I don’t want to be their conscience, either. Especially when it comes to race.
A colleague at my place of employ is one of the advisors for a students group that is called, Young Women’s Empowerment. The group is comprised of middle school girls – the mentees, and their high school girls – the mentors. Recently, the group participated in One Billion Rising – OBR for short. The group was supposed to have participated in the V-Day events on 14 February in the local area, but, it got snowed out. The main activity, however, seemed to be rehearsing a dance they were to have performed at the V-Day program, in celebration of women who are survivors of abuse and violence.
Ok. Well…I have my own personal views about Eve Ensler, OBR, and V-Day which I shared with my colleague. Especially her appropriation of the words and work of women of color, and views and opinions which are in fact quite racist. Not to mention the way in which her organization ignored the commemoration events which take place in Canada on 2/14.
I won’t rehash the Eve Ensler/OBR/V-Day controversies here. One can perform a Google search, and locate many references to the aforementioned. On the other hand, what I want to discuss is my colleague’s unwillingness to engage critically on the topic when I made my view known to her.
Here is the email that I sent to said colleague recently:
“I respect what you are doing with the Girls’ Empowerment group. I also think that we need to be aware of the views of folks like Eve Ensler – all of them – and their impact on various groups. I don’t expect you to accept my views. I just felt the need to share them with you. I think that OBR could have more impact if if were more respectful of women of color.”
And here is my colleague’s response to the aforementioned:
I agree that awareness and understanding are so important, as is respect. Having said that, in my experience of 59 years on the planet there are many occasions when people who have done incredibly important things have slipped. I will never know what Eve Ensler’s intentions were without checking in with her, and when someone feels slighted it is awful. I know that she has done a lot of good in the world for the rights of women of all colors.
I stepped out yesterday to raise the consciousness about the atrocity of abuse to females to the Wat community, and have heard discord from you, and some negativity from a student, and it is the risk that I take.
At this point in my life, I look at what is the intention behind the act and ask, does it come from good? That is where our intention came from and hopefully you have noticed that the members of YWEG and student leaders are predominately of color.
Of course, I respect your views, and it important for us to enlighten one another.
Let’s take my colleague’s response step-by-step:
1. She felt the need to stress her age. Not sure what this added to the conversation, except to suggest that she’s older than I and therefore “knows better.”
2. She calls Ensler’s racist views and actions, “slips”. Well, my friend, they’re much more than that.
3. The fact that Ensler has “done a lot of good in the world for women of all colors” somehow makes it all okay. Therefore, my colleague can continue to feel good about Ensler et.al.
4. She talks about having taken a risk. I take a risk every time I step out the front door. That said, I am going to make an attempt to educate myself about the implications of those risks before proceeding. Again, my colleague seems to think that because she took a risk, and subsequently called out, that increases her strength.
5. I am curious as to what the student in question had to say. My colleague didn’t seem willing to share.
6. As long as the intention is good, that helps to place the situation a more positive light.
7. The fact that girls of color are involved in the YWE group, and, participated in the OBR/V-Day projects, and are being led by a white woman who has not thought very critically about her own views regarding the matter, really concerns me.
8. She thinks she has enlightened me. To the contrary: I was the one who dropped a load of knowledge on her.
9. She respects my views. Well, that’s a start.
One of my graduate school profs said this during class nearly 20 years ago: “We need our white colleagues to help do the work of social justice and anti-racism. After all, as people of color, we can’t do it all.” I want my colleague to continue to run the YWE group. I also want for her to begin the next 59 years of her life thinking more critically. The basic problem I see, in addition to that which I have presented above, is really sloppy thinking. At my place of employ, we demand that the students think critically and creatively. Conversely, faculty aren’t applying those standards to themselves. Instead, they’re learning the correct buzz words, and the right things to say, without putting their own work in.
I replied to my colleague’s response with the following:
“Thank you for your reply.”
“I am aware that members of YWEG are women of color. I am also aware that they, like I, will continue to learn and grow in their understanding as women, and as women of color, hopefully, as they grow in their own personal identities. They, after all, are still quite young.”
Needless to say, my colleague didn’t respond a second time.