This talk was given by Nakita Valerio at the University of Alberta for a panel discussion on Islamophobia: Intersections & Cross Currents in honour of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

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Peace be upon all of you

First of all, a huge thank you to Professor Janice Williamson for making the time and necessary efforts to create space for this kind of dialogue here at the University. I am honoured to speak among so many talented colleagues and recognize that there are many brilliant thinkers who could be up here instead of myself, so I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts on Islamophobia and its intersections based on my community work and personal experiences.

We have to be brief so I want only to touch on a few points about Islamophobia as it relates to feminism. Before I do that though, since we primarily have well-intentioned allies in the room and since the theme for today is the intersectionality of Islamophobia, I need scarcely point out that literally anyone on earth can be a Muslim – regardless of gender, orientation, origin, race, ability, economic status or any other social variable. Islamophobia is therefore related to and can permeate all other forms of discrimination. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to find a Muslim that didn’t have some kind of compounded discrimination by virtue of their intersectionality. Even a rich, white, heterosexual cis-male convert to Islam, experiences marginality from the greater non-Muslim global community due to Islamophobia, and also endures the hardship of being a largely ignored or even resented minority within a minority of the Muslim community, not to mention being highly socially isolated. While the discrimination he faces is (undeniably) significantly different than, say a veiled indigenous female convert to Islam or African, African-Canadian and Afro-Caribbean Muslims, it still holds that intersectionality and Islamophobia have to be understood as always going hand-in-hand. And that these will take different forms for different people.

We have to remember that human beings are complex and particular in their social groupings, and that they must not be rigidly compartmentalized according to one discriminatory signifier over another, nor does one necessarily have primacy over the other (particularly visible ones). We know that both oppression and privilege compound through race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability and economy, and that if people are to be understood in their entirety, we have to actually take the time to know them. There is too much shoot-from-the-hip activism these days based on a rigid understanding of an oppressed/privileged dichotomy and, the disturbing part to me, is that even with the best of intentions, people are regularly  being dehumanized in the process.  So some subtlety and patience is in order when dealing with these delicate intersections.

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So that’s the first thing to note. The second thing, following from this, is that Islamophobia is therefore a feminist issue. What do I mean by this?

At the superficial level, Muslim women are disproportionately targeted by Islamophobic words, actions and rhetoric. Part of the reason for this can be our visibility and this is, in large part, due to the veil if it is worn. Veiled Muslim women are verbally and physically harassed and assaulted with increasing regularity and are also the targets of racial hatred, and I want to stress, regardless of their ethnicity. Even for “white” converts, the veil acts as a second skin which automatically signifies “colour” to prejudiced people uninterested in the nuances of what constitutes complex Muslim identities. And this is important to note this because within the Muslim discourse and within groups speaking about racial justice there is a tendency to dismiss the racialization that the veil automatically entails, whatever intra-community privilege we hold.

But Muslim women are not only disproportionately targeted by Islamophobia because they might veil. No, non-veiled Muslim women are also the excessive subject of xenophobic words, actions and rhetoric for a much deeper reason.

The Muslim woman represents the vehicle by which the people who hate us, call for the eradication of Islam. The Muslim woman who is pious and stubborn in her piety is declared subconsciously oppressed regardless of how loud she declares her piety to be her choice. The Muslim woman is seen as indoctrinated in Islam, a barbaric way of life that exists only to exact patriarchy in its highest form.

Muslim women, who practice the Deen, are regularly accused by those outside of Islam, of being in need of liberation not recognizing that we view Islam as our liberator. That the antidote to patriarchy for us, is a deeper understanding of Islamic philosophy and law, and not anything less than that. In fact, these accusations are not even limited to non-Muslims. There are countless “scholars” within the Muslim purview who reiterate these bunk theories that the more a woman practices Islam, the less liberated she is.

At this very university, I met with a prominent scholar of Islamic law and was shocked when he stated to other unveiled women in the room that I might be oppressed or duped because I choose to cover my hair for the sake of God, or I say Insha Allah, or I unapologetically leave the room to pray on time. And this stuff was said right in front of me, as though I was not even in the room. Muslims can be as colonized by Islamophobia as anyone and we have to view that, at least in part, as the trace of a colonial project that has spanned centuries.

The declared solution to the issue of Islam for both Islamophobic non-Muslims and Muslims with internalized hatred of Islam is to either eliminate it from the face of the earth or to temper it and secularize it so it is palatable enough to so-called Western sensibilities, as though Islam does not and cannot have similar desires, goals and expressions as other cultural systems around the world, particularly in Western Europe and North America where we have a rich shared history.

If a pious Muslim woman seeks to resist through submission, her intelligence is insulted and her agency is called into question. Islamophobia, in this sense, is merely one strong arm of patriarchy (even its synonym) crushing the right of a woman to choose how she lives her life. And going forward, that needs to change.

Thank you.


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Nakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. She recently completed graduate studies and work as a research assistant in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta, as well as a research fellowship on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for The Tessellate Institute. Nakita serves her community as the Vice President of External Affairs with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC), as an advisor for the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life,  and as a member of the Executive Fundraising Board for the YIWCL Cree Women’s Camp. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and is currently working on a graphic novel memoir weaving her experiences abroad with her community work and research.

 

Intersectionality is a critical concept that has grown out of individuals’ lived experiences of how complex privilege and discrimination can be and how different strains of discrimination and oppression interact and compound each other. Intersectionality is often cited as a necessary tool to combat racism (overt and implicit) in feminism, or transphobia/exclusion in LGBTQ activism, for example. But it is not just about improving and bringing justice (or ideological purity) within activist and progressive circles, it’s more importantly about gaining a clearer understanding of how power operates in real life – which is at the intersections of misogyny, white supremacy, heteronormativity, ableism etc –  in order to more effectively dismantle oppression and inequality. No person’s identity is just their gender, or just their race – so it makes sense that social activism cannot be so single-minded either.

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Black Muslim women in North America and Europe provide an example of how intersected, plural identities are impacted by intersected, compounded discrimination. Black Muslim women report experiencing anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, and misogyny both in society at large and within their own communities, whether Black or Muslim. Although one third of American Muslims are Black, anti-Black racism and erasure of Black Muslims exists within Muslim communities. Similarly, Islamophobia and failure to recognize Islam as a presence in African American history, culture, and communities occurs among Black folks.

Within White and mainstream discourse about Islam and Muslims in the West (including progressive conversations), Muslims are often imagined mainly as Middle Eastern, and often as relatively recent immigrants – not as African American, or as African or Afro-Caribbean immigrants. Mainstream discourse on Black issues and anti-racism similarly gets grouped under the umbrella of #BlackLivesMatter or anti-racism. This isn’t to criticize activism which focuses on Islamophobia or on racism so much as it is to point out that Black Muslims make up a large population who are simultaneously affected by both anti-Black and Islamophobic violence and discrimination. It makes sense to look at how the two forces interact and how resistance to one can and should be united with resistance to the other. It is in fact, a powerful opportunity for unity against multiple oppressions.

Misogynoir is the term coined by Moya Bailey to describe the specific strain of racist-sexism/sexist-racism experienced by Black women as the result of various racist constructions of Black womanhood, such as hypersexualization, exoticism, and the “Angry Black Woman” trope. It is also no surprise that misogyny and Islamophobia have a complex relationship. Spontaneous Islamophobic attacks in the West frequently seem to victimize hijabi women, probably because of their visibility as Muslims. Sikh men have been victim to similar attacks by Islamophobes who equate “bearded man with turban” with “Muslim.” Muslim women who veil are thus vulnerable as women and as Muslims, and the two vulnerabilities are brought together by their outward expression of these joined identities with the hijab. While Muslim women bear the brunt of Islamophobic harassment, of course, they are also the subject of liberal-Islamophobic trolling about how Muslims treat “their women”…. No wonder Muslim women are growing as voices against both Islamophobia and patriarchy!


liz

Liz Hill came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Liz received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Liz works at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Thank you so much for having me today. And thank you everyone for being here. I would like to reiterate that we are situated on Treaty 6 territory and that these are the traditional lands of Indigenous people who have lived, gathered and passed through here for many thousands of years. They are still here and it is on you to insure that that is forever the case.

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I also want to acknowledge that I am a white, cis woman, the child of Italian immigrants to this land, and the mother of a beautiful, Arab girl, a convert to Islam and all those things are combined, I am afforded certain privileges and I pray that I am using these to the advantage of every person, people of every gender, orientation, religion, ethnicity, ability and anything else we use to identify ourselves.

I came here today to inform you that the day you were born was not the day you came out of your mother’s womb. The day you were born was the first time you witnessed injustice and you decided to take a stand. Deep down inside you, alarms bells started ringing and a call resounded through the center of your being. A call to take action, a call to stand up and use your voice to say, “No, hatred will not live here, Oppression will not be tolerated, injustice will not be served today.”

The day you heard that call may have been November 8th, when the one who shall remain unnamed was legitimized in his hatred and misogyny, and propelled to the highest institution of the most powerful nation in the world. And we will oppose him. And all echoes of him at home.

That day might have been before. It might have been after. The day you hear that call might be today, right now.

For it is a call I am issuing. This is not a call to silent prayer but a call to submission of the ego in the service of others, even if those others are a future self in need of your present compassion. It is a call of recognizing that any of us could be oppressor or oppressed and that many of us are both, and we’re standing on a fine line and you are choosing dignity, respect and compassion that every single one of us has earned by virtue of our existence.

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It is a call to make space for one another, to take space when it is not yielded, to recognize that we create the worlds we live in, and that hatred and love take effort of an equal measure. The day you were born was the first time you saw hatred in action and you chose Love.

Fierce love. Love that dismantles and is disobedient. Enraged love. Disappointed love. Grieving Love. Love that refuses to accept anything less than solidarity, anything less than taking care of one another.

Taking care of one another does not only mean fixing dinners and giving shoulders to cry on – though those things are important. No, taking care means a commitment to the idea that, even if I have never met you, I love you and I respect your right to a life of dignity and hope, a life of self-actualized growth and I will fight for you.

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I do not accept that black, brown, Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish people with varying orientations and degrees of ability are made the collateral damage in the bulldozing path of a historical lie spun incessantly about racial and social superiority, while those who spin it hold our planet, our children, our wealth, our future, our collective soul hostage. I do not accept how they divide us. I do not accept that our trauma and violence are painted as intrinsic to who we are, while they cover their colonization in the fog of words, in a war of semantics, in imperial programming. I refuse to normalize their hatred.

The day you were born was the first moment you witnessed power in action and you said no to it. Where you traced its institutions, its circulatory system, feeding life into those who designed it and relegating the rest of us to despondency and despair. You deserve better than a life of despair.

Answering the call is a commitment to replacing despair with kindness, even when kindness means blocking roads and lobbying governments. Especially when it means that.

So I want to ask all of you and please let me hear a beautiful Yes:

Do you hear the call?

Do you hear the call today?

We are not here to feel good about ourselves. We celebrate who we are and we resist in our joy but we are not here to joke around about what is happening south of the border, around the world, in our own backyard, in our families. We are here to make a public declaration to do better and to stop those who won’t.

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The work does not end here, it starts right now.

I want you to turn to the person next to you, put your hand over your heart, look them straight in the eye and face their humanity. Thank them for being here today. Thank them for taking a stand and answering the call of Justice.

Repeat after me:

I am here for you.

I will always be here for you.

I will defend you.

I will use my voice

In the face of your oppression.

I will work for justice.

I hear the call.

And I answer it.

Very good.

Hear this call today, everyone, I am holding you accountable Let it echo every day in every action you take.

It is history calling, wondering what side you will be on.

It is our duty to memory, wondering how selective you will be.

And it is the scales of justice calling, wondering what your balance look like.

All our lives hang in the fold.

Thank you.


Nakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. She recently completed graduate studies and work as a research assistant in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta, as well as a research fellowship on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for The Tessellate Institute. Nakita serves her community as the Vice President of External Affairs with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC), as an advisor for the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life,  and as a member of the Executive Fundraising Board for the YIWCL Cree Women’s Camp. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and is currently working on a graphic novel memoir weaving her experiences abroad with her community work and research.

Photography: Lindsey Catherine Photos & Media

Video: Radical Citizen Media

Anyone who calls themselves a feminist has their own reasons and path to claiming this label. I don’t intend this to be a confessional blog – there are enough over-educated, middle class, white millennial feminists talking about their lives on the internet and everywhere else, some with more wit, skill, and thoughtfulness than I could offer, and some with less…. But I thought it would be appropriate to begin this column with an introduction to who I am, why I’m here, and where I hope to go.

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Regrettably I did not discover feminism in high school. I am convinced that my adolescence would have been greatly improved if I had listened to Bikini Kill alongside the Clash, but that came later. I mostly discovered feminism through blogs towards the end of high school and the first year of university – the Bust blog and magazine, Feministing, and of course, Jezebel at its high point. Body image and body positivity seemed to be a hot topic at the time, and was an ideal entry point for me. Like many (most?) girls, coming of age meant a sudden, negative awareness of my own body’s existence, from which followed constant comparison with other girls. Negative body talk became a primary topic of conversation with friends.

By the end of high school, I’d largely decided that fat/ugly talk was boring and reconciled myself with preferring food and sitting around to being “hot”, but the newfound concept of body positivity and body image as a political and cultural issue put my thoughts and feelings about my body in a new light with far reaching implications. My new understanding of beauty standards and girls’ body image issues led to real and long lasting changes in my own body image on an emotional as well as intellectual level. It also empowered me to eat the amazing carrot cake at UVic library coffee shop twice a week for all of first year and gain a good fifteen pounds with no qualms… Let’s just say that it took a couple years for my approach to body positivity to evolve past the many negative attitudes and associations that the weight loss imperative attaches to healthy eating and exercise.

More importantly, body positivity also kicked off an interest in, and awareness of, feminism in general. Through articles and discussions that I read online, as well as an introductory women’s studies course and other university courses that dealt with critical perspectives, I was exposed to concepts like privilege that changed how I understood the world and my place in it. Having grown up white, middle class, straight, etc in a predominantly white, middle class, complacently left wing environment, I was certainly opposed to racism, homophobia, and other kinds of bigotry on principle, but I had little understanding of how those things really worked or manifested. Reading about feminism that pertained to my concerns, led me to reading about feminist issues less directly recognizable in my own life. Themes such as feminism and race, queer feminism, and issues faced by transwomen, sex workers, or poor women, for example.

I was exposed to a multitude of perspectives, ideas, and issues, because I was mostly reading about intersectional feminism. Intersectional feminism takes feminism (“women’s/gender issues”) as a starting point, but recognizes the other factors that impact individual women’s lives and the concerns of diverse groups of women. Intersectional feminism recognizes a plurality of feminisms and the diversity, even contradiction, among “women’s experiences” and gender issues. Intersectional feminism not only led me to a better, and empowering, understanding of myself and my own circumstances, but to greater social awareness and critical sensitivity to issues and perspectives outside my own direct experience.

In my last post, I discussed the urgent need to embrace intersectionality whole-heartedly and for white people in particular to throw their weight into anti-racism efforts in the coming years. (And into efforts against the misogyny, colonialism, homophobia, transphobia, Judeo- and Islamophobia that are enmeshed with white supremacy.) It would be disingenuous to say that intersectionality matters now, as if it did not matter so much before. In some ways, this election doesn’t signal a change in American culture and society, so much as it should serve as a wakeup call to those of us who perhaps did not realize the extent and severity of racism and fear and anger in America in the twenty-first century. It is a privileged position to be unaware of that reality and perhaps if the greater mass of liberals and progressives had been more conscious, had really felt on the behalf of their marginalized, vulnerable, and even angry friends and neighbours who were telling them about this reality, the new reality of a Trump presidency could have been defended against.

Although I do not live or vote in the United States, I admit to experiencing guilt in the wake of the election because I was as disbelieving of the result as anyone else who didn’t think such overt bigotry could be so widely socially acceptable. I am taking the American election as a wake-up call that intersectionality needs to be more than awareness, it has to be felt and acted upon – it has to be more than a politically correct intellectual performance. As I did in my last post, I urge Canadians to start doing this work now and to reject complacency.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I mostly want to avoid confessional-style blogging, but I want to hold myself accountable by expressing these intentions. So I apologize if my first two posts seem to be speaking to an assumed-white audience, but I also hope I can help motivate others like myself to avoid sliding back into privileged complacency as we all adjust to a post-Trump world. The general intention of this column is to discuss a diversity of feminism-related topics while maintaining an intersectional perspective and mandate. I hope to strike a balance between serious topics and more upbeat, and between positive news and critical perspectives. I am obviously limited in my ability, or entitlement, to give personal insight into many intersectional topics, but I hope to at least facilitate introductions to a range of issues, ideas, and critical perspectives.


lizElisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta.

I was originally scheduled to start a new column, Freestyling Feminism, on topics related to intersectional feminism this week. My second blog for this column was going to be a light, introductory primer on “what is intersectional feminism?” However, it would be inappropriate to bypass for a later time as the outcomes of last night’s American election, and exit poll results suggest that the topic of intersectionality is more urgently relevant now.


58% of female voters voted for a candidate other than Trump. 47% of male voters voted for Clinton or a third party candidate. Only 37% of white voters voted for Clinton, plus 5% who voted third party.

53% of white women voters voted for Trump. 49% of college educated white voters voted for Trump, compared to 45% who vote for Clinton. White feminism did not bring about a female president and education did not stop white voters from electing Trump.

This election is obviously complex and it is impossible to find a definitive reason why America elected Trump. It is pretty clear, though, that racism was a strong driving factor. I certainly suspect that misogyny played a role, but more passively – it probably biased and intensified the way some people saw Hillary Clinton, and it allowed many people, including women, to overlook Trump’s misogynistic statements and history of sexual assault – but I don’t think that on the whole people voted for Trump in order to vote against a woman president. They voted for Trump because they were voting for racism and white supremacy. Perhaps we can charitably agree that this may have been unconscious in some cases, but at some point unconsciously responding to dog-whistle racism turned into intentional denial and self-delusion. The man has been openly and enthusiastically supported by the KKK, after all.

Liberals and progressives, especially white liberals and progressives, who are looking at this verdict[1] in horror, wondering what went wrong, what could have been done differently, and what can be done now, need to look at the magnitude and depth of the racism and xenophobia in their society and culture. Many of us still had faith that enough of America would be sensible that Trump’s seemingly insane rhetoric couldn’t win, and this has been an eye opener.

 [1] A weird slip into judicial language reflecting the feeling that America has been handed a sentence, not a government.

The next thing to do is to look at the movements already at work fighting these bigoted attitudes and systemic problems. Black Lives Matter, the land defenders at Standing Rock, the LGBTQ communities who fought for decades to win marriage equality, Planned Parenthood and activists who have been struggling to maintain basic reproductive rights. Groups like these are fighting for a better future every day, not just in the presidential race. There is turbulence but they are making change that matters and they know how.

It is time for white progressives to get in line and stand behind people of colour, queer people, Muslims, and other marginalized activists. White people don’t have the solutions for this, but we do have numbers and influence. Intersectionality now (always, but very critically right now) means white activists and allies putting POC’s voices, ideas, and solutions to the forefront. Listen and follow. Remember that your experiences of misogyny matter, but they don’t discount your white privilege and security; your experiences of homophobia matter, but don’t discount your white privilege; your class struggle and economic inequality matter but they do not discount white privilege.

Now is not the time for white people to search for new solutions or to lead movements. Now is the time for white people to throw their weight behind existing solutions and movements.

This is not just a Canadian scolding from across the border. Canadians should not be watching this election with smugness or relief. Canadian culture absorbs much of the influences and trends that American culture generates. More seriously, we need to recognize that white supremacy is equally as native to Canadian settler culture as it is to American settler culture built on slave ownership. The monster is under our bed too. The same xenophobic fears and attitudes that Trump exploited with his suggested ban on Muslim immigration, Harper grasped at when he introduced the idea of a niqab ban in the last election. Thankfully Canadians largely rejected that attempt – this time. The idea was there and it resonated, though. Similarly, the same rage and hostility we see in Trump’s core supporters is present in sections of Alberta politics. Most fundamentally though, the colonial white supremacy that the American nation was built on, is just a particular variety of the same colonial white supremacy that the Canadian nation was built on. We’re seeing the legacy of the former playing out dramatically in the United States right now, but we cannot ignore that there are similar things present in the foundation of our own society. We must not lapse into complacency in Canada just because the United Sates is more explosive in its dysfunction.

And finally, since I imagine many people woke up feeling shocked, helpless, and isolated after election day, wondering who their country really was – remember that Clinton won the popular vote. You are not alone.


lizElisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta and Latitude 53 Contemporary Visual Culture.

Host Emily Mattingsley unpacks some of the typical reactions she gets when she says she lives in Morocco and shows why they are problematic with reference to being a white woman. She shows how important it is to recognize privilege and how it constructs the types of choices we are able to make while balancing that with honouring the life someone is then able to build for themselves as something more than chance. She also takes a look at the bigger picture of what really constitutes “bravery” these days and asks you to ask some hard questions of what being a woman is like all over the world.