As a white female, born and raised in middle-class America, I can say I am plenty aware of my privilege, but many times I catch myself realizing what I have and all of my opportunities (which I've unknowingly taken for granted) go beyond my current comprehension.
It is sometimes difficult for me, as a person who is deeply afraid of doing something wrong or mean, to accept that I have many more advantages as a white person than my fellow non-white women friends have. The structural barriers and the mix of blatant and hidden racism enmeshed within the very fibers of our country have only recently been targeted on a large scale. I grew up in a small town that had little to no diversity. In school, we barely touched on culture and differing beliefs. I never had to acknowledge my whiteness until I went to college and we actually learned about racial and gender issues that are current and not just a part of history.
One of the first articles I wrote for Odyssey was about feminism and why I didn’t consider myself a feminist. It was one of the few articles I have ever written that made me feel deeply anxious. Feminism to me at the time was more of a fad, something I thought people did to be cool or be proud of. I think I had written something like, “I have feminist values and want the same things feminists want, but it’s about being a decent human being, not a feminist, which is an unnecessary label” (totally paraphrasing, but that was the general idea). The feedback was not what I wanted. It took a lot of courage writing that article and posting it, because I knew it would be controversial to many of my college friends and peers. However, the comments on the article targeted my ignorance and the people assumed I had no knowledge on gender studies. That being said, in many ways I didn’t and still don’t. I was insulted because I had done actually quite a bit of research on gender issues and devoted a lot of my time to gender studies. I took a whole semester of classes specifically about gender. In my mind, I knew all I needed to know about the topic. That article is the one article I think about the most. Why did I write it? What was I thinking? While I pride myself on thinking critically and deeply about most things, there are many things I’m just plain black and white about. I'm a naive, romantic person. I romanticize issues and how I think they should get solved (by love only). My naivete simplifies issues that really shouldn't be simplified. This is a super black and white way of thinking and only recently have I realized how I think and what I believe isn't applicable to all issues and in a lot of ways blinds me, makes me ignorant to real complexities.
My issue wasn’t about feminism, not really. My issue was with labeling. I hate labels. But with a lot of thinking and some difficult conversations, I have concluded that sometimes labels are necessary. People need them and I get that. My other issue was that I’m not extroverted. I’m highly individualistic and I rarely see myself as part of a community. I’m generally a private person. Part of that stems from my fear of rejection or judgment. Only recently have I opened up about things I’m passionate about to people and social media. I spend a lot of time thinking and not enough time doing. And I hate when people tell me what I should believe in and who I should be. Feminism in my mind was a lot like a dictator telling me who I have to be and how I have to act. I felt like I needed to be outspoken and aggressive. Should I cut my hair short? Should I say “fuck gender roles!” anytime I cleaned the kitchen or made dinner? What were the rules? And what if I became part of a mob mentality and blind to errors in belief or ideology? I try so hard to seek out the truth of things, but many times I find there isn’t ever only one truth. And mistakes are supposed to be made sometimes in order for growth to happen. All of these fears and anxieties essentially blinded me to the deeper basis and gut of what feminism really is: equality for all, regardless of gender, race, ability, class, sexuality, etc. And while I still believe that this value is still just part of what makes a person decent and moral, there are so many people who don’t believe this to be true. And that is the crux of why feminism and Black Lives Matter and many other groups need to exist.
Another reason, which I sort of explained earlier, why I am not super involved in these movements is because I am not someone who speaks loudly and confidently. I am often quiet and spend a lot of time thinking and watching and observing. I felt like I needed to be strong and confident and aggressive. I felt like I had to be all of these things that I wasn’t, even though I held the same beliefs. Recently I came to the realization that people like me are also important and need to be involved in these issues. I don’t identify as a “fighter” or a “warrior”. I’m not the kind of person that could put myself out there and challenge the issue every day. But the people like me play an important role too. It’s not an either/or scenario. I’m the person that starts up conversations with people and discusses these issues and attempt to get to the deepest parts of them. I’m a supporter and an observer, but much of my support is composed of the little things. Realizing my privileges wasn’t something that just happened overnight or when someone pointed them out to me. It took time, it is a process and it’s ongoing. But I can use my privilege to help these causes.
So my point in all of this is 1) to apologize for my ignorance. By all means, I am a supporter and I realize that I need to speak out more on injustices and utilize my privilege more in a way that is constructive and loving. I need to deal with my own issues and start working toward the greater issues that have been hurting my community and the people of the United States and beyond. And 2) I still value my individuality and I still struggle with labels, but I am a feminist and I can be an “I” and “me” and also be a “we”. I can be both. So I pledge to support and reach for a fair, equal, open country and be another voice for my community. I pledge to address my privileges and biases. I’m not perfect. Every day I learn something new and it isn’t always easy, but I need to realize that my own uncomfortable-ness and internal struggles don’t justify my absence in the fight for equality and love and fair opportunities for all. These are things I want too, but I need to stop watching everyone else do the work and actually get involved. Love is action.