On the WGST cuts and why yes, it is always about race
The work that went into the #WGSTcuts mobilization was really impressive. However, it was heavily focused on the experiences of white women at Mount Allison, and there was a substantial lack of acknowledgement of the privilege and power this whiteness affords us. As a white woman, I have chosen to address this piece in particular to other white women at Mt. A because we occupy the same multifaceted identity of being both oppressed by patriarchy while at the same time being oppressive through our complicity in the perpetuation of white supremacy. There have of course been women of colour involved in the movement, and this piece is not meant to speak for them in any way.
Clearly, we white people need to talk about whiteness; it is a power system, not merely the colour of our skin. But we should not let our whiteness prevent these conversations from occurring, although we need to recognize that any time a white person talks about race and racism, there is always the potential of speaking for or over people of colour. But if white people continue to be silent on issues of race and racism, the responsibility will remain on people of colour to bring it up, which results in the oppressed being forced to educate their oppressors. Additionally, as a product of living in white-supremacist society, people of colour who bring up racism are usually ignored, if not outright attacked.
Try to imagine that you, as a woman, were in classes at Mt. A which consisted almost entirely of men. Now imagine all those men were quick to paternalistically assure that they stood in solidarity with you and that the programs they were taking were ‘anti-sexist,’ yet they seldom or never bothered to ask you if they were actually helping your cause. They don’t show up to your women’s student union events, although they are quick to like your social media shares about issues of institutionalized sexism and ask you to moderate the intersectional panel discussions they are hosting. They stay in male-dominated circles, but of course they say they care about your issues. The fear of tokenization of that one woman in the class is enough for them to refrain from engaging with you regarding issues of sexism, and consequently they ignore your perspectives.
This, however, is not our reality, white women. We are rarely that token minority in a room full of the majority, because at Mt. A, we are the majority. White women, it is not always about us. This movement is not just about us. And although the women’s and gender studies program has been deemed “anti-racist” and “intersectional,” we need to look inside ourselves and at our mobilization to save the program and ask: Are we? What do these labels do if every fight becomes inevitably framed solely around our problems? Yes, the sexism we face is real and it needs to be addressed, but we also need to address the racism we perpetuate.
It is undoubtedly difficult to ask a social movement based out of a predominantly white institution to be less white. It is not, however, impossible – there are tangible steps that can be taken while continuing with this movement. I emphasize “continuing” here; this is not over and will take sustained effort if we want to really change the way the administration controls the university. And it is the administration of this university from which systemic racism is cultivated. It is the administration of our university that has no race-based hiring policies for faculty, no race-based admission process for students, no census process to determine numbers of students of colour, nor academic programs focused on people of colour.
Pushing back on the whiteness of this movement can be done though subtleness, by normalizing checking your whiteness whenever you engage in discourse about feminism. Additionally, talk to your white friends about what I am saying – try to evaluate as to whether perceptions of the movement were narrow.
Yes, these are small, seemingly insignificant actions, but they will have an impact. Racism today is coincidently also largely perpetuated through small, seemingly insignificant actions, and the best way to fight it is with the same weapons. It’s not flashy, and it isn’t exciting, but not all social change is. It will take effort and concerted self-reflection, but it is so worth it—now, more than ever.