Racial and gender stereotypes have long been weapons used to cut down and belittle women of color, but it’s a stark reminder of where we are as a nation, when they are wielded by those who are supposed to have our backs.
By Melisha Anderson | Tuesday, August 18, 2020
“You are objectifying my body,” she said.
The air was thick, as was the tension, on a steamy Tuesday evening in July, during the Cape May County Democratic Committee’s quadrennial reorganization meeting. A young Black woman, stood on the stage at the Cape May County Park, in part to keep a watchful eye on the disorganized election, and found herself being berated by an elderly white member of the very Committee she was trying to unseat. This white woman, felt not only the need, but the right, to publicly chastise a Black woman for how she was dressed.
While the unexpected election brought excitement for some, many in the establishment had little appreciation for the disruption. The malaise of the challenge seemed to upset many including the elderly woman, who, in the fashion of white privilege, tried to cloak this Black woman in shame.
“Why are you objectifying my body?” she asked again.
The badgering about her attire, a tank top and shorts, most appropriate in the 90-plus degree weather, caused the small crowd nearby to shrink in discomfort. If it were not for similarly-clad white peers standing directly beside her, and obviously shielded from this woman’s wrath, one might make other excuses for this encounter. However, it was clear that the words spilling from her mouth were dripping in both gender and racial bias, a stereotype that makes equality elusive for so many women of color. This may have been prompted by the political challenge for change, but it is not unusual for one woman to cut another down because of White, patriarchal views on race and gender. Whether intentional or not, these frequently occurring micro-aggressions create deep feelings of insecurity and discrimination based upon how society thinks women of color should look, dress, think and behave.
This is not a new reality, because it is one that has endured throughout history. Typically doled out by men, the juxtaposition of racial-gender discrimination by White women against women of color is a symptom of a much larger, pervasive, societal problem. While many White women have become allies, doing the work and calling themselves out on their bias and privilege and even using that privilege to educate their peers, others are immovable, holding onto antiquated ideas and beliefs that Black and Brown women are invisible and expendable.
The Cape May County Democratic Committee should be a place where conversations about inclusivity, justice and equality are not only allowed, but expected to flourish and grow. This incident is just a reminder of the deep institutional racism that plagues even the most liberal of White Democratic communities.
A majority of voting women have leaned toward the Democratic platform as it tends to prioritize issues disproportionately impacting women, especially women of color. But we cannot reasonably expect to achieve equality in either Party when we dismiss a whole segment of the population as somehow inferior or less desirable because they do not fit the profile of the White conservative. Yet, here we are.
The confrontation between the two women lasted but a few minutes, rather insignificant considering the immediacy with which the nation is demanding justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor among others. But if such events occurred less or not at all, perhaps this democracy could actually answer the call of liberty and justice for all.
When they occur, we must do more than bandage the wound. Though there was no immediate resolution to this particular confrontation, there is a lesson to be learned: the best way to be inclusive and build more equitable institutions is to recognize our mistakes, acknowledge and learn from inherent complicities and in doing so, create a safer, more equitable, professional and social environment, in which women of color can thrive, feel supported, and affect change.
It is high time for these old prejudices to perish.
Melisha Anderson is an elementary school teacher and a Co-Chair of Cape May County Indivisible’s Racial Justice Committee.