This past month, one of the most driven members of our student body, Shameesha Pryor ’17, organized the second Black Women’s Conference hosted at Conn with the assistance of the Africana Studies Student Advisory Board. Although the first conference was held in 1969, the need for this event has not diminished, just as the injustices and double standards black women face daily certainly have not. It goes without saying that the Earth is fortunate to be graced with the melanin of black women, but this is also a group often pushed into archetypal roles not representative of their humanity and actual experiences. Instead, they are viewed as the angry, strong, or sassy black woman. This conference shattered those narrow perceptions and stereotypes of black womanhood, and provided a space for people to discuss the complexities that come with being a black woman in today's world.
I’m proudly black, but I do not identify as a woman. I was glad to see other genders and races present at the conference standing in solidarity and learning about the experiences of my peers and black women at large. I might have looked odd as a guy with a shaved head sitting in on a discussion about the culture of natural hair, but even such a small aesthetic quality of the black body is tied to so much social stigma and historical oppression. Ignoring these parts of the black experience simply because I am not exposed to them would be a huge oversight, and this event made me realize how easily large parts of a culture can be dismissed as insignificant by outsiders. In these discussions, I was forced to think critically about how to respectfully engage as a man who wants social equality for black women without detracting from the movement or shifting the attention to the male body, a common occurrence in black female activism. Knowing that men tend to actively dominate social spaces and speak on experiences they have not had, I primarily chose to be an active listener and contribute when I had something worth saying rather than speaking about topics shallowly so I can pat myself on the back and give myself an “ally” sticker.
This year, I have seen an increase in the number of campus events that focus on celebrating diversity and fostering dialogue between peers. These spaces are created by our student leaders from minority groups who are affected by both this predominantly white campus and Western society in order to develop community and educate. Being able to attend forums and meetings on combating racial typecasting is difficult enough to find on college campuses, let alone the “real world.” With most people in our generation having an interest in activism, it is important to remember that attending events and reading articles is only the first step and that the information gained must be translated into action. While taking action means something different to everyone, the most important part is to not be complacent with an unjust world and to always delve deeper, asking tough questions and giving real answers. For now, I am trying to gain as much knowledge as I can, with the hope of working with urban communities to combat problematic social norms perpetuated by colonial socialization, something I struggled with growing up. In my time at Conn, I have realized that inaction is also an injustice, and although your activism may look different than mine, taking action is what’s vital and will help us forge an equitable world.