Imagine: you’re in grade school where no one looks like you “How can I fit in? Why don’t I look like everyone else?” These questions would constantly be in mind. One day, you are on the playground, hoping to make friends when asked if you could play, instead of hearing ‘yes’, you were told, “You can’t play with us. You know how if you leave bread in the toaster too long, it burns. You are burnt toast.” Now you know why you don’t fit in. This is an experience very close to me and I became ashamed of my appearance because it caused exclusion.
Webster’s Dictionary defines feminism is defined as the "political, economic and social equality of the sexes”. Inclusion is the key behind this and by recognizing classism, racism, sexism and the other -isms, we can create an inclusive environment.
‘Burnt toast’ is a harsh reality that many women of color experience on a daily basis. This has allowed me to believe that we all have hurdles in our lives, but they vary. Recognizing difference is the best way to start building bridges. On campus, the one way to connect with people of color is to attend meetings of the Black Student Union, visit Minority Student Services, International Student Center or Ethic Affairs to see programs available and discuss issues that are important to women of any race. Coordinate events that focus on common ground and the inclusion of all races by having a pay equity bake sale. Have both groups make baked goods to sell in your Student Union. (At Clarion, our best seller was ‘interracial rice crispie treats’ made of cocoa crispies and rice crispies!) Make a list of prices for men and women of as many races by researching salaries with the National Committee on Pay Equity or the National Organization for Women (NOW). In 2004, NOW found that for every dollar a white male made, latina women make .58, black women make .69 and white women made .76. The FMLA at Clarion had students select a random race and sex out of a bowl in order to determine the price they paid. Consider having a follow up discussion with any event in order to create dialogue around this issue. Even though you may start talking about the pay gap, you may find you are connecting or disagreeing on another topic.
One common ground issue is the availability of emergency contraception (EC). Creating a campaign on this issue would allow for women to share their experiences with access to birth control. The Feminist Majority Foundation provided the feminist group at Clarion with plenty of materials, stickers and leaflets to give to share with our campus community. Perhaps connecting with your local Planned Parenthood or on-campus health center to educate women on the availability of EC will spread the word and create a dialogue around reproductive options.
Even if you attend a school like Clarion University, who boasts a five percent minority population, you are able to create change and connect with like-minded groups. On college campuses, there are often groups that recognize racism exists within our culture, but by exposing sexism existence we are recognizing both are unacceptable and must change. Through my experience with groups such as the NAACP or the Black Student Union, women are the backbone and preside over these organizations; they recognize issues among women of color. Creating a book club that feature an array of authors may help create dialogue and from this dialogue ideas and action can arise, some suggestions are “This Bridge Called My Back” by Cheerie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, “Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde and “Ain’t I a Woman” by bell hooks. A book club can also create a space for women of color to connect with each other.
There must be a bridge for all women to recognize feminist issues and how their individual experiences have impacted their outlook. Sharing our personal stories and creating a community provides a safe place for women of any color. In order to create this community it is necessary to recognize one’s personal struggles as a part of who they are and that may not always be common perspective. We must remember that one person does not represent a group. Feminism allows for a person to be an individual with experiences, not individuals who have the same experience. Share your story and listen to another’s, you may be surprised to find that ‘burnt toast’ exists.
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Lisa Covington is a graduate from Clarion University where she
studied Social Change and Women's Studies and founded
the only feminist based student organization. She
served on the American Association for University
Women Student Board and was selected as a top leader
for feminist activism by Ms. Magazine. Lisa looks
forward to attending graduate school for Women's
Studies and working in the healthy development of