The Power of Words: The Language Used to Describe People of Color in Activism

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center intern, MJ Jalloh-Jamboria

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This semester I’ve had the privilege of taking Dr. Tammy Henderson’s ‘Black Feminist Thought’ class. I recommend the class to anyone interested in learning the origins and history of black feminism, the claim of black feminist intellect and the way black feminist activism pertains to People of Color (POC) everywhere. Before the semester started, I was super confident that I would do amazing in the class. I didn’t think it would be an easy ‘A’ but I was naive enough to think that I knew enough about black feminist thought, that I could cruise by in the class. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong! We’re only halfway through the semester but a recent experience with a previous high school teacher reminded me of one of the discussions we had in class.

Before continuing, I’d like to examine the word, “militant.” It’s defined as “combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause, and typically favoring extreme, violent, or confrontational methods.”

Earlier this month I took a trip to visit my favorite teacher at my alma mater, a small high school in Montgomery County, Maryland. Ms. J took one look at my t-shirt (a black shirt with “BLACK LIVES MATTER” written in large multi-colored letters), and immediately we launched into a conversation on the movement and the events which led to the birth of the slogan. I was excited to tell Ms.J about my involvement in local DC and Baltimore activist groups but instead, after about 20 minutes of arguing she ended the conversation with, “Well that is why I simply cannot fully support the black lives matter movement. Goodness MJ, I don’t remember you being this militant.”

At first, I was unsure if her use of the word ‘militant’ was used as a compliment or an insult. Today, I proudly claimed militant as an adjective that accurately describes me. I am more than honored to be equated with activists like Angela Davis and Malcolm X (who are seen as leaders of black militance movements of the 60s and 70s). However in that moment, I realized her use of the word was probably used to discourage me from continuing on with the conversation. I stayed quiet and let the topic go. I soon realized why Ms. J used ‘militant’ to describe my passion. Continue reading

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A Reflection on Women’s Representation in the Arts

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center intern Julia Gottlieb. 

After reading the Baltimore City Paper’s recent daily Power Rankings, I got to thinking a lot about white women and women of color’s status in the arts. Three weeks ago, UMBC’s Theatre department held their annual New Playwrights Festival, featuring student playwrights.

I attended one night of the Festival, and got to see Elizabeth Ung’s play, a story that on the surface is about a sister and brother surviving in a post-apocalyptic world, but underneath it poses deeper questions of morality and emotional survival. Ung, who is a student of color here at UMBC, explains that she was inspired to write plays after taking a play-writing class through the theater department last semester, saying “[Playwriting] was something that I felt like I always wanted to do, to tell stories. It’s something that I want to do to get my voice out there.” Additionally, her characters are inspired by her everyday experiences and interactions with those around her: “I definitely get a lot from my own experiences, because that’s really the only reliable resource that I can definitely count on. You know, the littlest conversations can inspire dialogue and conflict within the plot.” This is especially important given the severe lack of representation of women of color and their experiences within theater and the arts as a whole. Continue reading