Reflections on Building an Inclusive Archive

The definition of "intersectionality" as it appears in the Oxford English Dictionary is "the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage."

The word, which has been in existence for over thirty years, did not become popularized until recent years and is still unfamiliar to many. Although it is relatively simple to understand the basic concept of intersectionality, that people have more than one facet of their identity that contribute to their experience of the world, there are many, many, many layers to it's study. Even for someone who is invested in learning the nuances of feminism, it can get complicated to understand the role that each woman plays in the movement, and to understand that in some cases, we are actually holding each other back. 

I chose "intersectionality" as the focus for my exhibit because I believe that everything that purports to be feminist deserves to be peeled apart, critically examined, and evaluated by multiple perspectives. Baring in mind the white-washed connotation of feminism as a movement, I wanted to find the areas of tension that I knew had arisen from the Women's March but that I hadn't personally experienced. This was a daunting topic to take on because of how important I knew it was, and my desire to do it justice. 

One thing that I found to be horribly ironic was the fact that intersectionality came into the planning process for my exhibit after the fact, much like the way it was brought into the conversation about feminism after the fact. It entered the game after it had already been started, and my first interview had already been conducted. I didn't include commentary about intersectionality along with my first interview, because it was something I neglected to ask about and it was impossible to include retroactively. And by the time we had selected themes for our exhibits, I already had two more interviews scheduled, both with white narrators. 

This brings to mind a piece by Rodney G.S. Carter in which he tells us, "Archival power is, in part, the power to allow voices to be heard. It consists of highlighting certain narratives and of including certain types of records created by certain groups. The power of the archive is witnessed in the act of inclusion, but this is only one of its components. The power to exclude is a fundamental aspect of the archive. Inevitably, there are distortions, omissions, erasures, and silences in the archive. Not every story is told. (p. 216)

Through our collective outreach for this project, and my individual efforts to secure interviews, I ended up with one interview from a woman of color, my dear friend Asherde Gill. An interview that gave an unsurprisingly poignant and authentic perspective into the world of intersectional feminism. It did this not by touching on factoids, statistics, and supposition, but by offering up a perspective from somebody who had actually experienced what I was trying to understand. Asherde could pinpoint the frustrations of the women of color and queer people who have so long been excluded from the narrative, from the record, from the archive, without having to guess what they might be. Asherde spoke to the experience of watching her idol, Angela Davis, be met with a rowdy and impatient crowd of partcipants when she went onstage to speak. These were paticipants who had spent the past two hours attentively and respectfully listening to white celebrities' cries to action. The placement of Angela Davis, at the end of the schedule of speakers made her inclusion appear as an afterthought, this theme we've seen again and again. 

In this detail, there was an invaluable lesson in how unaware a white woman who purports to be an intersectional feminist can walk through the world, not seeing things because they don't have to. 

I do not want to diminish any of the interviews that I conducted, as they all provide insight into the day of the march and aid in the preservation of it's memory. However, looking back on the semester, I would have liked more time to do more to make myself more available to marginalized women and encourage their participation in this archival project. I would do more to try to center the experiences and insights of women of color, queer women, disabled women, immigrant women, and other marginalized communities on campus. 

It is my hope that the work of archiving the demonstrations around us today can continue, and provide a more inclusive record than the archives we have inherited. This is a project that cannot be limited to the space of a single semester and also cannot exist in a vacuum. Even as we are stopping to look back at the demonstrations that we have just witnessed, even more continue to occur. Such was the case with the controversy surrounding the emergence of the "Alternative Center for Ethics" and subsequent #blackoncampus demonstration this past semester. This narrative didn't fit in with the aims of our archive, which focused on the Women's March but that's not to say that it's not worthy of further archival documentation. This example illustrates the absolute need for this work to continue on the local, state, and national level. The college campus has proved to be a beneficial space to do this work, and it provides the resources and creates the spaces to have these conversations.