Get Right or Get Left: Identity Politics in Activism

The most complicated aspect of articulating the frameworks and functions of race, gender, class, and sexuality in society, in my humble opinion, is that these categories can never stand alone, even as we analyze them. That is, Western notions of identity are not only gendered, or only racialized, but are rather, the constant intersections of these (and more) categories.  I can never be, as some feminists seem to want to imagine, just a man. Nor can I ever be just black, or just heterosexual.  In any given sphere of life, public or private, I am necessarily required to navigate several of these parts of me at once.

So when our class is brainstorming ideas for our final project that involves some form of feminist centered activism on campus and the issues of lighting on Central Campus is raised, I find myself in a bit of an academic quandary.  I personally think Central Campus, as well as East, and West could be better lit, and I’ve never been a fan of light that isn’t white.  I understand that safety is much more of a concern for any given woman on campus than it is for myself, and I realize that better lighting means much more to those same women than it will to men.  However, when I think back on the entire scope of emails from Larry Moneta involving violent crime, robbery, assault and the like, I am hard pressed to think of a particular incident that took place on or in immediate proximity to Central Campus.  I am by no means chronicling the locations and type of crimes we receive Duke Alerts about, but I would say, with a fair amount of certainty, that most of these reports of crime are on or around East Campus.  So when I ask another friend who is not the class, and who is not white (all of my classmates are), what one thing she felt needed to change the most on campus in regards to gender inequality, and she repeats this Central Campus lighting concern, I don’t quite know where to go.  As I’ve said, the lighting could be better. At the same time, who are we keeping away with these lights? Does the fact that central is perceived to be “in the middle of Durham” and thus the most accessible to Durhamites (who we at Duke collectively imagine as lower class blacks and Hispanics to be avoided, especially at night, at best) have something to do with this?  So while I recognize my male privilege that provides the very basis for my critique of this concern, I also know that the white supremacist state (or institution, in this case, Duke) has an agenda of promoting this idea that blackness is equal to criminality, that nowhere is safe without police power or without surveillance because minority men are predestined criminals.

Now what I have previously described as an academic quandary would be just that, save the fact that we have to actually produce a product. So as we move forward it may be best described as an activist quandary.  Do I act in the best interest of women while risking the promotion of a framework that has been a massive, destructive force in my own life and that I abhor to no end, or do I call into question the thinking of the women and reproduce the sexist space of invalidating a woman’s experience precisely because she is a woman?  Maybe a bit of both?  And in that case, have I sold out everyone involved, myself included?


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