Sophia Nelson wants you to listen to your neighbor.
Serving as the Keynote Speaker at the 2019 Global Status of Women and Girls Conference, Nelson focused on bridging the differences between Americans and giving tools for women to succeed. With that success, she suggests, our country can make its way through “this climate of national uncertainty and division of political rankard, racial unrest and the #MeToo movement.” She went on to say, “we will get through this, as a better America.”
The theme of the conference, was “Intersectionality: Understanding women’s lives and resistance in the past and present.” As a political commentator, writer and corporate diversity champion, Nelson used her background as the basis for her speech.
Talking specifically about her three books, “E Pluribus One,” “Black Women Redefined” and “The Woman Code,” her address offered a look into the role diversity played in the founding of America, the difference in experience between white women and black women and offered keys for women to use their femininity to empower themselves.
“Even though we all live in the same America, we experience it very differently and I believe it all lies back in this document in the Declaration of Independence.”
Discussing the creation of the America by the founding fathers, she mentioned the explicit omission of individuals that were not white wealthy landowners. However, even through its flawed implementation, she states that the values in the Constitution and the value of E Pluribus Unum, are what makes our country “unlike any in the world.”
Putting our country in perspective she said, “What made us what we are is we started half slave and half free, and somehow we found ourselves in 2008 with a black president.”
She encouraged audience members to lean into this, to talk with their neighbors, to challenge their beliefs, to embrace diversity of people, culture and thought.
“You don’t have to think like your neighbor. You don’t even have to like the way your neighbor thinks but you do and should respect that American’s right to have an opinion different from yours.”
Finally, she put the conference into perspective, “When you leave here don’t take the stuff you learned and stick it on the shelf, really question yourself. Do you understand how your country started? Do you understand the division of race? Do you understand that after slavery you had a hundred years of Jim Crow and that only in the last fifty years in this state Loving v. Virginia, 1967, that was the first case where a white man could marry a black woman legally in America? That’s me. I was born in 1967.”
She ended the night by doing just that, offering women tips on how to embrace their femininity and make it their strength.
“I thought it was really awesome to hear the founding of America clearly articulated,” student Jessie Todaro said. “It opened my mind to experience of black women and about how the way they are marginalized is different from how I’m marginalized.”
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to be educated,” Todaro said.
There were some, however, that had criticisms of the event, specifically as a keynote address.
“While I enjoyed presentation and it was extremely valuable in helping women learn their value and gave tools to help lift each other up, it felt unnecessary to talk to female scholars about intersectionality in such a basic way,” student and presenter Cassidy Hill said.
“She completely ignored the role of indigenous women in the United States, the amount of times she re-enforced the cisgender binary, man and wife, felt irresponsible.”
Hill also had problems with respect being forced.
“It’s a problem to say you have to respect each other’s opinions because they can be harmful. I shouldn’t have to listen and respect the opinion of someone saying I don’t deserve health care or food stamps.”
She also went on to say, “she’s a good role model, but she could’ve been more responsible with her time.” As a speaker at the event she only had fifteen minutes to present her research.
The Global Status of Women and Girls Conference featured performances, talks and presentations from scholars here at CNU and abroad.
The conference is in its fourth year.
~Morgan Barclay, Editor-in-chief~