By: Jade Fink
Another February and March have passed, and, amid calls for schools to respond to racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia in their buildings, we saw lackluster efforts to celebrate and recognize Black History Month and Women’s History Month in schools. During February, we saw school boards silence student productions for BHM and during Women’s History Month, we witnessed the murder of Asian American women in an attack spurred on by racialized misogyny. The absence of celebration and pushback to celebrating Black History Month and Women’s History Month is rooted in white male superiority. This is a very disturbing, everyday reality for women, especially women of color. Celebrating Black History Month and Women’s History Month is important because it recognizes how marginalized groups have a central role in our history, and the more we recognize this truth, the more it can become a reality. When a young girl sees the amazing things that women have done and accomplished, when they see all that women have faced and survived to be where they are today, we don’t feel as small. These celebrations also challenge the narrative of white cis male supremacy. And, with that challenge comes resistance.
Recently, I was speaking with a friend who is in Greek life. She mentioned how the organization that she is joining did not mention a single thing about Black History month, nor Women’s History Month, but without missing a beat, they were sure to mention the celebration of “Irish Culture” for St. Patty’s Day. As disappointed as this made me, I wasn’t surprised. Greek life across campuses reflects the exclusionary American experience. The history of exclusionary recruitment for sororities (and fraternities) is contrary to the ideal of “sisterhood,” and is rather reflective of ordinary, exclusive white existence in America. White Americans’ entire lives are spent brushing past the “things that cause controversy” or “make people uncomfortable” but never forgetting to pinch someone for not wearing green or shame the houses that don’t put up lights during December.
Brushing by uncomfortable realities is a luxury only afforded to white Americans. During my freshman year of high school, I was enrolled into a new school. It was during that year that I recognized my white privilege. I really struggled connecting with my new peers, but when I finally began to, it was in ways that I regret. I lost myself, and I also lost the voice that accompanied my morals. I was complicit. I stood by many conversations that I did not agree with without saying a word, and ignored acts of discrimination because it made it easier for me to fit in with most of the girls around me. It took until my sophomore year, when a Black female student athlete was turned away from representing the school in a professional setting because she showed up with her hair in beautiful braids. They made sure to tell her that she could instead represent the basketball team. This blatant act of racism and sexism towards Black women was the moment when I realized as a cis white woman, I needed to do more than just be comfortable ignoring things that made other white people uncomfortable. I began the never-ending journey of learning allyship and understanding what I can do with my own privilege. We aren’t perfect people, and that’s okay. No one is. However, it’s not okay to be a part of the silence that contributes to hate and the lasting effects of patriarchy and white supremacy.
Ignoring the tension of patriarchy and misogyny is only afforded to males. Celebrating Women’s History Month recognizes this tension caused by oppressive systems. Ignoring or downplaying these celebrations also ignores the everyday reality for women and girls. In middle school, I hit puberty early and we couldn’t always afford to buy new clothes every time that I outgrew things. I got dress-coded at least once a month for my jeans being “too tight” or my gym shorts not being long enough. Guess who didn’t get punished. The boys who would run down the hallway slapping girls’ butts. The boys who would steal girls’ tampons and run around with them to embarrass them. From the beginning, girls are taught to be as small as they possibly can to avoid judgement and harassment. A statistic that everyone seems to know, but has only gotten worse in recent years: 1 in 5 women in the United States have been raped at some point in their lives. Last March, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned a third-degree sexual assault conviction because the woman was “voluntarily intoxicated.” Patriarchy teaches women to remain as complicit as possible in order to please the men around them and stay safe from the consequences of hurting the male ego. Misogyny reinforces these ideas with violence. Cases are being overturned in the benefit of men and more women continue to be harmed. Our institutions uphold and perpetuate oppression rather than fixing the source of the problem: white supremacy and patriarchy. Whether it’s police killing a Black woman who was asleep in her own bed, or Brock Turner raping a girl who was unconscious and leaving her behind a dumpster, American structures protect powerful white men with money.
This is hard for me to write about because I am angry. I am angry that there is still a wage gap. I am angry that every girl I know is afraid to walk alone. I am angry that our country elected a former president who actively uses hate speech against women. I am angry that one of my graduation gifts was pepper spray to carry with me around campus. I am angry that when I interview for a job, whether I may or may not have children will affect the outcome. I am angry that when I am the only woman in a room, the things that I say are insignificant to the men with whom I am speaking. I am angry that, as women, we are so afraid to turn a man down that we go to extremes such as faking not speaking English to avoid engaging in their advances. I am angry that the maternal mortality rate in America is double any other country, and that the rates are tripled for black women compared to white women. And I am angry because the leading institutions of our country have done little to nothing to change it. Instead of honoring the survivors of sexual assault, stop raping us. Stop teaching us every way to be safe and start teaching men to respect women and the word “No.”
Working against, demeaning, or omitting months of celebration—whether it be Black History Month, Women’s History Month, or Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April)—perpetuates the harm inflicted on people excluded from the dominant power structure (BIPOC, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities). To push against white cis male supremacy, recognize these celebrations. Talk to a friend about why they are important in our quest for justice for all. In order to fight these injustices, we have to engage in smaller, personal interactions as well as linking arms to challenge and transform larger structures of oppression. This work is big, but it’s also very personal. We all need to do better to disrupt the power structure of white patriarchy; taking celebrations of minoritized and oppressed groups of people seriously and with enthusiasm is one small way to disrupt.
By: Sarah Bach
On February 18, 35 educators across Ohio met virtually to continue dismantling white supremacy in their classrooms. The seventh session brought together Kaleidoscope Youth Services, who presented on issues facing LGBTQIA students, representatives from LASER (Latinx Space for Enrichment and Research) and Jamie Upthall and Alyssa Chrisman from The Ohio State University department of Disability Studies, who tackled normative culture regarding disability.
These groups introduced a new aspect to our ongoing study of antiracism: intersectionality. Intersectionality expresses the interconnected nature of social categories such as race, class, and gender. Considering these aspects of identity together allows us to see overlapping systems of discrimination or disadvantage. Kimberly Crenshaw, a Columbia law professor and Ohio native, coined the term in 1989 while analyzing the multidimensionality of Black women’s experiences.
According to Crenshaw, “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times, that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.”
Each of the presenters from session seven confronted how oppression compounds at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. Amanda Erickson from Kaleidoscope Youth Services shared data that indicates white LGBTQ students are less likely than all other racial/ethnic groups to feel unsafe at school.
Alyssa Chrisman and Jamie Upthall highlighted the problem of minority overrepresentation in special education, and the representatives from LASER discussed the unique barriers facing undocumented students.
Scrutinizing different forms of prejudice is essential to anti-racism work, and our presenters offered several questions for reflection:
How can I adapt to meet the needs of different groups?
How do I show up for LGBTQIA people in my life?
How familiar am I with the experiences of undocumented people?
Erase the Space aims to dismantle white supremacy in the classroom, and this session’s topics reminded us of the inextricable ways identities overlap and interact. No person has a single identity, instead they are a mosaic of many things.
Sarah Bach is an English major in The Ohio State University's class of 2021. She has written on behalf of various education-based organizations including Ohio State's College of Education and Human Ecology, and The Ohio State University Press.