Coloring While White

I was at an event at my college, hosted by the South Asian students association, the Black Student Association, and the Muslim Student Association and they had whole tables of pictures to color, most of which were of women of color. There was a brilliant picture of Princess Jasmine, from Disney’s Aladdin, waving a flag that read:

nobody’s free until everyone is free!

And when I went to color her in, I had to stop and think and remember to reach for a brown crayon to color her skin. I had never thought of this micro aggression against people of color before, but it’s so obvious now that I think about it. As a person perceived as white and benefiting daily from white privilege, regardless of how I choose to identify, even things like crayons cater to me. I can reach into a Crayola crayon box and pull out a “flesh” colored crayon, which tells me, even as a child, that this is the natural color of a person’s skin.

flesh

I feel oblivious and ashamed that I never noticed that until last week. But until we notice and address the micro-aggressions against people of color, we’ll never move beyond them to address the blatant issues of racism. Because, nobody’s free until everyone is free and nobody’s free while we ignore white privilege.

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That’s Problematic

I tend to move in left wing circles of friends. This is great because it means we very rarely need to tell one another to stop using homophobic language or to treat the female participants of the conversation as full individuals, it also means we tend agree on most issues. So, how is this a problem? Well, in order to become more knowledgeable about the issues we discuss (gender, sexuality, race, economics, government, politics, etc) having a cross flow of ideas is invaluable.

Think about cross ventilation in your home or apartment in the summer. Imagine how the room becomes unbearable with a lone fan sitting in the window blowing hot air into the hot room. What can initially seem as a joy in and of itself (at least you have a fan, or  a space for liberal discussion) that joy does not last.

I’ve noticed that when I’m in these groups, one of us will comment on how something is problematic. Disney’s Pocahontas, for example. I might say that I love that film, but I am well aware it is problematic. Another of my friends will agree with me and we move on. In short, we’ve identified a problem,  but failed to unpack what’s actually wrong. All it would take for us to have a discussion and not just throw around vague opinions we both agree on, is for my friend to ask me, “how do you see Pocahontas as problematic?”

Because maybe I’m thinking about the affront to Native American culture when the white men leave in peace at the end, denying hundreds of years of continued abuse, brutality and racism. Maybe my friend is thinking about the sexualization and exoticization of Pocahontas as a character. Maybe another friend jumps in and talks about two-spirit ideas of gender in Native American culture.

Pocahontas

 

Suddenly “problematic” has branched off into many veins and sparked a conversation where a cross flow of ideas can take place.

Unpack your ideas and don’t be afraid to be challenged or to challenge others. Ask questions to better understand another’s views. There is no need to sit with that same one fan blowing hot air. Open up another window, turn on the AC and let the ideas circulate. The conversation will be far more fascinating and your opinions far more developed.

Use the “F-Word” in Polite Company

I don’t swear. My friends are shocked if I casually say “damn.” But I think it is important to reclaim the “f-word” and not just on bumper-stickers. It is all well and good to proclaim from the back of your car: Reclaim the F-Word: Feminism,

but now, we need to proclaim it in the streets, in our homes, and in our work place. Feminism cannot be a silent presence, not when it can be so easy to look the other way and claim sexism is from a by-gone age.

I have a friend who is going into video game design and the last time she and I met up we talked about female characters in films. We talked about Tauriel in The Hobbit (I plan on making a post on my hatred of Tauriel, keep on the look out), the women of Frozen and Tooth from Rise of the Guardians. Without delving too deep into our entire discussion, it was clear we agreed that women in all forms of media deserved to be treated with respect and not rely on a male character to define them. We watched Wreck it Ralph and as my friend gushed at all the video game references, I told her about Feminist Frequency’s video series on Tropes Against Women in Video Games.

I mentioned the word “feminist” and her face darkened. She said she might look into it, but I doubt it. But, she is a feminist: she believes in equality for women. She is a woman going into a male-dominated field who believes she is just as good as her male peers. She is a feminist, but right now would not admit it.

I do not blame her. When I first proclaimed myself a feminist, it was entirely on this blog. I was ashamed of admitting it out loud for fear that I would be fighting a dead fight, that I would be viewed as a man-hater, that I would be insulted by strangers and family for my beliefs. And I cannot say my life as a feminist has been completely devoid of any of this, I do not need to compromise my morals by claiming to be anything that I am not.

I am a feminist. When I began my blog, I was terrified to publish even my about page . I had to whisper to myself “I am a feminist” until the words became easier to say. Now, I do not whisper. But about two years ago I wouldn’t even have dared to let the word “feminism” cross my mind. It was the f-word, and I didn’t swear. At my women’s college, we have a festival in the fall where different diversity organizations set up booths for arts and crafts. The Feminist Club had a booth to make buttons and pre-printed on every piece of paper was one word:

FEMINIST

Friends grabbed at the buttons and wrote slogans already made famous by t-shirts, but no less powerful in meaning.

I, on the other hand was threatened by the word feminist so much that I nearly took a button and wrote “I am not a feminist” in large black marker to offset myself from the hordes of women who were deluding themselves into believing women were not yet equal. Thankfully I did not make this mistake as I do not know how I would have gotten over the shame of my sexist views.

However, I have gotten over the shame of feminism. I do my absolute best to let my friends, their family, my family, co-workers and bosses know exactly where I stand on the issue of gender equality. It doesn’t have to be the first thing out of my mouth, but there is nothing wrong with using the f-word in “polite company” because feminism is not impolite. If those who hear it disagree or are offended, then they are offended. But at least you stood up and did more than whisper or put a bumper sticker on the car. The words need to come from our mouths and the words need to be loud and spoken with certainty.

I AM A FEMINIST.