Black activist and author of “The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom,” Barbara Smith said last Thursday that students who take women’s studies courses best understand issues of racism.
Recalling her own experience in a group fighting toward racial equality post Sept. 11, Smith said that she found those who best understood the reasons behind the multiracial peace movement were a core of younger people, recent graduates who had taken women’s studies courses.
“They all got it,” she said. “It showed that their exposure to those ideas made them that much more open than even my peers [who had been through] Vietnam, and these weren’t just racially diverse people, they were white as well.”
With an audience of about 50 women , Smith briefed audience members about the effects of various U.S. government defense strategies, and how race factors into them. Smith noted that in order to truly understand world issues today, we must realize the role that racism holds in our society.
“Often the organization in communities of color is not seen as part of the movement of peace. And it shouldn’t be that way,” she said.
“If we’re all working towards justice then we need to overcome our differences.”
Recounting her reaction to Smith’s speech, Sophomore Alix Jerinic noted that although she isn’t part of a racial minority she nonetheless understood Smith’s message.
“Some parts of the speech definitely challenged me and forced me to think about things as a white person,” said Jerinic.
“There are very strong similarities between white and male privilege. Unfortunately, I do believe some feminists and women’s activists are still very resistant to dealing with racial issues.”
However, not all women in the audience felt that feminist viewpoints could be used to understand the struggles of racial inequality.
Junior and exchange student Kyoko Satomi appreciated the message of the importance behind understanding race issues in order to combat war and terrorist actions. But she did not agree that those who are
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xposed to women’s studies courses are best able to approach such issues.
“There have been huge gaps between white feminist and the other feminists of color. [And] there is inequality between men and women. However, feminism and race are two different concepts,” she said.
In addition to her prepared notes, Smith read from War Times, a local Bay Area newspaper, about the effects of our governments’ policies. She noted that minorities are being attacked, by initiatives such as the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, the U.S. A. PATRIOT Act, and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, which target and are being used to detain immigrants.
“Terrorism, that hold all term,” she said, has allowed our administration to legitimize racial profiling, create anti-immigrant initiatives, and perform attacks on our civil liberties.
Speaking at an all women’s college was nothing new to Smith who is a graduate of Mt. Holyoke. For the past 20 years, she has been publishing literary and social criticism. The co-founder of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, Smith is a prominent voice on the topic of black feminism and the black lesbian experience.
According to Marilyn Humphries, Black Lavender Resources, “Barbara Smith has played a groundbreaking role in opening up a national cultural and political dialogue about the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and gender.”