Over the past two years I have had the opportunity to engage my peers in conversations about how individuals are oppressed based on their perceived racial identity. In these conversations a myriad of reactions happen as we all work through our individual thoughts, feelings and realizations to emerge hopefully more aware than when we entered into the conversation. A reaction I have witnessed that I have not been able to navigate through very well is when gender becomes the topic that replaces race in the discussion of oppression.
In the process of being more conscious of self, I realize that I have not had much experience with controversy with civility, so much so that I am doubtful that it truly exists. Anytime there was a conflict, I was usually the party with the least amount of influence to make the outcome weigh in my favor. A common theme of not being heard surfaces in my life from adolescence to adulthood and this shift in conversation simply magnifies a history of being silenced.
A few thoughts come to mind once this deflection has happened. 1) People of color’s stories are not significant enough to be told in this context of discrimination and that my experiences of racism are being invalidated. 2) The fact that you identify with being a woman takes precedence over my identity as a person of color, and that gender biased is somehow worse than any other form of oppression.
The intersectionality of race and gender are messy, but this act of completely ignoring race as a factor of oppression reinforces the cycle of oppression. In a group that I look to for liberation in having that shared experience of fighting a system of oppression, it is very disheartening.
I feel uneasy at the thought of letting that individual know I have been triggered by what they said. I also realize that I do not have to help someone realize in what ways the things that they say are offensive or racist as there are a plethora of resources that are available for exploration on this topic.
I look to WILL this year as one of the places I can gain the confidence I will need to address these conversations as they happen by drawing from the common purpose of feminist leadership to make that a reality for me. My ideal situation would be to learn how to communicate with my peers the possibility of acting in solidarity with women of color in these situations and not against us by perpetuating systems of oppression.
Jalisa Holifield is a senior Dietetics major and a second-year WILL participant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.