Protesting While White

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center intern Bree Best

For the past several months I have been trying to conceptualize what I wanted to say about white privilege and protesting, the struggle of identifying power structures, access to privileged dissent, and a whole litany of other things that I could go on about dealing with Racism = Prejudice + Power. One recent experience sticks out in my mind as indicative of just how harmful white privilege can be in spaces that are supposed to be about social justice.

Thirty-five of the 46 women who have publicly accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault are featured on the cover of New York Magazine.

Thirty-five of the 46 women who have publicly accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault are featured on the cover of New York Magazine.

At the end of March 2015, I went to protest Bill Cosby at the Lyric in Baltimore and immediately I noticed the appalling disparity between white women to women of color. As I looked for the protest organizer to discuss my concerns, I heard the protesters shame the patrons as they were walking into the Lyric – patrons who were overwhelmingly people of color. I came to protest Bill Cosby’s rape allegations and bring awareness to sexual assault, not to further marginalize already marginalized people.

When I expressed my concerns to the white woman protest leader, her response was immediately defensive: “We’re supposed to shame the patrons. They’re the ones that paid for the tickets to come see this show. That’s how a protest works.” I tried explaining my discomfort as a woman of color seeing mostly white women protesting a black man by yelling at people of color and mentioned that many of these same people being yelled at may have experienced white people yelling at them while protesting for Civil Rights, so perhaps a different strategy would be worth considering.

Peak white feminism at a Slut Walk NYC march in 2011. Using racism to combat sexism = FAIL.

Peak white feminism at a Slut Walk NYC march in 2011. Using racism to combat sexism = FAIL.

Ultimately, I ended up leaving the protest after the organizer told me that I was being combative (among other unsavory things). As I drowned my intersectional feminist rage in Blue Moon and mixed drinks, I considered how much more effective the protest could have been if the white organizer and participants had used an intersectional lens to think about how systems of power influence their lives, including their approach to activism. We need more critical dialogue not just about race and racism but specifically about whiteness, which is often forgotten in these discussions because it is the invisible norm against which everything else is othered.  Continue reading

Another Women’s Center Director Confession: On Trolls and Harassment

Every once in a while on Facebook, I’ll post a “Women’s Center Director Confession” as a nod to truth, vulnerability, and my acknowledgement that I am always growing and learning when it comes to gender, gender equity, women’s issues and beyond. This confession needed more space than was Facebook-appropriate so I’m taking to the blog to write this latest reflection.
-Jess

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It’s been a year since the Women’s Center first started getting trolled on our Facebook page. In response, we created filters on our accounts to block those posts. The troll found a way around that by posting comments on photos. We created more filters and still the troll found ways to battle us. We blocked the accounts and new ones were created. Staff members were named and fat-shamed or slut-shamed in the posts. In the trolling posts, words were always spelled wrong and the grammar was worse so we did what we could do to laugh about it and find power in doing our own shaming of their editing skills in person together. We did inquire if there were ways to track IP addresses and see if the troll could be identified, but the quest seemed hopeless.

I wanted to share some of the trolling

I wanted to share some of the trolling “receipts” but they were too jarring to share on blog page that aims at being a safe and inclusive online space.

As summer turned into the fall semester, in addition to the online harassment, the Women’s Center staff also began to experience what I call face-to-face trolling. A group of guys would sit in the lounge area outside the Women’s Center front door seemingly not paying attention to anyone but themselves and their video games until individual staff members walked by. Suddenly, their conversations would shift to laughing about “wanting to f*** fat b******” or having threesomes or something transphobic. This was experienced in different ways by almost all the staff members in the Women’s Center and some of our regular community members, but it went on for several weeks without anyone bringing it up to each other. To each of us individually the comments were just odd and frustrating but not seen as a repeated pattern of harassment that needed to be addressed. Until one day, a staff member finally did mention one of these odd interactions during a staff meeting. Suddenly, all of us were sharing similarly weird interactions and comments made as we passed by the guys as well. In our ah-ha moment, we also began to wonder with each other if perhaps the online trolling and face-to-face trolling were somehow connected.

I reached out to others for help and while their responses varied, for the most part they weren’t as supportive as I thought they might be which led me to remain hesitant in pressing the issue further. So, I let it go on for far too long and with a laundry list far too long of various levels and examples of harassment. Looking back on the experience, I wish I would have called out (or called in, if you prefer) our allies to rally behind us sooner. I wish. Having had a lot of time to reflect on this, I’ve identified two big reasons on why I didn’t ask for help.  Continue reading

I Loved You Once – Reflections from NCCWSL on Authenticity and Leadership

The following post are reflections from rising-sophomore Nitya Kumaran who represented UMBC at this years National Conference for College Women Leaders (NCCWSL). When Nitya found herself in my office after attending the conference in May she was full of energy, passion, complex thoughts, and challenges for herself. I asked her to write some of what she was thinking and feeling down so others who didnt attend the conference could also learn from her leadership journey. Nitya took up this challenge by sharing her thoughts in a conscious-raising way that presents itself as raw and authentic reflection of her journey and growth as a feminist leader. 

-Jess

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I Loved You Once

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Nitya with Elizabeth Acevedo at the Women of Distinction Awards

At the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders’ Women of Distinction awards, the last award winner was National Slam Poetry Champion — and a woman comfortable with her natural skin and hair — Ms. Elizabeth Acevedo! This Dominican woman had unabashed curls springing from her head like fresh beans from the soil, like flowers in the sun. She had coffee skin and a smile that charmed me to the floor. There were cheers all around and they took on a new volume at the mention of that last phrase. A few black women around me cheered particularly loud and I cheered with them.

Try Fair and Lovely for radiant skin!

The skin-whitening creams, my own dark skin, hate from another place and time struck my mind.  I couldn’t fathom the weight of that last accomplishment.

Easily and graciously, Ms. Acevedo’s whole face smiled and thanked us.

“I was a nina de la casa. A girl of the house. That’s all I was expected to be. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that if you want to do that, but I think everyone should have the choice.”

Her own difficult journey to become “her own woman” was shared with us with both hands. We weren’t supposed to become her, we were supposed to become our own women, find our own destiny.  Continue reading

Telling Our Stories at NCCWSL

On May 27th-30th, I went to University of Maryland, College Park for the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) to present the semester long Campus Action Project (CAP) Women of Color Coalition’s Telling Our Stories in a Workshop dedicated to combating women of color stereotypes. I, one of CAP team members, along with Megan, the advisor of the CAP, had fifteen minutes to talk about the semester long project and how our project addressed the stereotypes women of color are associated with and just importantly how they can reject it in favor for more nuanced stories and counter-narratives.Before I get to the presentation, I would like to talk about overall conference and its inner workings. These include the workshops, the keynote speakers, and the feminist camaraderie.  Continue reading