I had the honor of meeting and looking up to Amanda when I was a silly little thing back in high school. Her very being emanates compassion, understanding, and erudition. I reached out to her because due to the current problems our country faces in regards to racial conflicts and gender restrictions, I thought maybe she would have something interesting to say. I was not disappointed at all. As a woman of color nerd myself, I understand the importance of safe and equal spaces in the geek community. Feminism and its many broader discourses of academia has allowed an amazing outpouring of diversity within different comics, graphic novels, and anime. However, we have much more work today in order to have the nerd and geek community be considered equal. I had the pleasure of being able to interview Amanda about the state of race issues in our country as well as the concept of feminism, so please enjoy!
Black Nerd Problems: Amanda, please tell us a bit about yourself!
Amanda Sahar D’Urso: I am currently a project consultant working on creating an immigration-related database with Dr. Filindra at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I will be starting a PhD program in political science at UIC, where I hope to study politics of the Middle East. I love to dance, make people laugh, and spend time with my loved ones (humans and animals alike!).
BNP: How would you define feminism?
Amanda: Feminism is women and men (and all genders): 1) expressing themselves however they choose, and 2) being treated equally (de facto) under the law and in society. Law and society should not be structured in such a way that burdens a person of a certain gender, simply because the person is of that gender. Women should not be told ‘Don’t get raped’ and men told, ‘Boys will be boys’. It means that women should not have their careers suffer because they decide to take maternity leave. On the other hand, it means that men’s careers should not suffer for taking paternity leave, either.
While the status quo has been women need men, feminism means men and society need women, too. Feminism, therefore, is placing value on women in a way that has not happened historically. As appealing as a women-lead empire seems on certain days when I am catcalled, I believe a ‘feminist empire’ would be one in which all genders are allowed to express themselves however they choose, while treating each other with equality, respect, and appreciation. [Cue unicorns]. But, I really hope we get there one day.
BNP: What is our country’s current state in being able to understand and attempt to fix racial disparities?
Amanda: Our country still has a very long way to go to understand racial disparities. I believe once people understand the disparities, the fixing part will be a little easier. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome today is that overt racism is unacceptable. Overt racism is much easier to see as horribly wrong, while the connection is not as clear with covert or symbolic racism. When people say the ‘N-word’, ‘S-word’, ‘C-word’, or any other racially degrading word, it is clearly wrong. When people say ‘criminal’ or ‘thug’ or ‘illegal’, on the other hand, it is not directly pointing out a racial group. One could say, ‘There are plenty of white criminals!’ but when one talks about ‘criminals’, it invokes a certain group of people.
Few people today want to come out and say they are racist, of course, but words and actions tell a different story. Look at the recent principal who was fired for saying, “Look who is leaving. All the black people,” at a recent graduation. In her most recent statement to the press, she was adamant that she was making an observation is not racist because she “didn’t say the ‘N-word’”. When we acknowledge that covert racism is still racism, I think we will have a better time of combating the issue of racial disparity in this country. I cannot talk about racial disparities without mentioning the problem of the ‘colorblindness’ movement, which states the way to overcome race is to not see its existence. One of the most famous people to mention this line of thinking was Morgan Freeman in a 60 minutes interview in which he said the way to solve racism is to “Stop talking about it”.
The issue with ‘color-blindness’ is it asks those who have been oppressed to not remember their past, not remember or celebrate their identity, and to essentially forget what happened.
It does not look the issues of historic oppression and current forms of oppression in the face in order to fix them.
Instead, it does what is easier for the (former and current) oppressors to do, turn a blind eye, and it demands that those who wish for something better or just to remember their history to turn a blind eye, as well.
Ancestry.com makes a fortune out of encouraging privileged (mostly white) people to dig into their family backgrounds but when someone whose ancestors were enslaved by white Americans tries to talk about their family history, they are told to ignore being black. Lastly, I want to say something about the last two questions. A lot of people do not like people who are so critical and think a lot still need to change terms or race, gender, and class issues.
[blockquote]I am not saying the progress the civil rights, women’s, and workers’ movements made was nothing. I would have to be crazy not to acknowledge that.[/blockquote]
[blockquote]But if people of that era sat around and said, “Why are you complaining? At least there is no more slavery (etc…)” we would still think separate but equal was a good thing.[/blockquote]
[blockquote]Yes, a lot of good has happened. But our generation needs to continue to demand justice, dignity, and humanity for all.[/blockquote]
BNP: Goodness, that’s absolutely profound. On that note, what do you hope to help fix?
Amanda: I hope to fix two problems: apathy and despair. People who do not care are some of the most dangerous for progress. The bad guys are easy to point out and take down, but those who idly sit by are harder to engage with, because they just do not care. How can we change this and get people to start caring about what goes on in the world? I have no idea, but I hope to fix this in order to help create a world that can sustain itself. A world in which people care enough to fix the problems we face.
On the other side of this are people who despair or give-up. These people care too much, but feel overwhelmed—and perhaps powerless or scared. For any of these reasons, they resign themselves to the fact that the world sucks and nothing can be done. Something can be done. Just do anything! The best thing for this group of people is to reassure them that any little thing that is done is still better than nothing. One does not have to be a total vegan with no waste output, no synthetic clothes, no cell phone, etc… Of course, if that is how one wishes to live, that is great! But if one simply wants to help but feels overwhelmed, know that it is ok to just focus on something small. Burnout from giving up too much for a cause is also detrimental. I would rather have people do whatever they can rather than nothing at all.
BNP: What are your goals for the future?
Amanda: My future goal is to love the person I am and to be happy. Whatever I accomplish, whether it is to be a stay-at-home mother or a tenured professor with no children, I hope to be a good person and follow my principles. At the end of the day, at the end of a life, one is only left with oneself.
If I cannot like the person I am, the rest is meaningless. I hope to be happy, because I only am certain of this moment. Not every day can be the perfect day, but along with all accomplish, such as working for a better world, I hope I will enjoy the time I have on this beautiful earth. Although there is so much that needs to be done, this is my heaven.
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