Editor’s Note: We received the following statement via email and are publishing it in its entirety.
On Saturday March 4, Pitzer College students Alegria Martinez, Jacquelyn Aguilera and Estefania Gallo-Gonzalez took a stance against cultural appropriation perpetuated by white upper-class elite women by writing “White Girls, take OFF your hoops” on the campus free speech wall. The mural, a free speech piece of art, was not about banning white people from wearing hoop earrings but rather highlighting how women of color feel about cultural appropriation and the invisibility of institutional issues they face. The true meaning of the mural was to reflect the discrimination that women and nonbinary femmes of color face on college campuses when they are rendered invisible. The mural was not meant to police white women but serve as a form of education.
The article, “Pitzer College RA: White People Can’t Wear Hoop Earrings,” published by The Claremont Independent (a conservative student-run intercollegiate newspaper), takes the situation out of context, sensationalizes the mural and puts young women of color in danger. It seems that their writer has released students’ emails and identities to the larger community, violating their rights to privacy as students. Also, the publishing of students’ names and affiliations has endangered the students outside of the institution. They now are facing harassment from ultra right-wing groups and individuals, including a death threat through Facebook messenger.
This oversimplification of the mural’s message to “White women cannot wear hoop earrings” mirrors how misunderstood and invisible women and nonbinary femmes of color are at Pitzer.
Within higher education, women of color are robbed of their “aesthetic” through stigmatizing our historical Pachuca presence as “ghetto.” Latinx women are forced to assimilate into academia to be respected while their struggles remain invisible to the institutions. While navigating educational settings that automatically view us as unprofessional and unintelligent, women and nonbinary femmes of color are stripped of our hoops and our browness. As long as we conform to their standards, our existences can be legitimized, our voices can be heard and our contributions can be deemed as worthy by the white classmates and faculty that dominate academic spaces.
If we don’t conform, it becomes difficult to access campus resources, find job opportunities and create professional networks. Despite erasure, institutions knowingly label forced assimilation as a process of “professional socialization” rather than a process that violently strips identities and culture from women and nonbinary femmes of color. On the other hand, white upper-class elite women are able to appropriate fashion created by marginalized groups with no consequences to their well-being, social acceptance, and academic success.
The institutionalized invisibility of women and nonbinary femmes of color is rooted within Pitzer College. In academic spaces, we are silenced and dismissed as our histories of resistance and existence are erased. Even though Pitzer courses are intended to foster interdisciplinary learning, syllabi focus on the “normality” associated with whiteness while making people of color, women of color, queer women of color, trans people of color, gender fluidity and working class communities, subcategories. As issues that affect us arise, we are systematically invalidated within Pitzer College, student spaces, and the classroom. Women and nonbinary femmes of color are overlooked as the institution dismisses the severity of their issues and refuses to prioritize their social and academic survival. There is a lack of established clubs or spaces that acknowledge, center, and uplift women of color, queer women of color, trans people of color, and nonbinary femmes of color.
Pitzer College prides itself for its diversity and commitment to social justice; however, the constant trivialization of the concerns of students of color on campus further perpetuates the silencing of women of color, queer women of color, and nonbinary femmes of color within academic spaces. For those that discard this as an issue of jewelry, we ask that you remember the ways in which covert racism manifest itself with the support of deceivingly “diverse” institutions. Using women of color to promote diversity through publicizing our achievements for institutional benefit, Pitzer College is obligated to provide us with reciprocal support. Examples of changes Pitzer can implement to better support women and nonbinary people of color are:
- A policy that mandates the transparent identification of race, class and queerness disparities in the collection and reporting of campus sexual assault statistics
- Further efforts to hire tenure track faculty of color who support and mentor marginalized students
- The establishment of institutionalized spaces in which women and nonbinary students of color can process their daily struggles, support one another, and organize against injustice
- The dedication of a fund to increase enrollment of working class women and nonbinary students of color as well as provide them with adequate financial aid through graduation.
In order for Pitzer to fulfill their core values of social responsibility and intercultural understanding, they rely on the work of women students, and faculty of color. The few classes that are taught by women and nonbinary people of color are the only courses that center the intersections of race, gender, class and queerness. Through personal agency, students of color must create their own support groups and networks to compensate for the lack of institutional support. Pitzer College then advertises the academic and social activism of students and faculty of color as an asset and reflection of its core values. The institution must ensure that women and nonbinary people of color are adequately compensated for the labor put into maintaining the college’s social justice oriented image. The treatment of the Latinx artists who created the mural is representative of the struggles faced by fellow women and nonbinary people of color at the college. Higher education clearly has an institutionalized issue in securing the rights and well-being of marginalized students.
Within a national context, white upper-class elite women feeling oppressed for being pressured to remove their hoop earrings is minuscule, compared to the daily political burden being placed on the backs of women of color, queer women of color, trans people of color, and nonbinary femmes of color under the current Trump administration.
This statement was written by the artists (Jacquelyn Aguilera, Alegria Martinez, and Estefanía Gallo-Gonzalez) and a fellow woman of color (Gabriela Ornelas) who have been affected by these issues. Support these artists and writers in their efforts to increase the visibility and safety of women and nonbinary femmes of color on campus. Share your thoughts using the hashtags #ExposeHigherEd #EndTheCI
I guess all of you should stop using the computer, internet, cell phone, trains, airplanes, cars…shall I go on? I mean..white people created these things and you’re using them without asking us? Should I even go on? Oh wait, the Constitution does not apply to you, nor do any of the laws here either that protect you, good old whitey came up with those so therefore you cannot bring up any amendment since it does not apply to you. Get rid of the light bulbs in your house, don’t use electricity….you’re simply just stealing from whites of what we created. Such a shocker that the vast majority of things that you use and benefit from, your people didn’t invent them.
That’s a lot of grievance to assign to a statement that appears to be aimed at white girls. Then you ask for a support group that includes all women….except white ones.
How much change do you think you’ll create by creating an “us vs. them” environment (if not creating but perpetuating the current one)? What does race or orientation have to do with sexual assault? Why should women, except white ones, be compensated for attending your school?
That’s all I’m going to say about your demands. You need to rethink your priorities. You’ve neatly separated people by gender and race. You want to duplicate services that are already short of staff and funding. Maybe instead of spray painting walls with slogans only the “artists” understand, maybe they could volunteer. Or does their claimed support end at actually doing something?
From here, you look like the other side of the Trump coin.
The time you waited to post your reply makes it just look like damage control.
Imagine being so privileged that you have to come up with SOMETHING to be offended about and the best you can do is white girls wearing earrings.
Wanting support for marginalization is a great cause. It sounds like your needs of acceptance and care haven’t been met.
Scrawling a huge mural that says “WHITE WOMEN TAKE OFF YOUR HOOPS” doesn’t meet the needs of acceptance and care either. If the goal is to get resources for the community, well defined demands and deadlines for the institution might be better than admonishing other people for thinking what the artists said was what they meant.
Rabble rousing and attacking people in protest can work. It’s typically done to inconvenience the general public and call attention to issues that highlight the experience of the oppressed and the role of the oppressor. “I decided I liked a classic earring shape and now no one else can have them except maybe black women and other people who visibly look like me”, is confusing and detracts from “this is what I need” which is vastly more important.
It might be good to learn a bit more about Black culture. Latin culture is rife with racism against black people, as bad or worse than in The States in a lot of Latin countries (Mexico being a good example. Random detainment, stop and frisk cops telling detainees it’s because of their skin color with no abandon). Lumping black and brown together then mentioning black women as an afterthought doesn’t meet the needs of understanding or respect for black women. Additionally, Hoops were invented in Northern Africa where they spread to Greece and Rome, spread through Europe and were brought by the Spanish, who were… colonists. Hoops did exist in Latin America but they weren’t as popular as large disks and other large shapes, and the style of hoops popular now are Spanish and typically made with Mexican silver or gold. Which was mined by indigenous and black slaves.
So what this looks like is… Latina women started wearing a classic and ancient earring shape that had diffused all over the world but was originally African. The style had been established for thousands of years by the time the Spanish even got to the shore. They were a symbol of the upper class, wealth and access to whiteness. But… now they’re predominantly Latina, because Latinas started wearing them more often in the 80s and 90s, as a trend? Unless we’re trying to claim all hoops Latinas wear are also Spanish or Indigenous heirlooms (although Indigenous ones would have looked different) and all Latinas wearing them had also had them passed down (which wouldn’t be true unless they had Spanish silver/gold, most likely).
Braids, protective, and tribal hair styles all have necessary protective value. Bindis are a religious symbol and henna is to. Hoop earrings are not religious or necessary to keep any body extension healthy and specifically in a Latin context, they’re actually a symbol of the oppressor for more melanated people.
This is the macro equivalent of going to Forever 21, buying a mini skirt based on an ancient style (skirt) then getting mad that a white girl at your school is also wearing a skirt because you decided the entire style category was “yours”. Then saying you got one from your mom so it’s your culture’s thing only, not realizing the white girl got some from her mom and so did the black girl because hoops are about as ubiquitous as pearl earrings, which are also global, as styles that are not religious or protective are.
Creating change through making a scene has been effective throughout history. This particular scene makes it look like a few college kids got together and tried to get famous with a half baked idea they didn’t bother to Google. The idea overall was cool and might have been a great protest, but this one wasn’t fully flushed out. Hopefully the group can come up with some actual data points with oppression on campus and create some change with the buzz this has caused, but if not, trying again in a way that involves disadvantaged POC would be good. Telling colonizers they shouldn’t be wearing the earrings of other colonizers because your group is no longer the top colonizer ain’t it. Talk to the community. Do your research. Create the change you want to see. Leave your heart open to others and try to get to know them and their struggles before deciding your particular identity is the only one that matters. It’s easy to get tunnel vision and that’s where people fall the most.
With love & rooting for you,