This piece was originally published in September of 2017. However, ShiShi's message bears repeating over and over and over again.
I consider myself a strong feminist woman. I march, I support, I read and I share what I learn. But I have recently wondered, is this enough? What more should I be doing in the way of activism, and how should I be doing it? For some time I have followed the work of writer and activist, ShiShi Rose. Her unapologetically bold voice drew me in, gave me pause and oft made me think: how can I be a better? ShiShi graciously agreed to answer my questions, share part of her story and to educate myself (and The Fold readers) on what it means to be an ally to POC in 2017.
What is the path that led you to your work and activism?
The path was simply just being born a marginalized person. I grew up questioning the world around me and it only made sense to continue that as an adult. It is a constant state of protest just to exist in a country/world that threatens my life and ability to thrive daily. The more I questioned and learned the more I spoke out.
I realized that for me, in order to feel like I had some control and wasn't just surviving life, always stuck under white supremacy, I had to fight the things that I was seeing and experiencing. So I became involved in activism and started organizing and trying to get into as many rooms as possible whether activist or political, that were claiming equality but in the process were purposefully leaving out Black and Brown voices.
Can you clarify what it means, in words and actions, to be an ally to POC in 2017?
I deal with white allies on a daily basis and sometimes the insidious ways that they inflict racism on me and other people of color is really no different then the way a Klan member inflicts racism on us. It's sneakier, but accomplishes the same things. To invoke fear, to keep people of color lower than everyone else, and to use white privilege to always have the loudest voice in the room.
It's not possible to learn if all you do is talk. It's not possible to understand how to truly be an ally if you don't do the work to unlearn your own ingrained racism, to look at how you benefit as a white person from the oppression that people of color face, and if all you do is talk over the people you claim to want to help.
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White people also assume many times that they have the answer to something that is a centuries-old problem, so they continue giving opinions. That baffles me because if there was one answer, a simple fix to end racism, why would white people be the ones that held it and not people of color who have endured racism? Them thinking that they have answers/knowledge that people of color couldn't have possibly tried or figured out in centuries would be them further interjecting their privilege into a conversation that they don't fully understand. Listening, and then taking what is heard/learned and using that to teach other white people, is the best thing white allies can do to help.
What message is most important to convey to other women about privilege?
That everyone can exist under the umbrella of having both oppression AND privilege. Having one doesn't cancel out the other. You can be a person that has experienced extreme oppression and still you can harm others with the privilege you hold.
When they try to leave themselves out of the discussion of white supremacy I remind white women that even today, in 2017, there are entire women's white supremacy chapters around the country. And that during the last Civil Rights movement someone had to organize the Klan rallies and make KKK robes for the children. Klan rallies aside however, white supremacy is a part of the daily life of all white people whether they want that power or not. Racism is taught, and humanity's greatest teachers have always been women.
What are the questions we should be asking ourselves? What should we be reading, watching, listening to?
You should be asking yourselves how far you are willing to go to fight injustice? What kind of world do you want to exist in, and what will you do to make that a reality? People of color have lost everything, sacrificed everything to end this, so what are white allies willing to lose to fight? Is protesting the most you will do? Or are you willing to risk the comfort and privilege you have become accustomed to by putting your body on the line? Are you willing to get involved and call out police directly when you see them harassing people of color? Are you willing to potentially lose family and friends because of their racist views? Are you willing to do your own research instead of demanding that people of color teach you while we also have to survive white supremacy?
Who/where do you look for inspiration and levity?
I look to women of color for inspiration. From our intelligence, beauty, and the way we survive, to the way we have lead entire movements and have been almost entirely left out of all history books. Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver, Audre Lorde, and Assata Shakur are among some of my favorites. I feel that during this time of resistance it is so important for people of color and allies to research and learn about all the women of color throughout history (especially the ones who didn't get famous), who have carried entire movements on their backs without credit. Not only to inspire us, but to serve as a template for us because what we are fighting now is merely a continuation of previous work/opposition.