Civic Engagement Education LGBTQA+ Published

Transcript of Ferial Pearson’s Talk on “Power and Identity” to Platteview Senior High School

Hello everybody. Welcome back to school. I may–just so you’re not concerned–I do use a cane sometimes and sometimes I don’t need it. So if I put it down and start walking, it’s not a miracle.

I’m not cured. I just sometimes I don’t need it.  Cool? Alright. 

So how many of you are wondering why I get angry when I eat bananas. Do you wanna know? Should I tell you? Okay, so I have a banana allergy, which is weird. We’ll just get that out of the way. But I asked my doctor, why is it when I eat bananas I feel like punching something? And the doctor was like well, sometimes when people have an allergy–raise your hand if you have an allergy in here–okay, so sometimes when you have an allergy, so you have like hives or you get like an itchy throat, and that’s your body’s way of fighting the allergy. And usually when we’re in danger, evolutionarily, right, we either have a fight or flight response and apparently my fight response is really strong when I eat bananas so there’s your answer. alright. 

So today we’re going to be talking about power and privilege and I know that this word privilege tends to be a little icky right? How many of you feel a little icky when you hear the word privilege? Looking to be honest, thank you for being honest with me. Yes, we got you.  And so when we’re talking about power and privilege in society, a lot of times we think about just one or two things and we look at the room around us and we’re like there’s not that much diversity in this room, but I’m gonna tell you there is a lot of diversity in this room whether you realize it or not and we’re gonna go through the different parts of your identity to figure out which parts of your identity have power and privilege in today’s society and which parts of your identity don’t, and then after this presentation, you’re gonna go to your advisement and you’re gonna work with your advisement teacher and as a group to figure out how to be an ally to people who don’t have the power and privilege in these various identities.  Does that sound good?

(audience member says sarcastically “sure”) 

Maybe you would like to be an ally? And how many of you don’t know what ally means? Okay, so an ally, an ally is a person who advocates for others, basically being an ally is like being a good friend. How many of you think you’re a good friend? Alright, those of you who don’t have your hand up, here is your chance to learn how okay? Because here’s the deal – throughout your life you are going to be working with people who look very different from you from very different backgrounds than you who have different life experiences than you.  You’re gonna be their coworkers. You might marry one of them, who knows.  

Okay so a little bit about me, my husband is what I call a “whiteman”, he’s very white, okay, my students when I taught at Omaha South  were like, he is glow in the dark white. Okay so I’m married to a whiteman and he went, he’s an American and he went to Ralston High School, okay, – do you know anyone in Ralston High School? – and he told me when we first met, we met when he was 18 and I was 19. We were a bunch of children like you all.  He’s like, “my high school was diverse, we had Shauna and Marcus …” and I was like, dude if you can name them all on one hand like that’s not a diverse high school. He knows better now and he was like mind blown because I grew up in Kenya. Can anyone tell me where Kenya is on a map? (Students say “Africa”) Africa. My husband, when we met, he’s like is that near India, I was like, it ain’t, who was your geography teacher? So yes, it’s in Africa. I grew up in East Africa, Kenya, which is on the coast of East Africa and some of you are like, “you’re not dark enough to be from Africa”. There are people of many different colors in Africa, so you know I’m a mixed race, so I am part black and part Indian from India and I’m Muslim and I’m still a practicing Muslim and I married this “whiteman” who’s an atheist, and our children are very mixed up as you can tell so (laughs) so we have a very mixed family, and so some of you might find yourselves in the same position as my “whiteman”, you might find somebody who becomes your best friend or who becomes your spouse who comes from a completely different part of the world, or you might find a coworker who comes from a completely different background than you and so the whole point of this presentation today and your work with advisement is: how do you become a good coworker? How do you become a good friend, a good ally or even just a good community member, a fellow citizen of somebody who’s different from you? Because the great thing about America is that we have what we call diversity, right, there are people from many different backgrounds here so does that sound like something you’re interested in?  (no response) Hopefully? Okay, if not then I will win you over by the end, I promise okay. So we’re gonna talk about different identities and we’re gonna talk about, and I’m gonna have you answer to me where you think the power and the privilege lies. Now when I’m talking about power and privilege, I’m talking about advantages that are given to you by society and you didn’t ask for them. Okay, like it’s just something that you get by virtue of being born who you are, so the important thing to know about power and privilege is if you have it, I don’t want you to feel guilty about having it because you didn’t ask for it. It’s an unearned advantage. It’s an unearned advantage that you didn’t ask for so I don’t want you to feel guilty about it because when you feel guilty or you feel shame that you have privilege, that doesn’t help anybody, that doesn’t help you be a good friend, right. If you have something your friend doesn’t have, you can sit there and feel guilty about it and be like oh my poor friend, I feel so bad that I have this thing and your friends are gonna say get over it. 

You know so the first thing I’d like to talk about is ageism. And this is something that you students–not you teachers–but you students do not have the power and the privilege when it comes to age and when when we’re talking about power and privilege we’re talking about today 2020–I can’t believe it’s 2020!–in the Midwestern America because these things will change depending on where in the world you are and what time period it is. Does that make sense right? (Yes.) Okay. If it doesn’t, it will. So ageism in America, there is a range of ages there where after a certain age you start to get power and privilege from society. Okay. So when you’re younger, you don’t, there hits a certain age where you start to have everything you need to be successful in society and then you get older and there’s another age you hit where you start to lose those powers and those privileges, okay ,and I’ll tell you now that in high school, you don’t have any of those powers and privileges. Okay. So who can tell me what the age you think it is where you start to get power and privilege? What age can you wait to be so that you get those powers from society? Yes? Okay. We have a bid for 18. Tell me why 18. (Student: Technically 19 in Nebraska [inaudible]) Yes. Perfect Yes. so at 19, you get to sign documents and contracts and things like that. Okay. Do we have a bid for higher than 18? Yes over there. Twenty five or thirty. Tell me why. [inaudible]

We got some biology, you’re right. At 25 your prefrontal cortex starts to be actually less brain damaged. So until you’re 25 you basically have marshmallow fluff up there, did you know this? It’s weird. like your synapses haven’t fully formed and that’s why society says, well these young people, they can’t make the decisions because what happens in your frontal cortex is you’re able to make good decisions, you’re able to control your impulses. So how many of you have done something where you were like, I don’t know why I did that, I just made a bad decision? I don’t know why I did that. I’ll tell you why–it’s because  marshmallow fluff, okay. That’s why you did it and after you’re 25, all of that is figured out and it’s now actually brain matter okay. And so then you start to be able to make good decisions. So I’m actually gonna go with – what is your name, sir? John. – I’m gonna go with John’s bid there. Twenty five is actually when society starts to think, okay we can trust you. Because what happens at 25 is your insurance goes down, okay, because insurance companies are like, you’re gonna be, like you’re going to make better decisions so we don’t have to charge you as much for insurance. You’re able to lease an apartment or rent a car by yourself without having a cosigner, you’re more likely to have job experience at that point. How many of you have applied for a job and they’re like, you don’t have any experience so we’re not gonna give you the job. You’re like how am I supposed to get experience if you won’t hire me, right? okay. So that’s an example of ageism, is when you’re not hired cuz you don’t have enough experience.

So 25 is when society says yes, we can, we can trust you, you’re gonna make the decisions, you’re not gonna do stupid things. Alright. so and by that time you can vote, you can own a gun, you can run for office. You can sign up to be in the army. you can gamble. you can smoke.  So that’s 25. [Students talking as she talks, saying 18 is legal age for some of these] Alright. The other thing is, the people who have the power in any situation. Whether it’s at your job or in government, whoever gets to make the decisions are the people who have the power. So if you think about who gets to run government, the people who run for office, they’re usually over 25, there are a few little exceptions. I heard of a mayor who’s 18, he’s doing a great job, but for the most part, most of them are between the ages of 25 and then what do you think the upper limit is where you start to lose power and privilege. Sixty five, did I hear 65? Alright, I would agree it’s about 65. so about that time people start to retire, right?  And then you’re living on a fixed income so now you don’t have as much earning potential. So that’s another form of power, is your earning potential. How much money can you make right? So my mother-in-law the “whiteman’s” mother, who is also a white lady, shocker. She is a nurse and a social worker, so she has a master’s in nursing. She has a master’s in social work and she is 67 and she’s really good at her job. The woman could arm wrestle a bear, like she’s real strong. She’s a hospice nurse, so she has to lift people, you know to clean them and take care of them, and she is finding it really hard to get a job because they are saying things like you’re not going to be strong enough to handle our patients because you’re old and they say things like everything’s paperless now and you won’t be able to learn technology – the woman can tweet better than anybody I know – okay she is very good at technology, but they assume because of her age that she is not gonna be good at technology, that she can not take care of patients because they don’t think she has the physical strength even though that’s not true. So that’s an example of ageism on the other end of the spectrum.  Does that make sense? yes. 

I’ll give you another example of ageism. Have you of you seen signs on like convenience stores or dollar stores about who can go in in groups of more than two or who can’t go in in more than groups of two?  You haven’t seen this? What have you seen? (Student: That if you’re under 18 you can’t go in in more than groups of three.) Yeah. If you’re under 18, you can’t go into a dollar store or convenience store in groups of more than three. Why?  What do they think you’re gonna do? (Student: Shoplifting) You’re going to steal because you know teenagers steal right? But here’s the thing – so I’m a big fan of what we call facts. So I look at data. I’m a professor, right, so I look at data and statistics, and I looked at is it true that teenagers are the demographic that steal the most from dollar stores and convenience stores? Do you know it’s not true?  Do you wanna know who does? It’s gonna shock you. It’s middle aged white ladies with their big canvas totes y’all. That’s who does the stealing. It’s weird right, but you’ll never see somebody tell your mom, like you can’t come in with your friends because you’re gonna steal, lady. All the Snickers are in danger. right, so that’s another example of ageism, where we discriminate against a group of people like teenagers because we assume they’re gonna do something or we assume that they’re bad because of who they are right. So did the middle aged ladies, did they earn that privilege? How? Society just gave it to them. They’re like, you look trustworthy. You can come in and be around the Snickers. We’re not worried about it, right? But teenagers come in and they’re like, watch out for the Snickers. I don’t know why people love Snickers, Snickers are disgusting. They have nuts in them, I don’t like it.  I’m not going to yell, if you like Snickers that’s cool. 

Alright. So we’re gonna move on from ageism to the next ism, are you ready for this? Is this exciting, is this fun yet?  We don’t know. Alright. so the next ism is what we call faithism. Faithism. So in ageism we figured out that there’s a group that has power of privilege and a group that doesn’t, so the group that has power, we decided between the ages of 25 and 65, and the people who don’t have the power of privilege are the people below 25 and above 65 alright, So are you on board with me? Alright so in faithism in Midwestern America in 2020, there is a group that has power of privilege to do with their faith and there’s a group that does not, okay? So who wants to tell me which group does have power of privilege? That society is like you are cool, you are normal? This is exactly we were yes, [inaudible] okay, so, she says Christians did you say Christians? Alright so does everybody else agree?  Okay, a few people are like hmmm? okay so then who doesn’t have a power of privilege [kid by mic says Jews and then laughs with his friends] Jewish people. Who else? Muslims, who else yes. (Pagans) Pagans, who else? (Mormons) Say it again? Mormons? Mormons are actually part of the Christian group, but I would agree with you to some extent [audience is noisy, laughing, talking]  I would agree with you to some extent. Alright so here’s the secret. Everybody else, anybody who’s not a Christian doesn’t have the power of privilege, but let’s get some proof because is that really true, right? So what are the power and privileges that are afforded to people who are Christian in the Midwestern America in 2020? Give me some examples? Yes. 

(Audience member:  It is easier for them to get married)

Yes, it is much easier for them to get married because first of all if you wanna find a house of worship that matches yours. If you wanna find a church as a Christian, it’s pretty easy to find one. I think I drove by four or five of them on the way here from Ralson.  So it’s easy to find a church to get married in. It’s easy to find an ordained person to marry you right, does that sound about right? How many of you plan to get married in the future? So you gotta think about these things. What else, what other privileges? Can you go to the courthouse to get married? You can, yes. So it’s the difference between a civil ceremony and a religious ceremony, right? So if you wanna have a civil ceremony, you can do that, that’s cool. But if you wanted to have a religious ceremony, you wouldn’t be able to find a place or a minister or somebody to marry you. So excellent distinction there, sir. What other privileges are granted to people who are Christian. Yes, 

(Student:  “They get to go to the one true afterlife.”)

They get to go to the one true afterlife? So are you saying I am damned to hell because I’m Muslim? Ouch. Oh wait, maybe most of my friends are there. Thank you. I think he was being sarcastic, right. Yeah. He was being sarcastic.  I like your humor. 

Alright, let’s come back, y’all. Let’s come back. So what else.

(Someone in audience:  “Christmas break”)

Yes, tell me more. Tell me about Christmas break.

(We got two weeks off for Christmas break [inaudible])

Yeah. So that’s a definite advantage. So if you are a Christian, you never have to go to school on Christmas Day. Whether it’s on a Sunday or on Wednesday, Whatever day Christmas Day happens to fall on, this country believes that if it’s Christmas Day, you should not have to go to school, right? So everybody gets a Christmas break and if you think about actually the way the school holidays are created, the way the school calendars are created, it’s around Christian holidays right, so you’re gonna have a spring break around Easter time. You’re never gonna have to go on Christmas Day. But if you are from a faith that is not Christian if you have a high holiday–so, for example, Jewish high holidays like Rosh Hashana or if you have Muslim holidays like Eid or you Have Hindu holidays like Diwali,  all of those, you have to go to school on that day and you don’t, you have to make up stuff that you missed whether it’s a test or if you miss a field trip, if it’s something like that, and you have to make up that day, and if you are a professional, right, you have to take a personal day or a vacation day to celebrate your religion, whereas Christians don’t have to do that. Does that make sense? Okay. So that’s a very real privilege. What other privileges do Christians have?

(Audience member “An abundance of places to worship”)

An abundance of places to worship. Absolutely, that’s a good one. What else do we have?

(Audience member – I am a Christian. So we believe in one god and all other religions believe in [different gods?] So Buddhists believe in spirituality and Hindus believe in many gods So if I am a Christian it would be like there is one god and there is one holy text [inaudible]) 

Yeah. So when you’re talking about Christianity, everybody pretty much knows what you’re talking about, right, so there are lots of public references, that is an excellent point. There are lots of public references to the Bible and folks are gonna know what you’re talking about. But if you refer to a holy text that’s not the Bible. most people won’t know what you’re talking about, right? And actually, so I was an English teacher for 10 years at Omaha South High School. Do you all take British Lit here? No. (British lit?) What was that? Yeah, so I had to teach British Lit for 10 years and you can’t teach British literature without teaching the Bible because British literature like Beowolf and Chaucer and Shakespeare and all that was told by word of mouth, right? It was storytelling. And so the first people to write those things down and the only people who knew how to read and write were priests, right, were holy men, Christian holy men, and so they infuse a lot of Christian references into those stories to try to convert more people to Christianity, right, and so if you have to take British literature – and some of you might have to take it in college – you’re basically learning the Bible. So that’s another example that something – religion is taught in public schools that teach — Christianity is taught in public schools that teach Brit Lit because that’s the way it is. 

Any musicians in the room? Any musicians? Okay. So a lot of your music is Christian music that you learned in school, too, right? So yeah. If I wanna buy a Christmas card, I can easily find one, if I wanna buy stuff for Easter I can easily find one, but if I am of any other faith, I need to get those things for my faith and celebrations, I can’t find them.  Now here’s the other Interesting thing. Remember I talked about running for office, it, right, politics, so you have to swear an oath on the Bible when you run for office or if you are testifying in court, however if you are not Christian, you get to not do that, and so this last time when people were being sworn into Congress there were three people who did not swear on a Bible.  Two of them were Muslim Congresswomen, Rashida Talib and Ohan Ilmar, and they swore on Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, So Thomas Jefferson owned a Quran and they swore on Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, and then I think it was Kristen Gillibrand, who is an atheist, and she swore on a copy of the US Constitution, but a lot of people didn’t know that you could do that. and there was this huge uproar when they did that. 

There’s also– have you heard of Gallup polls? have you been called for a Gallup poll? So Gallup does all this research usually around election times to find out who are you most likely to vote for. And every time there is an election, they will ask people throughout America and then publish the results, and like I said, I like numbers and so I looked at the Gallup poll results and they said during a presidential election who would you be most likely to vote for when it comes to religion and who would you be least likely to vote for if everything else is equal? Alright following me so far. And so what American people said, the general public, is we’re most likely to vote for a Christian, we would trust a Christian the most and then at the very bottom they had atheists and they had Muslims. And so everything else being equal, people don’t trust you if you are not Christian. Okay, so you are less likely to get the vote. 

The other thing that I noticed during elections is that the Omaha Herald, doe anybody read the Omaha World Herald? Okay so they publish every time there is an election, even if it’s a small one, they will ask everybody who is running for office what is your religion and they publish it in the World Herald and so I saw this and I thought that’s weird because in any other job interview it’s illegal to ask you for your religion but the World Herald does this for people running for office, the media in general does this, and they publish everybody, even  people who are running for county clerk to school board to Senate, everything else and I looked at the World Herald and it was all of these people running for office in Nebraska and everyone was like Christian, Catholic, Christian, Catholic and there was one person who didn’t answer Christian or Catholic and it was Senator Ernie Chambers and he wrote Algebra and it was hilarious, but the reason he said that was this is a ridiculous question, you should not be asking people in a job interview situation what their religion is, so if you ask me a ridiculous question, I’m gonna give you a ridiculous answer. Does that make sense? and so that’s another example of religious discrimination, is people are less likely to vote for you if they find out that you’re not Christian. Now like I said It depends on the time period because when Kennedy was running for President people at that time did not trust him because of his religion because Kennedy was Catholic and so that has changed with the times. Nowadays, we do trust Catholics. But back at that time. we didn’t, and they said the reason we don’t trust Catholics is because then the Pope will run the country. Okay. So these things can change with time. 

I have a personal example about faithism. I went to Mullen, Nebraska  Has anybody heard of Mullen? It’s a little village, ah, 480 people, in August of this year and I was gonna do a talk about  Secret Kindness Agents, I was going to talk about kindness, and my picture was put out in the community and some people googled me because they saw I have a brown face and they were like who is this stranger, and they found out that I’m Muslim. And then some Facebook posts went around the night before I spoke and there were death threats and people were gonna come to the school and protest me being there because I’m a Muslim. They didn’t trust me to talk to their children and they used words like devil, Satan, wolf in sheep’s clothing, deceit wrapped in kindness. We should go see Chris Kyle, who was the American sniper who bragged about how many Muslims he killed [Students mumbling louder, one says ‘Jesus’] and so just because of my faith, they didn’t trust me to speak to children. Just so you know. so that’s an example of faithism, okay, is everybody clear on faithism now? All right, power and privilege, Christians and Catholics at this point for those things and then everybody else doesn’t have the power of privilege. 

Okay, next one, which goes with – this is my cane, her name is Lucy like the cat in Cinderella. Ableism. Alright. So in Midwestern America, who has the power of privilege when it comes to ability and disability.  Who has the power of privilege? (Neurotypical people.) Neurotypical people. Yes, as opposed to neurodivergent people. So what else. (People without disabilities.) People without disabilities, yes. So people who have power and privilege are people who are able-bodied and able-minded, neurotypical people, and people who don’t are people who have any type of disability.  So who can give me some examples of ableism? How are people with disabilities discriminated against?

(No ramps or elevators)

Yes, so no ramps or elevators, especially in what we designate as historical buildings because they get to have this what they called grandfathered in clause where they don’t have to put elevators in and they don’t have to do those kinds of accommodations for folks who have physical disabilities. I see somebody who has crutches over here. Yes, you get it. You know how it is, right. and the thing about disabilities is even if you don’t have disabilities right now, you’re gonna have them if you have the privilege of living long enough, right, or if something happens to you, if you’re in an accident or how many of  you play football. Football players in the room right. lots of injuries can happen in football or any other sport really, so you can have a disability tonight, you could have a disability tomorrow. So able bodied people are definitely – those are really easy to figure out access to buildings. My friend Nicky is in a wheelchair and she was asked to host a campaign party for a political candidate, and she said yes, and she was very excited and she was, as a part of the hosting duties she had to invite a whole bunch of people, but the candidate who was running for office got to choose where this event was going to happen and he decided to have it in a building in the Old Market and so Nicky (students laughing) and I got to the building and we realized that she couldn’t even get in to the building where she was hosting this campaign party right. And so that’s an example of ableism. Also rooms, hotel rooms that are accessible for folks in wheelchairs are more expensive than rooms that are not and then health care of course is a lot more expensive. I’ve heard of a lot of young people dying recently because they can’t afford their insulin so they’re rationing their insulin because then they can get food to eat and you can’t do that.  Anybody diabetic or know somebody who’s diabetic? Right. so that’s a very real fear. It’s a lot like that with lots of other medications as well, right. With neurotypicality, we have a lot of events and even schooling that is built around people who are neurotypical and that do not accommodate people who are neurodivergent. And so even inclusion if you get to be in a regular class, if you have an idea or not–I’ll give you an example, I had a couple students who had cerebral palsy. Nothing wrong with their brain, just their bodies didn’t work very well and they were, both of these two women were in motorize wheelchairs and I taught, I co-taught, a special ed class that was for people who had disabilities, but it was supposed to be for people who have learning disabilities. These two young ladies were put in that class simply because they had an IEP.  They should have been in honors English, but they were put in my special ed class because they were in wheelchairs. Uncool right, uncool. Alright any other examples of ableism before we move on.

(So if you have a mental disorder, people automatically assume you aren’t intelligent.)

Yes, so they think that you aren’t intelligent at all, you know there are different intelligences. The other example of that with mental illness is when we see mass shootings, people say they must be mentally ill when actually, and again, if we look at the facts, mentally ill folks are more likely to be the target of violence as opposed to being the perpetrators of violence. Okay, Yes. 
Student:  They don’t let us play games with people.
Ferial:  They don’t let you play games with people – like what kind of games?
Student:  Fortnight, Minecraft.
(students laughing)
Ferial – What does that have to do with disabilities, sir?
Ferial: I’ll wait.
Student: I withdraw my comment.
Ferial: You withdraw your comment, okay. Any other examples? 
Ferial: They underestimate you, that’s exactly right. Yes. A lot of people underestimate you if you have a disability. I have students who have speech issues for example and people talk to them like they’re dumb and these are folks who were geniuses right so just because it’s an obvious disability they underestimate you.


Ferial: Yeah. You’re right. Thank you for that. That’s an excellent example, you’re treated as fragile. One of my students who was in that motorized wheelchair, she’s actually a wheelchair basketball player with the Red Dogs at UNO and her teacher wouldn’t let her do the conditioning and training with the with the other kids in PE at school, even though she is a world-class athlete, right, because they thought she was fragile so absolutely excellent examples. Alright, so let’s move on from ableism. The next one is sexism.
This is discrimination based on gender, alright.

(General commotion)

For some reason, this is getting a reaction. What are some examples of sexism–well first of all who has the power and privilege in today’s Society?  Men. The women cook.
(Student: [inaudible] Yeah attack helicopters.)

What are some examples of sexism that we see in society? Okay. I need to be able to hear him so if we could simmer down a little bit.  Thank you sir

(Student says something hard to hear about men being expected to pay on a first date.)

Ferial – uh huh, and do you know why? Do you know why men are expected to pay for the first date? You’re right, it is because of sexism and it is because men make more money than women do.

(Student by mic: “getting controversial, let’s stop.”)

Ferial – that’s not only that, it gets worse y’all, it gets worse. Men not only make more than women do, but women are also paying what we call the pink tax.

(Student: That’s not a thing.)

I heard somebody say that’s not a thing, but since I’m a fan of facts I’m going to tell you what the facts are.  So here are the facts. So my “whiteman,” as you know I’m married to a whiteman, he buys a razor for shaving purposes and I buy a razor for shaving purposes, these razors are exactly the same. I know because I’ve used both of them and they work in exactly the same way. But because my razor is in the lady colors of pink and purple, it is twice the price.

Student: So buy a men’s razor.

So that is the pink tax. Women pay more for our products that are exactly the same and we make less money. so not only do we make less money, but it’s more expensive to be a woman than it is to be a man. Alright. We have some hands up over here. 

(Femme-sounding student with comment about makeup and personal hygiene products)

(loud commotion)

Ferial – Yes. To make up yes, first one hygiene products so let me expand on it. Thank you. That’s the point if we can simmer down again. Thank you. so if you are getting ready for a job interview – how many of you plan to get a job. 

(Student: then don’t wear makeup!)

Right.  So if you’re getting ready for a job interview and I know this because I live in this world and like I said, I’m married to a man.  We were both getting ready for a job one day okay, he got up, he showered using his very cheap stuff, right, he washed his hair. He didn’t use any product.  He did not have to put on any makeup. He did not have to use a bra or nylons or anything like that.  He put on a pair of pants. he put on a nice button-down shirt, he put on his shoes and he was out the door in five minutes. 

(someone in audience – Yes, we don’t do it.)

Ferial –  I had to wash and style my hair because women, our hair cannot be messy right. It can’t be frizzy. It’s gotta be smooth. I had to wear makeup because you’ve gotta wear just enough makeup that maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline, right? You can’t wear too much because then, you know, they can call names, but you can’t wear none of it, then you look like you’re 12. Okay so I had to spend money on makeup. I had to spend money on much nicer clothes and a variety of clothes because men get to wear kind of the same thing every day we have to have a variety and so all of that costs a lot of money. So it actually cost me more money to get ready for a job interview than it did him. Okay.

Boy in the audience – “men work more hours on average and in more intense conditions than women do.”

Ferial – do they?

Chorus of boys – Yeah. Yeah. yes.

Okay, so his question was why is it men work more labor intensive jobs and more hours on average, while the women take care of the children and the house and the shopping and the appointments, buy the birthday presents, and managing the budget at home and doing all the emotional labor to support, so actually these women work more than men do.

(Boys booing, some students clapping)

(Student: Women don’t work harder than men do.)

Man in audience – My wife was brought in for an interview for an athletic director position – she was an educator – at a class A–I won’t say the name– high school in the Metro Conference Yes, and she was really concerned about a question she got asked in the interview, which was how would you handle a football coach who has been assigned who has worked here for over 20 years and you have a personality conflict as a woman? and I guarantee that there was no male that would have ever been asked a question like that, that is an illegal question.

Ferial –  absolutely no question. that is an illegal question. That’s an excellent example that women are also asked questions in job interviews which are not allowed to be asked. Do you plan to have children and if you plan to have children you won’t be hired because then you’re gonna be a liability right. I just watched a movie about pilots who were discriminated against in the same exact way.  Yes. (Gender segregated restrooms) Gender segregated restrooms, especially for non binary people and also for trans folks right. Yes, So people are afraid that trans people are going to attack people in the bathroom. So here’s another fact people have been going to the bathroom with trans people for thousands of years and nothing has ever happened to them. The trans people are more likely to be victims of violence in bathrooms than anybody else. So that’s a great example. 

Male student by mic – “Jesus.”


Ferial – Yeah, people think you’re qualified for the job if you are a certain gender. if you look at Congress and the Senate and the House, most of our representatives in every party are men.

(Student: You elected them.)

I just saw a photo yesterday of a reproductive health bill that was signed into law and everybody who signed that bill was a man.  So men get to legislate what women do with our uteruses. And that’s an example of sexism.  Also my brother in law is in the National Guard and he told me he was reading his insurance statement. He’s also a whiteman by the way. He’s in the National Guard and he said in the National Guard birth control is not covered for women, but Viagra is. So I wonder who made that law.

(Question or statement from the audience)

(Student:: women are the majority of the nation and they elected them)

Ferial – That’s true.  For cases they usually don’t believe the girl actually because they question the character, especially when it comes to rape allegations, most rapes go unreported because when we do report them, they do not test the rape kits and they make us go through the trial as though we’re the person who did something wrong. Alright, we’re running out of time, so I want to quickly go through the next one. There are three more.  So we have sexism. The next one is heterosexism, and this is where folks who are straight have the power and the privilege, for example, and this goes for sexism as well. There is something called the gay panic defense and there’s something called the transpanic defense. And what that means is if you are, for example, on a date with somebody and they tell you they’re trans, you can murder them.

Student: really?

FP: And you can get away with it claiming the transpanic defense. This is legal in all 50 States.

Student:   EXPLAIN what it is. Explain what it is.

Ferial – Also, if you are at a bar and somebody hits on you and they are the same gender as you you can murder them and you can get away with it claiming the gay panic defense.

Student: What bill is this?  I’d like to know. Where, what?

Ferial – That’s an example of sexism and heterosexism.  Also gay people in the state of Nebraska except in the city of Omaha can be fired with no repercussions because somebody thought they were gay. They didn’t even have to be. Except for the city of Omaha, people can refuse to rent to you because they think you’re gay or trans.

Students:  good. 

Ferial – Alright. So these are very real repercussions. Foster care adoption, people are discriminated against because of their gender identity or because of their sexual orientation.  

Alright so that is heterosexism.  Also when you think about what your curriculum includes in many places all these things are not Included.  

The next one is classism where we know the rich folks have the biggest tax cut. They are also the people who can run for office so they get to make these big decisions because it takes money to run a campaign right and then we have appearance-ism, which is where the pretty ones get all the benefits. I don’t even have to go into that you all know it, right, and then the last one is racism.

(Loud sigh)

So those of us who are people of color – even if you look in this room that you do not have any teachers of color, There is a reason for that and it’s called racism


Ferial – just being real y’all, keeping it a hundred.

([inaudible] It’s not racist!)

If you think about who our representatives are in government, we still have a long way to go when it comes to equal representation in government. I’m one of the few professors of color in my Department. I was one of two teachers of color at Ralston High School and when a student bumped into me in the classroom he looked down at me and said “damn minorities”.  As a teacher.

(Students by mic laugh)

Ferial – And there are things that I do where I do speeches like this where people laugh at what I say. They would not laugh at a white man saying the same thing.   I see a lot of nodding. So that’s also an example of racism. I’m sure that you can use Professor Google and find lots more examples of these things. but what I want to say to you again is if you have the examples of power and privilege, if you are within that group, what I want you to think about is how do you use your power of privilege to be an advocate and an ally for the people who don’t have those powers and privileges and I don’t want to go over my time but we need to finish with this real quick. So, for example, if you are able-bodied and you have a friend who is in a wheelchair, I don’t want you to be stuck in that pity of oh my gosh. they can’t use their legs and I can and to feel shame about it or if you’re a white person and you have a friend who’s a person of color, I don’t want you to feel shame about the fact that you’re white, that’s not gonna help your friend who is a person of color, right, and they don’t wanna be pitied, we don’t wanna be pitied, what we want is for you to be a good ally. So if your friend in a wheelchair wants to go out to dinner, you take your able-bodied self to that restaurant and you find out if they can get in that building and you find out that the restaurant is on the same floor as the dining hall and you find out if they can actually get through the restaurant to the table and that the bathroom is accessible. You use your power, your privilege, to help them and the most important way to do that is to ask them. How can I support you and when they tell you about oppression that they experienced you have to believe them because you don’t know their experience, you haven’t lived their life. They know the type of oppression and discrimination that they go through. You don’t. So you have to listen and you have to believe them you have to be kind.