10:58 a.m. July 14, 2013

A scribble

Apropos of nothing, anyone else think intersectionalism is a pile of crap? That of it which is true was already recognized but it's main objective is to outflank others with accusations of racism/transphobia/"sex-worker-phobia" or whatever. Reminds me of how anarchists used to argue prisoners were the real oppressed working class.

Back channel chatter

  1. Oof, I must say, I disagree. However, I'm writing on a deadline and will have to get back to you on this.

    But to be brief...

    The way I like to explain intersectionality is to use the classical example of black women in America. Being black in America is shit. Being a woman in America is shit. But being a black woman in America is much worse than just the sum of those two factors. Forms of oppression and discrimination do not function as discrete systems, rather, the systems interrelate.

    Types of cultural oppression and discrimination do not have additive properties, rather they behave more like chemical reactions.

    I really don't think the goal of this kind of study is a pissing contest of the disenfranchised.

  2. And yet a pissing contest is what you get when you set up hierarchies of victimhood. The retreat from the politics of liberation is almost complete IMO.

  3. My above statement is a really simplified way to explain something as messy as this. It's useful in getting people to understand that the various forces of discrimination/subjugation/oppression work together like force vectors on an object in motion. (I think the word "worse" was sloppy on my end, but it gets the point across that it's not as straightforward as simple addition.)

    It's undeniable that different forms of discrimination/oppression do interact. We can talk about these interactions on a large, society-level scale, and we can talk about how the intersections of different types of discrimination affect individuals, but we must be mindful that those two conversations are very different: after all, intersectionalism stems from a deep desire to feel heard. It's a powerful frustration that the dominant voices aren't telling my/our story, that they are missing the complexity of my/our existence because their experiences limit what they are cognizant of and/or understand implicitly.

    I think it's important to address situations wherein individuals/groups feel like the people who are speaking "for" them are getting it wrong. We have serious issues in America relating to race, poverty, women, and sexuality, compounded by a lot of people regularly making decisions without even the most basic capacity (or desire) for empathy.

    IMO, it's not about denigrating the validity of one's experience; it's about working to understand and contextualize the many avenues of systemic oppression.

    (Oh, and I may live in a country that subjugates women, but I do not consider myself a victim. Victimhood can breed such noxious passivity.)

  4. Having had to look this all up I'm clearly not actually qualified to have an opinion, so I'll refrain there. But it's a concept, a critical model; this makes it a tool, which can be used for ill or good or simply for work. I don't think it's remotely contradictory for it to be sometimes used as a valid approach to looking at oppression, as Leigh has it, and also sometimes used as principally a rhetorical tool, as Jason as encountered it.

    I will say one thing, though. It's a shit name.

  5. It's not that I don't understand or that you were unclear, it's that I don't agree. I see it as the logical conclusion of everything thais toxic in quasi-leftist and countercultural politics, from identity to multiculturalism to "recognition". It ends up as nothing more than thought and speech policing, increasingly performed by the state. People have to liberate themselves IMO, but politics like intersectionalism result in the opposite. It's centred on a rejection of the (history-making) Subject and an emphasis on the individuated and fragile. It's hard to see the latest explosion of it as anything but feminism destroying itself. For example, radfems are paranoid clowns living in their own victimological fantasy but they're entitled to organise and have meetings that exclude men, transexuals and anyone else they feel like excluding, just as fat, waddling plutocrats are entitled to have gentlemen's clubs. Personally I'd not want to go to either, but the intersectionalist movement has effectively shut down radfems ability to organise. This isn't progressive, it's censorship. I don't care that radfems spew bile, that's not the point. I support the right of Orangemen to march too. It's a matter of principle.

  6. Intersectionality (and yes, the name's awful) was an improvement on the more blanket "oppressor/oppressed" views that preceded it or emphasized one aspect (class or race, for example) to the exclusion of others. I think Leigh's got some good points about it checking some pretty rampant assumptions.

    Voices getting ignored can seem abstract (and the academic jargon surrounding this theory doesn't help) until cops won't charge a perp because their culture says he's more sympathetic than the person who was actually harmed. Seeing cases like that, over and over, made me believe intersectionality is quite real.

    James is right: it's a tool, and the bullshit part comes when it's used badly. At its best, I've seen activists use intersectionality to analyze where they need to hit, to better understand how a mix of culture, policy and power make a specific institution horrific on a particular issue they want to change. That's not individuated and fragile, but a way to organize more effectively while not dismissing the complexity of what's actually going on or leaving out a whole affected group. Personally, I've found intersectionality handy in better understanding complicated topics like rape culture at universities.

    Unfortunately, protest culture largely hates the level of practical strategy that makes intersectionality really useful, so many times when the idea gets brought up in day-to-day politics, it's bogged down in endless hair-splitting. One of the smartest activists I've ever known said that the most effective saboteur wouldn't be the provocateurs protesters get paranoid over, but someone who says "privilege" in response to every matter, regardless of relevance. She was completely right.

    While I oppose restrictions like parade commissions and hate speech laws for obvious free speech reasons, those rights don't protect people from a public backlash: it's perfectly legit to try to stigmatize your opponents to the point where they lose practical influence.

    Some radfems remain surprisingly influential in pushing really awful policies, and have helped make life hell for trans people for a long time. Their opponents are well within their rights to bring down bad publicity when they meet.

  7. You say radfems shouldn't be shut down, and yet they can no longer hold a meeting without that happening. That's not criticism, that's censorship.

    For my money, radfems and intersectionalists are two sides of the same coin anyway.