SCHS Against Racism research calls for understanding, inclusivity

In our society today, how is performative activism taking away from issues that truly matter, especially from those marginalized? Photo by BeLatina

Sabrina Spunt | Newsroom Manager

June 19, 2021

The Triton Times is proud to share research from Bethany Padilla and Raveena Khetarpal of SCHS Against Racism which focused on the relevance of white feminism and womanism in our community. The research took data from high school student responses across Capistrano Unified School District and here are is an abstract of their findings:

How do white feminism and womanism efforts differ and affect one another in our community?

The San Clemente Against Racism Task Force began our research project to understand how womanism and white feminism show up and affect our community, and what we can do about any harmful effects. The term womanism has been around since the 1980s, which is a form of feminism that reaches all racial demographics, mostly championed by Black women. It stands for both anti-racism and sexism. However, white feminism is a sector of feminist ideals that exclude inclusive and systemic efforts. It preaches the success of women through career endeavors and the exploitation of other women and marginalized groups. We set a survey to test the amount of awareness CUSD high school students were on these terms. Using these answers from the students, we can analyze how white feminism and womanism efforts differ and affect one another in our community. We entered into the process hoping to hear the voices in our community concerning this topic and work out different ways to move forward and create an environment more geared toward womanist efforts.

The collected responses affirms the absence of insight of the spectrum of womanism and feminism. Expectedly, when asked, the majority of participants acknowledge minimal understanding of womanism; the participants who understood the term recited our post from social media about the term. Especially considering the term is recently popularized, it was predictable that many participants had little to no knowledge. 

However, with the common term feminism, a few individuals were uncertain with identifying as a feminist. In example, a male participant mentioned how if he, as a male, could even identify as a feminist, but supports women’s rights. Similarly, another participant included how the participant doesn’t identify as a feminist because, although supporting women obtaining equal rights, “the feminist movement/culture has strayed so far from that original ideal, that it is no longer something [they] identify with.” Despite this, most respondents underlined their favor of women and men being equal and identifying as a feminist. Establishing the perspectives of those responding to our more in-depth questions was the most important factor in understanding biases. 

By educating ourselves and our samples of voices, we were able to find valuable perspectives on the necessity of differentiating feminism efforts from womanism efforts. All people answered believing womanism is a valid and valuable movement. People’s perspectives were shifted when asking them to find examples of womanism, and only two of our total respondents were able to identify an event or person advocating in an intersectional manner. 

Our respondents valued advocacy discussions so much to participate in this survey, showing the relevance of open mindsets in our community on this topic. When respondents were asked to deliberate how the two movements affect one another a respondent eloquently discussed how white feminism is “harmful because it often pits two groups, whose movements would be stronger in synchrony, against each other.” This perspective is so mature in understanding there is not an inherent evil to white feminism efforts, but if more advocates apart of that secluded effort joined in more inclusive goals, the privileges of white women would be utilized for others, in diminishing them and taking part in a caring and strong community of wise and powerful women of color activists. 

Many identified white feminism efforts are relative to performative efforts, meaning these efforts were purposed for personal social and moral gain in our seemingly progressive society. Understanding that upholding the standards for shallow performative activism efforts is vital in our community’s development and efforts in being a n active participant in real global change.

Respondents asked about how social media supports activists and what kinds of activists, and we saw a harmonized response in agreement of our current social media example of activism being solely for show, not to make true change. Examples of the blackout day on social media of the infamous “black square” in attempts to amplify black voices was presented as an example of performative activism. People posting the black screen were drowning black voices on important hashtags and causing black voices to further be silenced by an influx of posts. This example is great in understanding there was a purpose behind the “black square” but performative efforts caused the Black Lives Matter movement to be watered down and become ineffectual. A respondent included the concept of social media advocacy causing an overwhelming environment, and the standard for someone to repost an infographic on every issue is unrealistic, considering “There’s no way everyone can care deeply about everything enough to actually put in the work of positive change. An Instagram post, especially if it’s a common occurrence, eventually gets dismissed by the audience as just another soap box.” Our community is demanding true change, especially in our values of female voices. But, true change starts with hard work and communal efforts.

Together we can inform and reform our perspectives on female and people of color issues. To create a better tomorrow we must start by taking part in listening to the voices of the marginalized, participating in community services, donating resources to beneficial causes, and more. We have outlets in our community, like Family Ministries, Laura’s House, Kathy’s House, etc., in pursuit of aiding people in our community, and it’s time to step into our strength together.

After gathering valuable testimonies from our survey, one can see that the differences between white feminism and womanism are much more visible than previously suspected. Our community has reported back on white feminism affecting people’s daily lives. Thus, the need to get rid of the wall between white feminism and womanism is prominent. Our respondents presented great ideas in combating the limitations presented by white feminism. People did not recognize white feminism in our community because they did not know what white feminism was and the difference between white feminism and womanism.

A resolution to this problem could be to talk more about the subject in daily conversations, or hold a seminar, where people could communicate to each other about the topic and share personal experiences of white feminism they have been victims of or witnessed. Another way to get rid of the barrier between white feminism and womanism is to treat women of diverse colors and races with the same authenticity as any other individual that looks like you. Choosing to acknowledge, but not judge someone off of their skin color, will allow less discrimination throughout the community. In other words, deciding to not make assumptions about people will help white feminism disintegrate.

It is within our power to take charge of our community’s treatment of women of all backgrounds, so we must begin by understanding what our advocacy efforts completely support, or even ignore, and carry a growth-oriented mindset, in order to grow together in a more inclusive environment.

*Update (6/22/21)* Bethany and Raveena also worked on this research with Brielle Jenkins, Sofia Aliman, Megan Moe, and Nicole De Santos of SCHS Against Racism.

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