Breaking Silences Creates a Safe Space for Women of Color

Here I am sharing my own definitions of feminism during our feminism class's annual International Day of the Girl assembly (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).
Here I am sharing my own definitions of feminism during our feminism class’s annual International Day of the Girl assembly. I’m breaking silences (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).

I agree with what bell hooks’ says that “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy exists as a political system,” which serves as the “foundation of our nation.

But I refuse to be defined by a racist master narrative.

I refuse to be solely delicate and vulnerable, conforming to unrealistic ideals society holds for me and other women.

Not only am I a young woman trapped in America’s impractical gender binary system, but I am a young woman of color trapped in this system too.

Furthermore, these characteristics inform the way that I understand how the interlocking oppressions that I, and other marginalized groups, experience in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity throughout life.

It would be dishonest to say that oppression only lives in one single element of my existence because categories of oppression intersect. Oppression is vast, but so are the ways to correct such systemic injustices. Feminism is one approach.

I now understand what feminism and oppression mean to me. There is a difference between knowing and understanding and I feel that not only am I aware of certain feminist ideas, but these ideas are becoming infused into my everyday thinking.

Through my high school feminism class, I acquired critical skills that I feel are needed to combat inequality. This idea in itself exemplifies the necessity of interjecting conversations of awareness in different spaces.

The importance of addressing feminism in a high school classroom space was powerfully expressed several years ago in a letter written by D. Shepard to President Obama for our feminist class blog, F to the Third Power:

Feminism is a wonderful example of how all social injustices interlock. In high schools on down in the education system, children are taught modified African American studies. Students are taught an even more limited version of Women’s Studies. They learn nothing about the struggles of say a Japanese woman during WWII or of an Ethiopian girl’s everyday life . . . every social justice movement deserves to be represented.

Even though our classroom is a small space within the larger feminist community, students’ voices are always heard. Everyone and their ideas are respected, marginalized voices are represented, new perspectives are shared, and everyone learns from each other’s experiences.

As I am creating my own learning through this democratic and feminist classroom environment, I am developing new values that can be used in various areas of my life. I am learning how to navigate and interpret the world in more ways than just being a feminist student in a feminist classroom. For me, this classroom space is just the beginning of creating a feminist educational movement right here in the US.

Earlier in October, I had the opportunity to attend Breaking Silence: a Hearing on Girls of Color, an event that was held on the third annual International Day of the Girl.

Phamphlet for the Breaking Silence, a Hearing for Girls of Color event
Pamphlet for Breaking Silence, a Hearing for Girls of Color event (image courtesy of Girls for Gender Equity).

I had the pleasure of listening to Joanne Smith, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and many others explain, through stories and testimonies, how women’s experiences and ideas of patriarchy are different within the black community.

In this respectful, supportive, and understanding space I was not alone in my unique struggles towards liberation. The testimonies were powerful and emotional and I appreciated the women who were brave enough to share their voices, seemingly showing no signs of regret in their stories.

None of the women let anyone take their truths away.

They proved how lived experiences are not always setbacks but things to learn from and move forward with strength. Joanne Smith, who is the founder of Girls for Gender Equity, helped me understand that solutions truly lie with the people who are most affected by the problem. With this, I further understood the importance of breaking the silences of our experiences, sharing our stories and perspectives whenever and wherever we can.

Similar to the Breaking Silence event, I also attended a Weaving Voices Open Mic at Smith College. The Weaving Voices Open Mic series works to create a space where different narratives can come together in hopes of creating a socially conscious community at Smith. The original members of the Weaving Voices group had to fight for their space. They were never given the space in which they stand today, but instead had to take it, as they could not find support to share their life stories and experiences. This clearly did not stop the students from creating change within their community.

Like the women of color who participated in the Breaking Silence event, these college students spoke up and spoke out. They felt safe in this space, despite the possible worries of being “too offensive, “too vulgar,” or “too truthful.”

Both Breaking Silence and Weaving Voices showed how damaging it is to others when we do not speak up. Problems can’t be solved when voices are silent. We can’t dismantle assumptions or build resistance. We, especially as women of color, cannot second-guess our experiences, catering to what others may or may not want to hear, refusing to hold ourselves accountable for our life stories.

We must shift the current paradigm by sharing and creating narratives in an environment that is culturally supportive.

Both events provided a culturally supportive space where I know many women, including myself, felt safe. I felt like whatever stories I have or may have in the future matter and are important to recreating my own definition of the master narrative.

In both spaces, I felt a sense of unity and sisterhood, actively listening, not to the stories of “them,” but to the stories and struggles of “us.”

These events further validated the importance of creating avenues for action, breaking barriers, and breaking silence.

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