Each spring, the Women and Gender Studies and African and African American Studies departments co-sponsor the Sojourner Truth Lecture Series. Named after enslaved abolitionist Sojourner Truth, these lecture series highlight the need for an intersectional approach in feminism and advocacy within the context of conflict surrounding identity.
This lecture furthered dialogue from last year’s event, which featured guest speaker Sybrina Fulton. Fulton is the mother of late Trayvon Martin and was thrusted out of an ordinary life and into the spotlight after the murder of her son in 2012.
Since then, she’s constructed her own narrative about the family’s collective trauma and the difficulties of black motherhood, as well as advocated against senseless gun violence and suspicious surrounding black and brown communities.
For this year’s lecture series, scholars and activists Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Dr. Robin M. Boylorn emphasized the need for us students, faculty, and staff to research, contribute to, and artifact the linked experiences of black women in the context of social justice and advocating for institutional reform.
Yet in some feminist circles, we don’t address structural inequality enough. Much of it involves major historical precedent and repercussions for current society.
When a public figure, news source, or even community member contributes to structural inequality, it leads to the dehumanization of others.
Even if comments by public figures don’t mean to have malicious intent, it still serves to worsen stereotyping, misogyny, racial profiling, and other means of bias and hate people face on a day to day basis. Any and all public figures need to be held accountable for hate speech, no matter who makes these comments.
“… [Advocacy and Feminism] is not something you fight for solely based on the current political administration,” critiqued Taylor
As academics and activists, it’s essential for us to deconstruct narratives and create our own when there isn’t much of any representation, especially in higher education. This rejects the “single story” narrative and can help lessen the levels of dehumanization many marginalized people experience.
“[I had to] create scholarship I couldn’t find when I was an undergraduate student, when contributing to those historically linked experiences of black women” said Boylorn
Feminism as a whole is generally understood and discussed as two things: the framework that emphasizes political advocacy in understanding oppression women face in society, and/or the framework that emphasizes empowerment. We see this in the context of politics and pop culture.
Focusing on feminism through the lens of pop culture, while helpful for some who want to learn more about feminism, isn’t one of the most effective ways to promote feminist values.
Additionally, I urge students and activists to be wary of media and corporations that use feminism as their primary tool of engagement. In academia, we call this phenomenon commodity activism. We see this when brands or corporations commodify racial and gender diversity, and most recently social controversies, as a way to expand global markets and reap its monetary rewards.
This doesn’t directly benefit marginalized communities, nor do they embed progressive values themselves. To many, this can be hypocritical and not help to facilitate change.
Overall, my thoughts are summed up by Dr. Nekima Levy-Pounds, lecturer of the 2016 Sojourner Truth Series, who urged the audience to “pay attention, ask questions, and deconstruct narratives.”
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March 22, 2019