This is a special student presentation presented live at the Annual Academic MOM Conference 2019
My name is Evaniz Orellana. I am a Junior majoring in Psychology and Sociology. I am in pursuit of a career path that will allow me to help marginalized communities who are constantly silenced due to societal norms.
Today, I will discuss racism within the American feminist movement, which is read as white and normative, and how women of color resist this feminism in order to raise awareness about our marginalized lives. By “normative or white feminism,” I am referring to what is simply known as feminism in this country, which has failed to include the voices of women of color. The American feminist movement’s agenda is to include all individuals and emphasize the importance of all women’s lives. These women are well-intentioned but placing women into one homogenous category has served to further silence women of color.
During this talk, entitled “The White Feminist Fantasy: WOC, Resistance, and The Academy,” I will discuss my uncomfortability with my identity (Badruddoja, Under Review). I will use this discomfort to frame my experiences as a woman of color and how normative feminism has furthered the marginalization of women of color.
I will place a special focus on intersectional theory and draw ideas from women of color who have inspired me to embrace all of the components of my identity. I will then discuss how my existence is resistance and how self-love has allowed me to develop into the strong, independent, and intelligent woman of color that I never thought I could be. I will conclude by discussing what inclusive feminism would look like and what I want my feminism to be.
Throughout my talk, I want you all to really reflect on this question: Who has power at this conference, in the education system, and in the country and who does not?
“Who am I” “Where do I belong” “Who do I want to be.” These are the questions I have asked myself since I was a little girl. Born and raised in the South Bronx, surrounded by drugs, alcohol, and poverty, I was always ashamed of where I came from. My Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian identity has limited me as I have been forced to prove myself in every environment and in every classroom that I walk into.
I am not the dangerous disgrace that society describes my family and ancestors as. I know what you’re all thinking: My skin color is as white as a ghost so what marginalization could I have faced? Regardless of my light skin, I have been forced to work ten times as hard as my white peers.
I was always the shy student sitting in the back of every classroom afraid to raise her hand and in fear of even looking people in the eye. Everyone would attempt to encourage me and tell me that I needed to gain confidence, but I never felt that “confidence” people told me about until my Junior year of college. I also never understood why I felt this way until I began to take the course “Social Class and Inequality” with a professor here and started reading the works of women of color who allowed my presence to shine and allowed me to raise my voice in a way I never knew I could.
Why am I afraid to raise my hand in class? Why am I afraid to speak? I never bothered to ask myself these questions until this year. I always assumed that it was because I was shy and everyone was so intelligent. Everywhere I walked, I would attempt to remain hidden because I did not want people to notice me. I did not want people to mock my existence as they always had. What I did not realize before as a little girl is that I, along with other women of color, have been taught to remain silent because our ideas have not and are not deemed as valuable and scholarly.
When I got accepted into Manhattan College, my family was so proud, which made me proud. Seeing their smiles, especially my nana’s, I felt that I had accomplished a part of her legacy that she was never able to fulfill along with many of my ancestors.
However, I soon realized that I was fixated on assimilating to the white ideal. It was until a friend of mine told me to take a professor here, Dr. Roksana Badruddoja, who would begin a life-changing journey for me of self-discovery and self-love. For once in my life, I was able to relate to others. She raised awareness of the importance of reading works by women of color and listening to their stories. She created a space for me where I felt comfortable to name my experiences and sit in my discomfort with my identity in a positive and uplifting way. I was inspired and began to take pride in my identity as I realized how beautiful my identity truly is.
My story is the story of many that go unnoticed and unheard.
My journey of self-love that I started to embark on recently is due to intersectional theory. Intersectionality is the idea that everyone’s identities are complex and should be seen as consisting of various components. Intersectional theory ruptures the binaries that tells all of us that we can either be one thing or the other. Through intersectional theory, individuals can begin to see how special they due to their identities being more complex than they could even begin to understand.
Normative feminism has furthered the privilege that white women have and furthered the marginalization and the silence that women of color have dealt with for centuries.
Women of color are asking for their voices to be heard. We are asking for people to listen to us and understand why we feel anger, pain, and pride at the same time. We are asking for less access to our oversexualized bodies, better healthcare, safer work environments, equal pay, and respect.
Sure, you may say that white women are asking for the same things as women of color. But really think:
Do white women face struggles because of their race?
Do white women feel the need to prove themselves amongst other white individuals?
Yes, I am enraged but I remain hopeful. My anger is caused by the constant marginalization that women of color endure.
People, and by that, I mean white straight Christian men tell us who we are, and we begin to believe it because our ancestors believed it.
White feminism has never gone against what society tells women of color. Rather, it focuses on changing the ways that white women are depicted. Many people want to think that normative feminism is focused on all women’s lives. But is it really? S.T. Holloway, a Black female journalist and activist stated that when she and her friends yelled out “Black Lives Matter” at the Women’s March, only 40-50 people joined in, in comparison to the hundreds or thousands that joined in when people yelled out “my body my choice,” “show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like,” and “not my president.” So this just goes to show how normative feminism does not discuss the injustices and violence that occurs against women of color.
The Combahee River Collective clearly offers us a way to think about white feminism in the context of the needs of women of color. To be frank, white feminism does not meet the needs of WOC. The Combahee River Collective statement was written by Black queer feminists in 1977 to address their lack of inclusivity in all economic, social, and cultural backgrounds and their hopes to end the oppressive barriers that WOC face.
Black feminists have long argued racism is one of the hallmarks of white feminism because the white feminist movement as a whole has not done the hard work of analyzing how privilege and power work together in an intersectional context. What I mean here is that the experiences of sexual racism have been disregarded. Women of color do not experience oppression because we are women and not because we are of color. Rather, we experience oppression because we are women of color.
Normative feminism and racism allow the continuation of harassment and dehumanization of women of color to occur by remaining silent and disregarding women of color’s voices, which also disregards our very existence.
A more inclusive approach to feminism would be one that includes all marginalized lives. It is one that would value people of color. My feminism is a resistance against societal norms that aim to confine marginalized communities to single identities.
My resistance includes women and men of color becoming teachers centered around rupturing societal norms. By this, I mean that my resistance includes La Raza studies, where students learn the true history that they did not learn in their history classes in middle and high school.
My resistance includes writing to discover more about myself and to share my story to raise awareness on the injustices my ancestors endured. Writing is a sacred and powerful method that allows the silenced to speak. It allows those who are scared to raise their voices to share their ideas through pencil and paper or even through technology. Writing has saved me. It has allowed me to learn more about myself and to let out the emotions I fear sharing aloud. There are many inspirational women of color who have used their passion for writing as a way of taking a stand for the silenced and marginalized, including themselves.
My resistance includes reading women of color to listen to the voices that have been silenced for too long.
Rosario Morales is one of many who have allowed me to embrace my identity and who I am. She was a Puerto Rican poet and her work was featured in This Bridge Called My Back. A true piece that has resonated with me so deeply is Rosario Morales’ “I Am What I Am.” Here, she describes embracing one’s identity with all of the components involved. This piece is so important to me as it has focused on intersectional theory.
I used to only identify as Puerto Rican as I was ashamed of my Ecuadorian identity. However, I have realized that I am so much more than a single category. I am Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian, I live in the South Bronx, and yes, I am going to be a Senior in college and this is just the beginning.
I hope you have all taken the time to listen to this speech today because that is the first step to realizing how to respect and honor marginalized communities. By listening to and reading the works of those who have been silenced, you are becoming more knowledgeable of the privilege that you hold.
For those of you who are people of color, I hope you were able to gain a sense of love and pride in your own identities.
My talk is NOT meant to spread hate towards normative feminism and privileged individuals.
Rather, I am shedding light on a more inclusive approach to feminism where ALL lives are included and valued equally.
I am showing how white individuals can use their privilege to help marginalized communities.
And with that, I would like to conclude with what Morales beautifully stated: “I am what I am…Take it or leave me alone” (12-13).
No part of this work may be reproduced without the author’s permission.
Badruddoja, Roksana. (Under Review). The fantasy of “home”: locating dislocation, loss and silence. Studies in Critical Social Science series. Netherlands: Brill.
Moraga, C., & Anzaldua, G. (2015). This bridge called my back by radical women of color. New
York, NY: State University of New York Press, Albany.