By Kendall Williams, Chapter Member at University of Texas School of Law
The recent SCPOC Working Group Retreat was my first interaction with If/When/How’s national staff and student leaders beyond my own campus chapter. I appreciated that this Retreat was structured to create distinct spaces (students of color and white co-conspirators) intent on collective and self-criticism of the work we do on our respective campuses and in our communities towards racial, social, and reproductive justice. The conversations and engagement over the two days grounded me in an understanding of the power that everyday people have in shaping their world, merely through their passion and hope for knowledge and self-understanding.
Over the course of the Retreat, I found that my own understanding around racial justice — although informed by lived experiences as a woman of color — is supplemented by formal learning in institutions of higher education. My formal education has empowered me to situate my personal experience within the narrative of women of color through a socio-historical and cultural lens spanning across the history of the United States. Achieving a broader understanding through constant study has been an empowering process because it has allowed me to understand that many of the micro and macro-aggressions visited upon me are not targeted toward me. Rather, these are reflections and symptoms of a larger narrative in this country — of colonization and racial injustice.
Not having access to that type of formal education can be a barrier to understanding the bigger picture and the intentionality behind white supremacist oppression, magnifying the intensity of the struggles that women of color face and feel. However, it’s equally important to lift up the idea that a formal education in theories of race and society does not minimize the knowledge attained through lived experience. As we moved through the day, the SCPOC Working Group Retreat lifted up and gave deference to the value of the lived experience, which can often be dismissed as too subjective in spaces that have internalized white supremacist culture.
What has become abundantly clear to me is that women of color often carry with us trauma from our lives and the various oppressions that we are subjugated to. The trauma that women of color carry is rarely treated or addressed; rather we bear it with us in silence and with grace. As a result, when distinct spaces are made, an opportunity is created to push ourselves toward healing, growth, affirmation, and a higher consciousness.
Yes, there’s nothing quite like a conversation with a sister or a woke woman of color who just “gets it” because she has similar life experiences; but, I think more than ever, it’s time for us to no longer be complacent and passive in our understanding of the world, our place in it and the systems of oppression that bear down upon us. We traverse our environments feeling lost and confused, waiting for someone to fill us up and answer our questions. Perhaps this is because we rely too heavily on our lived experiences without recognizing that there is a world of literature and an account of the people’s history as told by the people who can form answers to our questions, demystify our oppression, and liberate our minds. Marginalized people must commit to constant study of multiple disciplines in order to move to a higher place of awareness and self-love, armed with a multitude of tools to combat inequality, recognizing that achieving true liberation and equality is an ongoing struggle.
Self-study, whether that’s studying the works of those who share your identity or yourself, is key to mental liberation, which so many of us crave after feeling the constant shackles of society through micro and macro-aggressions in our day to day lives. My hope is that the participants of the Working Group Retreat return to their homes and communities with a dedication to expand their knowledge and to bravely share that insight with others, paying forward what they’ve newly attained, loving themselves, studying themselves, and preparing to keep up the fight in the beautiful struggle towards racial and social justice.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of If/When/How.