The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

WCW Blog Tags

Self-Care as Resistance

Black woman meditatingThe events of the past few months have left me overwhelmed and exhausted. From the COVID-19 pandemic, whose victims are disproportionately Black, to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the Black community has faced countless heartaches. As a Black woman, my emotions have ranged from sadness to rage to hopelessness.

In order to take care of myself, I’ve hunkered down and grounded myself in daily practices that center my mental health and wellness. I’ve limited my intake of social media and news, and increased my daily practices of meditation, exercise, and most importantly, rest. There are days when I lie down between work Zoom calls — just to have moments during the day that feel like respite.

I’ve also needed to be intentional about my energy reserves, and what I can afford to put my limited energy towards. For several weeks, I wasn’t able to sit down and write about how I felt, or even to explain it to folks who are not Black — it seemed like a misuse of the small amount of stamina I had. I just needed things to feel easy.

I’ve encouraged my kids to do what they need to take care of themselves, as well. They have listened, and limited their own social media and news intake. They’ve also made the conscious decision to prioritize things that bring them joy: listening to music, dancing, chatting with friends. Of course, they haven’t been through and seen as much as I have (and I pray they never do) so their level of exhaustion isn’t the same as mine. Still, it has made me proud to see them center joy for themselves and understand they are worth that effort.

I’ve always been a social justice activist — it has been the foundation of all of my work, including my role as director of Open Circle, a social and emotional learning program for grades K-5. But I haven’t spent the past few weeks going out and protesting in the streets, much as I want to. I haven’t been calling my government representatives and lobbying for change. Right now, for me, my activism looks like self-preservation and self-care.

When you’ve lived under the specter of racism your entire life, rest can be a form of resistance. Activist Tricia Hersey recently spoke to NPR about how “rest disrupts and pushes back and allows space for healing, for invention, for us to be more human. It'll allow us to imagine this new world that we want, this new world that's liberated, that's full of justice, that's a foundation for us to really, truly live our lives.” Amidst so much heartache, that imagining is critical for the Black community right now.

For many, this might be a time to march in the streets, or to start conversations, or to read and learn. For others, it might be a time to just lie down and rest. Wherever you fit, we all have a role to play in building a better world.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, M.A., CAGS, is the director of Open Circle, an action program of the Wellesley Centers for Women that equips elementary schools with evidence-based curriculum and training to improve school climate and teach children essential social and emotional skills.

  580 Hits
  0 Comments
580 Hits
0 Comments

Placards of Hope, Placards of Change: A Reflection in Response to the Killing of George Floyd

Heart icon in speech bubbleThe callous killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 by a uniformed police officer while on duty and while being filmed by bystanders was arguably the most brazen act of police brutality involving an unarmed Black civilian since the Black Lives Matter movement began. What this act demonstrated was that those who are hell-bent on asserting white supremacy and upholding its racist regime are now afraid of nothing and outside the moral community.

The mass demonstrations calling for justice and the widespread expressions of solidarity with Black people and racial equality that have erupted in recent days show clearly that the balance of public opinion and power is shifting towards a multiracial coalition of people who embrace the oneness of humanity as well as the end of racial prejudice and racial inequality. In the long run, racial equality will prevail because it is the truth about human beings, but, at this moment, we are collectively in agony about a shameless, heartless, evil act of race-based assassination.

The protests that are growing day by day are the collective expression of the frustration, pain, fury, and indignation of those who have waited so long and so patiently for the truth of Black people’s equality to be enshrined not only in the law and the practices and policies of those who enforce it, but also in the hearts and minds of their fellow human beings. The enforced, racialized power asymmetries in virtually every sphere of life — political, economic, educational, medical, environmental, and so on — recreate an uphill battle each and every day for every Black person, every other person of color, and every ally of Black people and other people of color, ensuring that the rhythm of social justice efforts is always two steps forward and one step back, if not one step forward and two steps back.

Only when those whose hearts and minds are thoroughly suffused with the reality of racial equality are both in the numerical majority and in positions of influence and power will things begin to shift towards closure on this spiritual disease of racism. Fortunately, what the recent uprisings have shown us is that we are getting there. That people like George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, not to mention the string of their predecessors, not to mention the disproportionate number of Black lives lost to COVID-19, not to mention everybody since 1619) should die to get us there, however, is unconscionable.

As a womanist social movement theorist and also a trained psychologist, my mind turns to the methodologies we are employing to move the needle on racism and an analysis of the kinds of actions we are taking to eradicate the white supremacy, structural racism, racial prejudice, and racist violence we all deplore. I am concerned that we need to be more creative, innovative, and — yes — evidence-based in our social change approaches. We now have the benefit of a century of social scientific research about intergroup relations, as well as decades of neuroscience research, for example, on implicit bias, that helps us understand what works and what doesn’t work, but I’m not sure we are carefully deploying it in our creation of strategies to end racism and its correlates.

Additionally, we have the benefit of dynamic systems theories of varying kinds (a favorite of mine is Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory) that allow us to map how everything from individuals to families, communities, and entire cultures generate, shape, embed, and sustain things like racism — and which enable us to locate effective points of intervention. We also now have such enormous troves of big data that we could answer questions about human behavior and attitudes in real time and at a scale previously impossible. We could and should take a much more research-informed approach to ending racism, and I am glad that this is something we stand for and work towards at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

I am also concerned that we have a social change means-ends problem that we need to scrutinize more closely. Understandably, many social movements begin with emotion-driven, fist-in-the-air protests that are good for mobilizing people and publicizing issues, yet we must remember that the fist is a bellicose symbol inconsistent with peace and harmony — aims that most protesters cherish. The pursuit of justice requires that protests be followed up by the long-form, in-the-trenches work that actually effects structural change, making sustainable peace and justice possible.

Furthermore, new emotional foundations are required to create and sustain a more peaceful and just society. There is already too much pain and trauma in this world because we keep justifying all of the ways that we hurt each other, and all this pain just becomes a factory for hate and violence, both interpersonal and structural.

As a womanist, I would argue that, when we meet epithets with epithets or rage with rage, we are energetically reproducing the conditions we wish to eliminate. We must instead devise new transformational methods that enable us to dig into the spiritual well of goodness that resides within all of us to generate higher-vibrating, more positive and elevating emotional states and belief patterns, and that bring people together socially and relationally in a common space of love, respect, encouragement, enthusiasm, and esprit de corps. This is a tall order, but it is, I believe, what is really needed now.

As I watch the demonstrations on TV, I often find myself thinking, “If I were to make a placard for all the world to see — a placard to catalyze change — what would mine say?” I realized that mine would say “Everyone is sacred.” In times like these, I believe we need a reminder that our fundamental essence is that of Light — our innate divinity and the star-stuff we are all made of — and that everything else, good or bad, is overlay (and changeable).

We cannot continue this regime of oppositionality, in which we perpetually create divides, pit the divided against each other, and struggle to vanquish those who are not us. This regime will never lead to unity, peace, or justice. In the deepest recesses of our souls, we know this, but our politics, practices, and habits of thought have not caught up. The small reminder that everyone is sacred potentially places us on a course towards transformation, and that transformation is my reason for being and the impetus behind all of my work.

What fuels you? And what would your placard say? We would love to hear from you, because now is not the time to be silent. Rather, it is the time to recreate the world.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

  775 Hits
  0 Comments
775 Hits
0 Comments

Social and Emotional Learning During COVID-19 Crisis: Equity Lens Reflection

Social and emotional learning during COVID-19This article was originally posted by Karen Craddock, Ph.D., on April 17, 2020, on The Wellness Collaborative.

While we manage the day-to-day, sometimes moment-to-moment, shifts during this global pandemic, it is sure to have implications on how we navigate the array of feelings and interactions we encounter in every aspect of our inner and outer lives. This process involving managing emotions, setting goals, showing empathy, building relationship, and making constructive decisions, otherwise known as social and emotional learning (SEL), is especially poignant now. Raising awareness of how these skill sets and competencies intersect with interpersonal, situational and structural inequities is even more so…

Pain of exclusion

In my blog article on the social-emotional, neurophysiological pain of racialized exclusion and strategies to remain resilient, there is discussion on how pain is perceived and received across racial lines. Particularly relevant is mention of the well documented racial empathy gap that occurs for people of color, especially in healthcare settings as well as in education. This is important to keep top of mind during this COVID-19 crisis in light of emerging national data revealing the glaring disparities occurring along race for both contracting and dying of the disease, as well as getting access to testing and treatment.

What is clear is that the pain of racism occurs both directly and indirectly. So as communities of color hear and experience more of these disparities, even while not surprising, the impact is felt whether target or watching from the sidelines. Already strategies of resistance have been activated among people of color to buffer and recreate in the midst of this, which includes a call for increased awareness and action by all. Furthering these strategies to remain resilient will be crucial for the long haul calling for intentional awareness to stratified privilege, disrupting inequities, supporting affinity networking, and deploying collaborations with resources of all kinds.

Staying physically distant and socially connected

While we adhere to vital mandates to stop the spread of the virus which can require quarantine and separation, it is important to be aware of language that indicates social or relational disconnection. We are wired for connection and thrive mentally, physically, and emotionally from being in healthy relationship. The limits of the terminology have recently come forward and will likely continue.

Inclusive language that encourages staying socially connected in safe ways is vital. This means honoring the diverse personalities and profiles of individuals falling along the spectrum of introvert to extrovert by making room and opportunities for everyone to find comfortable and necessary methods to stay connected without assumptions of “one size fits all”. By using the term physical distancing it also forces us to look at the range of physical settings people are in while braving this storm. Thus, it is even more important to address the implications and remain aware of the physical constraints and necessities that are realities across the country and for so many.

A current context in the climate of COVID-19

It is not unusual that during times of extraordinary crisis that prevailing stressors become worse. For communities already chronically marginalized by race, ethnicity, gender, class…an increase in volume, intensity, and impact occurs. In addition, a climate of crisis also heightens awareness of social, structural, and systemic inequities. Over the past few weeks we have experienced COVID-19 hit our communities and we are beginning to hear stories and see data that brings this point to a head.

From physical appearance to physical location, the ugly truths of marginalized existences are coming to bear. An African-American man living in Boston expressed this tension in a news article describing the risk and worry he has of being a man of color wearing a facemask to prevent illness while fearing for his safety due to bias. We see the economic intersectional realities during this public health pandemic across many communities and how it is specifically playing out given the disproportionate rate of pre-existing and socially influenced health conditions among communities of color. And sadly rates of domestic violence and abuse are likely spiking especially with quarantine and stay at home recommendations and mandates in place. The backdrop of the growing rise of suicide among Black youth sharpens the need for paying attention to the mental health needs of us all right now and especially within communities of color.

As educators and practitioners of SEL it is vital now more than ever that we remain vigilant in our efforts to defeat COVID-19 while staying aware of how its impact is inextricably tied to issues of bias, equity, and wellness. It will require and invite opportunities for self-reflection personally and professionally that center cultural fluency, emotional intelligence and agility. Before us is a call that compels intentional, active, and inclusive engagement within affinity networks and with racially culturally diverse thought-partners and leaders to seek and create solutions for much-needed healing.

Karen Craddock, Ph.D., is a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women. As an applied psychologist, her work centers on issues of equity, wellness, leadership, and partnership. Her studies on psycho-social functioning have included explorations of race and gender intersectionality, models of optimal resistance and resilience, social and emotional learning, emotional intelligence, and the neuroscience of inclusion.

  1411 Hits
  0 Comments
1411 Hits
0 Comments

Women’s Equality Day: Still Seeking a Century’s Worth of Progress

Women suffrage picket line, courtesy of Library of CongressThe long march towards progress is often one that extends across generations. The U.S. woman suffrage movement, which resulted in women’s right to vote with the 19th Amendment in 1920 – took 75 years to produce the desired result. That’s three generations of women, each playing a specific role in getting that policy objective to the finish line. Along the way, there were movements and side movements and countermovements, all of which shaped the ultimate contours of that social justice victory. We’ve now gone 99 years past the ratification of the 19th Amendment – that’s almost four generations – and women’s equality is still far from realized. Thus, on this Women’s Equality Day, it seems most fitting to me, as we stare into the century mark of this milestone, that we make a full-court press to fast-track some gender equality moves that would signal a bona fide century’s worth of progress.

Here are my suggestions:

First, we should revisit the Equal Rights Amendment. Its simple yet powerful text, originally crafted in 1923 right after women got the right to vote and revised in 1943, reads:

  • Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
  • Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
  • Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

In the late 1970s, the Equal Rights Amendment passed both houses of Congress and was signed by President Carter, but failed narrowly during the state-by-state ratification process. That was 40 years ago. In 2019, the Equal Rights Amendment has regained attention, as theoretically only one more state needs to ratify the amendment to reach the majority needed. Do we have the political will to pass the Equal Rights Amendment now? Women’s equality was not a partisan issue then, nor is it one now; women in both parties desire equality and benefit from equality. Passing this constitutional amendment at long last would signal to America’s women and the world that women – and, in fact, people of all genders – are now truly included in “liberty and justice for all.”

Second, we should join the community of nations that has ratified the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (known as CEDAW). This international instrument, which has already been ratified by every country in the world except for Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Pulau, Tonga, and the United States, is basically like a global Equal Rights Amendment. It addresses women’s human rights and commits nations to legally enshrining them. While the U.S. has made various arguments about why it has not ratified CEDAW, a more powerful statement for gender equality would be to just ratify it!

Other actions that would signal that we are truly in the 21st century when it comes to women’s equality would be stronger laws, policies, and legal procedures that address sexual violence in all its forms for all women (with a nod to the recent groundswell known as the #MeToo Movement), and laws, policies, and legal procedures that enshrine gender spectrum equality (because gender in the 21st century doesn’t mean what it meant 99 years ago).

Lest we think these legal moves towards equality are ends in themselves, we can also consider the fact that social scientists have found links between legal equality at the national level and human wellbeing. For example, a recent multi-national study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence showed that greater gender equality at the national level correlates with greater life satisfaction among both female and male adolescents, even with other potentially-influential factors controlled. Thus, there is something to the notion that gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing are all interrelated and interdependent.

As we look back at and celebrate the generations of women who fought for the right to vote, let us remember that progress doesn’t end there. Each generation must pick up the baton and push forward for increased recognition of gender equality in the law and in our everyday lives. Let’s hope that this time next year when we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, we will also be celebrating the ERA, CEDAW, and, all in all, a bona fide century’s worth of progress on gender equality!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women.

  3523 Hits
  1 Comment
Recent comment in this post
Guest — Laura Pappano
Yes, YES, YES!! We DO NEED the ERA and CEDAW. The ERA was derailed for all the wrong reasons -- as unnecessary (history has made t... Read More
Tuesday, 27 August 2019 20:35
3523 Hits
1 Comment

Wellesley Centers for Women Mourns the Loss of Advisory Council Chair, Activist Deborah Holmes

Deborah HolmesThe Wellesley Centers for Women is mourning the death of Deborah Holmes, Chair of the WCW Council of Advisors and a passionate activist committed to the lives of women, people of color, equity, and social justice across the world.

“Deborah understood the intersectionality of social justice causes as well as the necessity of making change on multiple fronts at once, and she lived it,” reflected Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of WCW. “She brought indefatigable energy and an indomitable spirit to our Council of Advisors, and our global outreach and media impact expanded under her influence.”

Last spring, WCW cosponsored a research forum for change makers, “From Persistence to Power: Facts, Truth & Equity for Women,” in Washington, D.C., during which Deborah spoke about the need to address issues of intersectionality in order to achieve equity for all women in the U.S.

“It is hard to be black every day in America; but at the same time, I love being black. Because we have so much power, and the fact that we are in this room, and in this place, and still strong, and nobody has knocked us down, says a lot about our people,” she told the hundreds of attendees. “We are at a moment now where we have an opportunity, perhaps in coalition with other black and brown folk, to really rise up in a way that we rose up when we shut down the buses in Montgomery, when we forced people to listen to what we have to say.”

At the time of her death, Deborah was the Chief Communications and Engagement Officer at the Women's Funding Network (WFN), one of the world's largest philanthropic networks devoted exclusively to the equality and rights of women and girls around the world. There, she oversaw external and internal communications, brand and reputation management, strategic partnerships, and member relations. Prior to WFN, Deborah served as Chief of Staff and Vice President of Communications at the Global Fund for Women (GFW), where she was senior advisor to the CEO and charged with the development and execution of GFW's mission, vision, and strategies. Additionally, she was responsible for nurturing key organizational relationships and initiatives, enhancing staff and board capacity to steward the GFW brand, talent management, and human resources.

"No one met Deborah Holmes and was not immediately impressed,” said colleague Deborah Richardson, Herndon Human Rights Expert in Residence at Honors College, Georgia State University. “She wore her confidence and brilliance well, while openly embracing you as a fellow sister and comrade. Every moment of her life was purposeful—her yes meant yes. If she committed to something, she was all in.  What I learned from Deborah is we have to do more. Speak out more. Confront injustices more and love each other more. Those who had the privileged of working with her, and the thousands she felt a deep responsibility to—we are all blessed by her many gifts.”

An award winning television news correspondent and analyst for more than 30 years, Deborah worked for local, national, and international news organizations covering an array of issues including race, politics, and social justice. She addressed the importance of quality journalism during the D.C. conference.

“Backing down is no longer an option,” she argued. “The facts matter and we have to get the facts into the right hands of the people—and that includes your friends and associates who need to read and use critical thinking skills. Because there are facts out there. But if you choose not to read them, or you ignore them, then they are of no benefit to anybody. Losing first-rate investigative journalism,” she stressed, “is one of the worst things that can happen in this democracy.”

Prior to her work in women's rights, Deborah was Senior Vice President at a global communications firm, Fleishman Hillard, Inc., where she led client strategy in brand and reputation management, healthcare, and multicultural audience development and initiatives. She was an outspoken activist for issues impacting people of the African diaspora including racial equity and economic and political empowerment. Throughout her career, she promoted and facilitated opportunities that brought diverse voices into public discourse and debate to inform social change.

“This [work] takes time, and so you have to make a commitment within yourself and among your friends that you are going to devote some actual time to this in addition to the knowledge, but we have to show up,” Deborah said.

In addition to her service on the WCW Council of Advisors, Deborah’s board and community service included Global Press Institute, Change Philanthropy Partners, Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy, Reporters Without Borders, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Read more>>


Family, friends, and colleagues are welcome to share their reflections in the Comment Section below.

  4104 Hits
  0 Comments
4104 Hits
0 Comments

Reflections on Charlottesville

Why has it been so hard to eliminate racism in the United States, despite concerted and valiant efforts, ever-growing numbers of people of goodwill, lots of good thinking about the issue, and some clear-cut progress and gains over the years? As a researcher and director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, a research institute with a demonstrated commitment to gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing in all its forms, including ending racism, my mind turns more to questions than answers today, in the wake of what happened in Charlottesville this past Saturday, August 12.

Questions I am asking include things like: What are we doing that we think is working but which actually isn’t working? What do we need to do that we aren’t doing that would actually work? Which of the things we are actually doing do work and just need more time or more people involved? And, in what ways do we need to more deeply operationalize things we know to be true but tend to abandon to the realm of platitudes? How can we more effectively move from intellectual knowledge to concrete action to measurable social transformation?

Last week, I spent a week in retreat with members of my religious community, the Baha’í Faith. For two of those days, I led discussions addressing the elimination of racism, which Baha’ís refer to as “The Most Challenging Issue.” We gave thought to the inner (self-focused) and outer (public) actions and practices needed to truly eliminate racism, and we asked some hard questions about our own practices and the practices of others in the social change field. We reflected deeply on passages such as these, penned 1938 by Shoghi Effendi, who was charged with guarding the unity of our Faith as it grew from local to global:

“Freedom from racial prejudice, in any of its forms, should, at such a time as this when an increasingly large section of the human race is falling a victim to its devastating ferocity, be adopted as the watchword of the entire body of the American believers, in whichever state they reside, in whatever circles they move, whatever their age, traditions, tastes, and habits. It should be consistently demonstrated in every phase of their activity and life, whether in the Bahá’í community or outside it, in public or in private, formally as well as informally, individually as well as in their official capacity as organized groups, committees and Assemblies. It should be deliberately cultivated through the various and everyday opportunities, no matter how insignificant, that present themselves, whether in their homes, their business offices, their schools and colleges, their social parties and recreation grounds, their Bahá’í meetings, conferences, conventions, summer schools and Assemblies.”

“A tremendous effort is required by both races if their outlook, their manners, and conduct are to reflect, in this darkened age, the spirit and teachings of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. Casting away once and for all the fallacious doctrine of racial superiority, with all its attendant evils, confusion, and miseries, and welcoming and encouraging the intermixture of races, and tearing down the barriers that now divide them, they should each endeavor, day and night, to fulfill their particular responsibilities in the common task which so urgently faces them. Let them, while each is attempting to contribute its share to the solution of this perplexing problem, call to mind the warnings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and visualize, while there is yet time, the dire consequences that must follow if this challenging and unhappy situation that faces the entire American nation is not definitely remedied.”

Our takeaways from these days of contemplation and discourse left us poignantly aware that inner and outer work must constantly run parallel, allowing us to transform into beings who actually desire and actively create justice, peace, and harmony, from the level of our deepest gut feelings to the level of our highest spiritual aspirations. To think all the “right” thoughts and hold all the “right” values is not enough, because the transformation of society requires so much more.

As a developmental psychologist who works from an ecological systems theory framework, I know that interventions on racism must take place at every level from the most interior to the most distal, in order to be successful and sustainable. Yet, as a lifelong scholar of both African American studies and women’s studies, I also know that we must perpetually refresh our understanding about what kinds of social movement methods work, and we must stay tuned in to when and where they need refinement. Sometimes, our assumptions about what kinds of methods work and why they work (or don’t work) need to be questioned.

As a developmental psychologist, I also can confirm that babies don’t enter the world knowing hate. Hate is learned by imitation, but it is also absorbed passively through language and imagery, and stimulated by deprivation, hardship, ridicule, and trauma. While unchecked power and privilege, often conferred by birth circumstances, also have the power to accelerate hate, these alone are not sufficient to create it. There is a complex calculus to how hate is created – which means there is also a complex calculus to how it can and must be uncreated. We are sophisticated enough now as a society to figure this out and execute on that knowledge.

A big part of my talk at the Baha’í retreat centered on the politics of invitation, the notion of inviting others to a better world, as differentiated from the politics of opposition, which rely on fighting and struggling our way to a better world. If unity is the goal, opposition cannot logically be the means to that end. And we now know that, psychologically, opposition to people and their views only entrenches them further in their views. So, what other methods might we consider if we want to eradicate racism and promote justice, peace, commonweal, and amity?

All of us can take small everyday actions to eradicate racism, and some of us can take sweeping, expansive actions to catalyze the eradication of racism on a broad scale. What’s stopping us? Please share your questions and thoughts about how we can genuinely eliminate racism from our country and the world!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

 

  6377 Hits
  3 Comments
Recent Comments
Guest — Stacey Smith
My guess is that fear of doing "hard work" (having the hard conversations and self-examination) is what is stopping us as a nation... Read More
Tuesday, 15 August 2017 07:57
Guest — Jean
What would be some good sources for learning more about the politics of invitation as mentioned here? I want us to engage more in ... Read More
Saturday, 19 August 2017 15:44
Guest — Layli Maparyan
Jean, the basic ideas undergirding the politics of invitation are laid out in my second book, The Womanist Idea, and I have been r... Read More
Monday, 21 August 2017 15:25
6377 Hits
3 Comments

Thoughts on the Safety Pin--To Wear or Not

The International Day of Tolerance (November 16) was established in 1995 by the United Nations to help increase public awareness of the dangers of intolerance. In our current climate of heightened intolerance both in public discourse and acts of violence, we need no reminders--but we do need clarity and strategies to build our strength and effectiveness as activists who choose to respond proactively to intolerance. The following is written by Christine Saxman, a National SEED Project staff member and Chicagoland high school teacher who reflects thoughtfully about the safety pin symbol that is being worn by people in the U.S. and Britain to show solidarity with targeted/marginalized people in our communities, and how every action we take has consequences.


I wrote these thoughts as a white, upper-middle-class, able-bodied, heterosexual, secular humanist woman, with the primary goal of connecting more deeply with other white people and being open to all other intersections. I was deeply impacted by and must honor this writer of color--Isobel Debrujah’s “So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin.” There was also much reaction to a white writer, Christopher Creelty’s, “Dear White People Your Safety Pin is Embarrassing.” After I wrote my initial reflection, I was also deeply impacted by ryboylorn’s “On Safety Pins, Pant Suits, and (Faux) Markers of Safety,” the personal testimony of so many people of color who were yet again targeted by the white fragility that could not tolerate the message that their pin is not enough, and by the need for Mia McKenzie’s “How to Tell the Difference Between Real Solidarity and ‘Ally Theater’” to be re-shared so many times. So I’ve reflected and added to my original piece. I humbly offer it here.

INTENT and IMPACT:
Pay attention to and appreciate all the thoughtful dialogue that prompts deep self-reflection and understanding of one’s purpose/self-reflection, taking ownership of the impact of one’s actions, regardless of intent. Own your impact if you wear the pin or if you do not wear it. But do not dismiss anyone who shares a negative impact with you from their perspective as a targeted group. Listen. Believe. Take further action and focus on repair.

INTER-CONNECTEDNESS:
Appreciate (and question) the history of the pin: from Australia’s #illridewithyou to support Australian Muslims to the history of the pin to combat the anti-immigration sentiment post-Brexit.

CALLING IN WITH LOVING ACCOUNTABILITY:
For some white people, this might be one of the first public actions they have taken and it is all they can see to do. As a white person, I have the energy and responsibility to support them in this step. I do not expect people of color or other targeted groups to take this action. And I personally have to be vigilant internally when I monitor and judge the behavior of other white people negatively to make sure I’m not just trying to make myself feel like I am the good white anti-racist, falling prey to competitiveness that props me up and allows racism and other -isms to continue on happily. This is the question I would pose Christopher Creelty, given the chance. How can we hold other white people in loving accountability, moving them to action? How can I do that with humility in the service of inspiring other white people to take deep, abiding action?

LOVING ACCOUNTABILITY ONE STEP FURTHER:
I see another white person wearing a pin who feels like they deserve credit for doing so. How can I use that symbol to start a conversation and move to actions we can take to back up the symbol, to give it some weight? In my own humility, I can possibly learn a new action. Perhaps, I can help someone realize an action they could not envision. Perhaps, we can work in solidarity. We can even continue the conversation to ask how can we move to a more overt symbols--a Black Lives Matter Pin, #NODAPL, #ISUPPORTDREAMERS, #STANDINGFORLGBTQ rights, #NoHumanIsIllegal…. And I commit to lovingly calling to action those whose only action is wearing a pin. I can emphasize that we are in it together.

ACCOUNTABILITY:
As a teacher I have been asked many times to identify as an ally publicly by my students and colleagues and so I have chosen to honor those requests and hold the anger/frustration/disappointment from others who do not believe I have the right to call myself an ally. It is one of those tough accountability decisions that I reflect on regularly and discuss with anyone calling me in or out. I am always a work-in-progress. I welcome all feedback, listen, believe, and act on the accountability that aligns with my commitment, humility, and humanity.

WHITE SUPREMACIST CO-OPTION:
What happens when white supremacists are faking it? I totally support all targeted groups to stay steadfast in their refusal to trust anyone wearing the pin. But as a predominantly privileged person, I go back to my responsibility to start dialogue with others I see wearing the pin. What does it mean to you? What’s your story? And if I doubt their answers and sincerity, I call them in and have another accountability discussion about White Supremacy. I commit fully to that. I had to do it in high school in Pennsylvania. I can do it as a grown woman now.

INTERSECTIONAL SYMBOLISM:
For me, the pin symbolizes standing against all the violence: racism, Islamophobia, anti semitism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia. As a victim of sexual assault, I want to see the pin. I will ask for support and action from those wearing it. And I will have the conversation if it is just an empty gesture. But, wow, will I enjoy the conversations that let me know I am not alone. Don’t underestimate that.

BOTH/AND:
I believe we must wear a symbol and question the symbol. I believe we must wear a symbol and take action. I believe we must have this conversation and interrupt racism, Islamophobia, anti semitism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia at the same time. I believe we can be both/and. But we must take action. Our humanity depends on it.

Christine SaxmanI love the people in my life who push me to be better. I owe much gratitude for this piece to Mirah Anti, Jorge Zeballos, Pat Savage-Williams, Andrea Johnson, Donald Burroughs, Matthew Biecker, Ashley Tuzicka Ray, and Jamie Utt.

This piece was written by Christine Saxman, a National SEED Project staff member and Chicagoland high school teacher.

  6568 Hits
  0 Comments
6568 Hits
0 Comments

November 9th Reflections: Through Harriet Tubman’s Eyes

 Layli Maparyan

We have a new President-Elect. For many of us, on either side of the aisle, it is not what we expected. My daughter cried when I told her, not just because she is a girl, but also because she is an immigrant. She is scared, and I, as her mother, had to reassure her that life will go on and that we will be okay even if there will be new challenges.

It occurred to me that this is the attitude that I must carry forward, not just at home, but in my work, life, and leadership. It is the attitude that many before me have maintained, against the face of obstacles and conditions as hard or harder than what I am facing now. Like Harriet Tubman, I must “follow the drinking gourd” and keep my sights on the North Star of my aspirations.

The biggest gift I can offer at this time is empathy – to those whose hopes were shattered, to those whose anger, pain, and frustration led us in this surprising direction, and to those who are just plain terrified right now, especially the little ones and the youth. Clearly, we are a country of different realities, and we need to find common ground. I remind myself of my own mantra, “All of us are sacred.” As Thich Nhat Hanh taught me, I breathe in, breathe out, and utilize the present moment as a place of refuge.

The second biggest gift I can give is my continued commitment to peace, amity, love, liberation, and the freedom borne of illumination, as well as the very concrete and achievable ideals of gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing. We can’t give up! Even with the rhythm of one step backward for every two steps forward, we are still making progress, we are still transforming our society and the world. We can’t use this moment to further polarize ourselves; rather, we must use it to dig more deeply within ourselves for places of connection. As we know, thanks to our relational-cultural theorists, is that connection is what causes us to thrive.

How can we work with what we have to achieve what we need to achieve and get to where we need to go? Our own ingenuity is being invoked, as is our ability to “make a way out of no way.” Because I’ve seen it done, I know we can do it. Let’s share our creativity and plentiful gifts as we figure this thing out together.

Onward! The North Star is still shining!!

Please feel free to share your reflections.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

 

  6545 Hits
  0 Comments
6545 Hits
0 Comments

WCW Blog

 

Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

Our website uses cookies to enhance your experience. By continuing to use our site, or clicking "Continue", you are agreeing to our privacy policy.
Continue Privacy Policy