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Reflections on Anita Hill: 20 Years Later

Twenty years ago, I sat in my college dorm room glued to the TV watching Anita Hill's testimony before the US Senate Judiciary Committee (rabbit ears and all). Though many of my peers were self-defined activists and politically engaged--we discussed articles in The New York Times over meals, we attended pro-choice rallies, we got enraged that our university was about to turn the site of Malcom X's assassination into a medical waste incinerator--this felt different; this felt personal.

Just as we had talked about the invasion of Iraq or the fall of the Berlin Wall, we couldn't stop talking about "it;" angered equally by how "they" humiliated "this woman" and the audacity of the Senate committee.

Though I was a woman, attending an all woman's college, I was reacting less to the gender implications and more to the race implications -- a lone black woman and an all white committee. I had a raised race consciousness long before I had a raised gender consciousness -- let alone learning to connect the roots of both. It felt safer to advocate for something that couldn't be construed as "personal."

Months after Anita Hillís hearing, I watched Rodney King's verdict -- and then watched L.A. on fire and then walked through the streets of New York City as white shop owners feared the same would happen there. I had the same sense of race rage. Rage I eventually funneled into organizing a cross country voter registration drive and later into creating the Third Wave Foundation, a national organization for younger feminist activists. I wanted to give younger people a platform to be leaders on issues impacting them and wanted to create visibility on younger people's investment in issues of national importance.

I believed then -- as I do now -- that younger people are an asset to social justice movements because they aren't yet scripted on what is right/wrong, they aren't tolerant of hierarchy, even if they are intimidated by it, they aren't jaded by years of trying.

Months after the hearing I was in the midst of a cross country voter registration drive, when I realized how short-sighted I had been -- if I live under the illusion of democracy without the reality of it, that punishes me, too. It wasn't just Anita Hill being persecuted and humiliated and disbelieved -- it was me; it was all women.

A long phone conversation with James Farmer, a pioneer in the civil rights movement, helped me come to this conclusion. When I asked him what advice he had for younger people inspired by his work. He said "believe in it." Or in this instance, I believe her.

Amy Richards is one of the organizers of the Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later conference.

Follow Feminist.com's tweets live from the conference @feministdotcom


Amy Richards is a founding board member of Feminist.com and the voice behind Ask Amy, the online advice column she launched at Feminist.com in 1995. Amy is best known for creating the Third Wave Foundation, a national organization for young feminist activists as well as for her writings on contemporary feminism. Amy is the author of Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself, and the co-author of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future and Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism. Amy’s writings and opinions can be found in various media outlets, including NPR, The New York Times, Bitch and The Chicago Tribune. Amy is a producer of the HBO documentary "Gloria Steinem: In Her Own Words", and an advisor to "Makers", a forthcoming PBS documentary. She has traveled the world representing feminism—most recently at Ewha University in Korea and at the American Embassy in Russia and years ago at the UN Conference on Women in Beijing. She has won numerous awards for her activism. Amy graduated from Barnard College in 1992 with a BA in Art History.

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