Learning to be anti-racist: Calling IN white people and non-Black people of color

This post is written by Amelia Meman, ’15, Assistant Director in the Women’s Center.

I am trying to write this as plainly as I can because there are so many other words that are crowding racial justice spaces and many of them are stemming from the folks who could benefit from saying less in order to listen more.

Foreword: It is valid to feel and process through your pain, but the pain felt by our Black friends, family members, and community is not the same as the pain of white folks and non-Black people of color (POC). Feelings of anger, sadness, betrayal, frustration, exhaustion—all of those things make sense because we are in a time of massive unrest (and a pandemic to boot).

More importantly, it should not be Black people’s jobs to take care of and see to your pain right now. It is also not Black folks’s jobs to hold space for you to learn, to educate you, and to explain themselves.

That’s why I’m writing this. Because the burden we are placing on Black folks in all a manner of places right now, needs to be lifted. It is crucial that we center Black voices and words and prioritize creating and maintaining safe spaces for Black-identified people to feel.

Ally is a verb.

  • Being an “ally” is not a moniker that one earns through good intentions, donations, or rallies attended. You will never erase your white privilege, and just so, you will always have to work hard if you want to be an ally to the Black community.
  • Being an ally is a process-oriented way of being. It means being conscious of privilege and committed to learning more about social justice. It means that allyship comes from your actions and not from endpoints. In other words, allies are made by doing—not by showing. It is a title you are always earning and always striving to do better at.
  • Learn how to take feedback and correction. This work is messy and difficult. “Wokeness” does not come automatically (or ever, but that’s a different blogpost). If someone is calling you in or calling you out, especially if that person is Black-identified, listen and course-correct as needed. There’s no shame in changing your mind or letting people know you made a mistake. Feedback, the good critical kind, stems from a place of trust and care. Trust that you will do better. Care for you. Feedback takes work on both sides, and if someone is offering it to you, see it as a gift.

Check in with your people.

  • If you are white-identified, check in with other white people to see where they’re at. Hold space for them to be messy and for them to be uncomfortable. Use your privilege to be tolerant of others who are at different stages of racial consciousness. Yeah, it might feel better to unfriend your middle school friend who “does not understand why you’re supporting riots,” but frankly, this is not about your own sense of comfort and curated content. This is the time to dig in your heels, put on the armor afforded by your privilege, and either defend Black folks or help that person understand why they should care about racial justice.
  • If you are white-identified, check in with the POC in your lives, especially Black-identified people, and ask how you can support them. That might mean doing absolutely nothing. It might mean being okay with silence coming from the other end. It might mean donating money, giving rides, helping provide PPE for folks in marches, etc. Please offer your support and send your love, because people are hurting right now.
  • If you are a non-Black POC, check in with Black-identified folks and help to create, maintain, and safeguard Black-centering spaces. Help to uplift Black voices. Ask how you can support, and, again, be okay with silence on the other end.
  • As you reach out and check in, leave space for all of the ways of being. When a bad thing happens in someone’s life, we often default to problem solving and/or wanting to get someone to smile. I get it. It’s hard to watch and empathize with people who are pained. Right now, though, we do not need the reminder of silver linings, rainbows, or bright sides. Toxic positivity does not make us feel better—it does the opposite and perpetuates this idea that the only good way to be is happy. Here’s the thing: the only good way to be is how you are.

Educate yourself.

  • It is not the duty of Black folks to explain themselves or this moment to you.
  • Recognize that privilege and white supremacy are not just evidenced by the words we use. It is also about behavior, patterns of behavior, and the social value we give to some but not others. For example, if you are at a rally, pay attention to who grabs the microphone and what they have to say. Pay attention to the space white folks and non-Black folks take up whether through their speech or their behavior. Pay attention when a white woman’s tears are met with empathy or care, and when a Black woman’s raised voice and anger are met with eye rolls or pushback (for being “aggressive,” or “too much”). White people have access to so much more social value and acceptable behavior—pay attention to how that can dominate spaces.
  • The resources to understand white privilege and the role you can play in anti-racist work are available in many different places. Below there are a list of resources that you can search through.
  • Also! You do not need to know everything in order to do this work! Quality, not quantity! Frankly, the best thing you can learn to do is reorient your yourself so that you are open to feedback, open to learning more and/or changing your mind, and not having easy answers (see more on practicing cultural humility). Those paradigms do not come naturally to most people. We are acculturated to feel shame in not knowing and to hold fast to deeply entrenched beliefs, and so this work is difficult.
  • There are many ways to support Black lives and do anti-racist work. It’s not always about being in the streets. It’s sometimes about taking the time to have hard conversations with friends and family who are not totally getting it yet. It might be in taking the time to read a book. It might be in journaling and reflecting on how power and privilege come to play in your life. Just like any movement or group effort, it takes as much work as it does rest and reflection.

Are your social media posts effective in creating change? Or are they performative?

  • Social media messaging comes easily. It also means little to nothing beyond helping people see that you “care” about a cause. If you want to join in on hashtags and/or social media campaigns, that’s fine, but that should only be auxiliary to all of the work you can do to support Black lives. Those things include all of the recommendations in this blogpost and put more succinctly:
    • Donating
    • Reading
    • Listening
    • Contacting government officials and those in elected office
  • Always. Be. Critically. Engaged. It can be tempting to retweet, repost, share messaging from others’ making powerful statements—BUT when you’re jumping into the trend, look at the “why” and the “who” of what is being posted.
    • Quick killjoy jab: corporations do not care about Black lives right now. They care about where you would like to put your money. Just like with human activists, look at what companies DO and NOT what they SAY.
    • For a case study on this, see the origins of #BlackoutTuesday and how far it strayed from the initial campaign by Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, two black women working in the music industry.
  • Ask yourself why you are posting anything at all:
    • What purpose is this message serving?
    • Who is this message serving?
    • Who is the audience?
Graphic from the @take.back.theinternet.
Graphic from the @take.back.theinternet.

Solidarity is the way.

Quick preface: If you’re reading this blog, you have probably gotten to a place of understanding with the difference between “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.” The idea of Black lives mattering does not negate others’ importance. Rather it shines a light on the discrepancy between how certain lives are valued more than others.

  • The only way through is together. This is not a feel-good statement—it is a hard truth. My survival is tied to yours and we can only do the radical work of anti-racism by understanding that solidarity is key. This means allying with causes and movements that do not necessarily center your own social identities.
  • Deepa Iyer writes about the difference between transactional and transformational solidarity practices. She uses the case study of attending a rally: in transactional solidarity, one would attend a Black Lives Matter rally in support and return home to post pictures from the rally on my social media profiles. In transformational solidarity practice, one brings friends to the rally, learns more about the historical roots of the cause you’re supporting, engages in deep and meaningful dialogue, and shows up to more rallies on and on.
    • Transformational solidarity practice stretches the activist and the movement in beneficial ways. The actions taken in this practice have the potential to create meaningful change.

I know that was a lot. If you’ve read to the end here, then you might be feeling many different things. Offended, confused, validated, relieved, upset, guilty–and that’s okay. This is the time and the space for sorting through the discomfort of anti-racist work.

Please know that I write this with as much love (albeit tough) as I can muster. I believe in you.

Quotation from Lilla Watson, Aboriginal Australian visual artist and activist.

Thank you to the Mosaic Center for curating many parts of the following Resources list in their recent posting on myUMBC. As UMBC’s leaders in helping our communities embrace and affirm diversity and inclusion, the Mosaic Center is more important than ever. The Women’s Center is, as ever, in close partnership and solidarity with the Mosaic, and we will always commit to that. Thank you, Mosaic Team, for all you do to make the UMBC community and our world a better place.

Resources*

* There are a lot of resources below. A lot. This work is not being timed. There is no deadline. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Many folks feel an urgency to read! All! The! Things! And yes, this work is urgent but also must be sustainable. Take breaks. Breathe. Set SMART goals when it comes to reading, learning, and digesting so as not to burn yourself out. 

Books:

Readings:

Podcasts:

Collections:

Resources for white parents to raise anti-racist children:

UMBC Organizations:

More Organizations:

Intro to Hoodoo

Nandi is a Junior English Major and a student staff member in the Women’s Center.

Content Note: This blog is written from an African-American woman’s experience and somewhat limited knowledge of the subject.

Hoodoo is an African American folk magic tradition that is based in West African religious beliefs and practices. Much of the history of the practice has been documented through oral histories transcribed by Black historians.

Zora Neale Hurston’s article, “Hoodoo in America” (1931) recounted what she learned on a months long anthropological journey in New Orleans, which was one of the first of its kind. To stay in contact with the deities, traditions, and Africanisms that the slave trade and colonialism worked hard to systematically erase, slaves from West Africa merged a great deal of their traditions and mixed them in with the Christianity taught to them by their captors.

Zora Neale Hurston

Practitioners are called Hoodoos, spells are called roots (pronounced ruht), and the strength of the root is in the mojo of the hoodoo. Those who were born directly into the craft, like the famed Marie Laveau of New Orleans, are known to have the strongest mojo. Mojo, or interchangeably, juju, runs through families like a particular nose shape might. Those African-American communities that are more isolated, like the Gullah/Geechee people of South Carolina, are better able to pass on mojo and conjure traditions.

Hoodoo Spell Jars

In our community, intergenerational wealth is hard to come by, so the practices that get passed down through time act as a different sort of currency to support us through life. Knowledge of, and connections to, ancestors and folkloric spirits form a safety net of divinity that stretches everywhere that Black heads lay down to rest. The guardians and preservers of this wealth are mostly women, of course. Hoodoo and mojo aren’t restricted by gender in any way, but across cultures women are diligent stewards that pass down traditions as part of their assigned roles as caretakers.

The designation of “witchcraft” and the social, legal troubles that go along with practicing religions outside of Christianity (and really just the Christianity du jour) have consistently plagued non-men due to the compounding nature of Eurocentric prejudices. In short, we are seen as evil and scapegoated anyway, so to focus on us in this particular form of deviance is just the path of least resistance. But this is part burden, part responsibility, part honor because being the keepers of the keys to rituals that can harm, heal, protect, and cleanse is a more powerful position to hold than colonizing forces could ever fathom.

Witch-burning in the county Reinstein (Regenstein, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany) in 1555. Woodcut engraving after an original of a leaflet in the Collections of the Germanisches Nationalmusem in Nuremberg, published in 1881.

I decided to get into Hoodoo because of the mystic, spiritual motifs that have been ever-present in my family life. My mother and my aunties spitting on brooms, throwing salt over shoulders, never placing bags on the floor, and having premonition dreams seeped into my brain to make me want to go back to the source. The superstitions, belief in luck and omens, that I used to take for granted are everyday expressions of culture and our connections to a divine presence.

I decided on Hoodoo because my family is from the Carolinas, by way of slavery, and that’s where it was developed. The religion was created by and for displaced Africans and their descendents in the Americas. To practice Hoodoo without having any such connection is extremely inadvisable (play with slave spirits if you want to, but you probably won’t like the results 😐 ) .

Daughters of the Dust (1991)

As I connect with it I find comfort in the knowledge that I am held by my ancestors, always. I am more challenged by my beliefs than I have been in a long time. In entering a realm that I know very little about I constantly need to humble myself and proceed with humility to truly learn what I can offer. I am OK with making things up as I go along, too. I feel more autonomous, protected, and grounded. Most importantly, I feel like I deserve this because I was born into it.

Trans Women in Women’s Spaces: A Reflection on the Transition of Privilege and Belonging

Autumn is a junior Meyerhoff Scholar (M29), pursuing a BS in Chemistry and a BA in Gender, Women and  Sexuality Studies dual degree, and currently a student intern at the Women’s Center.

Content Note: The content of this blog may be triggering. Topics addressed by this blog include transphobia, menstruation, pregnancy, dysphoria, and gender-confirmation surgery.

When I first received an offer to intern at the Women’s Center, I was very excited. Throughout my years at UMBC, the Women’s Center quickly became my home away from home and was a place to feel safe, included, and accepted. I participated in as many events as possible and volunteered whenever I had the time. I even had the privilege of being able to facilitate Spectrum meetings for a semester before formally joining the staff. By working in the Women’s Center, I thought I would be able to help create an even better space for the people I shared the space with and new community members alike. 

However, even while writing this blog post, I experience imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is “the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications—was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.” I think that the sheer complexity of how this imposter syndrome is taking effect for me (and people like me with a pretty fraught, tenuous and ever-changing relationship with womanhood) is demonstrated in the carefulness of the words that I am using in this blog. This is a really multifaceted issue that deals with dysphoria, internalized transphobia, the differences of experiences between marginalized identities and intersectionality. 

Vaginas!? 

When I was born, the doctor looked at my genitals and proclaimed to the world and the government that “It’s a boy.” For those who know me, it is somewhat obvious that this label did not stick for the “normal” amount of time (read: the entire lifespan). If you’ve not caught on yet, I’m very much not a boy anymore and I identify as a nonbinary trans woman (I know its a bit of an oxymoron; gender is FUNKY).

gif of person dancing

I experience marginalization and oppression, but I also have privilege in this identity. I struggle with the privilege I have by being a trans feminine person that was able to come out early on in my life and that I was able to start my medical transition when I still was in high school. 

Even so, working in the Women’s Center at UMBC as a nonbinary, transgender woman is peculiar. Because of my experiences with transness and my body, I am not the best equipped to assist with issues that students may come to the Women’s Center to address. For example, I don’t have a vagina (YET!), and I didn’t grow up with one, therefore I don’t have the first-hand knowledge that comes with menstruating, pregnancy, or growing up as an AFAB person in a heterosexist and misogynistic society. 

This has made interactions with some community members weird when they ask for help with things I don’t have experience with. I’m deathly afraid of giving the wrong advice or having an interaction that makes someone uncomfortable. If a community member comes into the Center and asks about internal condoms or pregnancy tests (while I’m not uneducated on the subjects) I cannot give as good of an answer as someone with experience.  Even when I am pointing out the tampons and pads that the Women’s Center offers to the community for free, I deal with that fear and alienation. 

As a transfeminine person, I am acutely aware of how “womanhood,” as the greater society knows it, is defined in bioessentialist definitions. When doing the work that involves vaginas and helping people with vaginas, I am always reminded of the “essential” difference of my body and that I am not fully “them.”

I am wondering how much this anxiety stems from internalized transphobia that I have surrounding transgender women, including myself, not really being “full” women or that I don’t truly belong in a women’s space. Throughout my life, the topic of periods, reproduction and menstrual products have always been a sticking point for me and my experience: a constant trigger for my dysphoria. It’s a common trigger for a lot of trans women, not just because of the consistent TERF bioessentialist dog whistles, but because we as trans women lack the thing that is worshiped as a pillar of western societal femininity: the ability to reproduce. Of course, I want to acknowledge that this is a completely bogus measure of femininity because the ability to reproduce is completely disconnected to femininity. Femininity and reproduction are two distinct aspects of humanity that are conflated in a way that serves to not only enforce exclusion but to oppress those who do not fit the societal standards. To some extent, I believe that I’m invading a space that I really do not have the right to inhabit. 

Privileged Transitions

In terms of my transition, I am exceptionally privileged. I was born to an accepting family who supported me when I came out after my freshman (literally “man”) year of high school. Me coming out to them was a bit of an accident even, but it went well. I was able to access hormones soon after and I just scheduled bottom surgery for after I graduate from UMBC. I’m white and I pass as a cis woman reasonably well, and I have the resources to access my endocrinologist regularly and I am able to afford my medical treatment. I also have the privilege of growing up as someone who was assigned male at birth in a society that greatly values maleness, especially in science and in leadership. Because of my socialization, I am allowed a higher level of confidence and ownership in science and leadership than someone who was reared as a woman in the same fields.

All of these compounding areas of privilege greatly influence how I can exist in a space, and how much space I take up, especially at a women’s center. As someone who was reared as a male in our society, it sometimes feels really weird to go to events that specifically cater to women.

I also see my own experience paralleled in a previous Women’s Center staff member Daniel, as they had to grapple with the realities of being a trans man when working in the Women’s Center. In their blog post about male privilege, Daniel discusses how they strive to be cognizant of the space they take up within the Women’s Center because Dan’s privilege is not as cut and dry as one might see between a cis man and a cis woman. Their blog posts detailed how they saw themselves within the Women’s Center as a “white, medically transitioning, ‘passing’ man,” and how that influenced Dan’s participation. Even though they have the privileges afforded to white men, because of their transness, Daniel is precariously perched on the Glass Elevator and experiences marginalization at the hands of a heterocissexist society. Although the experiences of all trans people are not the same, I can deeply relate to Dan’s experiences as a student staff member at the Women’s Center.

Privilege aside, there is a level of marginalization that I experience in entering and being a part of the Women’s Center. Cis women come into this space and feel entitled to it. Me? I do… and I also pause. I enter the space tentatively because my sense of belonging is not always assured. 

Existing Within the Bounds of My Triggers

Throughout my transition, my dysphoria, anxiety, and depression has been pretty intensely triggered by the topics of menstruation, reproduction, and topics around cis-women bodies. 

I was really, really worried about this when I started at the Women’s Center because I imagined that it would be very hard for me to remove myself from potentially triggering situations when I’m working (such as a community member needing assistance with something). I still really struggle with this even as I am halfway through my internship. However, I’ve been a lot less triggered by these situations than I thought I would initially.

I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I feel like this ease comes in part from the ability to put boundaries between my own sense of self and my sense of representing the Women’s Center. Regardless of what this means about my self-esteem and coping, boundaries allow me to exist and operate in this work.

Ultimately, I think that it is okay and normal to be uncomfortable in some spaces. This discomfort is good. The oppressive nature of the gender binary and the heterocissexist society is diametrically opposed to the reality that trans people live so discomfort is inevitable. But when dealing with big, overarching systems of power that influence our lives, sometimes identifying that there even is a problem is the first step of trying to challenge the norms. In other words, without identifying the problem, it is impossible to generate a solution. It may seem like the big, overall problem is the Gender Binary™, but I think there is a smaller, more pervasive issue when thinking and talking about how transgender people fit within the model of a women’s center. 

I think that the problem isn’t that transgender people do not fit into the current framework of mainstream feminism. The real problem is with those who either knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate systems of oppression (read: most everyone), and don’t use their power or privilege toward the radical but simple process of affirming transgender identities. In spaces like the Women’s Center, trans people should not only feel welcome but also a sense of home and belonging–and it’s cis people’s prerogative to either build those bridges with intentionality and care or continue a system that oppresses everyone: the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

My transness is an integral part of my identity, and I’m exceptionally proud of it. However, I know that my belonging in the Women’s Center is not just tied to my identity as a nonbinary trans woman. In the Women’s Center, I am surrounded by people who support and care for me and it is in that where the promise of real and actionable liberatory justice resides.

Do Better: From A Non-Disabled Person’s Perspective

My hopes are that the following is both a call out and a call in.

I am a non-disabled, white, college-educated, young adult and I’ve had a difficult time vouching for myself in many environments such as in the classroom, workforce, and even day to day moments in life. I am among a majority privileged group who are more readily given a platform from others within the privileged and majority group. As a social work major, I have been taught to use my power to amplify the voices of marginalized people. Today, I want to use this platform to talk about accessibility.

What is a “disability?”

According to the Americans with Disabilities (ADA), a disability is defined as, “A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.” However, a truly accurate definition of a disability is difficult to produce. There are many variations of what type of disability, or disabilities, a person may experience such as:

  • Visual disabilities
  • Auditory disabilities
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Neurological disabilities
  • Physical disabilities
  • Speech disabilities
  • Sensory disabilities 
  • Psychological disabilities

There are as many differences between the experiences of each person with a disability as the differences between people who are non-disabled. Every person is different and it’s important to be as inclusive as possible to these differences.

What is the ADA? 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that was passed by Congress in 1990. Its goal is to provide protections for people with disabilities against discriminatory behavior. It is divided into 5 Titles: I. Employment, II. State and Local Government, III. Public Accommodations, IV. Telecommunications, and V. Miscellaneous Provisions. Each of these titles attempts to ensure that people with disabilities are provided the same opportunities and rights as everyone else. There have been amendments to the ADA to clarify the definition of a disability. Even so, the revisions made over the past 30 years have not been expansive enough to fully include all those who experience a disability. 

Though the ADA exists and applies to all entities in the US, many environments believe they do not need to comply with ADA requirements. Some people believe that folks who report ADA violations are purely looking to gain money from a lawsuit. Others believe that it’s too expensive to create accommodations for their facilities. There are many other reasons for this, but ultimately each one is ableist. 

For example, rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft have been known to deny people with disabilities service. This mistreatment of people with disabilities is harmful to say the least. 

over it smh GIF by iOne Digital

What is “ableism?”

The Merriam-Webster definition of ableism is “discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities.” However, ableism is more complex than this. Think of it this way

“Structural ableism assumes that there is an ideal body and mind that is better than all others, and ableists build a world in which this ideal can thrive and others cannot.” –Hanna Thomas & Anna Hirsch

Ableism is a mindset. Non-disabled people have set a norm that there is a right and wrong way to be as a person. The language we use to discuss people with disabilities is often harmful and has been created without folks with disabilities in mind. 

Some people are intentional about their ableist actions whereas others do so while unaware. Beyond individual actions, though, are the systemic inequities that do harm at structural levels and trickle down to individuals.

To undo these harmful patterns, it is imperative to be aware and intentional when talking about people with disabilities. Not all people with disabilities have a visible disability nor are they required to disclose their disability status with anyone. In fact, almost 20% of the U.S. population reported having a disability in the 2010 census

It is imperative for folks to shift their perspective when thinking of giving accommodations to people who are different than them. Rather than viewing differences as a challenge, know that every person has value and should be treated as such.

go team fist bump GIF by Cartoon Hangover

How is the ADA enforced?

Through lawsuits and settlements. This means that many establishments can get away with not being ADA compliant until someone reports them. Once an individual reports an establishment for an ADA violation, they are first interviewed to determine if the discrimination is evident before any action is taken. Only those who have thorough proof are considered when attempting to get justice. 

Additionally, the ADA requirements are not widely taught in architecture school. This furthers the creation of spaces that are not ADA compliant. 

There are gaps in our legal and education systems. People with marginalized identities are often left behind. Statistically, there is a high rate of intimate partner violence and sexual violence among people with disabilities. Our services must be welcoming and inclusive to vulnerable communities.

What does all of this mean?

When in a position of power, it’s essential to keep all of this in mind. Advocates must acknowledge the aspects of their identities that are privileged and learn how to properly understand folks who are different from them. You can follow the ADA requirements and still be exclusive. If you are a professional, you hold a position of power and it should be in your best interest to hold an inclusive and accommodating space for all potential patients, clients, students, or whoever you work with. 

“A completely accessible group does not exist. The important thing is that groups keep learning and keep thinking about how people might be excluded.” -Liz Kessler

Listen to people with disabilities and be sure that they are a part of the conversation. It’s better to ask someone what they may need from you than for you to make assumptions or ignore them. Your actions do have consequences and the people you work with deserve the most accommodating and inclusive version of yourself. 

joy love GIF by caitcadieux

Resources

If you are considering filing a complaint the following are some resources: 

Maryland State Level Complaint Process

Federal Level Complaint Process

Someone’s First-hand Experience Filing 

Advice When Filing

To learn more information as a non-disabled person:

Do These 39 Simple Things to Make Your Student Life Opportunities More Accessible

Increasing Neurodiversity in Disability and Social Justice Advocacy Groups

Create an Inclusive Movement

Microsoft Accessible Events Guide

Accessible Syllabus Guide

UMBC Specific Information:

Connect with Student Disability Services

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Note: This is from an non-disabled person’s perspective. Please reach out to the Women’s Center email with any recommendations or requests for revisions at womenscenter@umbc.edu.

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When Work Becomes a War Zone

This year, I became one of the many women who leave their jobs because of sexual harassment. I always knew it was something that happened; I just didn’t think it would happen to me.

I’m not alone; reports have found that 60% of women say they experience “unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, sexually crude conduct, or sexist comments” in the workplace. It’s a scary and isolating experience, and deciding what to do about it is difficult. After it happened, I did everything “right.” I didn’t wait, I went directly to my HR representative, and I told the truth. It didn’t matter that I followed protocol; they still didn’t do anything about it. 

The fact that I reported my harassment already puts me in the minority. It’s estimated that 90% of people who are harassed at work never report it, for a variety of reasons. Some workers are undocumented and face the threat of deportation if they come forward, something their abusers know and exploit. Others are afraid of retaliation — a very real fear. 71% of people who report their harassment to The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission also report retaliation. Others simply don’t think they’ll be believed. Every day, women are forced into a situation where they must continue working with their harasser.

I continued working with the man who harassed me for six months. I would hide in the bathroom during downtimes on my shift so that I wouldn’t have to see him. My income went down as I gave shifts away on days I knew he would be working. Eventually, I was able to switch around my hours to avoid him, but even then, I never felt safe at work again. I knew that if anything happened to me, I would not be taken seriously.

So, I quit. But not until I found a new job, which took months, and not without taking a pretty significant pay cut. Again, this is a tragically common occurrence. For many, sexual harassment leads to not only to a decline in mental health, but significant financial stress. One study found that as many as 8 in 10 women who experience sexual harassment leave their job within two years. For some, this means leaving a job before a new one is found and facing the economic hardship of unemployment. For others, this means abandoning well-paying jobs or leaving their field altogether, limiting opportunities for career advancement or tenure. 

It’s also important to note that women of color are disproportionately affected by this. Already, women of color are presumed to be less competent no matter their qualifications. This negatively impacts their potential for professional advancement on top of all the impacts that sexual harassment has on their careers. The power imbalances between women of color and white bosses put them at an even greater risk. In 2016, black women reported harassment at 3.8 times the rate of white women. We know that most women never report their harassment, so it’s likely that the real numbers are much higher.

I paint a bleak picture, I know, but it’s important to understand that this is still happening and that despite all the progress that’s been made, too many employers still don’t take it seriously. It’s important to keep talking about the harassment we face, to continue to speak out against it and not let our stories be ignored or brushed aside. I want to talk about what happened to me because it wasn’t fair. It shouldn’t have happened and I won’t stop shouting until something changes. My story is not unique. I am not alone. And neither are you.  

Additional Information and Resources 

What it’s like to return to work after being sexually harassed

Guide for potential ways to respond if you’re being sexually harassed at work 

Racial disparities in sexual harassment statistics 

More information about workplace sexual harassment 

No, I Don’t Want Michelle Obama to be President

MorganMorgan is a senior here at UMBC pursuing a BA in Media and Communications major with minors in English and Cinematic Arts. If she’s not working at the Women’s Center you can find her watching Ghost Shark (2013) with her friends. 

My title is a lie.

If only because I actually want Michelle Obama and her magnificent arms to rule this country as a monarch and Sasha and Malia to be next in line for the throne. However, it does hold some truth to me and Coco Connors from the Netflix series, Dear White People puts it best:

“I don’t want to wake up every day and see how much this country despises [Black women].”

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President Obama was vilified in the press for each and every decision he made. Along the way his legitimacy was questioned, his family was picked apart, and he was criticized for everything from his ears to his birth certificate. There were death threats, racist comics, and he was called a monkey and the n-word with a hard -er. As a Black woman, it hurt to know how much this country hates people who look like me for four years.

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But then I think about Michelle Obama and her toned arms, larger than life personality, law degree, and unwavering dedication to this country and its people. And I think how she sits at the same intersection of blackness and femininity that I do. And I can see the news headlines. I can hear the news reports. I know what this country would think of her presidency. I know how she would be picked apart for every little thing she does in the same way people who look like her always are. Even if Michelle Obama were to become the president of this country, she cannot escape the continual dismantling of blackness and femininity that we face.

Take, for instance, the recent controversy surrounding what was perceived as aggressive behavior from Serena Williams during the US Open competition. After being accused of cheating during her match, she became increasingly frustrated and ultimately broke her racket on the court. Her behavior was broadcasted and criticized over and over again on social media and news networks. She was even drawn as a Jim Crowl like caricature by comic artist, Mark Knight.

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Click here for an example of a Jim Crow comic in comparison.

Never mind that white men have been cursing at referees, breaking their rackets, and displaying the same, if not worse behavior for many years.

Serena Williams has always been a role model to me and many other young black women for as long as I can remember. In watching Serena become vilified over and over again, my heart is broken for her each time. However, there is a different kind of hurt and pain that comes with watching Serena Williams. This feeling I hold every time black women in the public eye are picked apart in the media is a personal one. I have never been surprised though. In Netflix series Dear White People, Coco Connors, a black, female character is faced with a seemingly simple and what one would think is a joy-inducing question for any black woman.

Blackness and femininity garner a very unique type of criticism from the world. In being black, your shoulders can often be weighed down with centuries of institutionalized racism, the modern day bombarding of negative images of black people, and just day to day fear and anxiety. However, black and femme folks also deal with sexism, a patriarchy stacked against us, and the continual violence inflicted on women. While we face outside criticism, there’s pressure from the black community itself to put your race above your gender identity.

As if the two can exist separately in the first place.

“Do you want Michelle Obama to become president?”

The question still rings with me. It was only a split second, an inconsequential scene that they moved on from. It stuck with me.  Michelle Obama, an absolute, undeniably black force, she sits at the suffocating intersection of being black and being a woman. She would never be safe again.

Resources

The Racist, Sexist History of Tennis

Jim Crowe comic

Dear White People, Season 2 Epsiode 8

US Open 2018: Serena Williams fined over outbursts during final

 

Pointe-ing Towards Change: Inclusive Practices in Ballet

 

alexia-e1535562782603.jpg   Alexia Petasis is a student staff member at the Women’s Center. Alexia is pursuing an individualized studies degree with a concentration on social justice and dance. She is a co-facilitator for Pop-Culture Pop-Ups.

This past year, I went to see the San Francisco Ballet at the Kennedy Center for the premiere of new works from various choreographers in the nation. The show consisted of around eight separate dances; some solos, duets, and quartets. The dancers held my attention throughout the lengthy, three-program show as they moved with strength and elegance.

However, I quickly noticed the lack of racial/ethnic diversity on the stage. Under-representation is not a recent problem in the realm of classical or even contemporary ballet. This issue dates back to the 17th century when ballet first became popularized in the courts of European nobility and was, as one can imagine, plagued with discrimination and racism. Unfortunately, the whiteness that engulfed ballet back in those days still exists today, around 400 years later.

Admittedly, I can only speak about this issue from a privileged perspective. I always loved the style of ballet, but I question if my love for it is also correlated in part because I saw others who looked like me doing it. Even from the beginning of my dance training when I was 7 years old, I never believed ballet was an unattainable style of dance for me. The standard attire that is worn for ballet class are pink tights and pink ballet slippers; and though no one has “pink” skin, it is meant to represent closely the skin of white folks, once again perpetuating the notion that people of color are not even considered within this art form. (Significantly, while writing this blog, the New York Times released an article stating that Freed of London released new pointe shoes for black, Asian, and mixed raced dancers.)

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Misty Copeland garnered the attention of the media and the dance community by being the first African-American woman to become a principal dancer (one who dances at the highest rank) for the American Ballet Theatre. Yet, the fact that she is still the only African-American woman in the nation to hold a principal role sheds light on the issue of the overwhelmingly large number of white ballet dancers and how they are given priority within this community. Nonetheless, Copeland is setting the stage and creating a path for other dancers of color to feel as though they, too, can do ballet.

In addition to the groundbreaking leadership of Misty Copeland, I wanted to uplift some companies and programs that are prioritizing racial and ethnic representation into the world of ballet.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) was founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, who had previously been the first black male dancer in the New York City ballet. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. he realized that there was still work to be done in America in making a difference for black individuals. Mitchell created DTH to, “present a ballet company of African-American and other racially diverse artists who perform the most demanding repertory at the highest level of quality.” The Dance Theatre of Harlem is trying to bring down barriers between Harlem and the world of ballet and extend the art to communities that have been predominantly ignored within the field. Doing this requires that opportunities reach out to individuals who are also of different social classes to make ballet classes available and affordable. To do this, DTH started the initiative of Dancing Through Barriers to bring people of all ages from the community to learn about the arts through an inclusive and equitable arts education program.

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Another example is Project Plié an initiative started by the American Ballet Theatre to create a community within the world of ballet where the talent of people of color could be nurtured. The company, “grant[s] merit-based training scholarships to talented children of color; provides teacher training scholarships to teachers of color [and] grants intern scholarships to young arts administrators of color.” American Ballet Theatre’s CEO, Rachel Moore emphasizes the importance of diversity both on stage and behind the scenes.

With both these initiatives working to bring more black dancers to the stages, there remains still the need to share the history and the stories of black dancers in America. MoBBallet makes it their mission to “preserve, present, and promote the contributions and stories of Black artists in the field of ballet, reinstating a legacy that has been muted.” Their website features a timeline of the various schools, performances, and companies that have provided opportunities for black dancers as well as access to an e-zine, or electronic magazine, to preserve the history and progress made thus far. Organizations such as these are integral to the preserving and showcasing the strides of black individuals in an accessible way.

DSC02632RC.pnghttps://www.abt.org/community/diversity-inclusion/project-plie/#images-5

As a Women’s Center intern, I see many parallels between the work that is being done at the Women’s Center toward advancing gender equity and the work that is being done by these companies and programs to advance racial and ethnic representation in the ballet community. Their approach is similar to that of the Women’s Center, as they acknowledge that to enact change, we need to prioritize and center the voices of those who have been marginalized to create an inclusive campus climate. At the Women’s Center, we see and acknowledge the harm that is done to the communities of people that are underrepresented and whose voices are repeatedly silenced. Many other articles written about this issue speak on the economic inequalities, racial prejudice, and racism that are foundations for the discrimination in ballet. (see links below)

In writing this blog, I urge my dance friends to look around their classroom the next time they are in ballet class and see where the privilege still lies. I hope that we continue to work on expanding the number of people of color in the classroom, both as teachers and students, to nurture a more inclusive generation of ballet artists. We should prioritize representation of individuals on stage and continue to work towards creating an inclusive ballet community off-stage as well, as ballet educators and choreographers.

We will only begin to see ballet transform when we acknowledge that this lack of representation is still so pervasive in Western society and encourage the next generation of choreographers to cast more diverse dancers. Everyone should have equal opportunities and equal access to be a part of this art form. As an aspiring choreographer and teacher, I will do my part in seeing that change through.

Additional Readings:

https://www.pointemagazine.com/behind-ballets-diversity-problem-2412811909.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/15/opinion/black-dancers-white-ballets.html

https://www.abt.org/community/diversity-inclusion/project-plie/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/arthur-mitchell-who-broke-barriers-black-ballet-dancers-has-died-84-180970357/

https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/21/us/misty-copeland-ballet-race-boss-files/index.html

 

Too Busy Being Black

Briscoe

Briscoe Turner is a student staff member at the Women’s Center. She is a sophomore Psychology major and Writing minor and a co-facilitator of Women of Color Coalition, a bi-weekly discussion group at the Women’s Center. 

 

Author’s note: This blog is a reflection of my constantly evolving thought process on how intersectionality unveils itself in my life, specifically in regards to my racial and gender identities. Hearing Daily Host Correspondent, Dulcé Sloan’s, insights helped me more clearly articulate my thoughts.

I recently came across a Huffington Post interview where Daily Host Correspondent, Dulcé Sloan, stated, “I Don’t Have Time To Be A Woman, I’m Too Busy Being Black.” Her words resonated with me because she so boldly and clearly laid out a sentiment that I had been trying to articulate for years. I first began to wrestle with this idea– that I was too busy dealing with the social implications of my Blackness to fully address the oppression I face as a woman–when I came across the term intersectionality in high school.

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Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality describes the overlap of our oppressed identities that result in multiple levels of social injustice. I understand that my race and gender operate together, one having an effect on the other, but for some reason, I have felt a greater need to defend my worth as a Black person before I get a chance to defend my worth as a woman. I so vividly remember the various racial microaggressions and slurs I have had to endure throughout the years, but many of my memories surrounding sexism are limited to holding my own against boys during middle school recess basketball games and correcting the occasional uniformed “period jokes.” This is partly due to the fact that I grew up in predominantly White suburbs where my gender stood out less than my Blackness.

In my classes, there were plenty of other girls, but I was normally one of the few, if not only, Black students. This left me constantly feeling the need to prove that I was just as smart and articulate as everyone else, while also asserting the fact that intelligence runs deep in the Black community to avoid tokenism. I also had to defend my Blackness to members of the Black community to avoid being labeled White. Growing up, there were various internal and external battles that I fought in terms of validating my racial identity, that I did not as intensely experience when forming my gender identity. This is not to say that I don’t value my womanhood and understand that there are numerous systems working against me because of it. I just believe that I am often unfairly held back from fully reaping the rewards of feminist victories due to my Blackness.

My experiences have led me to believe that my race is the aspect of my identity that brings me the most joy as well as the most hardship, but I seldom give as much weight to how my gender factors into this strange mixture of pride and oppression.

In a context greater than the neighborhood that I grew up in, I think that this thought process stemmed from my feelings of division and exclusion within the Feminist Movement. In her essay “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Audre Lorde presents the idea that, “There is a pretense to a homogeneity of experience covered by the word sisterhood that does not in fact exist.” In conversations about the goals of the feminist movement, I have had to assert the fact that Women of Color are impacted by sexism differently than White woman.Image result for black woman respect gifs

Yes, I can relate to daily instances of sexism, but because I am Black, these instances become intensified. For example, if I am passionate about a topic or asserting myself, I am not only acting on emotional impulses associated with femininity, but I am somehow now the “angry Black girl.” Additionally, Black women are often left out of major dialogues relating to gender equality. In fact, there are many instances where our contributions to the Feminist Movement have been left unacknowledged. Our experiences simply are not the same, and until that is understood, the Feminist Movement will continue to exclude a wide array of women who would be a great asset to the furthering of the cause. Not feeling validated in a group that is supposed to be fighting for your equality is discouraging.

In comparison, I have found a sense of understanding and unity within the Black Lives Matter Movement that makes me believe that my experiences are validated in the fight for justice. Black Lives Matter was founded by three Black women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, with the intent of “placing those at the margins closer to the center.” They realized that most Black liberation movements are led by Black, cis-gender, heterosexual men and wanted to make space for the experiences of Black women and Black queer and trans people. A movement with Black women at the core is something that is reaffirming to me.

With that being said, no movement is perfect, and I should look at how other movements approach the issue of diversity. Based on my experiences with the Feminist Movement, I can imagine that there are many movements where people feel stifled or unheard.

The disconnect between wanting to be more involved in the Feminist Movement and not feeling entirely welcomed is something that I struggle with but am actively trying to reconcile. I am a co-facilitator of Women of Color Coalition, a bi-weekly discussion group at the Women’s Center, where I am able to have open dialogues with other Women of Color about our diverse experiences and how we fit into the fight for gender equality. I find that this group has allowed me to connect with people who have similar sentiments as myself. It is spaces like this where I feel that my voice is not only heard but valued. I have come to realize that although my gender is not always at the forefront of my personal understanding of how I am perceived socially, it is a part of my identity that is essential to understanding the impact systemic structures of oppression have on me as a whole.

For more information about the ideas discussed in this blog, check out these resources:

Audre Lorde: “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”

Black Lives Matter: Herstory

 

 

Survivorship Looks Different in the Asian American Community

Samiksha

 

Samiksha Manjani is a Student Staff member at UMBC’s Women’s Center. She is a Political Science and Sociology double-major and is currently a co-facilitator of the Women’s Center’s discussion group, Women of Color Coalition.  

 

 

As a survivor of sexual violence, I have found myself re-traumatized by the recent events that have happened at UMBC. In the aftermath, I struggled to focus in my classes and could barely complete my work. Despite this, I somehow managed to get by with everyday going by in a blur. I went through the motions day-in and day-out. I was slowly sinking back into depression.

One of the most common emotional and psychological responses to sexual violence is depression (RAINN). Depression is a mood disorder which occurs when feelings of sadness and hopelessness persist for long periods of time and interrupt regular thought patterns. It affects a person’s behavior and can disrupt their relationships. Just like many other survivors, I also struggle with depression.

During this difficult time, I was shocked that no one in my life had asked me how I was doing. None of my friends had asked me how I was handling the news, despite knowing that I’m a survivor and that I also struggle with depression. They knew about the lawsuit against UMBC too. In fact, they knew so much about it that they talked to me about their opinions on the matter. Yet, they never asked me how I was processing the news or if I was doing okay.

At first, I thought, “wow, I have really shitty friends in my life.” But I realized that this was a drastic conclusion to make considering my friends were normally compassionate. Instead, I tried to put myself in their shoes. Why would my normally compassionate friends be so inconsiderate? Had my external behavior reflected my internal suffering?

I realized that, from an outsider’s perspective, I seemed completely okay because I went to my classes and work as usual. My behavior, communication, and demeanor had basically stayed the same so nothing seemed amiss. However, this was completely contrary to how I felt internally. Inside, I felt awful. Every step I took was harder, every assignment I completed took longer, and every smile was faker. I was falling apart on the inside, yet no one around me could see it.

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At first, I thought that this was just how I expressed trauma. But after some reflection, I realized that I knew so many other Asian women dealing with depression that were also still high-functioning. I was not the only person who exhibited depressive symptomology this way, and more importantly, it had seemed that this was especially common for other Asians.

My assumption was not wrong. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (2011) found that Asian-American teenage girls have the highest rate of depression compared to any other racial, ethnic or gender group. Furthermore, the suicide rates for 15-24 year old Asian American females are 30% higher than the rates for white females of the same age (Mental Health America). Yeung and Kam (2006) found that none of the Asian patients in their study considered depressed mood as their main problem. However, more than 90% of them indicated having a depressed mood when asked to rate their symptoms on a depression rating scale.

Despite these alarming statistics, 51% of Asian Americans have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, compared to 29% of all Americans (Mental Health America). Furthermore, 21% of Asians, ages 25 or older, have attained an advanced degree (e.g., Master’s, Ph.D., M.D. or J.D.), which is significantly higher than the national average of 12% (Baum and Steele, 2017; United States Census Bureau, 2016). Lastly, the median annual household income of Asian American households is $73,060, compared to $53,600 among all U.S. households (Pew Research Center, 2017). It is important to note, however, that there is variation in educational attainment and median annual income among the different ethnic groups which makeup “Asian Americans.”

These findings made me wonder, why do Asian women express depressive symptomology so differently than other ethnic groups?

One reason could be because of the immense pressure Asians deal with to live up to the model minority stereotype. The model minority stereotype characterizes Asians by hard work, laudable family values, economic self-sufficiency, non-contentious politics, academic achievement, and entrepreneurial success (Kang, 2010). There is a lot of American cultural pressure on Asians to fit into this “intelligent and self-reliant” stereotype. Such a stereotype has dire consequences; for-example, Asian students are pressured to rise to an academic bar that keeps rising. The mental health cost of reaching an unrealistic standard is demonstrated by the statistics mentioned above.

This pressure is worsened by the fact that many Asian immigrants experience downward economic mobility upon arrival to the U.S. Most Asian immigrants are highly educated and held middle-class status in their country of origin (Lopez, Bialik, & Radford,  2018). Because of this downward shift in class status, Asian immigrants have to work their way up from the bottom of the social and economic ladder in the U.S. This is a very daunting task given that many Asian immigrants not only have to support themselves and their families in the U.S., but also relatives back home (United Nations, 2017). This leads to an immense pressure to climb up the socioeconomic ladder and become financially stable.

Both the pressure of the model minority stereotype and pressure to support family members removes any possibility for Asians Americans to display characteristic forms of depression without severe consequences. There are high costs for Asian American immigrants if they do not complete their education, capitalize on job opportunities, and/or perform at their jobs. If they do not perform, they are risking not only their survival, but the survival of relatives back home. This does not mean that people who display traditional depressive symptomatology are somehow less “able” or “motivated” if they can’t complete these tasks. It is simply that the pressure to economically succeed robs Asian Americans the ability to address mental health concerns.

Another reason could be the large stigma within the Asian community surrounding mental health illnesses and treatment. Asian Americans are 3x less likely to seek mental health services than White Americans (Nishi). Furthermore, it is taboo within the Asian community to speak about having mental health illnesses (Chu & Sue, 2011). One large reason this stigma exists is because of the concept of familial shame within Asian communities.

There is immense pressure in the Asian community to preserve the family’s reputation and status at all costs. This is reflected in popular terms used within various Asian cultures which represent the process of shame or losing face: “Haji” among Japanese, “Hiya” among Filipinos, “Mianzi” among Chinese,”Chaemyun” among Koreans, and “Sharam” among Indians (Sue, 1994). If an Asian person has a mental health illness, it could be interpreted by the community as a result of their family’s failure to raise the person correctly. Therefore, Asian Americans are unlikely to acknowledge and seek mental health treatment in fear of “bringing shame” to their families.

I think in a lot of ways all of these factors have influenced the way that I have processed the trauma of my assault and the resulting depression. Like many other Asian American women, I don’t outwardly exhibit depression through conventional symptoms. However, this doesn’t mean that I experience depression less severely than other people. On the contrary, I struggle with depression so much sometimes that it’s hard to even do basic tasks (even if I end up somehow getting it done). Because of the fact that depression is one of the most common psycho-emotional responses to sexual violence and also that the Asian community presents unique depressive symptomology, it is logical to conclude that survivorship is likely to look different in the Asian community.  

Therefore, it is extremely important for friends, family members, and mental health professionals to recognize that survivorship manifests differently in various ethnic communities. As such, the type of support given must be individualized to meet the needs of survivors of different backgrounds. To best support survivors, the people within the survivor’s inner circle should adopt a lens of cultural humility.  

The Women’s Center uses this lens of cultural humility to best support survivors of different backgrounds. Cultural humility is a humble and respectful attitude towards individuals of other cultures that pushes one to challenge their own cultural biases. This departs from “cultural competency” in that it recognizes that a person cannot possibly know everything about other cultures. Instead, people should approach learning about other cultures as a lifelong goal and process.

I truly believe that if my friends had adopted a lens of cultural humility, they would have easily picked up on my struggles. If they had understood more about Asian culture and what it means to be an Asian immigrant, they probably would have been able to recognize my signals of distress. This is especially important for mental health professionals; they would be able to pick up more details from their clients if they held the mindset that “there’s always more to learn.” Using this lens, we can better support the survivors in our lives.

**Please note that not every Asian person experiences depression this way. The goal of this blog is to highlight a common phenomenon in the Asian community. If an Asian person does not process depression or trauma this way, it is not a reflection of their Asianness, intelligence, reliability, or any other characteristics.**