Dr. Filomina Steady was honored on April 26 for her prolific work throughout her career, and was joined by students and faculty alike in celebrating her achievements. Steady worked at the United Nations as a director for two years and continuously serves on multiple U. N. committees. Steady has also served as a consultant to national and international organizations and the U. N. and its specialized agencies. She is a founding member of the Association of African Women for Research and Development (AAWORD) and former president of the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF), an international NGO based in Geneva, Switzerland.
During the celebration, there was a panel of Wellesley alumnae who were paying homage to the impact that Steady and the Africana Studies department had on their lives. Among the alumnae was a white woman who had nothing but admiration for Steady and the department. Adorned with big circular earrings, and a tattoo of the continent of Africa on her arm, she began to speak in AAVE (African American Vernacular English) about her experience before and after Wellesley. She eloquently read a poem about her connection to Black Feminism. Her message related to the innate connection we all have as humans, tracing our ancestry back to the continent of Africa.
She continued to recount her life, stating that she moved from Japan to New Jersey around the age of six. Here, she referred to the United States as “the plantation.” This gross misuse of language is where the issue lies. As a direct beneficiary to said plantation, it was inappropriate to address a room with a primarily Black audience. She went on to address how terrible she thought moving was because of how much more progressive her views were compared to her peers. Although her feelings are justifiable, a white woman discussing how she tackled race and understanding her identity to a room of Black people was ill-timed and displayed how little she read the room. Not only was her language powerfully coded, but her dress and the way she conducted herself alluded to a desire to have a close proximity to Blackness. To engage with issues that surround Black people is one thing, but to put on a performance to appear “down” is another.
You can support and uplift Black people without appropriating the culture you plan to champion.
The way this alumna spoke completely contradicts Dr. Steady’s African feminist theory. In an article she wrote titled “African Feminism: A Worldwide Perspective,” she admits that: “Various schools of thought, perspectives and ideological proclivities have influenced the study of feminism. Few studies have dealt with the issue of racism, since the dominant voice of the feminist movement has been that of the white female. The issue of racism can become threatening, for it identifies white feminists as possible participants in the oppression of blacks.” If white students in the Africana studies department truly sought out the teachings of Steady and recognized what she was saying, they would realize the space that they take up when they call the United States “the plantation.” In addition, during American slavery, Africana women were as harshly treated — both physically and mentally — as their male counterparts were, thereby invalidating the alignment of Africana women and white women as equals in the struggle.
Honoring the monumental impact that Dr. Filomina Steady had not only on Wellesley College but on African feminism as a whole should have brought joy and inspiration to the Black students who attended the celebration. In reality, what filled the minds of students after the symposium was enmity and anger that someone would feel as emboldened as this alumna to do what she did.