It can be tough to feel powerful when many of us are overshadowed by student debt, the uncertain job market and a never ending stream of injustice and political catastrophes on social media. Nevertheless, there is no time like the present to take a stand on issues surrounding race, gender and sexuality, on and off-campus, said Jamilah Lemieux, senior editor at EBONY magazine.
Lemieux, who opened Women’s History Month at “Get In Formation: Finding the Feminism that Fits You,” urged University of Connecticut students to get involved with their community, on Tuesday evening in the Student Union Theater
“If I had my own college career to do over again, I’d wish that I was an activist on campus, I wasn’t,” Lemieux said. “You all are attending school during movement times. You don’t have to be the first, you can walk in the tradition of campus activism at this institution and know that there are people who stand in solidarity with you across the county. The ice has been broken, people are looking to you to do it and there is no shortage of causes to champion.”
Sometimes, though, the priorities of different communities, or even a single community, can appear at odds. A black woman, Lemieux said as an example, might feel torn between addressing street harassment or committing herself to fighting racially motivated police brutality. Lemieux said she is often asked to choose between aspects of her identity, whether that be between her role as a woman, an African American, a mother or a journalist - but it shouldn’t have to be that way.
“There’s never been a conflict about being black and being feminist. There's never been a conflict in loving any part of your own identity or someone else’s and being feminist,” Lemieux said. “The challenge that we have is finding how to fit each part of our identity into that without erasing someone else's experience.”
Daveon McMullen, a staff member at UConn’s Counseling and Mental Health Services, said Lemieux’s commentary on intersectionality was central to her speech.
“That was the forefront, and her encouragement of student to remain active in the movement,” McMullen said. “There are certain situations where it feels like you have to weigh one over the other, so hearing her was powerful.”
Experiencing oppression due to one aspect of your identity doesn’t mean you aren’t privileged in other areas, Lemieux explained. Instead of engaging in “oppression olympics,” students should leverage their advantages to create spaces where those without them can still be heard.
“For too long social justice movements and work have been largely fractured by race, privilege, scope and religion,” Lemieux said. “We haven’t been able, so many of us, to see beyond our own challenges, our own frustrations, to tap into what someone else is experiencing.”
Though Lemieux was critical of feminist author Bell Hooks,’ who called Beyoncé a “terrorist” in 2014 for pandering to the white male gaze, she recommended one of her numerous books, “Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics,” as a foundational text. She also offered Melissa Harris-Perry’s “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America” and Joan Morgan’s “When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip Hop Feminist Breaks It Down” as suggested reading for students looking to dig deeper into the intersection of race and feminism.
“You can be a white female with a middle class background; you can be a Korean student who never met a black person before college; you can be figuring out your gender identity,” Lemieux said in closing. “There’s space for us all here and there’s space for us all to make space for other people, for you to get in formation.”
Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.