It was the Monday night after the Oscars and I can remember browsing through my Twitter feed to see what interesting information about the world I could learn about on this particular night.  I can vividly remember coming across a tweet of a video of Giuliana Rancic, a reporter from the television channel E! on the infamous style show Fashion Police. Now I love everything about fashion and try to keep as up to date as possible on the latest styles and trends. I used to be a loyal fan of the show Fashion Police as well, but the comments that Giuliana Rancic made about Zendaya Coleman, an 18-year-old actress who is known for her strong fashion sense, boiled my blood to say the least. In the tweeted out video, Rancic is seen making a comment about Zendaya’s outfit of choice and hair for the Oscars. Rancic makes the joke that Zendaya’s hair (which were faux locs) probably “smells like patchouli oil or weed.”  Dreadlocks is a hairstyle that can be worn as an expression of deep religious or spiritual conviction, ethnic pride or fashion preference. mica blog post photo 2The first example of dreadlocks has been dated back to North Africa and the North Africa. In America, this is one of the many hairstyles of the African American community and is normally not an acceptable style in a professional setting. So when I heard the comments uttered by Giuliana Rancic, I would be lying if I said I was shocked and surprised. However, I was still deeply offended, as was Zendaya. Oftentimes, Black people are told that our hair isn’t good enough and that in order for it to be good enough, we have to chemically modify it. It is rare that you see a Black celebrity wearing her natural hair. She often has some type of extensions in and her hair is always straight even though Black people’s hair is naturally curly.  Rancic’s comments were also completely ignorant. She made reference to weed and patchouli oil when critiquing Zendaya’s hair.  These two references are common stereotypes of Black people. The patchouli oil reference refers to the common notion that all Black people carry some type of odor. The weed reference refers to the stereotype that young Black people often smoke weed, particularly those with dreadlocks. I think the lesson from this incident that is to be learned is not only the importance of intent vs. impact but also on how uneducated public figures are about different cultures. Rancic had no idea how offensive and ignorant her statement was and even tried to defend it initially after it blew up on social media. I think this example shows just a small part of the struggle Black women have to go through in a public space.  There are so many things about a Black woman that are not seen as good enough. This is just one example of that. I think the best part of this whole incident is Zendaya’s response. She perfectly sums up the feelings of most Black women and the ridicule we face just for displaying our hair in all of its natural glory. And of course, this still isn’t good enough. Here is her statement:

Mica blog post photo 3There is a fine line between what is funny and disrespectful. Someone said something about my hair at the Oscars that left me in awe. Not because I was relishing in rave outfit reviews, but because I was hit with ignorant slurs and pure disrespect. To say that an 18 year old young woman with locs must smell of patchouli oil or “weed” is not only a large stereotype but outrageously offensive. I don’t usually feel the need to respond to negative things but certain remarks cannot go unchecked.  I’ll have you know my father, brother, best childhood friend and little cousins all have have locs. Do you want to know what Ava DuVernay (direct of the Oscar nominated film Selma), Ledisi (9t time Grammy nominated singer/songwriter and actress), Terry McMillan (author), Vincent Brown (Professor of African American studies at Harvard University), Heather Andrea Williams (Historian who also possesses a  JD from Harvard University, and an MA and PhD from Yale University) as well as many other men, women and children of all races have in common? Locs. None of which smell of marijuana. There is already harsh criticism of African American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair.  My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.  To me locs are a symbol of strength and beauty, almost like a lion’s mane. I suggest some people should listen to India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair” and contemplate a little before opening your mouth so quickly to judge.” If I was faced with the same criticism as Zendaya about my hair, I honestly couldn’t have said it more eloquently. She perfectly responds respectfully and graciously to such offensive comments. 

This post encouraged me to keep being proud of my hair and make no apologies of how different it is from society’s standard of beauty.  It definitely reminded me that “I Am Not My Hair.” This incident serves as an example as to the importance of intent vs. impact. Black Hair is beautiful.   mica blog post pgoto   Mica Cunningham is a 3rd year Chemistry/Pre major and a Medical Sciences Minor and a 2nd year WILL participant.


“Ordering while black”: Confronting workplace discrimination

I work at a restaurant near campus and I am one of the only women who works in the evening; it is very rare that another woman is working with me. I have had this job for quite a while now and, for the most part, I have gotten used to the setting. There are often comments made about women who come in that get under my skin, but when I verbalize my feelings, I am told that I am too sensitive and that I need to learn to take a joke. Race is another topic that is talked about in a rather crude way. The “driving while black” phenomenon in our society is the idea that black individuals are more likely to get pulled over than other races solely because of the color of their skin. There is a similar phenomenon in the restaurant business that is more or less “ordering while black”. Most people who have worked in the restaurant business recognize that black customers are automatically stereotyped as too demanding, needy, or pushy when it comes to ordering food (this is not a personal opinion, there have been numerous articles on the subject); I see this stereotyping every day that I work.

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About a month ago a pair of customers came in to order food, they were both black. The woman asked me if we could scrape the grill because she wanted to order food, but it is against her religion to eat pork. Since I have seen my managers clean the grill upon request many times, I told her that it would not be a problem. She ordered her food and when my manager came to make it, I told him that she needed the grill cleaned. He told me no. I went on to explain that she could not eat pork because of her religion and he said that there was nothing he could do. I looked back at the woman appalled and she was appalled as well. I apologized to her and explained that I did not know about this. Both customers left the building quite upset.

After they left, I decided to confront my manager. I told him that I did not think it was right that he would not scrape the grill for her; after all, it only takes about thirty seconds and I have seen him do it many times. He told me that she was “doing too much” and that she would expect that kind of treatment every time she came in if he did it for her today. I said that she should expect that because of her dietary restrictions and that I did not see the issue. I was told that she was “too needy” and that “it’s not like a little piece of ham would have killed her.” I was shocked. This was someone’s religion we were talking about. When I tried to express how upset I was, my manager went on about how I was being too emotional again and that it is not my problem so I shouldn’t worry about it. He ended the conversation.

The whole incident still bothers me. Seeing that kind of blatant discrimination and not being able to stop it struck a major nerve with me. We talk a lot about the Social Change Model (SCM) in WILL and where we see it being applied. For me, I think about the SCM more when I do not see it being applied. When I am at work, I cannot help but think how much better the environment would be if everyone would take into account others’ feelings and beliefs. I really believe that more awareness of everyone around, including the customers, would make this store a much healthier and happier place to work. I have been trying to think of how to bring this up to higher management, but the whole situation is difficult. I have to do something; I can’t sit by any longer.

Abby Daffner is a senior Sociology major and a second-year WILLer. She can be reached at willtoleaduc@gmail.com.

Truth and Dare

Last week, Jalisa, a member of WILL, shared a powerful blog post on how she was attempting to “navigate race through gender” in her WILL experience.  She wrote,

“…my experiences of racism are being invalidated… 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.”

This was both difficult and inspirational to hear.

Not surprisingly, reading Jalisa’s post was tough. First, I heard this criticism on a personal level, as someone who cares.  I care about Jalisa, WILL, and the feminist movement.  To know that despite our best intentions in the group (and in feminism!) we continue to perpetuate racism and oppression was, as Jalisa expressed, “disheartening”. I also heard this criticism as the staff person who coordinates this program and who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that our work aligns with our mission and purpose.  It was challenging to hear this because it meant I/we failed.  It meant I/we let one of us down.  It meant I/we were oppressive and silencing and marginalizing, even as we were working actively not to be.    Even still.

Jalisa’s sharing her personal experience and telling her truth holds us all accountable to confront that which is so difficult to acknowledge: my/our privilege.

bell hooks breaks it down: “The heart of justice is truth telling, seeing ourselves and the world the way it is rather than the way we want it to be.”  (hooks, 2000; p.23)

In order to dismantle interlocking systems of oppression, we must tell our truths.   The work of feminism, of social change, is to continuously tell our individual and collective truths.  It is an everlasting story, a perpetual narrative.

And it ain’t easy.

According to the Social Change Model of Leadership (SCM), which grounds our work in WILL, there are seven principles that enable social change, that facilitate truth-telling. These principles are based in three different, interrelated, and dynamic systems: individual, group, and community.  To tell our own individual truth requires consciousness of self, congruence, and commitment.  Truth-telling in a group calls for collaboration, common purpose and controversy with civility.  On a community level, citizenship is necessary to practice truth-telling.  WILL intentionally and strategically fosters these principles—this is the work of WILL.

Here’s where the “inspirational” comes in:

Jalisa’s brave act of truth-telling demonstrates that we have created a culture in WILL where we do hold ourselves accountable to this truth-telling and to the principles that foster this practice.  It is inspiring because it means that we are doing something right, even as we’re not.  Even still.

Racism is ugly.  Revealing it is a beautiful and revolutionary thing.  Only then might we overcome it.

WILL is not alone in confronting these truths.  Just yesterday, in response to recent expressions of racism on campus and a subsequent newspaper Staff Editorial calling for truth-telling, the campus paper ran an article in which campus leaders  challenge the campus community to “Engage More, Not Less” .   Although WILL (nor any other feminist leadership program, for that matter) was not among those cited as examples of how to “engage”, WILL does stand as a model of “engaging more”.   This is precisely what WILL does–intentionally, deliberately, and with care.

Our development as feminist leaders challenges us to call out oppression and to always be looking and listening for ways in which we operate out of privilege.  We are compelled to confront this privilege so that we can dismantle it, and in doing so, challenge systems of oppression and create social change.

Always both difficult and inspirational work.   This is the work of WILL.  This is the work of feminism.

Amy Howton is the Associate Director of the Women’s Center and Program Coordinator of WILL. She can be reached at willtoleaduc@gmail.com.

Navigating conversations of race through gender

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 willtoleaduc@gmail.com.

“You’re a man hater!”: Just Another Day at Work

I work in the heart of Clifton so I have a diverse group of people who come into my place of employment (which will remain nameless) on a day to day basis. The customers may be diverse, but the employees on the night shift are not so much; most of the employees are lower working class males and they rarely have higher than a high school education. Therefore, whenever I work I am the only female, and it is rare that this is not the case, from a middle class family, and receiving a college education. I guess I am something of an anomaly at my workplace. Being the only female it is difficult to fit in at times and I have seen that with a lack of gender diversity, sexist thinking and actions tend to emerge. For example, when women walk into the building they are usually rated on a scale of one to ten and sometime blatantly hit on even though they are just trying to enjoy their dinner. I have been there for a while now so my coworkers and managers often times disregard the fact that I may and often do take offense to these actions and treat the objectification of women as a water-cooler conversation.

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Being in WILL there have been a few times that I have had to request off work and now my involvement with the organization has become a joke among my coworkers. The times that I have spoken out on a matter or made comments that what they were saying is inappropriate I got called a “bra-burner” and a “man hater”. If I make a mistake then I get told that what I did was a perfect example of why women cannot be equal to men; just because I failed at something, all women would not be able to do it. However, if one of my male coworkers makes the same mistake that I did, then that individual and only that individual fails.

Not all of the men at this company act or speak like this, but it does tend to be the ones in power who do so. Like many workplaces, it is political and the enmeshed family relationships and friendships make reporting issues difficult, if not impossible. When I work I tend to find myself conflicted: I want to stand up for what I believe in and not appear weak, but I also do not want to give these individuals “new material” or another opening by which they can attempt to get under my skin and mock me. How am I supposed to walk the walk and practice feminist leadership values in a place that makes it difficult to even talk the talk? This is not a healthy work environment and I know that I am not the only woman having these struggles.

Being a sociology major I like to look at the different dynamics that cause conflict. Obviously there is a gender gap here, but does this also have to do with education? Could social class play a part in the views held at my workplace? These are definitely questions to take into account when I fight my battles and test the dynamics at work. Being a leader means knowing when to step up and step back and this can be especially tricky when addressing one’s superiors. It is definitely difficult to apply feminist leadership in a very patriarchal work environment but I refuse to work in such a demeaning environment. It is time to start talking the talk and walking the walk and we will see what road I take.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Abby Daffner is a third year Sociology major and Religious Studies certificate. She can be contacted at willtoleaduc@gmail.com.