I’ve been forced to confront my identity here on a daily basis. From men on the street who yell “ni hao” at me to discussions at reflection sessions about intersectionality and privilege, reminders of who I am are peppered at me more than ever.
The gym that I go to is conveniently located less than a block away from the Women’s Legal Centre, and has become a part of my daily routine here in Cape Town. Every day, I walk straight from work to the gym.
Ignite Fitness is over-staffed, and the vast majority of the employees are male. There are oftentimes more employees than there are people working out. As I scan my fingerprint to enter, the man at the desk smiles and greets me. I noticed that if I respond without smiling, he asks if I’m tired or even tells me to “smile big.” So every day, I smile big.
Weight rooms everywhere are not female-friendly. I am always outnumbered, sometimes even the only female in the room. Last week, a man put his hand on my stomach as he gave me advice that I never asked for.
I don’t have the privilege of working out at the gym without having daily gendered interactions, without men forcing their advice and their touch on me, without being reminded of my gender and of my discomfort in male-dominated spaces.
“But where are you REALLY from?”
The employees at Ignite Fitness also ensure that I never forget about my ethnicity.
Right off the bat, the man who signed me up for a membership asked me where I was from, no, REALLY from, no, where my parents are REALLY from.
A different employee quite literally stopped me in my tracks to ask me if I was Japanese.
I don’t blend in.
I don’t have the privilege of feeling safe when I walk down the street, or of blending in. At home, I must endure the discrimination and marginalization that my family faces because of the way that we look and speak. My socioeconomic privilege has largely prevented me from reflecting much on my intersectionality at home: my parents have set me up mentally and financially for college, they have worked tirelessly to help me to “blend in,” and they have instilled in me that being a woman of color will not inhibit my success. But here, I am forced to confront that identity on a daily basis.
In two weeks I will get on a plane and return to America, where I can once again lean on the crutches of my privilege. I grapple with how this privilege interacts with and eases the harshness of being a woman and a racial minority. Can these aspects of my identity be separated into ways in which I am privileged and ways in which I am disadvantaged? Or do they overlap and cancel out?
From this blog post, you can see that I have a lot of half-thoughts about my intersectionality, privilege, and identity, and you may be surprised to learn that this is the most self-reflection that I have ever experienced. I hope to make these half-thoughts into full realizations in my last two weeks in this unique city.