InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each month ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This month Morgane Richardson, a 25-year-old feminist, shares.
ELIXHER: Tell us a little about yourself.
MORGANE: I am 25 years old and was born on a Marine-base in Jacksonville, NC however I was raised in Downtown Los Angeles and DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY. I have been living in Costa Rica for the past eight months with my partner, Alexandra and our dog, Joplin, where I am obtaining an M.A. in Gender and Peacebuilding at the UN Mandated University for Peace. While in Costa Rica, I have continued my work as a professional feminist, blogging and speaking on the intersections of race, gender and sexuality (www.morganerichardson.com).
ELIXHER: You describe yourself as a “professional feminist” as well as “antiracist.” As a woman of color, how do you intentionally and even professionally take on these roles?
MORGANE: The feminist community has brought about much needed change for women. However, in the United States it has remained fairly focused on the oppressions faced by White western, upper to middle class women. As a professional antiracist feminist I seek to challenge the feminist discourse that has excluded women of color in the United States as well as women of the Southern and Eastern parts of the world. I quickly realized that the needs of these communities can be extremely different and require specific attention rather than overarching goals. For example, where reproductive rights is a current focus for feminists in the United States, women activists in the DRC (Congo) are challenging cultural norms, including marriage rights, and FGM.
And so, rather than focusing on theorists, as a professional feminist I speak and write about the varying personal experiences that we face as women and our subsequent needs as individuals. If we do not listen to the realities of others, and we do not speak out about our own struggles, the objectives of feminism remain simply an ideology and not a possibility.
ELIXHER: Tell us about your initiative Refuse the Silence. What inspired you to create it?
MORGANE: I obtained my B.A. from Middlebury College, an elite liberal arts college located in Middlebury, Vermont. I received an amazing education at this institution, but throughout my time there I felt silenced as a queer woman of color. Racial slurs were written on my door, I was singled out in classrooms by students and professors who wanted me to give the “black” experience or perspective, and I experienced extreme isolation from fellow students of color because I simply was “not black enough.”
As the president of the student organization, Women of Color, I fought hard to voice the concerns of the students of color on campus. Yet, we consistently felt as though the institution did not understand our experiences, or our varying “cultural norms;” we felt that our academic administrators weren’t really listening to us. In fact, women of color students at Middlebury often said, “The institution knows how to bring us onto their campus, but doesn’t know what to do with us once we get here.”
When I graduated from Middlebury, I began to hear the same experiences from women of color students in other elite liberal arts academic institutions. It was then that I realized that the silence I felt was not unique to me, or Middlebury, and I had to do something about it.
In 2009 I started, Refuse The Silence (www.refusethesilence.com), an initiative to capture the unique experiences of women of color students in elite liberal arts academic institutions in the United States. Refuse the Silence started out as an online venue where women of color could write down their experiences to share with the world, and where they could also connect with other women of color students in elite liberal arts institutions to know that they weren’t alone. Today, Refuse The Silence has grown to include an action platform where the stories of these women are compiled to generate a list of recommendations for academic administrations so that they may better understand and support the unique needs of this growing population.
We are still seeking submissions and encourage others to submit their own experiences within elite liberal arts institutions. If you are interested, visit refusethesilence.com or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ELIXHER: As the co-founder of the social media firm, Mixtape Media, what are the pros and cons of using social media to share stories and build communities?
MORGANE: Over the last four years, I have seen social media grow as a powerful platform for women around the world to share their own stories and build communities. Social media has allowed women to finally speak for themselves and publish their own work without the need to conform to the norms of male-dominated industries. Women have been able to connect with each other, despite extreme distances, and organize as activists to create real and sustainable change. We have seen this with the feminist community of color in the United States, as well as within The Arab Spring.
With that being said, social media can also be incredibly dangerous if participants do not engage with their communities in person. Social media should be used as a starting point for creating connections, but it cannot be substituted for face-to-face interactions that create real change.
ELIXHER: You’re also accepting submissions for ‘Ain’t I A Woman: Race, Feminism and Social Media.’ What’s the book about and how can we be a part of it?
MORGANE: Last April, I organized a panel discussion at Galapagos Art Space in New York City entitled, “Ain’t I A Woman: Race in the Feminist Movement.” This event was created out of ongoing discussions on Twitter and Facebook, regarding the silenced voices of women of color within the feminist movement today. The panelists, including Lena Chen (TheChicktionary.com), Latoya Peterson (Editor/Owner, Racialicious), and Anna Holmes (Creator, Jezebel), came together to speak on issues of reproductive rights, sexuality, pop culture, and social media- all with a focus on race.
The event was such a huge success that one of the panelists, Jessie Daniels (Author and Professor at Hunter College), and I wanted to continue the conversation in the form of a book. A few months after the panel, Jessie and I began collecting submissions from women of color, asking them to write on issues related to social media, the feminist movement and race/racism.
We are currently in the process of reviewing the overwhelming number of submissions we have received. You should expect to see the published book very, very soon and we hope that you will teach about it in your classes, share it with your community and participate in the conversation as we move forward.
ELIXHER: Fill in the blanks: Yesterday was [blank]. Today is [blank]. Tomorrow will be [blank].
MORGANE: Yesterday was silencing. Today is about sharing women’s experiences around the world. Tomorrow will bring about transformation.
ELIXHER: Tell us a secret.
MORGANE: I question the notion of Peace on a daily basis, which, I acknowledge, is in great contradiction to my being at the UN University for Peace. In my opinion, the “peace” that institutions strive for as of late has been rooted in patriarchy and the desires and basic needs of white, heterosexual men. Few academic institutions, NGO’s, government agencies and the like have been able to understand what peace means for women and thus, few women have been able to obtain it.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the black queer community?
MORGANE: I grew up with a black queer mother, so when I began to embody my own queer identity, it felt “normal.” I was raised in an environment where I was able to witness the undying strength of black queer women, our resilience and ability to fight against injustices. I have begun to recognize that being a black queer woman is not just a shared identity, it is a form of activism, and it is a movement that I am honored to be a part of.
ELIXHER: What changes would you like to see in the community?
MORGANE: I would like to see the black queer community in the United States work harder to transcend geographical barriers. There are women around the world who have this shared sense of identity and yet I feel as though we rarely reach out to them, or give them a space to connect with us.
ELIXHER: What’s next for Morgane?
MORGANE: I will be graduating from the University for Peace in May, and will subsequently stay in Central America to travel for a month before returning to the States to work for women’s rights NGO. I will continue my work as a professional activists, speaking out on college campuses, and I will most certainly continue my work on Refuse The Silence, with the goal of publishing these stories in the next year.