The power of solidarity and the problem with ‘not my problem’

YWCA Missoula’s mission to support women in the face of economic challenges, homelessness, and domestic and sexual violence is far-reaching. Closing in on my second month here, I have been impressed not only with the number of programs the YWCA offers to women and families in need, but also by the robustness of these programs, focusing on everything from counseling, to housing, to supervised visitation.

Lately, YWCA Missoula has also begun to focus on making its Racial Justice Initiative equally as robust. Speaking as a woman of color, this is not only good, it is also necessary.

By 2050, the majority of women in the United States will be women of color, but women of color are more likely to leave high school without a diploma, leading them to work disproportionately low-wage jobs compared to white women. Women of color are also more likely to feel greater and more lasting effects of the recession.

When it comes to domestic and sexual violence, there are also disproportionate numbers. With American Indians as the largest racial minority in Montana, statistics from the Department of Justice show that almost 50 percent of Native American women have been “raped, beaten or stalked by an intimate partner,” with 92 percent of American Indian girls reporting having been sexually assaulted, typically by non-native offenders. In addition, 44 percent of Indian Health Service emergency rooms report a lack of accessible protocol or personnel trained to respond to sexual assault.

I can’t list any more statistics. I can be easily demoralized by the violence, aggression, apathy and misinformation surrounding women of color, and I worry about showcasing the suffering of others simply because I have to make a point. There are a number of invisible economic and social barriers that keep these women from coming forward and seeking help, and YWCA Missoula acknowledges how this is very much the case in our own backyard. These additional challenges highlight a unique experience affecting women of color—an experience which is rarely discussed, or often put on the backburner by those who see it as “not my problem.” Recognizing these unique experiences helps us at the YWCA understand why there is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

To better address the needs of all women, YWCA Missoula is making several new changes. Starting this year, there will be staff hours dedicated exclusively toward racial justice programming. Secondly, the YWCA’s Racial Justice Initiative will be focused in two areas: The first is to build an enriched ally community that seeks to improve the lives of all women, and doesn’t shy away for fear of messing up. The second is working with Missoula’s communities of color by partnering with organizations already doing great work to uplift their communities and alleviate long-felt hardships.

For allies interested in learning further about racial justice, the YWCA will be participating in “Missoula Racial Justice Teach-In,” an event hosted by the National Coalition Building Institute. The event is free and open to the public with the intention of giving allies the tools with which to better see and speak out against racism in their communities. The teach-in will take place Thursday, Sept. 17 from 6–7:30 p.m. at the Holy Spirit Episcopal Church at 130 S. Sixth St. E.

In the year ahead, we will also be collaborating with the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center in its effort to address unresolved grief and trauma experienced by Native American women.

It is up to us to promote empathy, unity and solidarity, and it begins with reaching out.

This piece originally appeared in the Missoulian.