Nia Wilson: Say Her Name

On Sunday 22 July, an 18-year-old woman was fatally stabbed on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station platform in Oakland, California.

Her name was Nia Wilson. 

The following day, John Cowell (27) was arrested for the attack, which killed Nia and seriously wounded her sister, Latifah. He has been charged with murder and attempted murder.

Credit: Nichelle Stephens

In the days since, thousands of people have gathered to mourn Nia’s death and honour her life, and tens of thousands of social media posts tagged #NiaWilson, #JusticeForNia and #SayHerName have swept the internet.

Although the BART Police Chief has reportedly said that there is currently no evidence to suggest that Cowell is part of any terrorist or white supremacist group, Nia’s murder – along with the subsequent police and media response – have reignited national and international debates on race.

Celebrities, artists and all those horrified by the brutal, unprovoked murder of a young woman have been speaking out against the racism, white supremacy and misogyny that – as writer Elizabeth Gilbert posted“is so deeply embedded within our culture that we marinate in it at every level.”

In the past, when #SayHerName has been used to shine a light on murders of black women, I am ashamed to say that I have stayed silent. I’ve worried that it was not my time to speak, not my space to occupy – worried that I’d say the wrong thing. But I see now that those worries are privileges in themselves, and that the choice to remain silent is one that many women do not share with me when violence and fear remain threads woven tightly through the fabric of their daily lives.

As a white young woman, I cannot call myself a feminist if I don’t express the sorrow and disgust I feel about what happened to Nia with the same outrage, and at the same volume, as I would if a white 18-year-old was murdered where I live. Feminism that is not intersectional is irrelevant, and in this instance, silence is compliance.

What can I do? What can you do?

Firstly, you can donate to the Wilson family’s ‘Justice for Nia’ page. Then…

– Ask yourself what you are doing to disrupt systemic racism, answer honestly.

– Challenge yourself to acknowledge the ways you have personally benefited, and will continue to benefit in the future, from that racism.

– Think about how, as a white person, you can use your words and actions and networks and finances to help make the world a safer place for black people.

– Call out people around you who demonstrate hateful or oppressive behaviour. Stop ignoring racist comments or laughing at racist jokes.

– Read and learn and be willing to change. Listen to people when they tell you about their experiences, while remembering that asking black people to explain racism, or for guidance on how you can help, is asking those already doing the majority of the emotional work to dismantle white supremacy to work even harder and carry an even heavier burden. Do your own work, challenge yourself and those around you.

– Notice when the media uses language to vilify black people, or to excuse white people.

– Educate yourself on the intricacies of white supremacy. Admit to yourself if you find it uncomfortable and difficult then carry on anyway.

– Remember that good intentions are not enough.

We have to do better. We have to stand with black women. Please share any other suggestions you have! None of us are free until all of us are free. 

Nia was 18. She deserved a full and long and safe and joyful life. Say her name.

A Different Take on Inclusion

My new job requires me to do a lot of research on teacher preparation programs in the United States. The need for diversity – in this case, specifically racial diversity – is mentioned in numerous reports on the current state of the teaching profession.

Being a woman of color, I had become kind of numb to the idea as the term is thrown around so much and I often feel as though I serve as the only marker of ‘diversity’ in various spaces. 

As I continued my research, the word just kept jumping out at me. Diversity was in almost every report, spoken at every seminar, and used by every university education program. Then the statistical data behind why diversity is necessary began to come to light. In 2012, 49% of secondary students in the US were of color but only 12% of their teachers were. That’s a huge disparity, right? This statistic also made me reflect on my own secondary education career and realize I only ever had one teacher who looked like me. Even with this knowledge, I was still not fully ready for what I was to find next…

Researchers at the Institute of Labor Economics found that low-income Black male students in North Carolina who have just one Black teacher in third, fourth, or fifth grade are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to consider attending college.

As I continued to search, I kept seeing different iterations of this phrase, ‘students of color perform better academically and are suspended at lower rates when exposed to at least one educator of their own ethnicity,’ but I still hadn’t wondered why that was the case.

Next, I read a report which stated students of color have higher levels of achievement when they have a teacher of color because those teachers hold a more positive perception of their students both academically and behaviorally compared to non-minority teachers.

As I read this, I had such a tough time grasping what was being said. Basically, a lot of the reports on the need for diversity were showing that non-minority teachers let their prejudice and stereotypes of minority students get in the way of their teaching ability – to such an extent that it negatively affects students of color – and the proposed solution is to hire more minority teachers. Not to call non-minority teachers to task or equip them to better serve their ALL of their students.

I was appalled by the proposed solution of merely diversifying the teaching profession. That lets so many people in our society out of doing the real work that is necessary to overcome racial stereotypes and prejudices – as these issues cannot be solved by people of color themselves.

At the same time, I was seeing the same idea being used in a social movement – the latest wave of the #MeToo campaign. Over the past few weeks, I have watched #MeToo take over my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds as so many – too many – female celebrities, activists, colleagues, and even close friends have all experienced varying degrees of sexual harassment or assault, most often at the hands of men.

As more and more stories of #MeToo are shared, I find it interesting that when it comes to the issue of sexual harassment of assault against women, it is the women we focus on the most, rather than the men who help to perpetuate this culture of abuse.

In the same way racism is not just an issue for people of color, sexual assault and harassment is not just an issue for women. But too often, these issues are labeled as the responsibility of those being harmed by them the most. The idea of inclusion needs to be applied to all actors who have a stake in an issue and not just to those who feel the direct and immediate effects of racism or sexual harassment or assault. We all share the responsibility of creating a more equitable and safe society.

A White Woman’s No to White Privilege and White Supremacy

In light of recent events in the USA and in my home country Sweden, I cannot stay quiet any more. 

The violent terrorism by white supremacist groups cannot be accepted and ignored as we silently fear history repeating itself. Political leaders in the USA and in Sweden have opened up the floor to violent nazi groups to demonstrate, protest and take to the streets with violence and hate speech. Our democratically elected (in light of the past US election, this can of course be debated) leaders have allowed hateful white supremacist groups to grow, and by not acting effectively and in time they have contributed to a normalization of their violent behavior. 

In Charlottesville, USA, white supremacist groups organized a “Unite the Right” demonstration against the demolition of a Confederate statue, which was met with anti-racist counter protests. In an act of terrorism, a neo-nazi supporter rammed his car into a crowd of protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring at least 19 others. 

Earlier this year in Sweden, neo-nazi groups were allowed space to publicly demonstrate during the country’s largest annual political gathering, Almedalen. Their rhetoric, filled with hate, demanded their right to free speech. 

During the Pride parade in Stockholm this August, a group of neo-nazis attacked bystanders and Pride attendees, and just a couple of days later another group attacked peaceful protesters of young Afghan refugees with smoke bombs. These attacks have been completely unprovoked and filled with racism and hatred. 

What these groups ultimately want is for white people to have power over all other ethnicities – or better yet white male supremacy. What they are protesting for is something that has been allowed to grow, since white privilege and patriarchy prevails in Western societies (and around the world). 

As a white woman I try to understand and be aware of the intricacies of white privilege.

I know that my name will never be pushed aside in job applications for sounding “foreign”. I am not afraid that the police will stop me to ask for my personal identification because of the color of my skin. I am not worried that the stereotypes associated with me as a white woman will limit me from getting a good seat at a nice restaurant or necessary, life-saving care at the hospital. And I am not afraid that violent white men will protest against my right to livelihood and residency (although I must say that violent white men do scare me because gender based violence and rape culture persists, both within and outside of the white supremacist ideology).

White privilege is real – and I want to say that out loud as a white woman of privilege.

Not only is white privilege real, it is a real problem. It limits our societies from being fully free, it discriminates against so many people, just to keep our white comfort zones of privilege in check. It goes against everything I believe in.   

Many white people may not reflect upon their privilege – but I want to encourage you all to think about your life and the privilege that you have been born into, just because of the color of your skin and the name you were given. If you believe in human rights and gender equality or if you call yourself a feminist or work to advocate for our Sustainable Development Goals, you need to take action against white privilege. 

White privilege is an underlying racist foundation of our countries that still exists and it is on this very foundation that alt-right, neo-nazi, Swedish nationalist, and other white supremacist groups build their beliefs. White privilege fuels their fight. These groups are alive, not only as random trolls on the Internet, and they are dangerous. Although many of them have put on suits and ties to justify their ideology or rhetoric, we need to speak out actively to fight against them. 

Thankfully, in the past year in particular, we’ve seen an amazing global mobilization of civil society and organizations standing up for equal rights. At Girls’ Globe, we will continue to be part of this – and in the process raise the voices of girls and women worldwide.

Girls’ Globe takes a public stand against white supremacy and racism. We fight to create a sustainable world, free from any discrimination, inequality and violence, enabling all girls and women to live up to their fullest potential, in peace and solidarity. 

White people, here are a few things we can do to work against white privilege: 

  • Listen! Your opinion is just not as important at this point – let others do the talking and listen to their stories and experiences. 
  • Become aware of your privilege and constantly remind yourself of it. Are you a white male? Remember what extra privilege you have.  
  • Be aware of your prejudice and actively work to change it. Apologize for it. 
  • Speak out when you see others utilize white privilege or witness acts or words of racism.
  • Don’t laugh at racist jokes – just like sexist jokes, these are not funny, they normalize discriminatory stereotypes. Instead, call them out. 
  • Are you in a position of power at your job? Take action to combat discrimination in your workplace and in recruitment processes. 
  • Find out about organizations working against racism or white supremacy in your community and support them.
  • Don’t wait for minority groups, or those discriminated against, to do the work – you can take action today.
  • Talk about inequalities in your home and with your friends. 
  • Speak out against racism on social media and take an active stand against white privilege.
  • Take part in anti-racist demonstrations and protests against inequality.

Be willing to change and to learn. Please add your thoughts in the comments below of more things that we can do as Girls’ Globe to take action for all people’s equal rights and to end racism.

 

I Survived for a Reason

By an anonymous writer from Afghanistan

My parents wanted a son,
My birth disappointed them.
A few weeks after I was born,
My grandfather was killed.
My mother thought I was bad luck.

When I was 6 years old,
Our neighbor’s boy sexually harassed me.
I spent my childhood in fear.

The Taliban closed my school,
They ruined my best days.
I was unable to go out without my father, brother, and a burqa,
Like a prisoner in my own home for six years.
My body was a sin to them.

They attacked our home a few times because we were Shia Muslim.
They beat my parents and brother in front of me.
They hanged my mother’s two young cousins from a tree.
Deprived of their own humanity, they dehumanized the rest of us.

I had my first marriage proposal at the age of 10.
I saw my cousins getting married at the age of 12, 13, and 14,
While still children, they had to become mothers.
I felt sorry for them and wanted to help them.

I had to break this harmful custom and inequality
I started to fight against child marriage.

I thought coming to the United States would give me the freedom to take on this responsibility.
I thought I could contribute to an America that would fight for women’s equality.
I imagined America as a country free from injustice.
The most powerful country and the land of dreams,
But reality hit me on my first day.

I was harassed and bullied for looking different.
My faith, accent and scarf put me in a minority category.
I was asked so many ignorant questions,
Have you seen Osama bin Laden? Do you wear shoes in Afghanistan?
And I started to feel unsafe.

I dedicated my life to help women and girls,
Especially the ones who have tough lives like mine.
But it is not an easy task.
The more I learn about social justice and human rights,
The more I become disgusted and disappointed.

I am 26 years old and already tired.
Tired of seeing my country used as a playground for global powers,
Tired of seeing my countrymen getting killed every day,
Tired of hearing about women who have been raped,
Tired of seeing orphans and refugees,
Tired of discrimination against people like me, and people unlike me,
Tired of seeing racism and bigotry in a country that claims it can teach justice to others,
Tired of inhumanity.

But I will not give up.
I will keep fighting for my life and for the lives of others.
I survived for a reason:
To make a difference and to see peace and justice for all.

If I don’t speak up, if we choose silence now,
There will be no end to violence, racism and sexism.
I will use my voice and my pen to bring justice.

Photo Credit: Janko Ferlic