In order to explain the true impact DC has had on me thus far, I have to discuss an experience I had directly prior to coming here. About a week before I got to DC, I attended the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) with the Rollins Office of Multicultural Affairs. This conference centered on racial/ethnic relations in America today, with a particular emphasis on how those relations are enacted in higher education. While there, I had some incredibly profound consciousness-raising experiences.
Being a white woman who has dedicated so much of my time to activism centered on both gender and economic equality, I came to realize how I have failed in so many respects to comprehend the depth of racial inequity’s pervasiveness. NCORE was somewhat of a slap in the face for me: a wake-up call saying, “If you want to fight for social justice effectively, race can’t be viewed as an afterthought in your activism”. In paying so much attention to the politics of gender and socioeconomic status, I have inadvertently disregarded the full impact of race, class, gender, class, sexual orientation etc. on people’s lives. Although this was overwhelming to recognize at first, I came to view my lack of knowledge as a fresh start: an honest foundation to build true social change upon. While in DC, I am interning at the Center for Women Policy Studies.
The Center describes itself as being the first “multiethnic and multiracial feminist policy analysis and research institution in the USA”. CWPS has been at the forefront of groundbreaking research and advocacy intended to improve the lives of women and girls. In reading through their various publications, I became keenly aware that their work is centered on addressing how oppressions intersect to affect women’s lives. My supervisor, Jennifer Tucker, is already becoming a wonderful mentor to me. With each issue I have been reading up on, be it women of color in corporate America or violence against women, she has been there to offer insight into the Center’s methodology, fellow allies in Washington, etc. Being that CWPS is a small organization (there are four women who work in the office day in and day out), I have been able to begin forming relationships with my co-workers and use their personal wisdom and expertise as a guide for my work. My internship is a result of the generous financial and moral support of the Southern Education Foundation. The Southern Education Foundation has been around since 1867, working relentlessly to improve educational excellence and equity in the South. I, along with fellow Rollins community member Meghan Thomas, were chosen to be a part of SEF’s Summer Leadership Initiative. This program places students in internships with various organizations doing incredible work in educational equity. Prior to starting our summer experiences, all the interns convened at SEF’s Atlanta headquarters. Our orientation activities were, to say the least, motivational and inspiring. We heard from various social justice leaders, including Dr. Benjamin Peyton, former President of Tuskegee University and civil rights activist, and Elaine Jones, former President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who was instrumental in the Brown vs. Board Education decision.
Their experiences and knowledge were more than just awe-inspiring; they made me feel of the next generation of movement leaders. I felt an amazing connection to my fellow interns and know our relationship and collaborative advocacy will extend beyond this program. Being that SEF’s focus is on educational equity, my work at the Center will address how this issue pertains specifically to low-income women. I have begun research in the relationship between women on welfare and educational access. At this point in time, current welfare legislation (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) does not permit recipients to attend four-year postsecondary institutions. 2010 is a big year for welfare, being that reauthorization for TANF is on now on the table. The Center is working to advocate for an improved postsecondary education requirement, one that would effectively promote self-sufficiency and mobility for low-income women. Needless to say, I am thrilled to be a part of such an amazing and meaningful endeavor!
Although I am only one week into this experience, I feel as though I have made significant leaps as an activist and feminist. I am truly realizing what social justice means by critically looking at my own social location. My identity has shaped the lens through which I see others, and often that lens has been characterized by unfair assumptions and stereotypes. In order to be an effective advocate, it is so important to become mindful of your own biases if you are to include all people in the fight for equality. Liberation for one group does nothing to truly challenge the inequitable systems of power and domination that marginalize so many. As Lila Watson once said, "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." Watson’s quote highlights that we all have a stake in the fight for social justice; we just need to ensure that our solidarity is defined by mutual goals and sensitive alliances.