You know how I said we can’t always get it right? Well, I was right, because I got some stuff wrong in that last post. I have a tendency to let language run away with me, and go with what sounds good rather than what’s right. So in the last post, I conceptually missed one really important piece, and messed up in some of my language.
To whit, the idea of us v them (or even us and them). It doesn’t work. When I’m talking about me, I can talk about “those who are not like me”. But if I’m talking about “us” — say, feminists, or fat acceptance advocates — then I can’t talk about a “them” — women of color, or persons with disabilities — because they are us. There are feminists of color, and disabled fat activists, and fat Brown trans Deaf feminist bisexual women (ok, I don’t know of one, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist), and for them (tricky word!), separating out one “strand” of privilege/oppression is both impossible and ridiculous. It is only when one has most of the cards stacked in one’s favor that one has the privilege of pretending that that one axis of oppression can stand alone, be examined alone and dismantled alone.
We have to think about those who are not like us, yes, but we also must remember that those who may belong to a group we do not might also belong to ours. To say “feminists think this and blacks think that” is to ignore Black feminists. To say “well we invited them, why don’t they join us?” is to exclude them (to Other “them”), and to render invisible those who are both “us” and
Intersectionalism is vital — necessary to life! — because the world is not made up of white people and black people and feminists and trans people. Rather, the world is made up of persons, who might be any combination of white and black and trans and feminist and disabled and fat and neurotypical and and and and…
It is fine and well to have a focus, a specialty (or two or three or however many). It is natural and understandable to have more expertise in the areas where one personally and intimately experiences oppression. But we cannot, we must not, allow that focus to blind us. We must not use our expertise in one area to exculpate our ignorance in another. Intersectionality doesn’t mean we are required to study all areas of oppression equally; it calls us rather to open our eyes, to look to our own privilege when telling of our oppression, and it demands that we rid ourselves of the fallacy of “us” and “them”.
Selfishly, I need for intersectionality to succeed, for examples of those who work to end one type of oppression interlinking with others to abound, for the skill of looking beyond oneself to find the “us” in “them” to flourish; I need it to succeed, for it is my only hope of teaching my presumably-straight white middle class son how to look at all areas of his privilege, to work against all the ways those-like-and-not-like-him are oppressed, to recognize the existence of kyriarchy and oppose it always. Those of us with even one area of oppression have an opening, as we learn of privilege, to learn intersectionality; those of us with many are forced to adopt it or self-destruct. My child has nearly every privilege in the world heaped on him, in a society that teaches the ugly art of Othering from birth: I fully admit to maternal selfishness when I say I need intersectionality to succeed so I do not lose him to the kyriarchy, which would have him Other everyone I love — including me — out of importance in his life.
So, that’s not much of a reason for anyone else to adopt intersectionality (I fully recognize that an argument that sounds rather like “think of the white males!” is hardly much of a draw), but it’s one reason, among many, I will defend and promote it as much as I can. I have an obligation to others to avoid oppressing and Othering and rendering them invisible, as I myself have been, as I myself am demanding not to be. And also, yes, I have an urgent desire to demonstrate that skill to a child unlikely to ever have call to learn the hard way why it is so very vital.
Intersectionality: the art of opposing the kyriarchy, one word at a time and all ways at once.