The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday May 19th

Column: Sit back and listen, white women

When walking into my Women's and Gender Studies class, I feel a sense of community and comfort with the diverse group of women I get to listen to for an hour. 

Even the men in my class, although a minority, contribute to the discussions — but never in an overpowering way.

Ironically, I find it is the white women in my class who seem to dominate the discussions. 

This shouldn’t bother me as much as it has, but it’s something I can’t help but think about throughout the class period.

In my class, I hear the white women making valuable and thought-provoking contributions to the discussion. 

At the same time, in a class that focuses on a minority group of women, I challenge them to sit back and listen to the minority women who can speak from experiences they have had. 

This goes beyond the university setting. 

The more I thought about it, the more I began to think about if and how women of color are “trained” to constantly sit back and allow the more dominant group to speak. 

It’s no question that when any woman, regardless of race or ethnicity, speaks up, she is seen as too vocal, too aggressive or too assertive. 

However, when women of color speak up, they have to be cognizant that the intersection of their race and their gender are thrown into the mix.

In fact, the Center for Women Policy Studies found that 21 percent of women of color did not feel they were free to "be themselves at work.” 

Furthermore, between 28 percent to 44 percent of the same women believed that they had to “play down” their race or ethnicity to succeed. Although this study was done at a workplace, it can be applicable to similar settings such as a university.

When speaking up as a woman of color, I am either overlooked or scrutinized for being too outspoken — neither of which are outcomes I intended. 

I want to be noticed, but I also do not want to be congratulated for being a woman of color and miraculously having thoughts and ideas. 

I want to promote diversity wherever I work, but I also do not want to be the token minority to fulfill a quota. 

I want to be grateful that there have been numerous advancements for women of color, but I also want to be angry that there is still a long road ahead. 

These constant struggles between numerous sets of binaries are exhausting and draining — but also will not stop anytime soon.

Likewise, women of color, including myself, should not feel like they have to sit back and let white women dominate the conversations.

Speaking up and listening are cut from the same cloth, and dominant and minority groups each need to practice both.

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