Cut The Crap.

6 Dec

This is going to be a short <rant> about the failure to recognise intersectionality when it punches you in the face, in academic circles as well as activist ones…

Kimberlé Crenshaw has coined this term [PDF] which has been in use for over twenty years now, and the critique about the irreducibility of axes of social divisions and discriminations has been brought forward by people of colour, people who identify as LGBT and/or queer, people with “*disabilities” and many others over and over again for the past 30 years. It has been pointed out by oh so many scholars and activists (bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldùa, Trinh T. Min-ha,…) that it is inadequate to divide, add and subtract different forms of discrimination with/to/from each other, but that the different types of oppression must be understood and analysed in their intersectional and interdependent multidimensionality which creates very specific constellations of discrimination. It is vitally important to take multiple intersections of discriminations into account, rather than equating and socially nullifying different experiences with discrimination, e.g. the delightful thing a friend of mine was told not too long ago, namely: “Oh, I’m lesbian, so I totally understand where you’re coming from as a Black person.” *facepalm*

FFS… How is it still possible, even common in Art & Humanities to center your entire talk or even project around class issues, for example, and not take into account race and gender specific aspects? I have been witness to many incidents where people who were criticized for this “oversight” (…) justified their decision by saying that gender and race issues are interesting of course (meaning: “Sure you would ask that as a woman/person of colour – but I am not one, so I focus on the actually scientific hard stuff”) but simply not what they were doing; they had a different focus and race/gender was not one of them. Actually, when people utter excuses like that, it is not only thoroughly infuriating, but also the most stupid-ass thing they can say and I call bullshit.

First: actually, everyone is talking about gender and race and class, even if they do not choose to mention it explicitly. If you do not include any aspect of the latter into your work, you are making a conscious decision and chose a very specific positioning in terms of race, gender and class, namely that of male white privilege. You are talking about race and gender: you are talking about white men. Surprise! They have a “race” and a gender too, despite being marketed as universal, and you chose to put the focus on them yet again.

Second: this does not foster your academic (or humanitarian, for that matter…) credibility. Whereas reducing the spectrum of your research question is vital, ignoring the most important factors makes it a shit project. Intersectionality encompasses an array of socially relevant divisions (e.g., stage at life cycle, physical and mental ‘ability’, regionalism, sexuality,…) and gender/race/class seem to be [the basic triad] some of the very basic elements that effect the vast majority of people on this planet. Thinking you can ignore these realities makes your project lose a lot (if not all…) of merit and credibility to me.

Third: at which point are people who define themselves as progressive or leftist activists going to understand that this also applies to practices? Anti-sexist and anti-racist work are not the inherent responsiblity of women and people of colour, and being a working-class man does not mean you have it just as good or bad as a female Black grad student. Organising events (such as a “revolutionary poetry reading” as it happened not too long ago, featuring a good amount of boringly sexist literature by dead white men) where you do not manage to include a single person of colour or woman in your line-up and, even better and all in the name of “art” and anarchist spirit, reproduce misogynistic crap for The Greater Good (Teh Revolution!1!) does not say “ally” to me. Why is this so complicated, after decades of criticism and work?

Cut the crap already. As Fannie Lou Hamer said: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” </rant>

7 Responses to “Cut The Crap.”

  1. kiturak December 6, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    I loved all of this so hard and wanted to immediately tweet at least two sentences despite being off twitter atm, until I got to the point of the “basic triad” of race/class/gender, and the implied relative … lesser importance of all the other divisions? Now I know that’s actually kind of a well-known point of view in social justice, but I actually disagree, because I think it reinforces the “oppression olympics”-mode of thinking, and is not really leading anywhere besides making people think that once they include the Big Three ™, they’ll have it all figured out. – I’m saying this because e.g. ableism is kinda extremely important right now, as with the diagnosis of Breivik as schizophrenic, the media coverage has taken on a whole new level of racism apologist/ableist nightmare (in a similar way they usually do it with classist arguments, you know *THOSE* racist/sexist/etc. people who just have NO education and get it all out of tabloids), and it’s just extremely harmful for people with disabilities. So, I don’t think you can really have *any* good work on social/political topics without general inclusiveness of *all* that shit.

    “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

    – that is just awesome. Thanks for linking.

    • accalmie December 6, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

      Oh, I understand. I do believe that gender, race and class are the bare minimums, and I agree that it is questionable to subsume everything beneath that. Ableism is quite clearly extremely important, and so is heterosexism, ageism, fat ‘phobia’ and a countless number of many more.

      However, I have also tried to talk about specific academic work here, and for the purpose of being able to do it, I believe that you have to cut off the question at some point (which does not mean that it is OK to not acknowledge anything else) – and I believe that if you cut off the question before this “basic triad” as I said in the post (and I actually meant basic, not perfect and not complete but something to build from), the analysis is unavoidably incomplete. I also think that class/race/gender affects every single person on this planet in hir most basic existence, so, to me, it is the starting point of intersectionality. The fact that it affects the majority, however, is not meant to imply that all other social divisions are less relevant and can be qualified towards these three.

      Taking Breivik as an example: he is a white, blonde, heterosexual man in a relatively wealthy country – who is rumored to suffer from schizophrenia. This discourse would play out a lot differently if he had not those four first things “going for him”, I think. I find it extremely important and very interesting to take in the question of ableism and many more; especially also in his case, and that is what intersectionality is about to me.

      I have a problem with an understanding of intersectionality (or any kind of analysis of social justice issues, really) that fails to address race/class/gender (additionally to whatever axis one choses) – this is what I was trying to convey here; not that I think that race/class/gender analyses are the only ones that count but that they are pretty freaking central. And I would certainly be in favour of making the range much broader when it comes to the practice of social justice, not only specific academic musings. Usually, though, when people don’t even get these three ones right, the rest is pretty much hopeless, from my experience. So that’s why this is a starting point, not the finishing line.

      • kiturak December 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

        Well, I guess we can definitely agree on “If your analysis doesn’t EVEN include race, class, and gender, it’s not worth the paper/ hard disk space it’s written on”. – And since it’s still so freaking *common* not to include more that one aspect at all, I think we’re not really that far apart at all, in either academic or activist reality.

        • accalmie December 6, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

          I do understand your criticism of the “basic triad” and the potentially ableist and heterosexist privileges, for example, it can entail. I think you are absolutely right in pointing that out and also speak out against Oppression Olympics. The “basic triad” (or rather: the lack thereof) is what I get confronted with very regularly and since forever, so it regularly strikes me as the “starting point” from where criticism can be formulated most forcefully in the circle I am in. I do only see it as a starting point, however, and I am trying to be aware of the actual concept of actual intersectionality (as opposed to “triple oppression”). We can certainly agree on the point that race/class/gender are vital aspects; obviously, I need reminders and interventions too when it comes to keeping the array of societal discriminations in mind, and am thankful for your check :)!

          • accalmie December 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

            Update: I’ve changed the phrasing to hopefully show that I do not mean to qualify every other aspect besides class/race/gender and am actually talking about intersectionality, not solely an additive form of triple oppression. Thank you for pointing it out!

          • kiturak December 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

            <3 mir fehlen die Worte! Thanks SO much. But even if you hadn't made any changes, please know I loved the post :)

          • kiturak December 6, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

            thanks! :) I agree, especially on the “starting point”. Because especially in academics, there’s such an *immense* amount of work already done on these topics as to make it a downright unscientific approach not to include it. And the general attitude towards all this work (by marginalized people on marginalized topics) never fails to piss me off, so that was why I loved your post so much.

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