ShiShi Rose is a 27-year-old activist and writer working towards uplifting marginalized people by speaking out about racial, gender and economic inequality. Since 2014, Rose's activist work has earned her thirty-three thousand Instagram followers and a position as a member of the National Women's March on Washington social media team. It has also earned her her fair share of detractors. Recently, the New York Times wrote about how some white women felt alienated by calls for intersectionality in the march, including one who specifically cited a post Rose wrote on the Women's March Facebook page where she asked white participants to think critically about their privilege. "Now is the time for you to be listening more, talking less. You should be reading our books and understanding the roots of racism and white supremacy," part of the post in question read. We reached out to Rose to talk about the article, making sure there's space for all women's voices to be heard at this weekend's March, and what the future of American activism holds.
How did you become an activist?
I always considered myself a feminist, so I was always interested in these topics, but I grew up religious and wasn't able to learn more about them, because it wasn't something that was allowed. But I was always challenging things, and then I left the religion and then I started learning more. I decided to make the Instagram page and from there it grew.
When I was in California, I ended up working with one of the local rape crisis centers and got to work directly with victims, so that was really amazing. And I got to help the rape crisis center put on the Vagina Monologues, and they did a Clothesline Project and a Walk In Her Shoes protest, so I got to be a part of all of that. I feel like that fueled the activist in me that already wanted to come out.
Last summer, when a lot of Black Lives Matter protests were in the news, Lena Dunham mentioned you on Instagram as an account to follow. What was it like to suddenly be put in front of such a large audience?
It didn't come overnight. I did get a lot of followers from her, but I was already at around fifteen thousand, and then when she did that I got to twenty-three thousand. It was a huge jump, but I was already used to a lot.
When I started [the account], it was nice to be able to talk one-on-one with people. I feel like that's maybe why it grew so much, 'cause people were able to have a conversation with me as opposed to me just putting out information and they didn't know what to do with it. Now I can't really do that as much, so I miss that aspect.
How much time would you say you spend engaging with people on Instagram who specifically disagree with you?
I try to limit myself. It depends on what they're asking me. If their response back is super hateful, or just so ignorant that I know it's going to take way too much of my energy to try to educate them, either I'll give them a source for something or I'll just leave it alone. Because I can't educate everybody, and I would just die if I tried.
You can tell pretty quickly if someone's actually going to take the information you're giving them and do anything with it, or just fight against it. Sometimes my comments section will look really nice, but that's because I've weeded through and deleted all of the hateful comments, and those people that really need to be educated on something will email me or will go to my DMs so that we can have a conversation. But my DMs are overflowing.
What's your response to people, like the woman in the Times article, that say, "I feel alienated, I don't feel welcome, I'm not going to the march now because of these posts"?
My response to that would be that it must be nice to not support a cause simply because something is brought up that you're not affected by and now you're angry about it.
There was once a time where I didn't understand trans issues because I had to educate myself, but that would be like me not going to the march because trans people are fighting for their rights. Now, I understand and I fully support them, but I had to come to an understanding of all those things because I grew up religious. But back then, I wouldn't be discriminating against them, I was just like, "I don't understand them." I stayed on the sidelines. Which is such an interesting thing that people don't do that. That they don't just say, "I don't get this, but do whatever you want, I'll be over there."
It's sad that [those women] decided that you can only go to the march if you take off part of yourself as a woman. So the march is supposed to encompass all women, but only if I make the woman part of me higher than everything else? Being a woman isn't more important than me being black, and being a woman isn't more important than being bisexual, and being a woman isn't more important than anything else about me.
How would you like to see white women at the march acknowledging their privilege? What would that look like to you—voicing their issues, listening to other women's?
There is room for all of those things to happen at one time. There is room for white women to be thinking about their issues, and being uplifted by all of their sisters, and there's room for white women to be on the sidelines and allowing their sisters of color to have the floor. I think people read that article in the New York Times and read my post that I had made to white allies on the Women's March page, and I think that they thought that I was saying, "You guys just sit there, and don't ever talk, and don't talk about any of the things you go through, and just shut up."
I never said any of that. There has to be a way for you to be able to talk about what you go through, but also listen, because what we go through is so much different than what you're experiencing. Because once you add race on top of everything, it just changes the whole game. And it's not your fault, and it's not my fault, but that means that you need to listen. Just like I need to listen when I go into rooms that I have privilege over. And there's space for everything to happen. In every conversation, there needs to be space for other things, and not just one perspective.
When I walk into that march, I want to hold space for all of my sisters. There are other women that are going to be there that are marginalized in ways that I'm not, so I want to make sure that they [also] have the floor. I want to make sure that my trans sisters have the floor. I want to make sure that my sisters with disabilities have the floor. Everybody should be able to talk about what they go through and also take a step back and let their other sister speak.
There's been some criticism that the march hasn't had the most defined mission or purpose. Do you think that there should be one clear message for the march?
No. Because everybody is not going to fall under one clear message. And I think that is the problem. I think that's why they're saying this is all women's march and we don't need to bring up race, because they're looking for one solid symbol that's supposed to represent everybody. But you can't do that in a country that's this divided. Maybe if we got past all of the fighting within the women's circle, we could have a clear message that women could send basically to the patriarchy. But we don't when women won't even allow us to talk about race, and there are so many cisgender people that are transphobic or straight people that are homophobic. So we can't have one clear message when in our community we can't even support each other fully.
What does successful activism work look like to you?
I guess reaching as many people as possible. I don't know if success in activism is a thing. I'm going to be doing this for my entire life, and when I'm dead other people are going to continue this work. And hopefully some of those people are my future children continuing this work, but there's no final destination. So I don't ever want to get to a point in my activism and say I've been successful, because I feel like that means I've finished something, and I didn't. I'm just here to do the work.
What in this past year has surprised you?
Well I've had a lot of surprises, but they haven't all been good. In the past year or six months, I've gotten a lot more positive responses from people online about how what I've said has helped them or shaped their activism. But then [less great], I got really involved in politics this past election and I never intended to do that. To be speaking to people, working for Hillary's campaign, I never intended to go into doing that, especially for Hillary Clinton, because she's a flawed person and I don't support her yet I had to, because of Trump.
With the outcome of this election, was there ever a point where you thought, "I can't do this anymore"? Or was it more like, "Okay, now more than ever I have to be in this arena speaking out"?
It wasn't either of those things really. The only thought that I had when Trump won was that now I have more work to do, because I know people are going to instantly decide that they're going to be activists because now they're scared like the rest of us. That was the first thing I thought, at like four o'clock in the morning when I was laying in bed.
I have to do what I can do, and that was regardless of Trump winning or not. And honestly, Trump needed to win. If Hillary had won, all of these people that are so ready to be activists and to do all of these things, they wouldn't be doing any of this. They would've been doing exactly what they did after Obama won, which was nothing.
So, unfortunately for all those people to realize they needed to step up and do something, things needed to look like this. The rest of us have seen what this world has looked like because we've been inside of it and have been affected by all of the insidious parts of the bigotry and the hatred that exists in it, but the rest couldn't see it.
Do you think the march will be a larger incarnation of activists and people being able to come together and support each other?
That's what I'm hoping. There are so many new activists that are going to be there, and it'll be really amazing for them to have this to hold onto, to see this many people gather and unify together. It's going to be amazing for all of us, no matter how long we've been doing this.
What I'm hoping for white people, and people in general, to get out of this march is that there can be more listening. I hope that people stop talking over each other, and allow people to just be and speak about their experiences even if they don't agree.
I also hope that people stop thinking that they can disagree with somebody else's experiences more than anything. It sucks that [that woman from the NYT article] has decided not to come, and it also sucks that me simply bringing up race would cause her to do that.
But then even more than that, what sucks is that she could get interviewed by the New York Times just because she had a problem with race being brought up. There are people that have wanted to get into the New York Times for years, but they can't. And that just clearly shows that white women always have the biggest voice in the room. And, by doing stuff like this article, they're just giving them a bigger voice.
Did the Times reporter reach out to you for an interview?
Yes. All I know is that when the article came out it was just very...it wasn't even bashing me, but it gave other people the ability to bash me. When I talked to the reporter afterward, she basically said that she was trying to write an unbiased article, but you can't write an unbiased article about racism. That's not how this works. If you don't pick a side, you're picking the side of the oppressor. She helped to give white women a platform because they don't want race being discussed. And that's already been their platform. Because white women have had a problem with race being brought up for centuries. Why is this even newsworthy anymore?
It's also so hard because [you have] those white women saying they don't want to be part of it because it's about race, or men that don't want to be a part because it's too much focus on women, and what's so ridiculous is that, you don't have to be affected by the thing to fight for it. Just because an issue doesn't affect you personally doesn't mean it's not still a human issue. That's like saying that if you don't have a black friend, or you're not black, then you don't fight for black rights. That's not how this works. You fight for black rights because black rights are human rights. You fight for women's rights because women's rights are human rights. And if there are some people underneath the system that are not free in the system, then none of us are free in the system. That's not a system that is fair to anybody even though it feels fair to some people.
What would your vision be, if people were to come together and get past these issues and their difficulties engaging with them?
It's about getting past the inner fighting, because if we could get past the inner fighting then dismantling the system, or even infiltrating the system with good people, would be so much easier. But we can't do that without getting past the inner fighting. If we could do that, we could fight against the system and accomplish so much more, but instead we just fight with each other. Like I said, that's the system working. They want women to be fighting. They want women to not support each other. They want women to not be listening to each other, because if we don't listen and we can't get past the inner fighting then we can't change any of the systems. But once we get past that, then the system should be scared, because we're coming for them. Because once we're able to get to the other side, we can actually rally to change things.