COMMUNITY VOICES | Terra Cole: One Minneapolis mayoral forum was sexist to female candidates

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I would first like to start off by saying how extremely blessed I was to have experienced the One Minneapolis Mayoral forum which took place this past Thursday. Over the past six months, I have had the opportunity to either be a part of the planning of or working at least four other mayoral forums this year. I will tell you without reservation that the One Minneapolis forum by far was the best attended, most diverse and posed the most thoughtful questions to the candidates. I was very pleased with the care and meaningfulness of the questions that were posed to the candidates as well as the individuals who asked them. The One Minneapolis forum was truly put on for the people and by the people. I am very much looking forward the next mayoral forum which is tentatively scheduled to take place this August in North Minneapolis. 

For those who don’t know, let me tell you a bit about myself; I am a long term Northsider currently living in the Sumner-Glenwood Neighborhood, former womenwinning endorsed candidate for the state legislature, a lifelong community advocate and an over all just person. I am also a big supporter of Mark Andrew for Minneapolis Mayor and am so pleased to be his issues & policy director. However, this article isn’t about me and it isn’t about Mark or his campaign. This is about the One Minneapolis forum and asking our communities of color to think just a bit more critically about how to deal with the intersection of gender when discussing issues related to race and class. Many of us live at this intersection and it is disappointing to see that for as much as we strive to address issues of inequality, we still have a long way to go in addressing patriarchy in our everyday lives.

Case in point: The One Minneapolis forum was supposed to be about hearing from all candidates for mayor and learn about their vision, goals and proposed solutions to issues that are of great importance to communities of color throughout the city. Of the 11 candidates who have thrown their hat into the ring to become Minneapolis’ next mayor, only two of them are women and only one man is a person of color. For a forum that was designed and implemented by some wonderfully amazing organizers of color I found it greatly disappointing that, although unintentional, the Q & A process that was used disproportionately silenced the women candidates. I know it wasn’t done on purpose, so I wanted to be sure that it was addressed. 

When I brought this issue to the attention of the event organizers, I was rebuffed. In my first attempt, I chose to speak to the timekeeper who was one of the forum organizers, and mentioned my observation. I thought that surely given the context of the event he would make note of it and take action to address it. All I got back from him was a blank stare. So, I went to another forum organizer who was also male and mentioned my observation to him as well. My concern received much better reception from him, so I was satisfied that the issues would be addressed and all would be right with the world. That is until the timekeeper got up and said the following: “So it has been brought to my attention that the women candidates aren’t speaking as much as the men. The women only make up 25% of the candidates on stage and since we are pulling names out of a hat two at a time, the women will not be speaking as much.”  Huh? Come again? This is a valid argument why?

If the panel had been all male and the two people we heard the least from were men of color, folks would have been in an uproar. In a event like One Minneapolis as centered on the disenfranchisement of large sections of the Minneapolis community, I expected better. When we as a community stand up to demand equity and make demands on the “system,” we must be sure to be aware that sexism is just as rampant as classism and racism and that issues around gender and gender equality compound the lives for the majority of the people in this city. Just like being culturally aware, we need to be aware of our gender biases as well.

Another reason that was given to me by another forum organizer (who was also male) for the lack of speaking time the women candidates had was that “the women candidates simply answered the questions better and therefore did not need the follow up questions the way the male candidates did.” Awesome. Great comeback. Women are better at getting to the point but again, I ask where is the logic in this when the question on the table is why are the women candidates getting less time to speak at a forum that is discussing issues of inequality and discrimination in communities of color?  These “explanations” do not negate the fact that we still heard from the women candidates less often than the male candidates regardless of how well they answered questions.

I consider both comments to be lame and unacceptable. Let’s think of it this way: If any of the candidates – male or female – had said anything remotely like “certain students color perform better than other students of color in school,” they would have been prompted to provide an explanation. If that answer was anything remotely like “well these particular groups of students of color only represent 25% of the population and answer questions better so it’s ok that that they receive less time with the teacher,” folks would have been ready to riot. However, when I address it both at the forum and on Facebook, I am called disrespectful. Patriarchy is alive and well in communities of color and if we are to demand equality, then it must be sure to turn the focus back to us and demand the same in our community if we want to be taken seriously.

I have been told by one of the male organizers (where are the women by the way, I’ve seen pictures of them so I know they exist) that the process was “fair” and that everyone got to answer the same amount of questions and that my critiques are baseless. I was “disrespectful” for stating my views at the forum when I approached one of the organizers who had a mic to clarify what I had actually told him with regards to my observations. My response to him was: this is a context that you don’t understand nor are you trying to understand. I followed the rules first by bringing my grievance to the appropriate individuals and when it was ignored and then twisted, I reacted just like I would expect any passionate person and especially a man who felt slighted, would do. I exercised the agency that I did have in order to put the real issue before the audience. It’s funny how it’s ok for a man to do certain things and think that he is well within his rights to react a certain way when he sees an injustice but when a woman does it, she is is disrespectful. I stood up for what I believed in and was backed up by both men and women as well as received accolades from several of the mayoral candidates for my actions. I will never apologize for standing up for what it right.

There is so much more to say about this and input that I want to give on how we can make sure that we cover as many bases as possible when putting on these type of events. We must consider the intersection of race, class and gender when we are talking about equality. It can’t be done well if all aspects aren’t considered. Hopefully, myself and others will be a part of the planning of the next One Minneapolis candidate forum. The organizers of this wonderful event proved that communities of color will not be denied access and that we will hold our leaders accountable for their words and their deeds. I hope that they receive this critique with as much love as it is being sent out for I truly do appreciate their time and commitment to making sure our communities voices are heard in this election cycle.

I posted this the day after the forum as my Facebook status for the day: “You may not like my tactics but what you don’t know is that I followed the rules before I acted and it got me nowhere. So I decided to do what a man would do. I do not and will not tolerate injustice and when I see it, I will address it. I’m not asking for your permission because I don’t need it. ‘Seldom do well behaved women make history.’ – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.”

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