Franchesca Ramsey: The importance on intersectionality in activism

Franchesca Ramsey, a successful activist speaks to a group of students about discrimination and privilege. Ramsey gave a talk at the Student Union Theater that was followed by a Q & A where audience members asked her about how to approach difficult situations regarding these issues. (Julie Spillane/The Daily Campus)

Franchesca Ramsey, a successful activist speaks to a group of students about discrimination and privilege. Ramsey gave a talk at the Student Union Theater that was followed by a Q & A where audience members asked her about how to approach difficult situations regarding these issues. (Julie Spillane/The Daily Campus)

Franchesca Ramsey, the famous actress, comedian and video blogger, came to UConn on Monday to kick off Women’s History Month with a humorous lecture on the need for intersectionality in activism.

Ramsey grew up in south Florida, where she was the only black woman in her class. During this time she was a very different person than the woman she is today. Back then, she still hadn’t embraced her natural hair, she allowed friends to say things to her that she would never allow them to say today and she was largely unaware of certain types of people. For instance, as a high schooler, she remembered being shocked when she saw two boys kissing in the hallway. This changed in 2012 when she released her video “Shit White Girls Say...to Black Girls.” The video went viral overnight and soon she had the No. 1 most-watched video on YouTube.

Afterwards, Ramsey was invited to talk on different shows and was quickly brought into a conversation on microaggressions. Through this conversation, she opened her eyes to the idea that other people face different problems than her. In essence, she learned about intersectionality and how while everyone has their own privilege, everyone also has their own struggles.

Ramsey introduced the concept of privilege by telling a story she wrote with Kat Blaque called “Sometimes You’re a Caterpillar.” In this story, two friends, a snail and a caterpillar, try to walk to a party together. The caterpillar goes under a fence to get there, but the snail can’t fit under it because of his shell. When the snail implores the caterpillar to try finding a different way because the snail has a shell and the caterpillar does not, the caterpillar gets offended, believing that the snail is invalidating his personal struggle. The snail then explains that he understands that the caterpillar has problems that he doesn’t share, but that the problems of the caterpillar don’t prevent him from going under the fence. In the end, they both realize that they have their own individual privileges and challenges and need to keep that in mind when they’re together.

After entering the conversation on microaggressions, Ramsey began creating videos beyond her personal experience about the microaggressions faced by others. This soon led to her MTV series “Decoded” and her book “Well, That Escalated Quickly.”

“I’ve been watching Franchesca on MTV’s ‘Decoded’ and I just love the way she explains concepts,” Sara Mohamedzein, a fourth-semester physiology and neurobiology major, said.

With fame, though, she began facing more microaggressions from people online who felt threatened by her and her content. They seemed to be confused that although she’s a feminist and pro-Black Lives Matter, she doesn’t hate men or white people.

“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression,” Ramsey said.

According to Ramsey, people need to realize that history, culture, priviledge, oppression, media and social norms influence how they see the world. Only then can they understand the intersectionality of oppression on different people. Even activists and allies sometimes forget intersectionality, such as when celebrities make accidentally offensive or close-minded tweets.

“If your activism isn’t intersectional, it’s not activism,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey said that while keeping the importance of intersectionality in mind, it’s also important to understand that no one is perfect all the time. As stated earlier, even she had trouble understanding how to react to gay relationships when she was younger. A certain amount of understanding should be given to people who were never educated on different issues.

“I can’t 24/7 be someone who does everything right,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey gave a list of advice on how to react when talking to a person who has said something offensive: It’s important to keep your emotions in check and prevent an escalation of the argument. If someone says something online or over text, try to confront them and start a conversation in person or in a private setting such as email. You need to pick your battles, and sometimes that means letting certain slights go. But most importantly, you need to acknowledge your own privilege and admit to your own mistakes.

“What I took away from it [Ramsey’s lecture] is acknowledging your privilege, checking your privilege and just kind of keeping in mind that we’re activists on our own,” Mohamedzein said. “That’s why I asked my question about when should we stop being activists and when can [we] just start being ourselves. Are we always responsible for educating other people?”

Ramsey also explained that it’s okay to say no when someone challenges you to combat their ideas. There are much easier ways to get your point across, such as having them try to explain their argument to you out loud, so that they can hear how bad their words sound. It’s also far easier to lead by example than to always act as the ethics police.

“You don’t always have to speak up, but when you do you need to make sure that what you’re saying is being heard,” Mohamedzein said.

At the end of her lecture, students got a chance to ask Ramsey questions in front of everyone and to talk to her privately afterward. For many students, it allowed them to get inspiration from one of their role models.

“[It was] very nerve-wracking [to ask Ramsey a question], I was shaking, my voice was definitely shaking,” Savannah McLean, a fourth-semester psychology major, said. “But it was really cool to talk to her one-on-one almost and really get that connection and ask her a really personal question.”

Ramsey’s efforts to get all women represented equally through the understanding of intersectionality definitely qualified her as one of the many influential women being celebrated in Women’s History Month.

“I thought this was a really cool event where she [Ramsey] got to talk about a lot of pertinent issues in terms of diversity and political things that are going on right now, and also her experience as a black woman who’s also a comedian,” McLean said. “And I just really enjoyed her perspective on that.”


Rebecca Maher is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rebecca.l.maher@uconn.edu.