The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Month: January 2017

Intersectionality in the Women’s March and the Classroom

Gender inequality often goes unaddressed in the classroom due in part to the complex, varied experiences of historical and current events through the lens of identity politics.

This can be unfamiliar or intimidating territory for teachers. Fortunately, experienced researchers and educators have shared strategies and tools for discussing these issues with students. We hope that the resources provided in this article further students’ understandings of how our unique identities influence our experiences—that may differ from our peers—and are connected to legacies of U.S. history, world history, and today.

Is feminism for everyone? The question remains open for discussion, building off of current developments, recent scholarship, and greater insight into our shared histories.

Millions of people contributed to the historic crowd-sizes of the worldwide Women’s March on January 21, 2017. Individuals organized across all seven continents, including Antarctica.  The women’s march is one example of recent gains, and increased visibility, for women’s rights as human rights—but also an example of how progress made has not been distributed evenly.

Many saw the march as an enormous statement of solidarity, seeking justice on a variety of topics such as women’s access to equal opportunity, other human rights issues like immigrant’s rights, and environmental issues. The video #WhyIMarch highlights some of the participants voices. Critics and contributors have pointed out that the march also created some division and exclusion amongst social groups. They say that the name, messages, and primary focus on the voices of white, middle-class women left little room for more marginalized groups: women of color, indigenous peoples, the LGBTQIA community, etc.

As reiterated in the Mission and Vision of the march, the goal is not to shift away from discussing women’s issues, but to continually open the conversation to everyone, and all individuals affected by oppression, and to consider the the varying challenges and privileges determined by our unique identities.

 

“The better we understand how identities and power work together from one context to another,  the less likely our movements for change are to fracture.” — Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality in 1989, “Why intersectionality can’t wait,” Washington Post, September 2015.

 

This echoes a struggle of the feminist movement that has existed throughout history from the very start—the challenge to unite and represent all women and oppressed genders, and to unite with other oppressed peoples to create change.

For example, a lesser known fact about the iconic Women’s Suffrage Parade of 1913 is that African American women were asked to march separately, behind white women—although some refused this compromise and marched where they wanted, such as activist Ida B. Wells. The second wave of the feminist movement began, in the 1960s, to include more perspectives and demonstrate the link between race, class, and gender oppression. This trajectory continued with the third wave, in the 1990s, by embracing more multicultural diversity and greater forms of gender roles and identity.

Today, women’s rights are often taught in the wider context of gender equality which includes LGBTQ rights and considers the gender spectrum as opposed to a male/female binary. The interconnected nature of today’s social media culture also highlights our ties to global current issues and considers gender inequalities through a comparative approach. For example, this two-minute video on The Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum received over twenty thousand views.

As classrooms and communities become increasingly diverse, it is often up to teachers to facilitate inclusive discussions and opportunities for greater understanding of our personal identities and their trajectories from history to today. The following resources look at the importance of talking about intersectionality and approaches for teaching it.

By Mackenzie Abernethy

 

Teaching the Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender:

What is intersectionality?

The idea of intersectionality acknowledges that we all have multiple identities that affect the way we experience the world.

Definition: Intersectionality refers to the social, economic, and political ways in which identity-based systems of oppression and privilege overlap and influence one another. Each person’s identity is made up of the intersections or overlappings of multiple identities—such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic class, (dis)ability, etc.

“It means understanding that different kinds of oppression are interlinked, and that one can’t liberate only one group without the others. It means acknowledging… intersectionality—the fact that along different axes, we’re all both oppressed and oppressors, privileged and disprivileged.” ― Shiri Eisner, Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, 2013

 

Why teach intersectionality?

  • Our backgrounds, identities, and the issues affecting us are diverse and can foster learning about how our the intersections of our identities shape our perspectives and the way we experience the world.
  • To assist students in recognizing which parts of their identity account for bias or might make them feel discriminated against, and to practice constructive communication skills for discussing these issues with peers and in the community.
  • “In the classroom, educators can use an intersectional lens to better relate to and affirm all students—like Nicole—and to help young people understand the relationship between power and privilege….” —Teaching at the Intersections article and case study from Teaching Tolerance.
  • The TED talk, “The urgency of intersectionality,” by Kimberlé Crenshaw highlights the “injustice squared” experienced by African American women. She highlights the importance of giving students the language and terminology to discuss issues that affect them and their peers.

 “Where there’s no name for a problem, you can’t see a problem, and when you can’t see a problem, you… can’t solve it…. Intersectionality was a lived reality before it became a term.” — Kimberlé Crenshaw

 

Resources:

 

The Choices Program assesses our curriculum units that cover Current Issues, U.S. History, World History for a balance of social, political, and economic perspectives, including underrepresented and non-elite actors such as social groups and individuals from diverse background, social activists, NGO workers, and more.

Header photo by Lynn D. Rosentrater (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement

On August 28, 1963, before a crowd of over 200,000 people in Washington D.C., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the most famous speech of the U.S. civil rights movement. “I have a dream,” he declared, “that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

The March on Washington has become one of the most celebrated moments of the civil rights movement, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the movement’s most famous leader. But the story of the fight for civil rights has more to it than large marches and speeches on national television.

Often out of sight of the national media, most civil rights activity occurred in local communities, in states like Mississippi, where thousands of everyday people organized themselves to fight against racial injustice. Instead of one national civil rights movement led by a few, we can think of the struggle of the 1950s and 1960s as a series of local movements for racial justice with many participants and leaders.

Judy Richardson was an 18-year-old when she join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and went to Mississippi to struggle for racial justice. You can get a sense of her experience in the video below.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was just one chapter in the black freedom struggle. As many historians have noted, African Americans have been fighting for their freedom since the first slave ships arrived in the Americas. The Civil War ended slavery in the United States, but emancipation did not bring equal rights or economic opportunities to black people. While the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s spurred the federal government into action and won many legal rights for African Americans, challenges remain today.

The Choices Program has a free online lesson “Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement” that includes videos and stories of students who went to Mississippi, including those of Judy Richardson, John Lewis, Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, and Charlie Cobb. The lesson offers insight into the broad-based nature of the civil rights movement and its role in local communities.

The activists in the videos were not much older than high school students when they joined SNCC. The videos and lessons challenge students to consider important questions:

Did they relate to the SNCC veterans’ stories about joining the movement. Can students imagine themselves participating in the civil rights movement if they had been alive?  Do any students consider themselves activists now? What current civil rights issues or other political issues inspire students in the class? Is there a cause that students can imagine themselves dedicating their lives to? What lessons can students learn from these student civil rights activists?

A Digital Tool for Connecting with Stories of Immigrants

At a time when the refugee crisis and issues of immigration permeate social media and political debates, I wanted to put forth another resource that may provide teachers with an entry point for leading a one-day spotlight on the diversity of immigrant experiences or for continuing a longer discussion on this complex topic. This is applicable to all-ages and may be relevant to Social Studies, History, Language Arts, English as a Foreign Language, and Technology classes:

Ordinary Objects, Extraordinary Stories: Your Story, Our Stories invites teachers to “turn students into historians” using object and first-person accounts (often written by other students) to explore the still-unfolding history of immigration. The site welcomes people to post photographs of an object that illustrates a their family’s story of moving to a new country and experiencing different cultures.

For example, sixteen year-old Blaake-Kirstyn posted a story about her family recipes passed down from her great-great-great-grandmother who was a house slave on a Georgian plantation. Syrian refugee Zeina Joud tells a story about the fur coat that she had to leave behind when she fled her homeland. Fatemeh Jahanshahi shares the experience of a Taxi driver that she met in Iran.

You may wish to have your students interview a family member and share their own connections to immigration here to contribute and to see their work preserved in a digital museum exhibit that connects our shared history to today.

If you enjoy this resource, you may be interested in “Define American” videos of student immigrants sharing their stories and the Understanding Immigrant Experiences lesson plan in which students assess primary resource in our U.S. History unit Immigration and the U.S. Policy Debate.

The Tenement Museum also offers lesson plans for teaching with objects, primary sources, and oral history. The following questions can help spark constructive student dialogue:

What historical trends are revealed by the stories?

What is cultural identity and how does it shift over time?

What does it mean to be American?

How does personal history relate to American history?

Do you have any objects in your home that tell an immigrant’s story? Share your thoughts and classroom success stories on our Facebook or Twitter page.

 

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