Reflective writing is the process of articulating your experiences and perspective of particular topics and events. It allows you to explore your thoughts and feelings and critically examine deep-seated beliefs and assumptions.
Reflective writing is an insightful and generative tool for intersectional feminist activism. It can enable us to identify the ideologies we’ve internalized in the imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy and develop more loving and liberatory narratives of our world, other people, and ourselves.
This post includes a series of writing prompts to develop your anti-racist, feminist, queer, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist consciousness. They can be used by anyone; in other words, you don’t have to identify as white to use the anti-racist writing prompts or male to use the feminist writing prompts.
The writing prompts can be used in (at least) two ways.
- Personal reflective writing and journaling. If you’re new to intersectional feminism, these prompts are helpful to start having honest introspective conversations with yourself. I would encourage you to not treat these prompts as once-and-done exercises, but rather, to revisit your responses and periodically return to these questions (every couple of months to every year) to observe any changes in your beliefs and assumptions. There are no limits to how little or how much you can write. Write through discomfort, shame, and guilt.
- Teaching activities for students learning about social justice in the classroom. If you’re more comfortable with these sorts of questions and discussions, you may use these writing prompts as reflective learning activities for your students. Please adapt them to what you think your students would be ready for and their relationship with other subject content. I would recommend using these prompts as individual reflective exercises before any group activities and discussions. I usually set a minimum threshold of around 200 words and ask students to write as much as they’re comfortable. Some students will write much more.
bell hooks reminds us that a vital step in feminist practice is to decolonize our minds. Reflective writing allows us to work on our beliefs and assumptions and to document our learning in social justice politics.
Documenting your experiences allows you to slow down and analyze how and why things happened the way they did in your life. This practice allows you to trace incidences, events, or even personal crises, to past patterns of thinking and behavior. Recognizing these often invisible, taken-for-granted patterns provides you with insight to disrupt and change future actions and events.
Reflective writing on issues such as race, gender, sexuality, colonialism, and class also challenges the prevailing fear and anxiety about dealing with these sensitive topics in open and honest ways. By accepting the awkwardness around not bringing them up in ‘polite society’, we can become passive bystanders of violence and injustice.
Having boldly vulnerable conversations with yourself through reflective writing is often the first step towards feeling more comfortable and courageous about discussing them with others.
Over time, your reflective records help you to take stock of your development and progress as an intersectional thinker, educator, and activist. Intersectional feminist practice is an evolving social movement that remains intellectually and socially contested. Regularly documenting your perceptions and ideas about intersectional feminism helps you to chart your growth as well as the growth of the movement.
Anti-Racist Writing Prompts
- When did you first become aware of your racial identity? Can you recall an early memory of when someone (e.g., a parent, a relative, a teacher, a classmate, or a stranger) referred to your race and conveyed what they thought your racial identity meant?
- Was racism discussed or not discussed in your family, why and why not? Was whiteness (structural white power and privilege) discussed or not discussed in your family, why and why not?
- What experiences do you have as a target of, witness to, and/or perpetrator of racism? What was your response at the time? In what ways do you wish you could have responded differently?
- What does ‘anti-racism’ mean to you? Who or what informed those ideas?
- Why do you want to be anti-racist? Do you have any reservations, fears, and anxieties about being anti-racist?
- What would an anti-racist world look like for you? How does that vision feel in your body?
Feminist Writing Prompts
- When did you first become aware of your gender identity? Can you recall an early memory of when someone (e.g., a parent, a relative, a teacher, a classmate, or a stranger) referred to your gender and conveyed what they thought your gender identity meant?
- How were girls and boys perceived and treated differently in your family, your school, your church/temple/mosque, and your wider community?
- What ideas were you taught about what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man?
- What experiences do you have as a target of, witness to, and/or perpetrator of sexism or sexual harassment? What was your response at the time? In what ways do you wish you could have responded differently?
- What does ‘feminism’ mean to you? Who or what informed those ideas?
- Why do you want to be feminist? Do you have any reservations, fears, and anxieties about being feminist?
- What would a feminist world look like for you? How does that vision feel?
Queer Writing Prompts
- When did you first become aware of your sexual identity? Can you recall an early memory of when someone (e.g., a parent, a relative, a teacher, a classmate, or a stranger) referred to your sexuality and conveyed what they thought your sexuality identity meant? For example, many of us would likely have had the experience of being assumed to be straight by default, such as a parent or caretaker tease us about having a crush on someone of the opposite sex when we were little.
- When was the first time you recall someone acknowledging that people could be neither male nor female? When did you first hear the term non-binary and how do you recall reacting to that idea? How do you feel about it now?
- When was the first time you heard that people could be transgender? How do you recall reacting to that idea? How do you feel about it now?
- What does ‘queer’ (or ‘LGBTQIA+’) mean to you? Who or what informed those ideas?
- What would a queer (or LGBTQIA+ inclusive) world look like for you? How does that vision feel?
Decolonial Writing Prompts
- What does being ‘native’ mean to you? Are you considered native to the land on which you were born? Are you able to return to your native land?
- Who are the traditional owners on the land on which you currently live? What were you told about Indigenous peoples growing up?
- How has your home been (or being) affected by imperialism? How did imperialism impact your ancestors? What did they lose and gain from imperialism?
- What does decolonizing mean to you? Who or what informed those ideas?
- Why do you want to decolonize? Do you have any reservations, fears, and anxieties about decolonizing?
- What would a decolonized world look like for you? How does that vision feel?
Anti-Capitalist Writing Prompts
- When was the first time you recognized ‘class’ in your life? What was your family’s relationship to wealth growing up?
- What are your beliefs and assumptions about money and work (or capital and labor)? Who or what informed those ideas?
- Can you recall an early memory of when you were confronted with poverty, either your own or someone else’s? What were you told about poor people growing up?
- When was the first time you experienced or observed labor exploitation?
- What does ‘anti-capitalism’ (or Marxism/socialism/communism) mean to you? Who or what informed those ideas?
- Why do you want to be anti-capitalist? Do you have any reservations, fears, and anxieties about Marxism/socialism/communism?
- What would a non-capitalist world look like for you? How does that vision feel?
Intersectional Writing Prompts
- How has your life been shaped by the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy? What effects have these interlocking systems of power had on you and the ways you now interact with the social world?
- In what ways do your visions of an anti-racist, feminist, queer, decolonized, and non-capitalist world intersect and overlap? Are there any ways they contradict?
Collective Learning and Care
The process of engaging with these questions can be difficult and emotions like sadness, anger, guilt, and shame might emerge. Please prioritize your self-care as you move through these prompts.
There’s no need to do all of them in one day. Tackle one set at a time and allow time to decompress between each reflective writing session.
Be gentle with yourself after you do this work. Take a look at my resource for taking self-care days for or after these writing prompt exercises.
I don’t recommend working through these writing prompts completely alone. Where you can, consider debriefing with someone who shares your privileges and oppressions. In other words, if you’re cisgender, reflect on the queer writing prompts with another cisgender friend. Don’t spring upon your trans friend and demand they work through your internalized transphobia with you. If you’re not Indigenous, don’t share your answers with your Indigenous friend in hopes they’ll absolve you of your colonial guilt.
If you’re using these writing prompts in the classroom, hold space for your students to process their emotions.
A constructive way to extend these prompts into the classroom is to focus on the hope and joy of their visionary work. In class, you can ask students to share their collective visions for intersectional feminism — an anti-racist, feminist, queer, decolonial, socialist world.
Allow your students to express what that would look and feel like.
Celebrate those possibilities and reestablish your collective commitment to doing the work in and outside class to bring their visions to fruition.
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Beth Kaufka (2009). The shadows within: Internalized racism and reflective writing. Reflective Practice, 10(2), 137–148.
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Featured image by Anete Lusina