Unheard Voices: The Issue with White Feminism (e1d3)
Seated on the train along side my mother, whose tired eyes drooped downward to look at the latest email from her boss, peered over towards me with immense pride as I come along with her to work at the car dealership in Brooklyn. Being in desperate need of cash and something to keep my mind functioning this summer, I thought, what better way to make money than to do tedious labor at the very place my mom spends the majority of her days? I glanced at my mom, her eyes were closed now, tilting her head back onto the seat to catch up on some of the sleep she lost. I know that she came home late last night, probably driving home under the starry night sky, listening to the music of the country she grew up in. Cumbia music is saturated with upbeat melodies that probably flowed throughout the car; her form of caffeine for the long drive home. Just looking at her reflection through the train window, the way she laid there almost in a state of tranquility for the first time in a while. It saddened me as I began to think about the amount of time my mother puts into trying to make our lives decent by working as hard as she does, yet there’s never any significant outcome. Why is it that no matter what my mother did, no matter how hard she worked, it never made a difference? Everyday seemed to be the same, a stagnant routine.
We were nowhere near rich, living in a small apartment above a dentist office in central Queens. It definitely wasn’t easy growing up with kids who essentially lived in mansions and could care less about anyone who didn’t experience their first world problems. “You’re poor because your mom is Mexican,” said someone whom I use to consider a friend. At the time, I wasn’t too quick to respond as I swallowed my voice beneath the shame the resonated within me. Being hit with a sack of bricks was the equivalent of the ugly phrase, falling straight out of the mouth of ignorance, remaining in my eardrums like a grating ringing that just would not seem to go away. Tears were easily produced but never left my eyes as my thoughts began to race with the many things I could’ve responded with. Instead I buried my voice, hiding it from saying anything other than “whatever,” with a manufactured laugh to accompany my pain. “I thought your mom was going to drive us, you know, because that’s what people like her do.” “They what? Serve people like you?” The impossibility to rid people of color with this preconceived notion that they’re meant to only go so far in life because of the way society portrays them.
I began to think about these statements with disgust, as I looked at my mom asleep on the train. Was it really true, because she’s Colombian this is her destiny, to work tirelessly for nothing? I felt my blood boil and my flesh get hot with an anger that began to plague my being. As a Latina woman, she does make the least amount of money to a white man’s dollar compared to other races, which really irritated me to think about. Why hasn’t our society progressed in the sense of raising up women of color instead of keeping them at this lower standard? America essentially has a caste system that is never spoken about but is very much in effect and evident if one chooses to be aware of it. You see it everywhere, the way people of color are depicted on television shows, movies, even news stations No one deserves to be put at the bottom because of the person they are, something they can’t control but society can.
The scenery from the outside became blurry as the train gained speed. As we began to approach our stop a large billboard with Taylor Swift appeared in the distance. The word feminism immediately popped into my mind as the billboard grew closer and closer until the train eventually stopped, just so that my mother’s sleeping figure covered the pop star on the massive sign. Taylor Swift, someone who advocates heavily in the media for wanting equal pay for both men and women, usually only references the white woman wage gap and neglects to inform her fans that black women and Latina women make even less than 78 cents to a man’s dollar. I found it interesting as I opened the Twitter app on my phone, only to scroll through numerous tweets made by these very powerful, prominent white women celebrities. Their Tweets preached about equality in the workplace, equality within societal standards. There are many types of equality that need to be in effect, but the equality they’re speaking of does not 100 percent relate to women of color as well as transgender women and the problems that lie within their everyday lives. How could something so incredibly noteworthy as that be so easily ignored if it doesn’t affect a specific race directly? I just couldn’t wrap my mind around why these white celebrity women talk about the ‘wage gap’ or feminism issues in general but completely neglect women of color, gay women, and trans women as they face not only misogyny, but racism, homophobia, and transphobia.
At my mom’s office I miserably put away the fiftieth file into the filing cabinet after sitting at a desk for three hours placing each folder in order. A mess of un-alphabetized papers were spread out across the table as I sat there staring at the amount of work I needed to complete before the end of the day. My mother was sitting in front of a computer screen, regulating appointments with customers as per usual. Just as I reached over to grab my first paper my mother received a phone call. Putting the caller on speaker, as she normally does, a man’s voice came onto the phone, an angry customer I presumed. My mother answered in her customary charismatic voice. My mother’s voice is beautiful, like a sweet melody, easy to soak in every pitch that courses through the air. The customer, on the other hand, only heard an accent. It was easy to pick up that the tone of the man on the phone became extraordinarily patronizing as soon as my mother opened her mouth. His voice became belligerent as he felt the need to belittle her, as if this was some sort of fun activity for him. Oh but how I wished in that moment it were just an exasperated client rather than some bigot who truly believed that it was completely justified to act as if my mother was inferior. My heart began to sink into my stomach, once again hindering my voice from emerging through the wave of fury that fell over me. I never thought I could get so angry at a voice and not even know the actual human being behind it. The way he was able to humiliate my mother, thinking she was incompetent because of her accent, because she spoke differently than him, the way he thought he knew who she was based on a stereotyped judgement of a population. His condescending tone drove me to feel everything and nothing all at once. I couldn’t do anything, and neither could she, she had to listen to that, she had to absorb his words and let them flow throughout the room like an off-pitch tune, an unwelcoming noise. This, of course, was not the first time someone has talked down to my mom as if she was incompetent just because she was a Latina woman with dark skin and an accent.
Faintly reminiscing of sitting at my mom’s desk at her prior job, I remember her boss, a large white man with menacing facial features. He bolted into the room for some reason, unbeknownst to me. He acted as if, because English was her second language, and just because of who she was, she was incapable and an imbecile. The way he looked her in the eyes, a glare no one could forget, and treated her like a juvenile, a child just learning her ABCs, as though she should be apologetic for who she is. She shouldn’t have to be, and she should never be.
My eyes opened for the first time that day, as I witnessed the truth of what many Latina women go through because of who they are. I would never experience something like that because of my white skin and lack of an accent, but that doesn’t indicate that I will be blind towards the plight of women of color. Many Latina women are treated like they will never be able to accomplish anything. Why do we never hear about this in the media, why is everything always oriented around the white woman’s plight? Why do we never hear about the issues black women, Muslim women, Latina women, gay women, and transgender women face? Why do celebrities who are not of color, or cis women rarely discuss these issues?
The simplicity of taking the issues that are involved in your day-to-day life can be so easily reflected onto those who experience much more than is actually comprehended. Black women, Latina women, Muslim women, gay women, and transgender women all experience much more than anyone will ever cognize unless they decide to endeavor in sympathizing and understanding their difficulties. I will admit I have taken it upon myself to apply my issues onto all women, as if the other issues regarding race and gender didn’t exist, because in my world it doesn’t exist. I never had to experience and will never have to go through something as horrible as racism or transphobia. People will assume because of my white skin that I am capable of achieving more. With society continuing this patriarchal white supremacy, and the voices of those who are trying to make a difference in the way we view feminism by including the issues we rarely hear about or even consider to actually occur, are constantly getting buried beneath those that are deemed more important, those that aren’t of color.
After sitting in my mother’s office stunned at the series of events which unfolded right in front of me, I began to think about how no one, unless they’re a person of color, actually knows that situations like these occur. This happens from time and time again. Ignorant people will exist and they will continue to spew their bigotry all over people of color like a fountain of indecency. Ignorance tends to have the loudest voice.
My heart continued to beat in this dark percussion as I looked over at my mother who tried to remain unfazed by the horrid voice on the phone. I could tell the way her body tensed, her shoulders rose up without her knowing, her eyes in this melancholy state, but her smile spread across her face to reassure me that she’s fine. Everything is fine, everything is not fine.
Sitting on the train home, I watched the sun sink behind the tall buildings that looked as if they were touching the sky. I was alone as my mother had to stay for the late shift. I looked at the money in the envelope I was handed as I left the facility, the money that came to me so easily, the money that will come to me so easily because I’m white. I will never have to deal with discrimination; I will never be talked down to due to my appearance. As the train grew in speed I glanced up at out the window to see another Taylor Swift billboard. If she only knew, I thought. I then closed my eyes and allowed my exhaustion take over for the remainder of the ride home.
The way in which I related my essay to Woolf was, I carefully looked at Chapter 1 and really tried to focus on the way in which Woolf tackles her ideas and conveys her argument through her observations. I tried, in a sense, to mimic that of Woolf without actually copying her exact form of writing and putting my own spin on it. Also, in order to write with Woolf, I took her idea of asking questions that are basically unanswerable, but fit in perfectly with the essay subject. With my essay, I didn’t just want to write a story or have that be the focus of the format. I didn’t want to have that be the only thing the reader will point out. I wanted to do more than that and incorporate my thoughts and make an argument through an event that happened and use that as my basis, similar to Woolf.
I would like to acknowledge the help and guidance from Kacey Stewart, my TA, Dr. Harris, Joy Muthami, as well as Samantha E. from the writing center. Each of these individuals helped shape my essay into what is now. I considered many ideas from all of them but I decided to leave my essay the way it currently was except for adding specific details in the first paragraph. My piece has definitely evolved throughout the course of writing it. It started off as being very all over the place in context to the overall idea. I also chose a different style of writing in order to project my idea in my essay in my previous drafts, which were very far from a Woolfian form of writing or expressing an argument. I’m very proud of the way I was able to take an experience and really elaborate on it and describe it like a story, really relating it to Woolf. I really do feel that the effort I put into this essay does show as all of my drafts slowly develop into a completely different essay and expression of my argument.