My Wednesday night began with a conversation between me and some white friends outside of the Moxie program talking about Moxie over pizza. They started asking me basic questions, “How do you like it?” and “What do you do in it?” but the conversation quickly progressed from this boring superficiality to more in-depth topics (thank goodness, or this would be a really dull blog post).
I explained to them that one of the coolest parts of my program is watching how all of these different women engage with feminism–many of whom have little experience with the term. I talked about how one person didn’t consider herself a feminist because she sees it as a white women’s movement. That blew their minds so I continued on, explaining feminism, womanism, and my own struggle with recognizing my privilege, particularly when it came to race–something I hadn’t (embarrassingly) ever put much thought to until the beginning of my sophomore year of college. They kept asking me questions and it was extremely exciting explaining everything to them. It was a personal challenge, trying to find ways to explain intersectionality and how saying “I don’t see race” was not anti-racism, and what systemic problems were to people who had never really engaged in this kind of academic thought.
But a friend was there who really started frustrating me. She just didn’t get it. She was complaining about how her black roommate in New York had tweeted about her (something to the extent of “ugh, living with rich white girls…”) and she asked me what I thought. I laughed and said, “Well, you are a rich white girl.” She also laughed but continued on, saying, “I’m not rich. I’m middle class.”
We’re talking about a girl who just spent 25 dollars on dinner for herself, wears expensive clothes and designer items, lives in an upscale home in the middle of D.C., and is paying for Duke out of pocket. There is nothing wrong with any of that (er, well, maybe I’ll get into distribution of wealth another time…) but the fact that she was so dopey, so utterly out of touch with reality really made my blood boil. And this was from one rich white girl to another.
Surprisingly, it made me think a lot about the way academics work. As a science major, she wasn’t required to take any identity courses (i.e. african american studies, women’s studies, etc.) and likely had never thought about these things before. But that wasn’t necessarily her fault. As a white, straight, upper-class person she didn’t have to think about race or sexual orientation or class because of that privilege. What was holding her accountable? What was encouraging her to think about these things? There was nothing.
I kept thinking. How can we expect anything to change if we keep ignorant people ignorant and they continue to be our leaders, our teachers, our law enforcers, our presidents? Why isn’t there some sort of institutional push (at least at a highly-esteemed university like Duke) to bring kids like her into classes that will make them think about these things? Can you imagine what our world would be like if Elementary students were taught that being called a “girl” or “gay” isn’t an insult? If Elementary students had a thirty minute block in their day where they got to talk about who they think they are, at such a young age? Where they could be encouraged to think about their identity in the world around them? How would this shape the people they would come to be?
The most interesting part about my conversation was that all of the girls I was talking with, this girl included, really seemed to take away a lot from the very basic things I was saying about identity. There was a lot of “I can’t believe I’ve never thought about that!” and “Oh my gosh, are you serious…wow” flying around the room. And this was me talking about basic, simplified concepts and examples. I just kept thinking about how bringing these women into identity classes, at least one, could be incredibly personally rewarding for them. They could learn how to better work within our world and interact with others in classes where professors could better explain these concepts. If they got so much from me, I can only imagine what would happen if these students (men and women alike) were encouraged to take courses with people who really know what they’re talking about.
Duke did force me into rocks for jocks, after all.Let me know what you think and Hollaback! at yo’ girl!