In my interactions with my blog readers either in person or through social media, I’m always aware that the majority of my blog readers are Black women & girls. Understandably so. It’s easier to relate to someone when you believe there’s a commonality, and in many cases that can be skin color and/or cultural background. Despite knowing this, I’ve always tried to develop content and workshops that speak to all women and girls of color, and I regularly invite other women and girls of color to contribute to my blog. On Twitter this week, I entertained the idea of shifting my focus to primarily Black women and girls and the organizations that serve them. However, a follower of mine tweeted to me: Everyone needs the message, in my humble opinion.
The focus of this blog are on things that I believe allow for others to find a commonality. For example, lawmakers creating policies that attack a woman’s bodily autonomy affects all women and girls, not just one select group (even when it feels as though that group is being targeted). Regardless of race, women and girls are constantly subjected to street harassment while in public spaces. When it comes to discussing sex and sexuality with the mother figures in our lives, women see that some of the barriers that prevented them from discussing sexuality are common across race and culture.
As women and girls of color, we need to be allies for each other. While it’s important to know what’s happening in your own community, our voices become more powerful in collective. While many of the issues that we believe we deal with may be “packaged” differently, we can’t stand on the sidelines while looking at another group and think, “I don’t have to worry about that happening in MY community”.
How can we as women and girls of color support each other?
When you hear the term “women of color”, what image comes to mind? For a lot of people, it’s an image of a group of Black women. Just look at Pantene’s website and see what their marketing department thinks. In fact, it wasn’t until I was a college student that it even dawned on me that Latinas, Asians/Pacific Islanders, Arab/Middle Eastern, and Native/Indigenous women were also women of color. I’m not the only one that needed clarification. A while back, I received a question from an Asian American woman who asked, “Nicole, why are we using and what is the origin of the phrase ” women of color”? Many Asian American women are perplexed by this classification–I suppose based on skin color? People are human, not folders files that use color codes!“ (I directed her here for the origin of the phrase “women of color”).
Also, when you hear the term “ally”, oftentimes it’s within the context of a white person being an ally to a person of color, a man being an ally to women, or a heterosexual person being an ally to the LGBTQ community. As women and girls of color, how often do we think about how we can be allies for each other?
Postdoctoral teaching associate Dr. Sarah J. Jackson wrote an excellent blog post called On Being An Ally. She highlights how one can become a better ally by utilizing the following advice: 1) Recognize the ways in which you may benefit from privilege; 2) Don’t spend time comparing whose oppression is worse; 3) Listen to others’ experience, and value those experiences; and 4) Act on your ally-ship and don’t merely say that you’re in support of something.
We can use Dr. Jackson’s advice within the context of supporting other women and girls of color. For starters, consider joining community groups and attending events sponsored by other women of color. If you’re into organizing around specific causes, try connecting your group or organization with other women of color groups to bring awareness to a cause, and to show other how your cause affects your group as well as the groups you’re partnering with. Creating spaces in which you can share how a particular cause is effecting your community is just as effective. Share what makes your community and culture varied, strong, resilient, and resourceful. Find ways in which your communities are similar and play on those key similarities. Discuss your differences, as well as how you can use those differences to your advantage.
Lastly, allow for other women and girls of color to speak for themselves. Take a genuine interest in what they feel their primary needs are. Pay attention to how other women of color are talked about and portrayed, especially in the media. Learn as much as you can and ask how can you help to raise awareness. Make a commitment to personal growth towards being an ally. Continue to stay up to date on policies that affect your community, but also recognize that other women and girls of color are fighting equally tougher battles. When you choose to be an ally, let it be based on good intentions. Come with the expectation to learn, grow, and build. Last but not least, never be afraid to ask questions (or to make mistakes). If you don’t know something, ask for clarification. Don’t speak for an entire group of people unless you’re asked to. Be open to being “checked”, and don’t use the fear of making mistakes as an excuse not to be an ally. Remember that, as an ally, your goal is to lend support in a way that benefits the community you’re standing in solidarity with…and not to overshadow that community.
When it comes to women and girls of color, when we show up as a collective, embracing each others’ commonalities and unique strengths, we can become unstoppable.