Interview by Iman Abdul
Name: Ifeoma (Ify) White-Thorpe
City you were born in: Denville, NJ
City you currently reside in: Cambridge, MA
Ethnicity: Nigerian and Jamaican
School: Harvard University (Major: Government, Minor: Human Evolutionary Biology)
Fun Fact: I'm from Jersey and I can say the alphabet backwards in 5 seconds
Artistry: Spoken Word, West African dance, and Lyricism
// How has your identity shaped who you are?
The most defining aspect of me is my racial identity as a Black woman, especially in the American context. It just defines everything I do, shapes the way I go about doing certain things and the way that I move in this world –– just being a Black woman or a woman of color in general. You not only think about yourself in your actions and the path that you perceive, but you think about how it'll open doors or impact those to come. I think that's something really special that not all women necessarily have to think about.
// Tell me about your work. What do you do? What are you involved in and how did you get involved?
Coming into college, I did a lot of spoken word poetry centered around civil rights and social justice. It gave me an established platform where I could give a voice to issues that were not being talked about in my community relating to people of color and low-income individuals. As I kept doing spoken word, I started becoming engaged with the political side of things and became more invested in extending a political realm to black individuals on and off-campus, whether that be canvassing in New Jersey when I’m on my breaks, or working in a public office.
This past summer, I interned for [Rep.] Ayana Pressley, working with constituents in the Boston area –– whether it be helping them fill in government documents or liaising between them and other government offices. I spoke to a lot of individuals on housing and immigration issues, et cetera. This made me realize that people really need to pass the mic and give it to them so that they can advocate for themselves –– which is so much more powerful than just speaking for people –– it's more powerful to just speak with them. Coming into my administration as Vice President of the student body, that's something we placed heavy emphasis on, and we’re now working with other[s].
// Can you think of a time you felt particularly aware of your gender and how it led you to be treated? Do you think your gender influences your art?
A lot of my interactions are shaped by my gender –– business meetings, running in elections. I always thought about what I was wearing, “Is it too feminine? Is it too much?” It’s something neutralized. It's something so normalized.
Once at a spoken word competition with a panel of three Black women and one Black male –– the Black male said to me that I came across as too passionate [angry] and should rethink my approach to spoken word poetry. Don't change who you are just because they can't handle you! When I got accepted to Harvard University, people would say that I got in just because I’m a Black woman. That doesn't stop me –– it only fuels me.
// Do you have any advice for girls who are also trying to empower themselves?
Do you! Everyone is going to give advice –– listen to it with discernment. At the end of the day, it's your life to live. Whatever you do has to be greater than you.
// What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Senior year of high school, a friend thanked me for changing the trajectory of her life. She thanked me for recruiting her to the track team. She had eventually received multiple offers to attend college. She said that without me, she wouldn't have attended college.
// How can the international community help you and your community in a legitimate way? Is there anything you’d like us to know so we can share it with our Global Girlhood community?
The international communities should help their local communities first in order to be in a stable position to collaborate with other voices and people of the world. Uplift opportunities to Black women. To Black women, access and take hold of opportunities, and utilize them correctly. -GGH
CONNECTIVITY CONTRIBUTORS REACTIONS
The line from Ifeoma’s interview that stood out to me the most was, “don't change who you are just because they can't handle you.” This really resonated with me, as a young woman trying to break into the tech field, a lot of people often tell me that I can't do it and that it’ll be much more than I can handle. Ifeoma’s story helped me realize that I don't have to change my goals or ambitions just to fit the idea of what other people think that they should be.
Ifeoma discussed how as a black woman, she had to think about how her actions will impact those to come after her. She continued and said this is something that many other women don't have to think about. Personally, I have never needed to think about this. Black people are often generalized, so every individual black person, especially in America, is burdened with the knowledge that if they do one thing wrong, or differently, it could be weaponized against their entire community. Many people of color have experienced having to ‘represent’ their entire race. However, despite the challenges that Ifeoma faces, she is very positive. She uses her struggles as a reason to work harder. This inspires me because she uses what was meant to bring her down, turns it into her motivation, and uses it to inspire others, like myself.
Ifeoma uses poetry in order to share her voice. I personally have always been very intrigued by poetry, mostly because I am unable to create it. I think poetry is beautiful, and that it’s an art that doesn't receive enough recognition. Ifeoma uses her poetry in order to bring light to Civil Rights and social justice. I think that in itself is incredible. This made me realize that you can share your voice and bring light to what you believe in through any platform, not necessarily only through a formal speech or protest.
All in all, Ifeoma’s story really inspired me and opened my eyes to struggles that I didn't know existed. I'm very inspired by how she deals with the challenges her race and gender present and how she brings light to what she deems important.