If you don’t live under a rock, you probably realize that it is a pretty tumultuous time for Cornell right now. There was a hate crime in Collegetown last week and, with good reason, the entire campus has been talking about it. As it became time for me to sit down and write my column, it seemed a little weird to tell some funny sex stories and not mention all the really serious things happening right now.
This past Wednesday, my roommate Mia texted me a link to the Facebook event for the Black Students United rally at the University Assembly meeting. “Yo I’m so down,” I responded, even though I didn’t really understand what the University Assembly was or why the BSU wanted to go to the meeting. “Do you think it is okay that we aren’t wearing black?” I asked Mia. “Um, probably…?” she replied. We were by no means prepared but we felt like it was better to show up wearing colors than to not show up at all.
We were one of the first ones there and we grabbed seats near the back row. More and more people filed in until the room was completely filled. The committee called the meeting to order in the most bureaucratic nonsense way possible and the two leaders of BSU, Traciann Celestin ’18 and Delmar Fears ’19, went to the front and read their statement. I didn’t immediately understand the point of what they were saying. Why wouldn’t they enumerate their demands? I leaned over and whispered “I’m very confused” to Mia approximately four times.
Soon the committee called for silence. One after another, students began raising their fists, holding the position for what would end up lasting more than 30 minutes. Mia and I looked around uncomfortably. I felt confused and out of place. I wanted nothing more than to show my support for their cause and help defend the rights of my fellow students but I was paralyzed by a fear of offending someone or overstepping my bounds.
Remember that quintessential civil rights photo taken at the 1968 Olympics? Black American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos stand with their heads bowed and fists raised. The white silver medalist from Australia, Peter Norman, just looks on. Smith has said that Norman approached him before photo, expressing his support for the cause but relaying his hesitance to actually put his fist in the air. Well, that is kind of how I felt. But, I realized it was okay to feel uncomfortable. This protest was not for me. These protests are not for me. Feeling uncomfortable is a minor inconvenience faced everyday by minorities on our campus. I was just getting a taste of it.
I try to remind myself that when I feel uncomfortable or guilty or defensive in conversations and situations like these, there is a reason why. Usually, it means I am challenging my own privilege. The privilege that I have as an educated white woman. The privilege that makes it so easy to write a column about feminism every week and never bring up race. A privilege that means I will probably feel safe on this campus no matter what. A privilege that makes it so hard for me to understand that this is not my turn to talk.
I decided to raise my fist and, although my arm was not nearly toned enough to last the full 30 minutes, it felt really good. It was really my first chance to practice the intersectionality that I preach.
On Thursday, I stood meekly outside Day Hall as the crowd gathered to deliver the list of demands to President Martha Pollack. I cracked jokes to ease the tension, as I typically do. But I soon realized it was okay to sit with my uncomfortableness. Maybe standing in the background was the most feminist thing I could have done. I can write a column-a-day for the next year about double standards and blowjobs and sex toys, but until we discuss the racial binary in modern feminism, we are not really saying anything.
Since the incident last week, there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the whole Psi Upsilon narrative. The sexual assault committed by the Psi U president two years ago — the act that initially got the fraternity kicked off campus — has been rehashed ad-nauseum. Yet, in the past week, I’ve heard quite a few disturbing comments regarding the whole ordeal. Some people are still challenging the victim’s story, saying: “well, we don’t even really know what happened with that.” Outside one of my classrooms on Tuesday I heard a girl tell her friend, “I know that girl got sexually assaulted and stuff, and that’s bad, but like beating up a black guy?! That should really get you kicked off campus.” And we wonder why people don’t report sexual assault.
These comments, while admittedly not the opinions of Cornell’s finest, represent the pattern of comparing violence against women and violence against minorities, and pitting the two groups against each other. Susan B. Anthony asked black woman to march at the back of the protest. Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver boasted in Soul on Ice that he had raped white women to avenge white men’s historic sexual abuse of black women. He adds that he had practiced raping black women first and blamed them for colluding with white men to emasculate black men. Obviously, Cleaver does not represent the whole movement, and the BPP had notoriously progressive views regarding gender roles, however, the pattern of competition between women and minorities is a backwards tradition that only benefits the white patriarchy. Comparing suffering is never productive.
Malcolm X said, “The most disrespected woman in America, is the black woman.” This holds true today, as black woman feel the gendered and racial oppression that most other demographics cannot understand. Traciann and Delmar are the faces of modern feminism, telling a story I had heard before but never seen with my own eyes. I would like to crown you both with a resounding “YAAAAAASSSSS KWEEEEEENNNN.”
Willow Hubsher is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is Not a Sex Column appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.