On Nov. 8, Black Americans Demonstrating Unity hosted a panel to educate students about intersectionality and activism. Host Tamia House and panelists Dr. Jo Dulan, Channy Jordan-Grier, Dr. Williams Lewis and Magalie Yacinthe engaged in an insightful discussion of the issues that plague minority communities.
The panel focused on the intersectionality of minority groups such as African-Americans, women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The discussion started with defining intersectionality as “the parallel structure of categories such as gender, class and race in the way they pertain to an individual group of people establishing an interconnected system of disadvantages and discrimination.”
The first topic discussed was the struggle between race, class and gender. The panelists were asked to rank each category according to its importance to their identity. Jordan-Grier had a difficult time ranking the three. “It is hard to rank something when they are so intertwined. You can’t have one without the other,” Jordan-Grier stated. However, Yacinthe was very clear in her ranking. She places race above gender and, if she could, she would not factor in class at all. She explained that when it comes to advances in women’s rights and history, black women and minority women in general are left out of the narrative. In the end, Jordan-Grier, Lewis and Yacinthe all agreed that they would rank race and gender above class.
The discussion then turned to the topic of advocacy and issues that arise when identities conflict. Panelists were asked if it is necessary to downplay one part of a person’s identity when they are advocating for issues that relate to another aspect of their identity. Lewis explained that he does downplay parts of his identity depending on what environment he is in and who he is around because he wants to be heard. He elaborated that when he is in a “social work environment”, he tries to not portray himself too much as an academic because he is afraid his clients will view him as “part of the system. To that client, I am snobbish…‘he can’t do anything for me. He thumbed his nose down at me’…so it’s not dumbing down but I have to be more real to them.”
The issue of homophobia within the black community and racism within the LGBT community was used to illustrate the difficulties of intersectionality. Jordan-Grier said, “I feel backlash from both [communities]…It is very difficult to address because if I denounce the homophobia in the black community, then I see the racism in the LGBT. I’m kind of on my own because you don’t have these two communities. You have these people who are in both and you have this small community but you don’t have the bigger communities that surround it to help you pull through a lot of things…”
Salem student Sonny Romano contributed to the discussion by explaining that “a lot of the racism in the queer community has to do with the fact that the Pride movement and a lot of the Civil Rights movement in the community was started by transwomen of color but that history has been continually white washed”. He gave the example of movies portraying “basic white guys” as the leaders of the Stonewall Riots instead of the actual leader, Marsha P. Johnson who was a black transwoman.
The panelists also discussed the Black Lives Matter movement and whether or not it has become just another media headline. Yacinthe responded by pointing out how Black Lives Matter united the nation. She believes it will never become obsolete and hopes that if she ever has children, they can read about the Black Lives Matter movement. Jordan-Grier said because it is people saying something as crucial as “my life matters”, it will never stop being relevant.
Dulan explained, “on one hand it has become a headline, but I don’t think it’s just another headline…I think we have a government that want to make it just another headline, but I think it maintains great mobility to this day, and I think we have to fight to make sure that it remains viable, that it remains pertinent and a part of the change we’re all looking for.” She was initially shocked to find out people believed the NFL players’ protest was about disrespecting the military instead of what it is really about: the Black Lives Matter movement. She ended by saying, “if we’re not diligent about it and if progressives stay quiet,…Black Lives Matter will be hijacked by those who need to hijack it to cover any type of inequity that already exists in this country.”
In response to if the 2017 Women’s March represented the feminist movement, Yacinthe gave a short and powerful “no”. She was adamant that it did not represent the feminist movement as a whole and that white women are not crucial to the feminist movement. She stated, “I could care less if a white woman is in the room. If you’re in it, great! Let’s make some magic. If you’re not, magic will be made.” The march reminded Dulan of the 1970’s women’s marches which featured “white middle class who presumed that they could speak for all women.” She described the march as “elitist” because most people could not attend the march due to work.
When reflecting on the purpose of the panel, Jordan-Grier said, “…unfortunately the panel was kind of preaching to the choir, but I feel like in situations in which people actually want to learn that that’s a good instance to learn about different people’s views and how activism and intersectionality work together…I felt like it was important for white students to go and here about ways to be better allies.” During the panel, Dulan stressed that being an ally is not about power. It is about service to those who you are trying to help. Yacinthe added that you should not try to be an ally unless you are educated on the issues or are willing to be educated.
A lesson that Dulan hopes people learned from the panel was “the strategies that we use for activism have to take into account the intersectionalities of all who are involved.” Hopefully, this will help build a new group of activists who are stronger and more united in their fight for social justice.
Throughout the discussion, Lewis gave anecdotal examples to prove his points, while Dulan focused on the historical events and even current events. Yacinthe had very decisive and sometimes unconventional ideas about how to solve issues. She advocated for segregation as a form of black empowerment. This is a sentiment Dulan agreed with because both women see self segregation as way for African Americans to unite and promote black interests that might be ignored in an integrated community.