Structural Power

Shadiya Aidid

Structural Power refers to the ways in which power (such as authority, wealth, and other privileges) is arranged in order to influence the norms of society, institutions, and our interpersonal relationships.

Shadiya Aidid is a spoken word artist and scholar-activist. She has been writing, teaching, and performing poetry for over seven years and her work has been featured on CBC, Audible, and at multiple arts festivals. As a first-generation Black Muslim Canadian, her identity has often been silenced or exploited. Through the power of storytelling, Shadiya reclaims her narrative and gradually unravels the apathy and ignorance that uphold injustice.

Listen to the audio version of this text, performed by the author.


A list of things that gives you butterflies:

  • When you finally apply for that dream job.
  • When you join the bandwagon and invest in your first stock.
  • When your friends hype you up in the comments on your new selfie.
  • When you get off a plane just before reuniting with your family.
  • When you’re “randomly” selected at the airport. They tell you to pat your hijab, then swab for bomb residue on your hands.
  • When you cross the border, and they say that you look like a refugee. They’re unsure about your documents. You could be sneaking into their country.
  • When a cop car comes along, and despite being innocent you trace back your steps. Analyze where you might have gone wrong.
  • When you enter a store, and you feel this hot heat on the back of your neck. The clerk watches you. For a while you can’t breathe.
  • When you tell a guy you’re married but he doesn’t see a ring. Ignores the hint. Says you’re a tease.
  • When you enter an elevator and the man who was following you does too. The doors close. You can’t leave.

But then the butterflies fly away.

Almost as soon as they came.
As soon as the cop car moves forward.
And you leave the store.
And you get your luggage back.
You safely make it to your floor.

Hyper-surveillance is something that I wish I could opt out of.
But it’s a part of every day.
Like eating lunch at noon.
Like forgetting to unmute on Zoom.
It’s just a minor inconvenience.
It’s just a part of the Black Muslim girl experience.

For some, stares prompt questions like:
Is there something in my teeth? Is he into me?
For us, it’s more like:
Is it my Blackness today?
Or my Muslim-ness?
Or how easy it would be to take advantage of me?

Fear is a sharp knife that travels up your body until it settles somewhere deep.
Leaving a trail of scars from anxiety.
Like a parasite feeding off negative energy.
Doesn’t hesitate to make everyone your enemy.

Fear is the most abusive warden.
It keeps you caged.
Dares you to escape and then reminds you of your place.

Fear wants to be heard.
Wants to be consoled.
Wants to believe the story that it was told.

And although you’re no criminal.
You’re no victim.
You internalize these roles.
You’re the one that doesn’t belong. Misplaced.
You’re the glitch in the algorithm. A mistake.

So, in order to placate those with more power over you,
You step into respectability.
Minimize anything and everything.
You apologize for your existence.
Take it as betrayal or a survival mechanism.

Conform to the behaviour that they feel entitled to.
That helps them feel safe.
While simultaneously being and feeling unsafe.

But hey, at least the butterflies eventually fly away.


Discussion Questions

  • How does the fear of those in power contrast (and interrelate) with the fears expressed by the author?
  • When have you felt powerless?
    • Write a list of things that have given you “butterflies.”
    • Did existing power dynamics (race, gender, class etc.) exacerbate this powerlessness?
    • Did institutions (the education system, the carceral system, the healthcare system, etc.) exacerbate this powerlessness?
  • While power itself is not necessarily problematic, the ways in which it is structured tend to advance the privileges of one group of people, while devaluing and subjugating others. Can you think of a form of power that is benign in its ‘neutral state’, but problematic when it becomes structured? What enables this structuring to take place?

Additional Resources

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. u. Chi. Legal f., 139.

Maynard, R. (2018). Policing black lives: State violence in Canada from slavery to the present. Fernwood Publishing.

Ziadah , R. (2011, November 13). We teach life, sir. Youtube.


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