Resisting Trump Using My White Immigrant Privilege

In this time of great change, when the protection of people of color and other marginalized groups is overlooked by a hateful political dialogue, how can the broader American community ensure that all people are kept safe?

Prior to his election, President-elect Trump repeatedly made sexist comments towards women, such as referring to them as “disgusting animals,” “nasty.” He bragged about being able to grab women “by the pussy.”

These sexist comments have allowed men to further silence women. Many of the individuals he is selecting to join his administration support such opinions and attitudes towards women as well. They seem to want to re-establish a throwback society where women won’t be vocal about their opinions, a society where women are expected to be housewives and men to be breadwinners and heroes. Even Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has implied that women should not work in the White House. 

Lest anyone think that these pussy power grabs are only happening in Trump’s America, I was recently walking with my sister through the streets of New York City, which I have always considered the epitome of a “liberal bubble,” when we came across a man who told my sister to “let [him] grab [her] pussy.” His words caught us both off guard, and made me reflect on my own experience of the city. I’m now very afraid of a world where we, as women, will not be safe from being harassed by men.  

And yet I’m glad that we are those nasty women. We need to come together as one and act upon our own beliefs in order to liberate ourselves from white male privilege and power. We will not be sexually harassed by Trump’s supporters either on the street or at school. I live by Hillary Clinton’s motto, “Love Trumps Hate,” which collectively empowers us women to come together with each other to find positivity and seek a better place for ourselves.

The powerful armor I will use as I move forward is intersectional feminism. Intersectionality acknowledges how systems of oppression happen simultaneously and we must address these systems simultaneously as well. The beauty and power of intersectionality is that, in Black feminist Audre Lorde’s words, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” meaning that the oppressed should not replicate or use the master’s oppressive tools. We must create our own. Intersectionality allows us to make those tools.

My high school feminism class and I attended an event to honor  International Day of the Girl at the United Nations (photo credit: Gaia Prete)

In looking back at my experience taking a high school feminism course this fall, I realize that I was completely illuminated by the meaning and value of feminism, as I was not quite aware of the systemic oppression that countless individuals face, including my own peers. As I grew up in Italy, I was never faced with an open dialogue about diversity. The opportunity to join the conversation and analyze my environment through a new lens has given me a brand new understanding of my identity as a white woman, and a very different perspective of the privilege that it gives me.

The extent to which this has changed me is radical: before, I did not believe myself to be quite privileged. Today, as an able-bodied, heterosexual white girl, who goes to school in downtown Manhattan and lives in Brooklyn, both “liberal bubbles,” I realize now that I am exceptionally privileged. Intersectionality has allowed me to see my own reality. 

The privilege of being raised in Europe cannot be compared to many others. I grew up with white and caring parents. Stepping inside our home, anyone could be whoever they wanted to be. As soon we stepped outside what felt like our own bubble, we were exposed to a whole different world in Milan. Milan has a dynamic that I never felt I belonged to. In Italy, women on the subway would hold their purses as tight as they could whenever they saw an immigrant man of color approaching while begging for change.

My family had the privilege to be able to leave Milan. When we were asked for the reason why we came to New York City, we always answered in the same way: for the opportunities we could find here. However, with the recent election in the U.S., I have been rethinking the reasons why we moved here. Trump has reaffirmed the power of white privilege and supremacy, instead of engaging the diverse community that makes up the United States. He has made very clear that he is skeptical of immigrants, even though this country was built by immigrants.

Hearing him makes me ache. I am now that much more aware of my whiteness due to my high school feminism class. I am a white girl who has perpetuated different systems of oppression and I refuse to buy into Trump’s version of America. In addition, I am much more privileged than many other immigrants due to the color of my skin and the public perception of the country of my origin. I am not in constant fear of being deported, as many other families do who are people of color.

I know now that racism is a part of immigration policies. My family was able to move to the United States without having to face the high barriers that many others face. I am thankful to have had the privilege to move as it granted me an opportunity to become part of a larger discussion but I will not stand by idly knowing that others do not have those same privileges.

My high school feminism class went to a screening of Equal Means Equal in the fall of 2016 (photo courtesy: Ileana Jiménez)

When I first moved here in middle school, I surrounded myself with a diverse group of fierce and motivated students. I began hearing new and captivating words, such as “intersectionality,”“queer,” and even “feminism” – terms for which I had no definition. My thirteen-year-old self was instantly charmed by my new environment, and I could not wait to immerse myself in it. I have been exposed to so many more opportunities that have made an impact on the person I am now, such as my current high school feminism class. This course has given me the chance to participate in conversations where my voice has been heard.

When I attended an event to mark this year’s International Day of the Girl on October 11 at the United Nations n New York City, I learned that I was not alone. I was not the only girl trying to find a way to respond to several instances that made me feel as though my voice was not heard enough. My feminism class also had the opportunity to meet many fierce and powerful feminists throughout the term, including a screening and panel featuring the director of the film, Equal Means Equal, Kamala Lopez.

The more I joined new conversations, the more I noticed that my classmates’ different experiences and world views were starting to make me reflect upon myself and my identity, especially as I came to realize – more or less consciously – that I was and had always been a part of the master narrative. As a young white woman from Italy, my voice was heard loud and clear above that of many others. The oppression that I have suffered is only of one type: that of being female.

What I learned through my experience as a young feminist could not be put in better words than the ones of Audre Lorde when she says that it is arrogant to “assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians.”

For this reason, today my definition of feminism focuses on inclusion and justice. Specifically, I like to reflect on the following questions: what does it mean to be part of a community of feminists? How are other voices heard in a room where the dominant voice may be the majority? This is because I believe that feminism does not only pertain to the “liberation of women,” where white women may be the preferred group, but rather a matter of liberation for us all, including women of color, women with disabilities, immigrant women, queer women, mothers, poor women, and young girls around the world. My feminism is one that builds a society where no woman will suffer from any form of oppression because of who they are.

I agree with Lorde when she writes in “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House,” “without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that those differences do not exist.”

I fear what our country will become with the incoming administration. I fear that diversity won’t be appreciated. I’m constantly worried that whenever white males who have more authority than I become aggressive, my voice will become silent. I am worried that every time a white man tells me to shut up because my opinion is not important, I will eventually become powerless. I am scared of the men who pass by me in the streets making sexual comments, because I fear the situation will become more hostile and violent.

As women, we are all oppressed in different ways – some more than others, but we need to come together as one to fight the oppression that obstructs us from achieving our dreams everyday. As Lakshmi Puri stated during the event honoring International Day of the Girl, “a girl with a dream is fire” and a girl shouldn’t give up in fear of being shut down.

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