York Times Wedding Section (of course currently bombarded by pictures of Catherine and Prince William). How many women of color do you see in those pictures?
I know that it sounds silly and unimportant compared to the numerous other things we must fight for as woman, especially as women of color. Yet, I can’t get over how uncomfortable it is to not be able to see myself represented in magazines for women.
No matter how much I don’t agree with the institution of marriage, I still want to be able to see those like me sharing their love. I want young women and men who are as obsessed with drawing wedding images as I was to see themselves represented by people who not only look like them, but are depicted loving someone the same way I do.
White Weddings | Chrys Ingraham
Celebrating the White(washed) Wedding | Beyond the Pale
Bridal magazines seem to think black women don’t get married | Racialicious