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>