The title of this post, minus what’s in the parentheses was my midterm assignment for my Gender Studies class. In recognizing the multiple forms these intersections manifest themselves in, I also had to add in Judaism because it religiously and culturally impacts how I view myself as a White woman.
When I first got this assignment, I had every intention of examining someone else’s experiences with race and gender. This someone would be female and of a minority race, someone who demonstrated the intersection of oppressions, someone whose race had a culture behind the tone of her skin. Then I realized that to choose such a person would be a cop-out and I would miss the opportunity to define myself honestly in racial terms, an assignment I, as a White woman, have never been doled out.
I never thought I had a race. Biologically, I consider myself White (however inaccurate that might be), but culturally? White never seemed to be a race. There are no formalized “White Alliance/Cultural” clubs because the whole world is such. There is no need to speak out on issues facing a White community because the White community tends to be the enforcers of issues facing minority groups. White could not be a race because it is the oppressor, the supremacist group. What I now realize is that the binary of “White” and “of color” is just as unclear and stigmatizing as the gender binary. I can use my knowledge of the gender binary to not only identify and own my Whiteness racially, but I can also use it to disprove stereotypes of privilege and womanhood that such labels have forced on me.
What is said in terms of oppression for the White population can also be echoed for the male side of the gender binary. In that lexicon, male is still considered a gender just like female is even though one is considered the oppressor and the other the oppressed. White is also a race that is accompanied by cultural expectations and when they are not met, members of that racial group are ostracized.
The truth is that my upbringing is not simply comprised of racial and gender identities. My experience living in New York City and as a Jew also play into my experience of humanity. If I were to be defined solely in racial and gendering terms, I would be a WASP living in a penthouse on Fifth Avenue, wearing a uniform to my private school, getting inexplicably excited at the site of Tiffany’s, and traveling to Europe over the summer, experiencing a life more akin to Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl than Shira Engel. There is nothing wrong with the stereotypes I have just labeled except that they are not an accurate reflection of who I am.
Put “Jewish” into the equation and I would be living on the Upper West Side, attending a day school where I am taught to not question religious law that dictates women are subordinate, having a Bat Mitzvah for the sake of having a party rather than becoming a woman, and being called a “JAP” (Jewish American Princess) by those who immediately associate Judaism (specifically, Jewish girls) with privilege derived from mooching off others. This too is not who I am.
I live on the Upper East Side and I travel to a school that I chose against my parents’ will so that I could associate with a more diverse group of peers on a daily basis. Rather than get excited at the site of Tiffany’s, I write on the abasement of women by the jewelry advertising industry for feminist blogs. Over the summer, I traveled to the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans to ally with and learn from a race not my own. I translate Judaism to a movement towards social justice rather than subordination of my gender. Yes, these expectations differ more than slightly, but what remains is a degrading of women regardless of social location, religion, or race.
Ever since I learned to identify stereotypes, I have been taught how to both defy and embrace them of my own free will through feminism. Oppression serves two paradoxical purposes: to divide and to unify. Divisive as it is to separate groups of people who innately have more in common than different into binaries, it also unifies these divided groups through providing commonality in need of a shared strength. Everyone – regardless of race, class, gender, religion, ethnicity, or money – is searching for a cause to back up and a movement to fight for. It is easier to find this as the oppressed rather than as the oppressor. That is why feminism is so appealing to me – I get to share an oppression and a strength with millions of people I do not even know simply because of my gender. It is because of that movement, that victimization-turned-empowerment that I am able to identify with my gender more strongly than I am able to identify with my race.
This summer when I was in New Orleans, my community-organizing trip consisted of five core organizers and forty volunteers. Four of the five organizers were women. All organizers were White. As a result, many of the volunteers felt jibes at the organizers were legitimate, that calling the women “bitches” when they yelled at us to start canvassing was justified because it could not be called discrimination in light of the jarring racism surrounding us. Almost everyone on the trip would identify as feminist when asked yet feminism superficially seemed irrelevant in the Lower Ninth Ward, where obscenities had racist rather than sexist roots.
I also called the organizers “bitches,” conforming to the mentality that I had to pick a form of discrimination to fight, that I couldn’t do both at once, and it was not until the last day of the trip that the organizers confronted the volunteers about it. These strong White women, born and raised in Park Slope by activist parents, their privilege used to buy books by bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins, struck the organizers with a line from a Staceyann Chin poem, “All oppression is connected, you dick.”
This connection of oppressions, of binaries, which are transforming into spectrums, is what allows me to identify as both White and as a feminist, to be a part of socially active groups that permit me to identify as an ally and feminist groups that embrace my desire for gender equality. I can own my White privilege if I use it to work with those less visibly privileged than I am, but I cannot ignore the plethora of identities I have inherited and am acquiring. It is through my interest in feminism that I am able to translate my racial identity into a lexicon of intersectionality.
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