The Feminist Manifesto: White liberals must accept their racial biases to promote equality
Trump’s recent election has legitimized and drawn widespread attention to the racism that has been present in our country since its inception. This reality is not news to people of color, like Hayley, one of this article’s authors, who have been and still are marginalized and devalued by these systems of oppression. Yet it has shocked many white liberals, like Emma, the other author. While it is easy for white liberals to exclusively blame Trump and his supporters for his win, it is important to consider how they may also be implicated in and reinforce the racism that directly contributed to Trump’s rise.
“But what? I’m not racist! I voted for Hillary!” some may say. Others may chime in, “One of my best friends is black! How could I be racist?” We hate to break it to you, but everyone—ourselves included—has unconscious racial biases because we live in a racist society. We’re not going to sugarcoat this. America was built on white supremacy and all white people in this country continue to benefit from it. As Amina Pugh wrote in her recent article in BGD Press, “White people must stop convincing themselves that white supremacy is upheld by a small minority, anonymously typing behind computer screens, and realize it is sustained by a silent majority. White supremacy elected Trump and white people need to start owning this.” Being liberal or voting for Hillary does not remove you from this system.
White people need to talk about race because racial issues involve them, too. The reality is, however, that many white people feel uneasy talking about it. Most have never felt the need to think critically about race, let alone their own whiteness, because they tend to grow up in racially isolated communities where their knowledge about racism and people of color comes from brief, reductive history lessons. Furthermore, when whites learn about racism in school, it is often portrayed as a phenomenon of the past. This makes it harder for white people to comprehend the existence of modern-day racism and how they are directly implicated in it.
When people talk about race and racism they disregard white responsibility. Racism against people of color would literally not be possible without white people. This can be a hard truth to swallow, but it is important for white people, including white liberals, to acknowledge their role in establishing and maintaining racism and racist structures. Even if you condemn racist language, have friends or family of color and actively believe that all races should be treated with equal dignity and respect, you are still leveraged in this system. We know white people can’t control being born white. People of color can’t control their skin color either. The undeniable truth, though, is that in America, skin color helps determine life opportunities. So, what can well-meaning white liberals do? They need to talk about race, but more than that, they need to talk about their own role in perpetuating racism. They need to listen to and respect the experiences of people of color. They need to do better.
What’s frustrating, though, is that in situations when their own behavior is questioned or labeled as racist, even well-meaning white liberals will make excuses, deny the accusation and get angry. “But I didn’t mean it that way,” they might say, or, “You’re just overreacting!” This inability of white people to confront their own biases and racism has a name: white fragility. According to Westfield State University Professor Robin DiAngelo, “white fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” White people are not used to being held accountable for their role in racism. They constantly experience what DiAngelo calls “racial comfort,” and when this comfort is momentarily disrupted, they feel threatened and panic. For instance, if reading this article were to make a white person defensive and upset, that would be a perfect example of white fragility.
We are not calling attention to white fragility to shame white people. Emma still struggles with it. Rather, we are highlighting something that we believe is hindering white liberals’ fight against racism. A lot of white liberals acknowledge racism’s existence but see it as something they reject and take no part in. This is a false narrative. In order for white liberals to actively oppose white supremacy, they first need to confront their own racial biases and privilege. They need to validate people of color’s experiences of racism rather than silence them. They need to recognize that being an ally is not an identity but rather an ongoing learning process. They need to acknowledge and accept their mistakes. The burden of dismantling racism should not fall solely on people of color. It is not a one-way street. We all need to work on this. Together.
The Feminist Manifesto: Not a whisper, but a roar
Our hearts ache. This week, the election confirmed our fears and disappointed us beyond measure. The message that this once familiar country, now an unrecognizable landscape, exists as the land of the free and the home of the brave has dissipated. It once resonated with us but no longer does. The promise of the United States of America does not exist for all people. It never has. But we are here and not going anywhere. We will make America great. Together, we can do that.
This election transcended politics. It was not about Republicans versus Democrats. It was about basic humanity and respect. We are devastated, not only because much of the progress that has been made toward equality for all people is likely to be undone, but because it makes us question whether this progress truly existed in the first place. It makes us question our country and our place within it. But, in the past few days, we have also been inspired.
We are inspired by the displays of love and compassion we have seen on campus this week. We are inspired by the hugs, the kind words and even the tears that follow. We are inspired by the knowledge that we have the power to fight back against misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, ableism, xenophobia and hatred of all shapes and sizes, even if it comes from the White House. Our nation, our home, our safe haven is fractured. It cries for a solution. It longs for a remedy. It demands change. This is the message we need to spread. This is the message that we will chant.
To those who feel threatened by the results of this election, to those who feel that this country does not value them, that it rejects them, know that we stand with you. Not only today, but everyday. To those who no longer feel safe in this country or on this campus, know that we promise to support you in every way we know how. We cannot underestimate the power of reaching out to one another, of checking in, of showing that we will love and stand by each other. There are people who seek to tell us—women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, Muslims and others—that we do not belong in their America. But we will resist this hatred, and this resistance starts with each of us. It begins by asserting to ourselves and one another that we are here. That we will be heard. That we stand together and stand tall. To quote Ranier Maningding, author of “The Love Life of an Asian Guy,” “Promise that your whisper of activism will grow to a deafening roar.” We promise that we will not merely whisper. We will roar.
The Feminist Manifesto: Finding confidence in SWUG life
We were talking recently about the party scene at Bowdoin, and as we reflected on our first year here, we soon realized that neither of us had actually been to a party here for quite a while. For a month and a half to be exact. When this dawned on us, we were a little surprised. We were amazed that Friday night after Friday night of opting to either watch "Stranger Things" in our cozy, warm beds or to catch up on homework at Supers had added up to 42 party-free days. But to be frank, we weren’t too beat up about it.
So, are we SWUGs? Is this what it feels like? When we swapped stories about our most recent Friday night adventures, we began to think so. Hayley, after a few glasses of wine and dancing to one too many Ke$ha songs with a friend, crashed duty night in a first-year brick and promptly fell asleep on their common room couch. Emma, after returning from a delicious dinner in Portland, watched half an episode of "Mr. Robot" before she decided she was too tired to continue and curled up for a nice 10 hours of sleep.
SWUG stands for "Senior Washed-Up Girl," but what exactly does that mean? Urban Dictionary has an example of a day in the SWUG life: "I texted two sophomore guys and got rejected by both, but I don’t even care because I have a bottle of wine and my $150 vibrator." Although aspects of this definition resonated with us, we didn’t feel like it captured the whole SWUG phenomenon. We had a lot of questions: Why are SWUGs typically seen as jaded, callous women who can’t find men? Does this term imply that boys could never be washed-up, or that they always have been? Is being a SWUG bad, or is it a feminist reclamation of a formerly sexist insult? What does it imply about us as First Year Non-Washed-Up Girls? We pondered over these questions as we sat eating pumpkin pancakes and drinking tea in Thorne, dressed in our favorite sweatpants and Birkenstocks. We found ourselves constantly returning to what being a SWUG meant to us. Since our first year at Bowdoin, we have both changed tremendously.
Hayley began her first year drinking most weekends and hopping between College House parties, trying to live the "Bowdoin experience." She often felt stressed during the week and didn’t feel totally passionate about her classes or the clubs she joined. Now, she doesn’t drink as much—not because she doesn’t like her Montepulciano wine, don’t get her wrong—but because she’s dedicated herself to being more health-conscious. She’s learned to spend time on the things that make her happy, like exploring the Maine outdoors and throwing clay pots at the Craft Center. She’s come to embrace different aspects of her identity: her Jewish faith, her blackness and her womanhood. She sees herself as a SWUG because she has started to care less about what others think of her. It’s taken her a long time to get to this point, but she feels comfortable. And guess what? She absolutely loves it.
Emma came to Bowdoin determined to force an outgoing, extroverted personality against almost all her natural impulses. She didn’t like College House parties, but went to them anyway, loved her classes, but complained about them anyway, seeking some vague concept of "cool." Now, Emma has come to realize that embracing the introverted, awkward, school-loving person that she actually is not only makes her cool, but more importantly, happy. Emma feels like a SWUG when she spends time with people she really likes instead of feeling uncomfortable at a loud party or when she goes out to dinner by herself because she wants some alone time and good food. She still doubts herself sometimes and worries too much about what others think, but generally, she feels confident in who she is.
For us, being SWUGs means being comfortable in our own skin. It means speaking our minds, even if we might be called "nasty women." It means acknowledging and accepting that we will sometimes feel lonely or scared or disempowered, and that that’s okay. As seniors, we finally feel at ease on campus. But we’re about to embark on a new and unknown phase of our lives that will have its own set of new and unknown challenges. This is terrifying. Yet we feel more equipped to handle whatever comes next—a feeling that we didn’t necessarily have four years ago. So for all the SWUGs out there, whether being a SWUG means partying with your friends or appreciating your religion, going to counseling or ditching your bra, or a host of other things, we hope you’ve come to know yourself a little better. We certainly have.
The Feminist Manifesto: Beyond the buzzword: a look into intersectional feminism
Intersectional feminism. It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot at Bowdoin. It’s the answer to half of the questions asked by your Feminist Theory professor. It’s a buzzword. It makes us sound smart when we say it. But what does it actually mean?
We have been thinking about this question a lot lately, specifically in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, which strives for an end to violence against black people in the United States. For us, examining this movement’s relationship with feminism sheds some light on the often used and sometimes complicated concept of intersectional feminism.
Historically, the feminist movement has excluded African Americans, as well as others who do not identify as Christian, middle-class, white, heterosexual, cisgendered and able-bodied. For instance, in 1913, when 5,000 women marched in Washington D.C. in support of women’s suffrage, the organizers of the parade attempted to make black women march in the back, behind the white women and men. More recently, Taylor Swift accused Nicki Minaj of “pitting women against each other” when Nicki called out the VMAs’ racial bias. These are only a couple of examples of the many times that white feminists have contributed to the oppression of black people. Hint: this is not intersectional feminism.
When feminists intentionally or inadvertently neglect issues facing black people, they not only play a part in the continued marginalization of black communities, but also erase black women from their narrative. This forces black women to prioritize either their blackness or their womanhood, which is an impossible choice. Until the feminist movement entirely embraces all people who identify as women, it can only consider itself “feminist” to an extent.
In order for feminism to truly advocate for gender equality, violence against black people needs to be considered a feminist issue. If (white) feminists stand by and do nothing when innocent black men and women are killed by the police, they send the message that they don’t care about black communities. Black issues are women’s issues. Period. Police violence against black men is an epidemic, but we must also acknowledge that police brutality affects black women too and that their struggles are often brushed under the rug.
Now, fast forward to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s not common knowledge, but the movement was founded by three black women, two of whom are queer. Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, the founders of Black Lives Matter, have worked tirelessly to expose the injustices of systemic racism, but are rarely mentioned in mainstream media. This not only undermines their integral role in the movement but also reflects a more extensive erasure of black women’s voices in our society.
People often associate black men as the only victims of police brutality, but this issue also affects black women, especially trans women and women with disabilities. When the media predominantly focuses on the deaths of black cisgendered men, it creates the impression that black women are not affected by police violence and thus excludes their stories. We are in no way discounting the very real injustices facing black men, or the fact that they are disproportionately at risk of dying at the hands of police. But to ensure that all black lives matter, we must also #sayhername.
Any sort of feminism is incomplete if it does not include the voices and liberation of black women as a part of its goal, just as any racial justice movement cannot achieve egalitarian objectives without recognizing the unique struggles facing women of color. Omitting certain stories invalidates those experiences and renders them invisible. It simultaneously leverages one group’s interests over another’s, which furthers the oppression of already marginalized people. This is where intersectional feminism comes in. It is a feminism that acknowledges the vast diversity of women’s experiences, that understands that each woman has a multitude of identities and that constantly works to be inclusive.
Intersectional feminism allows us to see women’s liberation as intimately connected to liberation for black people, for the LGTBQ+ community, for people with disabilities. It helps us understand that justice for women necessitates economic justice, climate justice, racial justice and so much more. Our lives are multidimensional. And our feminism should be too.
Privilege, vibrators and feminism, oh my!
Snapshot: Professors' offices: Part 2
Prof. Tricia Welsch, Film Studies. Photo by Joanna Gromadzki
Prof. Andrew Rudalevige, Government and Legal Studies. Photo by Emma Roberts