For several years I observed at a distance the Persons Day celebration in Peterborough, Ontario. After initially attending a few times I could no longer participate in the “celebration” because for me, as an intersectionally oppressed person, it held little to no meaning. I felt, and thought, this way for several reasons:
- First, it was mostly attended by older white women. There was no colour in the crowd of almost 100 people;
- Second, it lacked a critical understanding of intersectional structural oppression;
- Third, it lacked a critical understanding of how some of the famous five women where both architects and proponents of the eugenics movement in Canada; and,
- Fourth, the celebration lacked a practical element for women who are intersectionally oppressed.
I felt like it was for the most part white women celebrating their own oppression. When I did attend the event my concern was not so much that that space was unsafe for me. Generally speaking white women do not scare me. As I have said before it is nice women who scare me. My issue was more that as an intersectional oppressed woman the event was disenfranchising, patronizing, humiliating, and embarrassing. Feminism, I know, has to be more than about this; it has to be meaningful for women of colour, women with disabilities, and gay and transgender people. It has to address issues of intersectionality in real practical ways. Period! I began to publicly voice my critique of “privileged white feminism”.
Eventually the organizers of the Peterborough Persons Day event asked Kemi Akapo, and new Peterborough community member Marion Little to be the masters of the ceremony of one of their annual events. They agreed and a Facebook event page was created thus moving the event into the era of social media communications. This was a great move in that it in part served to reach more oppressed people who are home bound or people who the white organizers preferred to silence. I was quick to post a comment on the event page and it was here that Marion first heard my criticism. As I understand it Marion and Kemi did some initial research and they also followed through with the commitment to be masters of ceremony in a qualified and cautious way. Afterwards they were quick to complete additional research learning more about the questionable history of some of the famous five.
Upon discussing what their research uncovered, several leading white women determined that consultation with community members was needed. Apparently these leading white women wanted to understand why the annual event was void of both young women and women of colour. This was good to learn in that some white women seemed to be ‘getting it’ and they seemed to be genuinely interested in moving Peterborough’s feminism out of the dark ages. Since it was these white women who reached out to Marion and Kemi, their personal agency was invested in hearing what they had to say. Lord knows they could care less about what I have to say; I can only assume the cognitive dissonance was too emotional for them.
The consultation process unfolded and several women of colour in the Peterborough community participated. It is said that they had a lot to offer. Of course they did. I was not one of them though. As many know I have been busy challenging Canada to eliminate the sex discrimination in the Indian Act through both court actions, writing, speaking out, and on the ground. Regardless of my lack of participation Marion told me that some of the older white women were informed about the issues uncovered in the consultation process. I am not sure if a report was created and to tell the truth it is not really important to me because I know that knowledge does move orally. The argument that an artifact was not produced is not a genuine argument at refuting what is now known.
In the end, through the consultation process, there was some collective thought by the event organizers and leading white women that the event was not going to be celebrated anymore with the last event being in 2017 (I think this date is correct). In offering this knowledge it would be inappropriate for someone to argue there was no consensus in this decision or that only a few of the white women feel this way. We need to keep in mind that it was feminism that questioned the limitations of quantitative arguments. Said another way, feminism taught us that ‘majority rule arguments’ are not enough as they have huge limitations. Many now know, and as I have said before and before and before, sometimes the most important knowledge is in the minority.
That said, while there may be opposition for the need to put the event to rest, and thus it may very well be picked up again, I wish to let people know that if the event is picked up again and it continues to lack a critical discussion of the eugenics movement, continues to lack an intersectional lens, continues to offer no practical value for people who are more oppressed, and continues to be void of including all sectors of person hood, I will speak up again. The thoughts, ideas, and voices collected through the consultation process must be valued because they are legitimate. Readers who think that I offer this statement as a threat, you could not be more incorrect. I love the Anishinaabeg and the very land this event was held on. My goal is bigger than you and me. I know I am doing the right thing in raising the issue of this event where all I could see was 100 white women doing nothing for their sisters of colour ... . Simple objective thinking, versus projecting your negative emotions is needed to really hear and value what I am saying: Women of colour in Peterborough want and need more from white women.
It is important that I stress that the inclusion of token women of colour will not at all move the event forward in a valid way. Change has to be more than what is called “white tokenism of colour” or “cupcake feminism”. Feminism today is more than about adding some colour and stirring. Clearly the issues cannot be resolved in a cake mix kind of way. If you want to think more about what I mean by this here is a link to what I call "cup cake feminism":
I am grateful to Marion and Kemi for doing the right thing and for risking getting blow back from people, and for risking not being liked. We need to keep in mind that nice people are scary anyway in that they are usually participants and thus complicit in what is wrong.
People interested in learning more about intersectional feminism and the history of the eugenics movement in Canada are invited to take the personal responsibility needed and do the research, thinking, and learning they need from where they are located because foremost knowledge is a personal journey.
Lastly, at this link I explain what intersectional feminism is. I have done my work giving back knowledge to the Peterborough community:
Miigwetch to the women in Peterborough who heard this critical message. So very much appreciated.