Representation and Raciality: Diverging My Identity

| by Melika Khajeh |

Notes to reader: Discussions of representation in this context refer to descriptive representation, i.e. the physical presence of diverse bodies. Intersectionality is the understanding that there are interconnections between facets of identities and associated oppressions that combine to create various forms of power and privilege.

I’d like to preface the following by noting my own privileges — I am able to receive a university education, I am able-bodied, I am cis-gendered and heterosexual. I’d also like to note that discussions of race can feel uncomfortable and maybe even antagonizing at times, however, to brush the “race card” under the rug will only result in the perpetuation of oppression and adversity.

Being a racialized female puts you at a specific intersection where you often have to pick if your skin colour is more important than being a woman.

It’s where you idolize Obama during the 2008 pursuit for Democratic candidacy over Hilary, but also where you find yourself favouring Michelle over Barack.

Racial identity is a key facet of intersectional feminism—yet, we often forget this factor in our discussions when looking at the progress of women. This is to say, women of colour (WoC) lack representation.

“Representation” has become somewhat of a buzzword in current conversations of equity, social justice, and closing inequality gaps between marginalized and privileged bodies. In media, academia, and daily interactions, representation of diverse groups is often differentiated, whether good or bad, and is not treated as the norm.

Although overtime the rise of western feminism—white women feminism—has increased female representation, this has systemically undermined the emphasis on racialized females and the (lack of) opportunities granted to them.

White women are used as a marker of women’s rights while WoC trail behind.

The real-life result is young WoC, like me, attempting to find an idol but often having to diverge their identity in different paths.

Gendered studies across the political research stream have had similar findings in that exposure to role models can promote political ambition. However, when the nuanced effects of race come into frame, it becomes evident that some young girls have better representation than others.

This notion is evident with a simple at-home search. If you search “female politicians Canada” into Google: the majority of photos seen are white women. Now, search “female CEOs Canada”: the first seven photos are white women. Think of the last major female theorist, academic, or scholar discussed in one of your classes: what was the colour of their skin?

In my own lived experience, I will admit that I didn’t often interact with this whole representation dilemma. I went to a diverse high school, lived in a diverse city, and had a friend group of different identities. However, once I entered Queen’s, I felt “snowfall shock”—also known as stepping into the predominantly white population that is Queen’s and Kingston.

During discussions of race in my politics tutorials I noticed eyes pointed at me, my professors lacked diversity across the board, and if racist undertones came out in group conversations my identity and friendship towards that person would be used a scapegoat: “Well, I’m friends with you Mel! So I’m clearly not a racist”.

These experiences made me realize how crucial it is to have representation for racialized females.

Amidst this, I’ve confounded a necessary spin on my experiences.

I gravitate to other people of colour in tutorials to spark conversations with; when professors integrate race into conversations, I find myself more eager to share ideas.  I get excited about hearing the successes of women of colour.

I’ve realized my responsibility as a woman of colour to aid others and lead conversations with intersectionality as a framework of understanding.

We as a society need to progress beyond simplified discussions of “female representation” and address the nuances of intersectional identity. We can no longer pretend to be intersectional in our feminisms but only discuss the successes of white women while overlooking the racialized women that fall behind.

Progress for one should no longer be at the detriment of another. “Representation” and “intersectionality” should not be buzzwords.

Equality and safe identity experiences should be for all.

Written by Melika Khajeh, third-year political studies major, global development minor