Article co-written with Zara Syed.
Malcolm X once compared racism to a knife jammed in the back of the oppressed, which the oppressors refused to admit, existed. After hundreds of years of dealing with the scourge of racism, there are some who would believe that it is no longer a problem.
Though I am a woman of colour, I cannot speak on behalf of marginalized groups when I say this, however it is a great concern to me the more and more this opinion becomes prominent. “That there is no race issue, we are in the 21st century, sexism doesn’t exist, and feminism is moot.”
It is a growing concern for me in everyday life, every time I see a headline in the news. With Harper’s Bill C-51 taking center stage, and the rate of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada continuing to grow; I often wonder what Bill would ever be proposed to protect them.
There are issues I become aware about, not through prominent media outlets, such as the Tyendinega, a mohawk community near Napanee which does not have access to clean water. These people have to take buses to have showers, or to have basic access to what you and I take for granted every day. Canada is depicted as a country where slums are few and far between, but one doesn’t have to look far to see the limited access of resources these oppressed minorities face.
It is no different in the States how this cycle of systematic racism is perpetuated. As visible minorities are visibly climbing the political ladder of success, society seems more open and integrated than ever before. However, if we were about to breathe a sigh of relief, blatantly prejudiced media coverage of the Mike Brown and Eric Garner murders, not to mention the following refusal of the judicial system to punish the perpetrators appropriately in spite of damning video evidence, was enough to remind us that this problem runs far deeper than segregated bathroom spaces.
The intersectionality of racism is seen in examples of lack of media coverage surrounding women of colour, specifically Aboriginal women in Canada, and their abduction and mortality rates. Women like Rekia Boyd or even the young seven-year-old Aiyana Jones who was shot while sleeping on her couch during a police drug bust. It’s hard to determine where this stems from. Whether it comes from a Tyler Perry movie or from our grandmothers who constantly train us that we must maintain tolerance in order to hold together stable relationships, this toxic image paints us as less vulnerable and needing of support. Couple this with sexism and racism and you have a recipe for disaster such as the situation in the states.
In terms of being a woman, it is almost as though the standard can never be met. Another example where race and gender equality intersect is this very week where Raina El- Alloul, a woman adorning the hijab during a court proceeding, was told by the judge that he would refuse to hear her case because she was “not suitably dressed.”
It seems though no matter what, women everywhere are constantly being bombarded by an unending mantra of “what you look like, it’s never good enough.” If a woman had worn a skimpy outfit to court, that too would be deemed inappropriate or not “suitable for court.”
Is it about the headscarf, or is it about a dictatorship on what a woman is wearing? There seems to always be a controversial news story about a girl being sent home from school or the prom because her attire is inappropriate, when really it’s our perception that we can dictate what a woman can and cannot do with her body that speaks volumes about how far we have progressed in equal rights. Slut Walk, a protest that arose in response to a Toronto Police officer offering the advice of ‘not dressing like a slut’ in order to avoid unwanted attention and being rape, is a direct response to this sexism that still permeates society.
This never-ending focus on our outward aesthetic does not end with clothing. Our bodies are constantly up for review whether at the gym or in the line at McDonald’s. We are told that we are not worthy of love, respect or success unless we fit within the borders of physical beauty drawn by the patriarchal media. If this standard of beauty is difficult for white women to reach, it is certainly impossible for women of colour as it very rarely includes us. The media holds a unique position in our society. It has the power to either uplift us or to completely poison us intellectually. Communities of colour have been ingesting this toxin for decades, which is why it is no surprise that we now exist in a world where women of colour rarely see themselves as beautiful and men of colour see it as the ultimate success to date outside their race.
My biggest concern with North American media is that it continues to put emphasis on the female aesthetic rather than intellect. The constant youth obsession has made women afraid of age and the associated wisdom that it brings while the feminine brain is never given the importance it deserves. This all serves to subliminally translate to young girls that they will only be valuable as long as they are sexually viable. The result? A hyper-sexualised society that is comfortable with the disrespect and degradation of female bodies.
Daily, we sit in silent acceptance of numerous micro-aggressions against women of colour sometimes by white feminists, men of colour or other marginalized groups. These acts are often disregarded because it is assumed that minority groups are automatically in solidarity with each other. However, the truth of the matter is that different layers of privilege restrict us from truly sharing in each other’s experiences.
Refusal to acknowledge this is the reason why some women can claim they no longer need feminism since they are no longer victims of discrimination. We must remember that feminism is not just a movement for white upper class women and if we continue to ignore the knife, the wound will eventually fester to form an infection that shall never heal.