“What does anti-oppression work look like to you?” Sara Shahvisi, Fearless Futures’ Chief Programs Officer, asked me towards the last round of questions during my interview.
It wasn’t a question I had anticipated, let alone practiced out loud for hours alongside other potential interview questions I had prepared to answer, such as “What can you bring to the company?” or “Why are you interested in this position?”
Yet, something sparked in my body and I answered without hesitation:
“To me, anti-oppression work looks like challenging my white father to talk about my life experience as a mixed-race woman in America.”
In truth, I had been practicing for this question my entire life.
It started as early as grade school, when adults would coo over my doll-like, Japanese features and ask my father “Where did you get her? She’s adorable!”
It continued through the first week of high school, when I stared in confusion at an orientation survey that stated “Choose One” and offered a handful of racial options, including “White” and “Asian”. I turned to my dad and asked him which one I should choose, and without thinking twice he said, “White. You’re definitely white.”
It came to life the summer before attending Smith College, when I received an invitation to attend a pre-orientation program for students of color called “Bridge”. Surprised, I showed the invitation to my father, admitting out loud how I didn’t know half-white students could be considered for this program. To which he responded in defiance, “You’re not a student of color, you’re my daughter!”
Moments like these are what inspired me to think more critically about my overlapping and interconnected experiences, and how imperative it is to engage in uncomfortable conversations with people like my father, a white man in America, to bring about change. However, these past 10 months at Fearless Futures have taught me that to truly practice inclusion through an intersectional lens in my day-to-day, I must think beyond my own personal experience.
As a Corporate Programs Coordinator, I can be doing anything between looking for a venue to host our 3-day Design for Inclusion Programs, to coordinating travel for our wonderful team of facilitators and leaders. At a glance, the work seems straight-forward, but in Fearless fashion, every step is an opportunity to practice equity or combat anti-oppression patterns.
For example, when looking at venues, I ask myself: Does this venue have accessible and gender-neutral restrooms for our disabled and trans participants to ensure a dignified experience? Or when I’m booking travel, I ask: What options for travel can we extend to our trans and non-binary team to ensure their safety and comfort during this trip? The beauty of these questions is that they are not combative, too difficult, or too theoretical to answer for anyone. Of course, there are questions that are missed, and struggles that we haven’t considered before at Fearless Futures that lead to misstep and further inequities. When that happens, rather than simply promising to never slip up again, we acknowledge and apologize for the harm we’ve caused, we review our internal processes, then create actionable efforts to prioritize anti-oppression practices throughout our work. We don’t get it right every time — but we never turn our backs to do better.
While these moments are necessary for my work, they are essential for my own commitment to transformative change, and help me embody a powerful fearlessness towards an equitable future. Ironically, my vision of this future looks very much like my recent past of having challenging conversations with my dad about race and gender. This time around, I am empowered by the tools that Fearless Futures has given me — by looking at every step and question through an intersectional and inclusive lens — to engage with him in a new, eye-opening way for us both.