Last week, The Independent Florida Alligator reported on the racial harassment of a UF Bollywood dance group, Gator Adaa, as they practiced outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. According to The Alligator, they were harassed by two men who appeared to be within their 30s. The dance group is made up of 13 women.
The two men were part of a larger group who cheered and clapped as they watched the young women dance. The two men stayed behind as their group left, and gave racist comments to some of the members, likening them to an “invasive species” and mocking their dancing.
This incident is but one example of the strained relationship between race and American universities, and, while the students were not specifically targeted for being women, also showcases the unsafe environment campuses can become for women.
A January 2016 article from The Atlantic gives statistics on this relationship: it cites a survey that states “75 percent of black college students responded that they tend to keep their feelings about the difficulty of college to themselves, versus 61 percent of white students” and discuses how Justice Scalia’s December 2015 negative comments on affirmative action feed into the idea that college students of color are not as “resilient” as white students.
College campuses have also made headlines lately for campus sexual assault. According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 23.1 percent of female undergraduates will experience some form of rape or sexual assault during their time in college.
Thus, racism and sexual harassment/violence are big problems on college campuses.
But what does Gator Adaa’s experience with racism mean in a feminist context?
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own,” writes Audre Lorde, a prominent black lesbian feminist.
While to outsiders feminism may seem to only focus on female oppression, many feminist movements focus on race, stressing the importance of analyzing what is known as “intersectionality”. A term defined in 1989 by civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, intersectionality is the study of how varying identities overlap each other. Black, multiracial and postcolonial feminism all incorporate intersectionality into their theory.
While Crenshaw’s work focuses on the experiences of black women, her argument about intersectionality is applied to all minority identities. She claims that “this focus on the most privileged group members marginalizes those who are multiply-burdened…this focus on otherwise-privileged group members creates a distorted analysis of racism and sexism because the operative conceptions of race and sex become grounded in experiences that actually only represent a subset of a much more complex phenomenon.” (Emphasis mine.)
Thus, race is a feminist issue. When analyzing this incident of racial harassment through the context of a feminist lens, feminists must analyze not only why a group of 13 young female college students were harassed by two men in their 30s, but why they were targeted due to race as well. Surely Crenshaw and other feminists of color would argue this group was targeted due to both their sex and race: for two white males, 13 young women of color may have been seen as an easy target.