Intersections in Art and Activism

Kellyanne Conway see herself as a feminist? Not in the “classic sense,” but based on recent comments, the Counselor to the President may see herself as a feminist in her own way.
This begs the question, what is feminism? And that’s a question that cannot be answered without looking into activism and how the needs of groups who have been separate in the past actually intersect.

Kellyanne Conway on Feminism

“It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in the classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male and it certainly is very pro-abortion in this context. And I’m neither anti-male or pro-abortion,” Kellyanne Conway said at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 23 when asked about the recent Women’s Marches.

“There’s an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices,” Conway continued. “I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances. And that’s really clearly what conservatives, feminism, if you will, is all about.”
Merriam-Webster responded to Conway with the tweet, “‘Feminism’ is defined as ‘the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.’”

Gillian Reese on Intersectional Feminism

What feminism means is something that has changed over time, and can be controversial. Gillian Reese, SCC student and member of the Feminists United Club, explains that we are currently in the third wave of feminism.

The first wave, Reese says, was women seeking the right to vote, and the second wave was women wanting to be able to work. The benefits of the first two waves of feminism, Reese says, went to white women, who rode on the backs of women of color without acknowledging, crediting or helping them.

Reese points out that these waves of feminism had narrow scopes, not just ignoring people of color, but also women with disabilities, trans women and queer women.

The idea behind the third wave of feminism, says Reese, is that ALL women should be equal to men.

Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality

The third wave of feminism is partially defined by intersectionality, an idea developed in 1989 by activist and scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw. In a Ted Talk, Crenshaw said that she “began to use the term intersectionality to deal with the fact that many of our social justice problems like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice.”

Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality was inspired by a lawsuit filed by Emma Degraffenreid. A judge told Degraffenreid that her claim that General Motors had not hired her because she was a black woman did not hold up because GM hired both black people and women.

Crenshaw pointed out that the African Americans hired were men in industrial and maintenance roles, and the women were white women hired for administrative jobs.

Degraffenreid, found herself at the corner of black and woman, facing double-discrimination, explained Crenshaw.

Anastacia Tolbert on Writing as Activism

Intersectionality in social justice is something currently being addressed on the SCC campus in scheduled events, social justice and equity classes and the Community Read, “Octavia’s Brood.”

The Community Read committee recently brought Anastacia Tolbert to campus to teach three workshops, each inspired by a different work from “Octavia’s Brood,” which is a collection of short, social justice sci-fi stories.

Described in the promotions for the events as “a queer super-shero of color moonlighting as a writer, performance artist and creative workshop facilitator,” Tolbert spoke in the last workshop about addressing social justice in writing.

The final workshop, which was on Feb. 22, focused on the story “Lalibela” by Gabriel Teodros. Tolbert said, “I felt like the social justice aspect wasn’t like, ‘Hey you! I’m going to tell you some social justice stuff!” She described it as more subtle than a story discussed in a previous workshop, “Black Angel” by Walidah Imarisha.

Tolbert said that after she read “Black Angel,” she felt like there was a lot of work to do, and in “Lalibela” the social justice issues are “interspersed so nicely … that I don’t think the intention was to make the reader feel guilty.”

One way that “Lalibela” is a social justice work, Tolbert said, is that it takes American readers outside of their comfort zone of recognizable popular culture and asks them to spend some time with Ethiopia and with history.

“This short story is … an act of activism because it is not centered around American thinking … You don’t have to stand on a board to be an activist — writing is an act of activism,” says Tolbert.

Roxane Gay on Responding to Disgracefulness

Roxane Gay, another author known for activism through writing, spoke at Town Hall Seattle the same evening as Tolbert’s last workshop at SCC. Tolbert was in the audience for this talk, often nodding and clapping at Gay’s points.

Gay was asked to speak about social issues, which these days meant she was asked to talk about the world with Trump as a president. She said, “Some feminists are shocked as shit that white women would value their whiteness over their womanhood, but women of color and people of color are not surprised. The precedent for this can be traced back to slavery. What we are seeing is American racism, xenophobia and misogyny on display.”

Gay said that in the wake of Trump’s election, “the challenges vulnerable people are going to be facing from this point forward have to be taken on by all of us as personal. We have to fight for and with each other.”

Gay said that although work needs to be done, she is not sure what that will look like.

“I, like many people of color, am asked for solutions to problems I had no hand in creating … I am so tired of the assumption that as a black woman, I somehow have access to some magical Negro wisdom about how to make the world a better and more inclusive place. I do not.”

But she said that despite uncertainty, “we have to fight even if we don’t know what that fight looks like.”

Gay said that because she is fat, black, bisexual and a woman, her “identity is political.” She does not want her body of work to be made entirely of social commentary pieces, but that is what people expect from her. Balancing what others want and her own interests, Gay also writes fiction and is working on a book called TV Guide, with chapters about television networks.

Gay said she enjoys writing fiction because, “you get to remake the world as you prefer it to be, and I don’t write utopias by any stretch of the imagination, but I do try to reshape the world in certain ways in my fiction.”

Kate Boyd on Hope in Misery

On campus, there is another activist and writer who is interested in reshaping the world through fiction but, in this case, the fiction is as far from utopian as possible. Kate Boyd, an SCC English teacher, is hoping to teach a class this spring called “Hope in Misery: Protest & the Near Future.”

This is a literature class which will focus on dystopian narratives. Students will look at instances when characters are able to find “hope in misery,” which is generally through activism.

Boyd wants students to find parallels between dystopian sci-fi worlds and the world in which they live. She said that she would like for students to come to the class interested in stories about fighting aliens, and learn how the stories might also have something to say about fighting racism.

As part of the Community Read committee, Boyd has designed this class to relate to the stories in “Octavia’s Brood.” She said she wants to “explode” the traditional English classroom, make connections with world outside of campus and engage in larger discussions.

There is a sense among a lot of people that social activism is important now more than ever. But for many what to do seems elusive.
A throughline in the work of the activists noted here, though, is that imperfect activism is better than no activism.

Boyd said that trying to be “politically pure” is dangerous. Instead, she said that we need to show up, know that we’re going to screw up sometimes, hold ourselves accountable when we do screw up, reflect and keep going.
Confused about what to do as an activist? To some degree, it turns out that we all are.

Five Tips for Activists

Have these conversations

It’s hard to talk with people about politics when you don’t agree, but Gillian Reese has some tips. Reese says that “there is a big difference between a discussion and an argument.” In arguments, people come in with their minds made up and nothing is going to change what they think, but in discussions, both parties are earnest and open-minded. She also recommends changing the words you choose. There are specific terms and “buzz words” that tend to make people who disagree with you automatically stop listening. Reese recommends describing your stance rather than relying on language that will automatically piss the other person off.

Say these names

You may have heard of the #SayTheirNames hashtag campaign, which is meant to change the way we look at violent deaths. The idea is to acknowledge the victims rather than the killers, and to recognize that killing someone is never a “senseless act,” instead it is often an act that stems from systemic bigotry. #SayTheirNames is a response to the number of African-Americans killed by the police. Kimberlé Crenshaw points out that the names you probably know belong to African-American boys and men, not women and girls. The same violence is happening against females, Crenshaw says, but because their blackness and their womanhood intersect, they are often ignored. Crenshaw wants you to say the names of people who belong to multiple marginalized groups. But don’t stop there — she wants you to take action.

Write your words

Writers — whether or not you are writing activist pieces, Anastacia Tolbert recommends that you take the leap and submit your work. She says that it is very easy to submit writing online, and recommends using submittable.com. According to Tolbert, she submits up to ten pieces of work a month. She says, “I’d rather have ten rejections because that means I’m doing work, than zero because I was too afraid to submit. Pro tip — Tolbert says your work does not need to be finished to submit.

Read these words

The Constitution. Roxane Gay wants you to make sure you understand the freedoms it lays out. She is particularly concerned with the freedom of speech, which she says a lot of people don’t understand. The freedom of speech, Gay says, is not a guarantee of a freedom from consequences, it means that you won’t be imprisoned for your words. Gay calls the freedom of speech an “awesome power” and says we should use it better.

“Oftentimes I see people who are like ‘freedom of speech!’ And they say a bunch of racial slurs, and I’m like, ‘that’s the best you could come up with?’”

Take this class

Hope in Misery: Protest & The Near Future
English 244, 244W, 295 or 295W
9:30-10:20 a.m., M-Th, spring 2017

Fans of “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and “Maze Runner” will probably like this American Literature class. In it, students will venture into dystopian worlds to learn more about our own world. The class will examine instances of hope in the stories and see how “hope in misery” involves activism. At the end of the quarter, there will be an option to do a standard final, or to participate in a “creative final option” of making something such as a music video, drawing, performance, or poem. This class counts as a humanities credit for special topics. Instructor Kate Boyd knows her shit and is pumped about this class.

-Coral Nafziger

Leave a Reply