The Guide to Help You Fight Racism on College Campuses

By Lester Asamoah

In the wake of the University of Oklahoma incident, numbers of students, faculty, and staff are asking the inevitable question: what are their individual roles in helping their campus become an inclusive community? Let’s go into detail about things that can be done every day by students, faculty, and staff to mitigate the marginalization of people of color.

Defining Racism

What happened with SAE was an example of overt racism. Clearly, no rational person in America can deny the racism of that video. However, that video is a result of covert racism, or racism that you don’t see every day. What does this look like? It is institutional. At the University of Oklahoma (OU) there are no people of color [POC] in high administrative offices and in 2013-2014 there were only 1,006 black students in a population of 20,000 undergrads. It is also microaggressive. What is microaggression? It’s judging black people on what they wear. It’s asking black students to be the spokesperson of their entire race in history class. It’s staring at groups of black people in your cafeteria or the Student Union. It’s making rude comments or accosting white women who are with black men, or black men who are with white women. Or black women with white men. Or anyone of any color, gender, or race with anyone else they love. A lot goes into this, and it is scientifically proven. I suggest reading a scientific study or reputable publication for more into this. Institutions are still pretty marginalizing. And nobody is overtly racist anymore, but people may not know they are acting covertly racist.

Are your eyes and ears working?

People of color have expressed, through many avenues, how their experience is on their college campuses. OU Unheard movement, among many, many other groups have been expressing their experiences. LISTEN. Everything in this post is not new. At Washington State University, a black woman was kicked out of a fraternity party and called a “n—-r bitch.” At UCLA and Michigan (among other major and minor institutions), they faced issues with microaggressions mounting and people getting fed up. This isn’t new. This is far from new. The next time you see a person of color tweet, post to facebook, or say something in class about race, LISTEN, READ, THINK.

Far too often on social media and in classrooms, white people try to (I want to borrow from the recent feminist term “mansplain” or when a man puts his two cents where it isn’t necessary – something that should also stop) “whitesplain” something because they haven’t felt the same experience. And it whittles people of color down over time they’re being told that their experiences aren’t as valid. People of color on campus have every reason under the sun to not fully trust all white people, between the awful things said after Ferguson and the things SAE said. Keep that in mind. People of color have every right to be wary of white people. So LISTEN. And stop invalidating their experiences.

Think about your n-words

As an American (or at least living in America), you have the right to say what you want. Quite frankly, you can be racist if you want. But, I assume you’re not racist if you’re reading this. The big argument with the n-word is that “Well if rappers say the n-word, I can say it too!!!!!!!!!!!” Stop. First, “nigga” is a reappropriated term. It was transformed into a term of endearment among black people. Let’s repeat those last three words, AMONG BLACK PEOPLE. With that being said, I have absolutely zero confidence that people will stop saying the n-word. But at the very least, contemplate the implications of that word. Because one of the biggest issues on college campuses is how white people use the n-word among each other as if it’s in style. And they listen to loud rap, and love black comedians, but when the social justice hits the fan, people really like being white. At the very least, do the research behind the history of that word and how it got to be what it is today before you keep using it.

Oh, and if you call your black friend “nigga,” know that it is always awkward no matter what they say. We will never admit face-to-face the awkwardness that pierces our souls. But, at the bare minimum, think about why you’re saying the n-word if you say it amongst your friends and you’re not black. There are many other words of endearment like “bro, cus, homie, friend, pal, comrade, dude, bruh (not to be confused with bro), dog, dawg (not to be confused with dog), and, but not limited to, fam.” Also, always remember if you call your black friends “nigga,” they will feel awkward and probably not tell you.

Taking practical steps

If you’ve made it this far (or you skipped to this part), you want to know “what can I do?” Okay. Well, if you haven’t already, you should read and understand everything above because I explain various issues. But, actually do these things:

— Understand that you may not be overtly racist, but your words and actions can still be harmful over long periods of time. And understand that universities, fraternities, and the justice system were not made for black people. I repeat, the creation of universities, fraternities, and the justice system, historically, was not meant for the black person. Things are changing, but there are still issues. So be patient with people that are frustrated.

— Listen, don’t interrupt or argue, or say “I’m not racist because,” or say “my black friend….” Actually, go ahead and delete those phrases from your repertoire NOW. Listen first. Ask questions. Understand. Be slow to judge. Don’t “whitesplain.”

— Think about the use, or your friends’ use of the n-word. And know that if you think it’s cool to call your black friend the n-word, she or he will think it’s awkward, every single time.

— Remember black people are people too (shocking, right?). Not just your campus’s athletes, your favorite slam poets, or the girl that sits in your class. Say hi to black people on campus. Invite us to things. Ask us about our lives and what our hobbies are. Sit with us. If we are athletes, don’t just talk to us about our sport. Ask us about our lives.

— Don’t say “not all frats, or not all students”–that’s obvious. In fact, people saying that raises the question if it really is all fraternities or all students (because if you have to keep saying something isn’t something, well…).  And it’s unhelpful. Focus on what you’re going to do to PROVE, REPEAT PROVE–YOU KNOW, THROUGH ACTION–that your frat or school is different. Because, as I said before, people of color have a right to be at least a little wary. Remember that.

— Don’t blanket any social movements. Marching with your black friends is fun, but understand systemic and cultural change is long and slow. And it starts with me and you. No, this is not about just Greek Life, how awesome your campus is, or anything positive when it comes to social movements. What happened at the University of Oklahoma and what continues to happen across campuses nationwide are extremely negative and we should not cover those negativities up with positives. That is actually doing the opposite of what people who care about change want.

Remember, civil rights marches used to be violent. People had to take BEATINGS. Civil rights were violent. We, as this generation of students, have the privilege of not expecting to be attacked, so don’t make rallies and marches your self-masturbatory events you put on Instagram. Also, don’t make your black friends or kids in African countries that either. Stop it.

— Don’t appropriate any movements. Don’t act like your friends or organization are the best shining example of diversity in the world. Because clearly people of color on your campus can prove why that’s not true. Just sit back and understand the movements. Don’t brag. Improve, and show that you are.

— Don’t take attacks against “white America” personally. If someone says they have an issue with white people, chances are they have a very specific one that has no bearing on all of white society. And if you listen long enough, they’ll tell you what it is. Keep in mind that America was built on the backs of slaves. And, well, Selma happened only 50 years ago. Our parents were alive when black people were being beaten by police. Keep that in mind. And keep in mind that every black person in America is somehow affected by institutions and systems that are a legacy of deeply violent and exclusionary history.

Finally, keep in mind that these guidelines can loosely be applied to a number of things like sexism, transphobia, Islamphobia, ablism, etc. We learn in elementary school to treat others how we want to be treated. Somehow that important lesson is lost, but let’s get it back America.

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Op Ed: Inclusivity on Campus

By Blessing Ikpa

I’m grateful for SAE. Truly, I am. That may come as a shock to some, but I’m grateful that true colors of certain people were shown on that fateful party bus. I’m proud that the University and the SAE National Chapter acted as swiftly as they did. From this (not isolated) incident, topics can be introduced. The tough conversations can start to be had, and the floor opened for discussions.

Studying abroad in a foreign country has given me the necessary space to take a step back, and truly examine how OU operates. This unfortunate SAE incident is not the first, or the last, that an aspect of racism will rear its ugly head. Everyone has come together as a community and let these young men know that what they did was wrong. Their actions were shameful for the University, their fraternity, and their families. When they were saying “Nigger”, it felt like they were talking to me. To my family, my Black friends, my community. Hearing that word rips me apart inside because I can feel the deeply rooted pain of my ancestors. The pain of both my parents who immigrated to America from Nigeria in order to give me and my siblings a better life. Feeling these emotions has given me clarity and premonition about what could happen next, on what the next topic of discussion can be in the face of this tragedy that has hurt many people across campus.

Which brings me to this: Inclusivity.

 

I’ve been doing my daily scroll through social media these last few days, and most of what I see is, “OU is SO inclusive! We are one of the most diverse campuses EVER. People have equal opportunity on our campus, for sure!”

But do they really?

Growing up in Norman, I always viewed OU as the most diverse part of Norman. Probably even all of Oklahoma. I thought that OU would have people who looked like me, other than the handful of Black people in my high school. People who were as progressive as me and could have deep discussions on tough subjects. I thought that I would finally feel included in a bigger picture.

That is, until I started getting involved.

Being a “campus leader” is all the rage throughout the OU community. If you’re not a campus leader or highly involved, then what are you doing?! I thought that I would finally get the community I have always wanted and fulfill the longings I’ve always dreamed of. As I went through my freshman year, throwing myself into activities, and into my sophomore year, things started to become strange to me. Where was the Black community? Where were all the Hispanics? Asian community? Native Americans? What about the LGBTQ community? How many of us ARE there on campus? I almost thought of myself as “better than them” because I was getting myself out there and networking with people from different crevices of campus. Until I stopped and realized what was truly going on.

When I became the Multicultural Affairs officer for the Student Government Association last semester, I was able to fully engage with the Multicultural community. I was listening. I took the blinders off of my eyes and did my research. People in the Black community, the Hispanic community, LGBTQ community, the Asian community, the Native American community….they didn’t feel as though they belonged. They didn’t think that they could be apart of these University-wide campus activities or win the big campus awards because, in a way, they weren’t made for them. Why were the same people, year after year, winning all of these OU awards–and why was there no consideration given to the Multicultural community? Why do we see the same people, over and over, in positions of leadership but hardly anyone from these communities I have mentioned (and more)? I know I can’t be the only one who sees this.

If we want to say that we are an inclusive community, the “Sooner Family,” we truly need to start acting that way. We need to start asking ourselves the hard questions. “Does such-and-such organization REALLY include everyone?” “Does my club give everyone the equal opportunity to try and succeed?” Feelings are hurt all over campus. People are let down. People are scared. People’s hearts are bleeding. Those men in the video showed us, and told us, that people of minority are not welcome. They are not valued on this campus. Their joyful singing brought up old, painful wounds that cannot be covered with a band-aid this time. People are demanding answers now. We need to make sure that every single person on this campus feels as though they have the opportunity to be included as much, or as little, as they want to be. We can no longer act as if we are the most diverse and inclusive University to have ever lived unless we take a step back and see the hidden problems.

If we are who we say we are, we need to start acting like it.

Discussion Recap: 3/1/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh

This week we invited Dr. Schumaker to lead our discussion. Dr. Schumaker is a professor in the Letters and Constitutional Studies department at OU. She selected this week’s article, “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The article was published in The Atlantic in June of 2014. It argues that reparations, simply as an idea, need to be explored, investigated, and studied. Reparations are means to make amends for wrong-doings, and in this context would be actions by society to amend the gross abuse of Black Americans throughout our history.

“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

In this article, Coates writes about the systematic oppression of Black Americans, particularly post slavery. He explains redlining, the practice of discrimination based on the racial makeup of a person’s neighborhood, most often used in the context of extending credit or providing insurance coverage. Redlining is a type of de facto discrimination which economically disadvantages Black Americans. Private corporations, homeowners’ loan associations, banks, and even local neighborhood committees perpetuate this system of chipping away property value based on the racial makeup of an area.

“Locked out of the greatest mass-based opportunity for wealth accumulation in American history, African Americans who desired and were able to afford home ownership found themselves consigned to central-city communities where their investments were affected by the ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’ of the FHA appraisers: cut off from sources of new investment, their homes and communities deteriorated and lost value in comparison to those homes and communities that FHA appraisers deemed desirable.”

The electronic article includes an interesting interactive map feature which allows the reader to observe redlining in action in conjunction with unemployment and vacancy from 1950-2010. The interactive census is shockingly representative of the phenomenon which most people like to believe ended in 1964. It is clear which neighborhoods are poor, and those neighborhoods naturally coincide with unemployment and vacancy, but also race.

In his documentation of the exploitation of Black Americans, Coates mentions two significant reparations. Bank of America and Wells Fargo paid $355 and $175 million respectively in reparations for targeting Black Americans during the subprime mortgage housing crisis in 2007. If those sums were decided for such a recent, short-lived (however powerful) crisis, how much would the United States have to pay to rectify the damage of the past 435 years of discrimination and abuse?

The article briefly mentions Michelle and Barack Obama and their children. “…Barack and Michelle Obama have won. But they’ve won by being twice as good—and enduring twice as much…But for all our exceptional ones, for every Barack and Michelle Obama, for every Ethel Weatherspoon or Clyde Ross, for every black survivor, there are so many thousands gone.”

My favorite part of the article was Chapter X: “There will be no ‘reparations’ from Germany.” I found this final chapter extremely interesting because it compares the United States and its treatment of Black Americans to Germany and its treatment of the Jews. In our tailored history courses, we learn again and again about the horrors of Auschwitz and the evil Nazis who persecuted the Jews. We are taught the Holocaust each time we discuss WWII. We feel triumphant when the United States takes the moral high ground in Paris, and we think the terms treaties are too merciful. Never in these history classes do we learn about redlining. We don’t discuss the horrors of being colored in the United States. Our teachers fail to tell us that Nazis sent their scouts to the United States in order to learn about Jim Crow, so that they could implement something similar with the Jews. Coates writes that only 5% of Germans in 1952 reported feeling guilty about the Holocaust. I wonder what that number would be in the United States. How many of us even know about the oppression of Black Americans post slavery or post Jim Crow? How many of us feel like society and/or the government owes its Black population reparations?

We strongly suggest you read the article.  It covers subjects that curriculum in schools fails to discuss or even mention.

Tell us what you think!

Discussion Recap: 2/15/15

By Alice Barrett

This week we read and discussed an essay on Black Girl Dangerous by Martina “Mick” Powell entitled “Hold Up: A Lovingly Disgusted Note to Hip Hop.”  The discussion started out slow, which is such an organic, interesting element of almost all academic discussions I’ve taken part in, but the difference for this one was that most of us found the reading logical and anticipated.  We’ve all heard that rap and hip hop often employs sexist, homophobic, and oppressive positions.  “Kids and their dang rap music!” or something.

Powell’s piece, we agreed, seemed personal in ways that criticism of rap often can’t be.  She paints her history with rap music (seemingly a universal history for other black people, too) with intimate, detail-oriented phrases: “everything—every beat against bass, every drip of spray paint, every time your body contorts itself into a new shape—has a purpose.”  Powell is a black queer woman discussing the problems she has with rap and hip hop’s discussion of black and/or queer women.  Her complaints are the most valid complaints one could lodge; she experiences the way hip hop and rap have previously validated her experience, and she notes importantly that they still erase her.

“I want so much to love you endlessly but sometimes, it gets hard walking into a brick wall day after day, never being fully able to escape. As much as you confirm my existence and my struggles, you also erase me, ignore me, defile me. Sometimes you hate me so much that you keep repeating yourself over and over again and sometimes you want me so much that you can’t control yourself.”

Her writing is poetic and personal, and therefore effective.  Perhaps someone who has noted oppression in hip hop and rap–and noted it only negatively, only to reinforce racist concepts, only to cement ideas of black men being violent and savage–will read this work and see the many facets of the hip hop and rap experience.

Some problems several members had with the piece was that it focuses solely on the sexism and homophobia in hip hop and rap, which could suggest if taken out of context that the only problematic parts of popular culture involve an art that has typically been associated with black males.  Powell’s essay doesn’t seem to look at all of the forces that combine to create this homophobia and sexism in rap and hip hop.  It focuses specifically on hip hop–which makes sense because of her own biography–but in doing this it fails to comment on society’s ingrained discriminatory practices.  It does not comment on the appallingly oppressive lyrics in rock, in country, in alternative music.  It comments only on hip hop and rap, which could certainly be virtuous in that the conversation is specific and more likely to be effective but is also race-specific.  This seems to be a problem in lots of social justice work–how can we discuss specific injustices without scaling out to look at the patriarchal, white-washed society we constantly participate in?

We additionally discussed the opposite phenomenon, where specifically Macklemore was apotheosized for declaring–for setting the record straight, for deciding perhaps–that (!) it’s okay to be gay (!) in his song Same Love.  He’s a white straight guy who confirmed that queerness is natural–and he’s a white straight guy who was worshipped for doing so.  In this case, Macklemore wrote something super positive, criticizing the homophobia in some rap music and supporting the struggles of queer people.  This should be valued, absolutely!  He’s using his privilege to positively affect popular culture.  How people received this, how he was described as the first person to talk about Actual Important Things in rap, as opposed to money and hoes, how he seemed to some to save and justify rap–these are the problems we should have with his work.  We should find it problematic and disgusting that popular culture will ignore the beautiful, authentic work of past queer, black rappers to champion the commercialized, bastardized work of a white guy.  We should be so, so sad that an artist like Kendrick Lamar was overlooked and erased in the Grammy’s for this song of Macklemore’s.

Finally, we discussed attempts to reconcile problematicism of things we love so, so much.  Can I listen to Kanye even though he says fucked up things about women and queer people?  Can I ignore Azalea Bank’s negative slurs in her attempts to point out problematic aspects of other artists’ work?  How can one enjoy popular culture when racism, sexism, classism, homophobia stain so many aspects of it?  We don’t know.  We think pointing out problems is the most feasible way to be productive in the face of oppression.  Perhaps we could use our commercial power to send messages, by boycotting the work of artists who enforce oppressive power structures, and perhaps we can be vocal about the problems we have with their work.  We don’t know.  It does not appear that one cannot enjoy culture that participates in discrimination and oppression; instead, maybe, we need to realize why artists are reinforcing oppressive ideas, especially when they’re reacting against other power structures they’ve experienced.  We need to demand more.  We need to reject any ideas of Macklemore’s superiority in rap (and especially the race-tinged aspects of this).  We need to look at valuable essays that note the multifaceted aspects of love and culture.

Op Ed: The Scarcity of Female Programmers

By Reagan McCreary

margaret
Margaret Hamilton

A flaw in the Apollo 11 Lunar lander’s radar system began sending loads of false data to its onboard computer three minutes before the lander reached the moon’s surface. Fortunately, NASA programmer Margaret Hamilton designed a system “smart enough to recognize that it was being asked to perform more tasks than it should be performing.” Without her work, we would not remember the Apollo 11 mission as the first to place human beings on the moon (alive).

Katherine Johnson calculated the flight trajectories for the Apollo 11 mission. Ada Lovelace wrote what we now recognize as the very first computer program. Grace Hopper wrote the first compiler, which is the software that turns raw code into a set of instructions understandable by a computer. Barbara H. Liskov’s research enabled the design and implementation of object-oriented programming languages, which are the most widely used languages today. While recuperating from childbirth, Erna Schneider Hoover came up with a computerized telephone system which revolutionized telecommunication in the 1950’s.

These are a small number of the many women whose work in the early days of computing showed that the Y-chromosome has nothing to do with the potential to succeed in the field. From the advent of the modern computer until around 1984, the ratio of female to male computer scientists increased steadily:

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 8.58.28 PM
Source: National Science Foundation, American Bar Association, American Association of Medical Colleges; Credit: Quoctrung Bui/NPR

But what happened in 1984?

A bunch of white dudes happened.

Early personal computers required much more hands-on coding than today’s, and they were primarily marketed toward men as a tool and toward boys as a toy. As sad and hilarious as this advertisement appears to us now, the culture of the 1980’s was effective in encouraging boys lucky enough to have access to a Commodore 64 to play games and learn how to code. The same culture taught girls to attract men and become homemakers with their Tinkerbell Makeup and Barbie Dreamhouses.

Because the first commercial computers required complex knowledge for effective use, the first few who truly understood them typically preferred time spent learning alone above interpersonal interaction. Gradually, the stereotype of the socially awkward programmer geek took flight, pushing more women away from the field. Not only is programming for boys; it’s for “weird,” arrogant boys with bad hygiene and no fashion sense who love to creep people out.

This is especially problematic now that computer science is so vital in our society. The ever-increasing human dependency on thinking machines places certain people in an elite class of knowledge. Our economy values technical skill and rewards it with higher pay. Discouraging women from entering highly technical and challenging fields can only serve to widen the existing gender gap.

The idea that select people can enter these fields belies the nature of computer programming. Too many people fail to meet the challenge of learning math or programming because they’re “not good at it” or it’s “not intuitive” to them. I take every opportunity to correct people who say things like this. In reality, if you can understand this sentence, then you can understand the pure logic of programming. It’s just too easy to give up early when you believe, consciously or not, that you inherently lack the ability to do something. Our culture produces an environment which allows budding female professionals to believe that their efforts toward learning math and science will ultimately fall short to those of males, that somehow their gender dictates a limit on their ability. Beyond that, women who manage to overcome the barriers preventing them from learning the necessary skills face even greater barriers once employed. Feelings of isolation in a sea of men, constant (often unintentional) acts of microaggression, and environments which treat women as foreign objects can turn even the most capable female programmer away from doing what she loves.

“You can do anything you put your mind to.” I remember hearing phrases like this from the moment I could understand them. Now that I’m older it rings true, at least in my case. I question its validity in general. I decided to study computers in college, and now I can make software. My status as a white, suburban male opened all of the avenues for me, and I felt no pressure to stifle my love for math or science because it would be unbecoming of someone of my gender, race, or socioeconomic class. I cannot say with certainty that I would have made the same decision had I been born anything other than a white male. I definitely would not have made the decision had it been unavailable to me, as it is to many.

Discussion Recap: 2/1/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh

In honor of Black History Month, we will be discussing articles particularly related to racial equality for the next few meetings. For our first meeting of the month, our members read the Combahee River Collective Statement, which was written in 1977 by a group of Black Feminists in Boston. The Combahee River Collective was actually a Black Feminist Lesbian group named after the guerrilla action led by Harriet Tubman in 1863 in Port Royal, SC.  These women formed out of the Boston chapter of the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO), an antiracist AND antisexist group. They built their identity around their social status as the most disadvantaged group in society: “…being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world.” Just fight the world, no big deal. (scoff)

The defining characteristic of Black Feminism, especially in the 70s, was utter lack of privilege. These women did not have the male privilege of Black men, nor could they share in the racial privilege of white women. As for white men, “Black women have always embodied, if not only in their physical manifestation, an adversary stance to white male rule…” Black women are basically the arch nemeses of white men. The bane of their existence. The Harry to their Voldemort (it’s funny because Voldemort was so pale). Black men, according to the statement, reacted negatively to Black Feminism, which relates to what we discussed last week in the white privilege article. “They realize that they might not only lose valuable and hard-working allies in their struggles but that they might also be forced to change their habitually sexist ways of interacting with and oppressing Black women.” Basically, Black men felt like the success of a Black feminist movement would take away any sense of supremacy they had. How sad! The statement also points out that while “eliminating racism in the white women’s movement is by definition work for white women to do,” the progress within the white women’s movement reveals an awful negligence on their behalf. It was as if white women only had enough energy to fight for their rights specifically. They couldn’t be bothered to take a stand against racial discrimination, even though their cause is basically invalidated by condoning oppression of any kind. But I guess they didn’t realize that.

In our discussion, one of our members pointed out that Black women’s cause should be fought by all women, because, as the statement points out, the success of their movement would mean the “liberation of all oppressed people.” Because Black women are the most disadvantaged demographic, their deliverance would mean the deliverance of everyone less disadvantaged. It may be Black women’s cause, but it should be all women’s concern.

Interestingly, the Combahee River Collective also offered an economic stance.

“We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialist because we believe the work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses.” Stick it to the man. Hell yeah.

This brought up a discussion among a couple of our members about economic structure and oppression. Someone pointed out the more left-leaning economic structures of Western Europe and correlated that with seemingly less oppressive societies. Another person said that economic success, in whatever structure, is the foundation for social liberation. Many prominent members of society make their voices heard by financial means.

So what do you think? Does economic structure hurt or help oppressed groups? Or is the economy irrelevant? And as for white/black/male/female, what responsibilities do you think each demographic has for the others?

As always, here’s the link.

History of Feminism: First-Wave

By Alice Barrett

The history of feminism is long, nuanced, often unrepresentative, and misrepresented.  In this series, we will look at the popularized conception of feminism in the United States.  By no means will the posts following this topic be detailed enough, fully appropriate in perspective, or historically superior to the many articles and histories online.  This is, however, an attempt to introduce our readers to what most historians generally categorize as the three waves of feminism.

Feminism today is a word associated with controversy and unease.  People think of the radicalism of the 1960s and 70s and begin to fear a world where women treat men as men currently treat women.  This thought process is dumb, of course, ignoring very basic definitions of equality and submitting itself to availability heuristic.  Feminism seeks the economic, political, and social equality of women.  The end goal is not to be rid of men.  People who do believe this, while definitely responsible for the outlandishness of their perspective, hold these views almost understandably.  A movement possesses less merit and credibility when written off as extremist, unnecessary, and foolish. Popular culture and people with power want to tell us that feminism embodies those three characteristics wholly.

Later posts will discuss how feminism became associated with radicalism and absurdity.  For now, I will discuss the first-wave of feminism, during which suffrage was sought.


Most historians mark the beginning of feminism in the United States as the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention.  During this convention, some 300 women and men discussed the role of women in society and debated and perfected the ideas of two prepared documents, one of which was the Declaration of Sentiments, a shocking yet reasonable compilation of the ways men held/hold irrational power over women.  Some of the sentiments include:

  • “He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.”
  • “He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce, in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given; as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of the women – the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of a man, and giving all power into his hands.”
  • “He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.”

This convention, in addition to making actual progress, also symbolizes the dynamics of early feminism.  Much of what women believed they deserved–the right to speak in public, to vote, to choose their own futures and beings–was viewed, even by other women, as too radical.

While these demands for equality appeared extreme at the time, in reality early feminists were typically conservative or moderate.  Many, including most of the members of the American Women Suffrage Association (AWSA), felt that they would need to use the political system in order to make gains; additionally, they believed that they must focus on the concrete, realistic goal of suffrage.  While suffrage and abolition coincided ideologically in many important ways, criticism of first-wave feminism centers on its limited definition of women.  Early feminists sought suffrage for white women and often, although generally supportive of abolition, ignored the plight of black women.  Still, many black women, including Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells, made important philosophical and tangible contributions to early feminism.  In Sojourner Truth’s 1851 “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech–during which, according to my Women and Gender Studies professor and relating to the delayed written transcription of the speech, Truth actually said “Aren’t I a woman?”, only to have her words changed to suit how leaders wanted her presented (uneloquent, charming)–Truth challenged conceptions of women’s place with her rousing, unrecoverable elocution.

“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, because Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him…. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they are asking to do it, the men better let them.”

First-wave feminism is most basically associated with the suffrage movement.  It contained different ideological groups: the AWSA, which was more conservative, and the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), which was more radical and resembled the future second wave of feminism.  The NWSA focused on gaining a federal amendment for women’s suffrage and had broad, societally-implicative goals, while AWSA worked to gain suffrage on a state-by-state level and employed as its strategy lobbying, delivering speeches, applying political pressure and gathering signatures for petitions.  Many historians cite the first wave of feminism’s end with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 which gave white women the right to vote.

Discussion Recap: 1/25/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh

Our second weekly meeting was a smashing success. I know this because we were passionate enough to annoy the other people in the Community Room at the good old Biz. We’re not wholeheartedly sorry–it’s called the Collaborative Learning Center for a reason. 🙂

This week’s topic was white privilege. We read, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh. Interestingly, this was one of the first published works on white privilege. Now, why is that interesting? Because it was published in 1989.

1989, in addition to being the name of Taylor Swift’s most recent album, is also not that long ago. Most of our parents were born before 1989. The Civil Rights Movement was allegedly all wrapped up in the late ’60s, right? Wrong. 1989. Blondie. Perms. Grunge. White privilege? I feel like sometimes we make the mistake of thinking we’ve come a lot farther than we really have, especially concerning white privilege. Today it’s something we read about every week, something that we can quickly identify.

26 years ago, Peggy McIntosh was astute enough to use her perspective as a woman, a socially marginalized and oppressed person, and relate her feminist philosophy to race. In her article, she opens by commenting on her experiences with males. Apparently, the men she had encountered had no problem recognizing that women were indeed disadvantaged by society. However, they were rather unwilling to acknowledge their own privilege, especially as a benefit of female oppression.

“I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s.”

At our meeting yesterday, we discussed the average privileged perspective. In agreement with McIntosh, we too were taught in school that racism is categorized by explicit acts of violence. In school, the slaveholders were racist. Racism is mean. Racism is bad. Racism is over because the Union won. With this mindset, a mindset of sympathetic observance, a sense of “Gosh, I’m sorry that happened to your people, but I didn’t do it,” we fail to realize how privileged we are. McIntosh listed twenty-six daily effects of white privilege in her life. Some of these we the privileged take for granted. For example, number ten: “Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.” Or, “I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.” These are things which we can all agree EVERYONE should be entitled to. The fact is, people take their privilege for granted most of the time, and revealing it to them destroys the “myth of meritocracy.” It’s not pleasant feeling like the oppression of a whole group of people is your fault. It’s not pleasant feeling like you didn’t earn your place in society. But I’ll bet you can guess what’s even less pleasant…

The myth of meritocracy is so incorporated within the American culture that it uncomfortable and inconvenient to identify. As McIntosh discusses in her article, men were very offended when she pointed out that they received advantages not because they deserved them, but because these advantages were reserved for them. Our hierarchical social system, unfortunately, is based on dominance masked as merit.

“Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege which was similarly denied and protected. As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.”

How might your privileges affect others? Take a look at McIntosh’s essay. It’s only five pages long. Cross reference her list of privileges with a list of your own. See what happens.

Discussion Recap: 1/18/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh

In addition to our blog, another aspect of this organization is a weekly discussion group over academic articles, essays, and/or current events relating to social justice. Last Sunday we discussed an article by Maxine Baca Zinn and Bonnie Thornton Dill entitled “Theorizing Difference from Multiracial Feminism.” The authors offered a rather critical perspective on feminism as an all-inclusive group. According to the article, race transcends gender.

“So much feminist scholarship assumes that when we cut through all of the diversity among women created by differences of racial classification, ethnicity, social class, and sexual orientation, a ‘universal truth’ concerning women and gender lies buried underneath.”

Zinn and Dill make the argument that race affects everybody, while differences based on gender vary according to race, class, nationality, etc. There is no “singular or unified feminism.” For example, though I am a woman, all I truly understand is what it’s like to be a middle-class Iranian American women, and nothing further. During our discussion on Sunday, we wholeheartedly agreed that race and gender, and other factors, importantly interact and that their intertwining is often overlooked.  We challenged, however, the idea that race totally transcends gender, that there is no universal aspect of feminism. Feminism, defined most simply, is the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. More particularly, feminists fight for the right to choose.

We came to this conclusion after a brief debate between two female students. On one hand, we as Americans tend to assume our way is the best way. Our nationality affects every aspect of our opinions. We see things like genital mutilation as completely and entirely wrong. However, in some cultures mutilation is involved in a highly respected ritual. On the other hand, undoubtedly it is wrong if a girl is subjected to mutilation against her will. This, we all agreed, was an anti-feminist phenomenon. The “we” I’m referring to included both men and women, white Americans, black Americans, Middle Eastern Americans, one Indian American, one Hispanic American, and two international students, one from Uganda and the other from Burundi. Although we were of entirely different racial backgrounds and even nationalities, we concluded that there is a singular feminism. It may be broad and it may be relative, but it exists.

We also discussed cross-cultural feminism and debated whether or not our “western” feminism differs (and to what extent) from other regions around the world. There is something to be said of the differences in every day trials when discussing cross-cultural feminism. While we are fighting for equal pay in the U.S., mothers in poor villages are struggling to find food for their children. What is feminism like there? While we question the demonization of female sexuality, women in some countries of the Middle East are forced to cover their heads with hejabs. And still, many women chose to cover themselves, receive hatred for their choice, and deserve the right to do what they want and not be disrespected or submitted to violence for it. The problems of women elsewhere in the world should be recognized–not because we plan to pull a George Bush and go over there and fix it–but because we all need some perspective. That being said, we can certainly aim to fix what’s right in front of us. Although our problems here in Norman are far less severe, that does not make them any less worth fighting for. The discrepancies in oppression across the world are significant, but the same power structure is used to dominate them. Attempts at controlling women’s clothing is certainly different than domestic, radical violence. However, both contribute to the devaluation of women cross-culturally.

Within the demographic of American females, race certainly has major effects. Female black Americans have the lowest unemployment rate of record. A black woman is paid 55 cents for each white man’s dollar. Race and gender interconnect, and the experiences of people from different backgrounds will differ. But when we fight for equal pay, we’re fighting for the equal pay of ALL WOMEN. When we fight for the right to choose, we’re fighting for ALL WOMEN. While each individual does and should identify as more than just a women, whether it be a white woman, a black woman, or a poor woman, their similarities lie in gender. And although they don’t match up identically, their commonality matters. Our discussion concluded that while race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality are all hugely important within feminism, they do not transcend its definition. Instead, we must ask ourselves to recognize women for their many facets, understand that different groups of women face different issues, and work toward a good that doesn’t exclude select groups of people.

The discussed article is posted below! Please read it and let us know what you think. Does race force wedges between women, or is gender the trump card?

“Theorizing Differences from Multiracial Feminism”