YWCA discusses race and gender justice

Maria Ly
Staff Writer

Representatives from the YWCA gave a presentation on race and gender justice Friday, April 19 at Minnesota State University, Mankato. 

Tiffnie Jackson, the Director of Racial Justice, and Erin Kragh, the Women’s Leadership Program Manager touched on many topics of justice, structural power, racism, and women’s issues. 

Before starting their presentation, the two gave a little history of the YWCA, their mission of “eliminating racism and empowering women”, and their one imperative. 

The YWCA was founded in 1855 and from the start was a forward thinking, courageous, justice seeking multicultural organization. From creating a YWCA for native women in Oklahoma in 1890, to having the first interracial conference in Louisville, Kentucky in 1915, supporting Japanese women and families in “relocation centers” after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and seeking justice for the Scottsboro Boys, etc. The organization has been actively involved in social justice. 

Jackson stated, “They have been actively involved over time to ensure that if we are going to empower all women we have to deal with eliminating racism. Because if we don’t focus on that part, we’re never going to empower all women and all girls. So that’s the kind of history that has begun to shape this organization.”

The YWCA’s one imperative states, “The Association will thrust its collective power toward the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary.”

The two women then asked the audience to group together and discuss “what justice means to you?” Answers ranged from equity, democracy, fairness, addressing diversity, acknowledging harms done, accountability, among others.

The YWCA defines justice as the “policies, practices, attitudes and actions that produce equity for all in access, opportunities, and societal power.”

The audience then had time to discuss what are women’s issues, in which audience members responded, “What isn’t a women’s issue?” Societally, they discussed women’s issues to be things that center around motherhood as reproductive justice, health and wellness, childcare, employment, and education. 

An activity followed suit to demonstrate privilege and race as audience members crumpled a paper ball and tried to make a shot in the basket from their seated position. 

“The basket wasn’t going to change, it was going to be placed here no matter what. When you’re talking about who’s sitting up here and who’s near the basket, that’s by design,” said Jackson.

Jackson then went on to explain the history of socioeconomics in our country, discussing the history of slavery, the demonization of slaves, and the domination of land and how that’s had an impact on today’s conflict of structural power. 

To have structural power, according to the YWCA, is “to create and shape the rules, policies, and actions that govern multiple and intersecting institutions or an industry.”

Structural power and racism go hand in hand as “racism is the combination of prejudice and power to exert an outcome upon another based on that person’s or group’s racial identity.”

Kragh explained, “Power rests in the white community by design and perpetuation. And there are instances where people of color have power, but they’re temporal, situational, and not overarching.”

She continued, “Some people might argue, ‘Well he’s wealthy. He’s got the power of wealth.’ And yeah, he might have influence, but that’s not structural power, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about power that lets laws be made by the white majority, that are upheld by the white majority, and interpreted by the white majority.”

The discussion ended with differentiating being racist, non-racist, and anti-racist. 

Jackson explained, “When we’re talking about gender justice being expanded to ensure that we’re dealing with issues of racial justice, we have to commit to becoming anti-racist vs. non-racist. Our culture cultivates non-racism, it’s kind of the comfortable racism right now unfortunately.”

The pair left the audience with a quote from Maya Angelou to encourage students to join the fight for gender and racial justice, “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better.”

Header photo from Reporter Archives.

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