Notes from talk, “An introduction to intersectionality,” given at Seomra Spraoi on 23 April 2014.
Different definitions lead to different applications. Context is important. Intersectionality is a means not an end. (What is the end?)
Origins: Comes from struggle, from the lived experiences of people (mostly women) who experienced oppression/discrimination that felt had multiple origins connected to their class, race, gender and sexual orientation. (Combahee River Collective)
Then, there was an impulse to study these intersections and give the study of these intersections a name. Kimberley Crenshaw did this in 1989 when she coined the term intersectionality. Intersectionality then became a method for studying the means by which we engage the intersection and overlapping of social identity categories and systems of oppression.
Social identity categories can be: Age, race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, levels of ableness, nationality, visa status, occupation, relationship status, religion/non-religion, dependents, etc.
Social Oppression: Social oppression is a concept that describes a relationship of dominance and subordination between categories of people in which one benefits from the systematic abuse, exploitation, and injustice directed toward the other. Because social oppression describes relationships between categories of people, it should not be confused with the oppressive behavior of individuals. In social oppression, all members of a dominant and subordinate categories participate regardless of the individual attitudes or behavior.
Oppression comes from the Latin root opprimere, meaning to “press down.”
Examples: Sexism, heterosexism, cisgenderism, classism, racism, colorism, ableism, lookism, nativism, colonialism, etc.
Asks of us to:
Arundhati Roy, “To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple.”
Audre Lorde, “There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.”
Intersectionality also asks us to be introspective examine what privileges we have, as well as how it can create forms of oppression for others.
Strategies of resistance/intersectionality and social movements:
- Intersectionality can help us to identify ways in which we can build coalitions across single-issue political movements. Examples,LGBTQI, choice, immigration, taxation justice,de-carceration, work place organizing.
- Example the queer movement taking up the issues of immigration and economic justice as a way to build a broader coalition.
- Sex workers taking on issues of immigration and discrimination based on sexual orientation.
- Religious groups using texts and faith practices to make arguments for social justice (think liberation theology).
- Contextualize our position in the world relative to others. Ngugi, “Our propensity to action or inaction or to a certain kind of action or inaction, can be profoundly affected by the way we look at the world.”
- Countering narratives/telling a different story. Ben Okri, “Discursive change is a precondition for structural change.”
- Understanding the relationship between oppression and exploitation.MarthaGimenez responds, “To argue, then, that class is fundamental is not to ‘reduce’ gender or racial oppression to class, but to acknowledge that the underlying basic and ‘nameless’ power at the root of what happens in social interactions grounded in ‘intersectionality’ is class power.”
- The working class holds the potential to lead a struggle in the interests of all those who suffer injustice and oppression. This is because both exploitation and oppression are rooted in capitalism. Exploitation is the method by which the ruling class robs workers of surplus value; the various forms of oppression play a primary role in maintaining the rule of a tiny minority over the vast majority. In each case, the enemy is one and the same.
- Resistance. Necessitate a transformation of what we understand or value about resistance. Arundhati Roy, “But I think we really need to reimagine nonviolent resistance, because there isn’t any debate taking place that is more important in the world today than the one about strategies of resistance. There can never be one strategy. People are never going to agree about one strategy. It can’t be that while we watch the American war machine occupy Iraq, torture its prisoners, appropriate its resources, we are waiting for this pristine secular, democratic, nonviolent, feminist resistance to come along. We can’t prescribe to the Iraqis how to conduct their resistance, but we have to shore up our end of it by forcing America and its allies to leave Iraq now.”
- “White-y on the moon.” International Solidarity Activism post Arab Spring has become redundant.
- Calling-out vs. Calling-in: Compassionate vs. confrontational. Audre Lorde, “Hopefully, we can learn from the 60s that we cannot afford to do our enemies work by destroying each other.”
- Recognition of our own mortality and the enormity of the struggle WE face.