We asked the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, or IWES, about coalition building in our current political moment and about what’s at stake in this election. This is part one of their response.

women ethnic studies

In your opinion, what has been the portrayal of women of color in this year’s election narrative?

  • Non-existent
  • Pervasive and harsh stereotypes, particularly mammy, sapphire, and jezebel, that have been seen across socioeconomic status from the “welfare queen” to Michelle Obama
  • Illegal immigrants
  • These stereotypes from society cause some dissection/disconnection among women of color- Internal vs. external locus of control, particularly in younger women of color (adolescents and young professionals- “I’m not like them” mentality
  • The women’s group appeared to have a high external locus of control, and because of this, they felt compelled to challenge shame-inducing stereotypes among African-American women. The high-school students, on the other hand, showed low external locus of control. They felt that these shame-inducing stereotypes of African-American women were accurate and didn’t make mention of having a desire to change them.

  • One of the striking differences among our cohort of African-American professional women vs. our cohort of African-American female high school students was the perception of the level of accuracy regarding stereotypes (Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire) of African-American women. The women expressed that they were offended by these stereotypes and described experiences in which they challenged their non-black counterparts for perpetuating stereotypes that they felt were an inaccurate representation of African-American women. In the student group, the African-American females expressed that they felt that many of these stereotypes were accurate. However, they separated themselves from their own sub-population by saying things like “the black girls at my school”, “they act like…”, I don’t hang with black girls at my school because…”
  • Generational- Separation for recognition in younger women versus inclusion and advocacy/activism for those disenfranchised and marginalized among older women of color
  • Among the student group, the “exception to the rule” theme was quite prominent. Two of the girls in particular expressed that they had been told by their teachers and their classmates that they weren’t like other black girls. Both girls appeared to agree with this idea and seemed to take pride in such a distinction.
  • Based on the responses in the Wisdom Circle, the internal locus of control appeared to be high for both the women and the high-school students. Both groups appeared to think they were quite special and that they were in control of their own destiny. The women’s group appeared to have a high external locus of control, and because of this, they felt compelled to challenge shame-inducing stereotypes among African-American women. The high-school students, on the other hand, showed low external locus of control. They felt that these shame-inducing stereotypes of African-American women were accurate and didn’t make mention of having a desire to change them.
  • When we reflect on the upcoming election and challenges that may prohibit women of color from getting to the polls, feeling disenfranchised and powerless, women of color, as a marginalized group, are at the forefront of a long list of challenges. While the African-American women may have re-framed painful, shame-inducing experiences to get through adversity, this re-framing has shaped their feelings of self–worth and prompted their political activism. They feel that they have the power to mobilize and be agents of change. The African-American females from the student group that use the “exception to the rule” to separate themselves from their own sub-population and are not of voting age yet. Their potential level of political activism may vary depending on whether or not they believe that they make a difference as “the exception.”

In the work you do at IWES, how do you both acknowledge and address how the intersections of identity shape individuals’ experiences in society, particularly when it comes to health care and reproductive freedoms?

  • IWES acknowledges and addresses the intersection of race and gender and sexuality, and how it shapes and individual’s experience in society. For women of color, historical and present-day shaming/stereotyping, oppression, and lack of recognition play a huge role in their negative experience and participation in society, and leads to poor health outcomes.
  • IWES acknowledges and addresses the intersection of race and gender and sexuality, and how it shapes and individual’s experience in society. For women of color, historical and present-day shaming/stereotyping, oppression, and lack of recognition play a huge role in their negative experience and participation in society, and leads to poor health outcomes.

  • IWES programming integrates emotional resiliency and puts emphasis on self-esteem, leadership and civic engagement among communities of color, particularly among women of color and youth. Examples include BY! NOLA! – 5 C’s of positive human development and emotional resiliency modules; MAP- Media literacy that helps youth build skills to deconstruct media and recognize negative stereotypes, and promotes re-framing to more positive images of themselves; creating a safe place – examining the intersections of racial and sexual identity, and giving individuals spaces to explore orientation, sexuality and self-identification in a non-judgmental environment; acknowledging existence of the LGBTQ spectrum
  • Promoting comfort with self and creating positive images that improve overall image of self and promotes engagement and participation in healthcare, advocacy for freedom of choice and access, etc.

What role does coalition-building play in securing health care and reproductive freedoms for all women in this country?

  • Provides support, maximizes mobilization efforts
  • More effectively advances an agenda when there are multiple partners with common goal
  • Broader, more comprehensive and complementary strategy (some groups can say something you can’t, brings more diversity to the issue)
  • Ensures that all women’s unique issues, challenges and assets are put on the table and addressed (ex. Women of Color, LGBTQ spectrum, young women)

    • You can read more about IWES on their website. They are a national nonprofit community based organization headquartered in New Orleans, Louisiana, which was founded in 1993 in response to overwhelming health disparities among women of color. IWES is dedicated to improving the physical, mental, and spiritual health and quality of life for women of color and their families, especially those who are socio-economically disadvantaged.

      Read part one of the interview here.