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Author discusses feminism, race at Saint Mary’s

| Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Award-winning author and documentary filmmaker Karsonya Wise Whitehead spoke about intersectional feminism in the modern era at the Saint Mary’s Plamondon Lecture on Monday, “Sisterhood, Social Justice and Scholarship: A 21st Century Conversation.”

She began the evening with a poem, and a challenge to think honestly.

“I always believed every mountain wants to be climbed, every ocean wants to be crossed, every dream once spoken out loud wants to be realized,” she said.

Whitehead said the idea of sisterhood has made appearances across history — such as the 1966 founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Through the past, one can see history become her-story, she said.

Whitehead said feminism is a commitment to the struggle for equality and justice for women — and for everyone.

“Black feminism is powerful,” she said. “And it is growing. If you look at the pictures today from the Black Lives Matter movement, you see it’s dominated by black women. It was three black women who launched Black Lives Matter.”

She said women must push forward together towards change even though feminism in many ways has become the other “f-word.”

“My sons once asked me ‘What does a feminist look like?’” Whitehead said. “And I looked at them, and I truly believed when I told them if I’ve done by job right, then they’ll see a black feminist every time they look in the mirror, because we must raise our sons as feminists, we must raise them to understand and recognize what equality looks like.”

In order to achieve these goals of equality and change, Whitehead said there are three tools which must be used.

The first tool is commitment laced with passion, and this must be commitment toward moving forwards, she said.

She said one example of this is a willingness to bow to the history of the moment when a woman is running for president, even if you don’t agree with her politics, because this is change from the 1920s, and it is movement forward.

She said you must also must have strength of character and the ability to decide who you are inside, which is something that often happens in times of controversy and confusion with hurdles in the way.

“That’s how I look at mountains,” Whitehead said. “Some mountains you have to figure out ways to get around them. Sometimes you go up, sometimes you go down, sometimes you go under, sometimes you go over. We do what we have to do in order to survive.”

The final tool is fighting for something bigger than yourself instead of making yourself the center of your own world, Whitehead said.

“[We are] taking pictures of our food, of our shoes, talking about what we’re doing every minute of every day and we are not living,” she said. “I have to remind myself I cannot live online, I live on land.”

She said that, with these tools, women can move forward together and leave behind a history full of disempowerment and underrepresentation.

“I challenge you today, in the spirit of all who have come before us … I challenge you today to lean into this new space as we press forward,” she said. “And we do so as holding hands with the sister beside because we have to be committed to getting to a better place but we have to be committed to getting there together.”

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About Kathryn Marshall

Kathryn Marshall, Saint Mary's College '17, is a Biology and Humanistic Studies double major. Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kmarshallSMC

Contact Kathryn