Sisters of the Round Table (SORT) kicked off their annual Africana Women’s Week (AWW) with last Tuesday’s brown bag: “ Perspectives on Intersectionality, Introspection and Leadership.” The panelists included Melissa Melendez (Chairwoman of SORT), Hoa Bui (Tri-Chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition), Evan Chartier (LGBTQ Initiatives intern) and Che Hatter (Program Assistant at the Center). All of these individuals are highly involved in conversations surrounding social and political issues on and off the Colgate campus. As leaders and active participants of various social justice groups and spaces, they learn and attempt to be self-reflective and to be self-critical, an important component of social justice activism.
As Melissa points out, being self-reflexive and self-critiquing is not an easy task, nor should it be. Whether we are leaders or participants of a social activist movement, we have to come to terms with our own privileges in order to continue to do the work that we want to do. Even if we are members of one or more marginalized groups, we all have privileges that others do not. And this may be a harsh reality we have to face and constantly be introspective about. This is important because by disregarding certain privileges, we may unintentionally perpetuate the institutions and systems we’re against, which in turn may end up further hurting and oppressing others.
But a major component of this process is being vulnerable. As Meli said, being uncomfortable is good. It is a sign that we are being self-reflexive and working through the process. Everyone was asked to write down one thing they care about. Then we were asked to write down ways we are complicit in the issues we care about. Fortunately, many people were willing to share and open up about what they wrote on their note cards. Many of our community members were able to be vulnerable in a safe space and able to share several long, uncomfortable pauses.
We do not want this conversation to end with the brown bag, but hope that they continue to occur. So for those of us that are social activist or are involved in social justice issues (at any level), here are some questions we can use to work through this process. You can think through this whether you are alone in your bed in the dark or with close friends or in a safe space/judgment free zone or within a social activist group (like SORT or ARC). Some questions to consider:
- What are your various intersecting identities, based on class, race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, ability, religion etc.? Which of these identities are the most important to you? Why?
- What are my privileges within systems of oppression, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, colorism, classism etc.?
- How do you imagine your ideal society/world to look like? What are the various ways in which you work towards this goal (whether on a small or large scale)? What are some ways in which you live your life that work against the creation of this ideal world that you seek?
- How do you negotiate your politics in different contexts? How do you continue to live your politics within spaces where they are not welcome (i.e. when your friends and/or family do not understand you because they may not have the same theoretical knowledge or language about certain issues)?
Remember, no one likes being vulnerable and uncomfortable, especially when it involves self-critiquing. But this process can be very beneficial for yourself, as well as the social justice activism that you embody.
On a different note, I want to share the poem Meli read aloud to close the Brown Bag:
Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe in the War Between Races
By: Lorna Dee Cervantes
In my land there are no distinctions.
The barbed wire politics of oppression
have been torn down long ago.
The only reminder
of past battles, lost or won, is a slight
rutting in the fertile fields.
In my land
people write poems about love,
full of nothing but contented childlike syllables.
Everyone reads Russian short stories and weeps.
There are no boundaries.
There is no hunger, no
complicated famine or greed.
I am not a revolutionary.
I don’t even like political poems.
Do you think I can believe in a war between races?
I can deny it.
I can forget about it
when I’m safe,
living on my own continent of harmony
and home, but I am not
I believe in revolution
because everywhere the crosses are burning,
sharp-shooting goose-steppers round every corner,
there are snipers in the schools…
(I know you don’t believe this.
You think this is nothing
but faddish exaggeration.
are not shooting at you.)
I’m marked by the color of my skin.
The bullets are discrete and designed to kill slowly.
They are aiming at my children.
These are facts.
Let me show you my wounds: my stumbling mind, my
“excuse me” tongue, and this
with the feeling of not being good enough.
These bullets bury deeper than logic.
Racism is not intellectual.
I cannot reason these scars away.
Outside my door
there is a real enemy
who hates me.
I am a poet
who yearns to dance on rooftops,
to whisper delicate lines about joy
and the blessings of human understanding.
I try. I go to my land, my tower of words and
bolt the door, but the typewriter doesn’t fade out
the sounds of blasting and muffled outrage.
My own days bring me slaps on the face.
Every day I am deluged with reminders
that this is not
and this is my land.
I do not believe in the war between races
but in this country
there is war.
- Valerie Garcia ’15