Challenging White Feminism with Vanilla Ice Cream

As a part of the Questioning Whiteness series on the Seattle University campus, the Gender Justice Center teamed up with the Office of Multicultural Affairs to organize the Vanilla Ice Cream Social: Deconstructing White Feminism event on April 26. This event was facilitated by Haleema Bharoocha and Sophia Xiques.

Complete with Frankie and Jo’s vanilla ice cream, as well as a vast array of toppings, students and faculty members gathered to discuss, learn and deconstruct the concept of white feminism. At the event, participants had agreed on a standard definition of feminism: the equality of both sexes. But what happens when women of color and women from other marginalized backgrounds are excluded from the narrative of seeking equality? That’s where the discussion towards deconstructing white feminism comes in says the staff at the Gender Justice Center.

Carly Moore, a first-year political science and Spanish double major, was eager to attend this event and join in on the discussion.

“Conversations have such an important role in holding myself and other white folks accountable for their activism and actions and center the women, non-binary, trans [and] people of color in our lives,” she said. “White feminism is not real feminism because it fails to recognize the essential intersections of race, class, sexuality, ability, disability and so much more.”

Haleema Bharoocha, the director of the Gender Justice Center, said the event was created to address changes toward whiteness in feminism. She explained the targeted audience wasn’t just white women, but women of color, as well.

“The idea came from wanting to address whiteness and talking to white women, especially. As we were having a conversation about whiteness, we realized this is not just about white people,” Bharoocha said. “People of color can also embody whiteness, as well as colorism and internalized oppression.”

When planning this event, Bharoocha and Xiques felt that caucus groups would prove to be the most effective in terms of discussion. Caucus groups, or small discussion groups, would allow for a more personal discussion, as well as a “safe place” for all participants.

“We wanted to have the space to have the conversations necessary, so that is where the idea came from. If we talk about race, we can undo those knots, and we can get to the root of patriarchy,” Bharoocha said.

Though Bharoocha was referring to the knots within oppression in a symbolic manner, participants in the event were able to hold within their hands the physical symbolism of the years of oppression that have built and grown for women of all backgrounds.

Participants were handed an index card with a piece of yarn tied to its corner and were told to make a small initial knot; the knot represented Europeans stealing the land that belonged to natives and indigenous people.

Then, participants were told to make two more loops representing further racism and inequality and tied those two loops together. Lastly, two more loops that represented income inequality were tied on top of the pre-existing knots.

This activity proved eye-opening when participants learned that to untie one of the knots, you’d have to untie the entire exercise; it acted as a metaphor for intersectionality—the notion that the systems that affect the most marginalized do not exist as separate entities, but rather interwoven with each other.

“I thought the activity was extremely healing and representative of how intersectionality exists in our daily lives because it’s not common for white folks to see that,” Junior Biochemistry major Nemo Lopez said. “So to have a physical representation of how those hierarchies affect everyone whether they see it or not is extremely validating.”

Within the smaller caucusing groups, Bharoocha offered a question to consider: how can Seattle U students join in on the conversation to help their peers understand the importance of deconstructing injustice within feminism?

Participants were then asked to think of effective and ineffective ways to include peers within the greater conversation. The general consensus of the caucusing groups was that it is much more effective to “call in” peers, and take the time Bharoocha explained the importance of uniting together to combat injustice. “We can have a stronger movement, so that we can actually work together on these things instead of being divided or upset.”

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