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‘Black Girl Dangerous’ Mia McKenzie speaks at U of O

When Suzie Barrientos, the ASUO Women’s Center Intersectionality Coordinator, interviewed for her position, she was asked: “If you had all the money in the world, who would you bring to campus to speak?”

For Barrientos, the answer was easy: Mia McKenzie.

“Mia McKenzie is a voice that definitely needs to be heard in a place like Eugene, like the UO. Because we do claim ourselves to be very progressive, and very welcoming and open, but a lot of times we kind of just say it,” Barrientos said.

McKenzie is a black feminist, writer and editor of Black Girl Dangerous, a blog dedicated to centralizing the experiences of queer and trans* people of color. After months of planning, a cancellation and other setbacks, Barrientos and the rest of the ASUO Women’s Center, along with other sponsors, finally brought McKenzie to the UO on Tuesday, April 14, as part of the Lyllye B. Parker Women of Color Speaker Series.

“[McKenzie] can speak in an academic sense, but a lot of times students need someone who will talk to them like they’re people. Like, this isn’t a lecture, it’s a conversation,” Barrientos said.

This was certainly true on Tuesday night. As McKenzie spoke, her words bristled with anger, urgency and dry humor. Jokes, swear words and academic jargon were sprinkled into a powerful message about white supremacy and other forms of oppression that are the cause of profound harm to many people.

Among many other things, McKenzie asserted that “diverse” environments and passive acknowledgement of privilege are not enough to fight oppression. She emphasized the importance of self-education about social justice issues and of listening to marginalized voices. She challenged white audience members to realize that racism does not live in “whack-jobs” and “other people.” It is ingrained in the very identity of whiteness.

McKenzie took heavy terms and concepts and shaped them into a moving, challenging presentation. As a white, privileged person, it was impossible to hear her speak and not feel uncomfortable and confused. Those feelings, however, are necessary in order to make the radical changes McKenzie calls for. Mia McKenzie is not around to protect white peoples’ feelings or make concessions to social norms. She doesn’t have to. After all, racism is and should be an uncomfortable topic.

I was assigned to review this key-note, but I can’t. I am in no position to question or evaluate McKenzie’s words. Not to mention that as a white, cisgender, highly privileged woman, to do so would be to actively perpetuate the very system McKenzie asks us all to resist.

All I can say is that I’m going to take her advice. I’m going to listen and educate myself. In her words, I’m going to try to “fight the oppressor inside of [me] with as much courage as the oppressor ‘out there.'” I’m going to “get out of [my] feelings and do the damn work.”

Want to learn and listen more? Start by checking out Black Girl Dangerous, or McKenzie’s website.

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Rachel Benner

Rachel Benner

Rachel is a Theatre writer for the Arts and Culture Desk.