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10 August 2007 @ 12:57 pm
IBARW: Oh, The Intersectionality!  

So here’s my final post for IBARW, which resulted from me storming around this morning thinking about all the things which piss me off. I’m sure you’re beside yourself with excitement.


I’ve spoken with a bunch of people lately about intersectionality, and I realize that not everyone is familiar with the concept. So just in case you haven’t been introduced, here’s a redacted Wikipedia quote about one part of what intersectionality is:


Intersectionality holds that the classical models of oppression within a society, such as those based on race/ethnicity; gender, religion, sexuality, class, disability and other markers of difference do not act independent of one another. Instead, these forms of oppression [interrelate].


When the intersectionality penny dropped for me (which pretty much consisted of me saying “Hey, Jane, what the hell is intersectionality?” and her in-depth answer), it opened up a whole new world. Because I care about all this stuff—racism, sexism, classism, anti-semitism, homophobia, body politics, ableism, and so on—but this was the first time I really started to pay attention to the way they fit together, and the first time that I ever entertained the idea that in resisting one, it was vital for me to also resist the others.


And here’s the thing, about activism, about resistance: I had largely been bred to the kind of activism that works just fine for white folks, and it never even occurred to me to question that. I didn’t find out, for example, that the roots of feminism in the US are essentially racist roots until somebody clued me in and I did some digging. The history of women of color in the American feminist movement (said history including up to, oh, today) can make steam shoot out my ears. I won’t go into too much detail, but one illustrative example is that women of color have been continually told by white feminists that there’s no room to address issues of racism (or issues of racist feminists) because sexism has to be dealt with first.


Now, does learning crap like this make me not a feminist anymore? No. It makes me a really angry feminist—even more so than usual. But that’s just one example. I have lots of others, many many examples of the ways in which people of color have been additionally oppressed, dismissed, disenfranchised, discounted or just plain invisibled within the work being done in the areas of feminism, queer activism, class activism etc., but I’m trying not to belabor the point… the point! Right! Once upon a time I had one! Really.


This is basically it: learning about intersectionality changed the way I do activism. For one thing, it made it a whole lot harder, fraught with complexities (granted, this ‘fraught with complexities’ statement is from someone who considers it a grass-roots feminist action to punch out a drunken asshole guy when he’s sexually harassing random women), and basically requiring some real thought, not just the instinct of my lower belly (Cimmerians smash!).


But the part of this that is about faith, well, I’ve got that down. I wholeheartedly believe that a victory on behalf of oppressed white folks which is only fit or structured to or welcoming to or represented by those particular white folks (whether those folks be women or queer or poor or disabled or pinko commie bastards or whatever,) is no real victory at all.


And I want my activism to matter—I want to make a contribution to the kind of victory that we can all get excited about.


NB: This post interacts with only an eensy little bit of intersectionality, which is actually huge and far-reaching and really, really amazing and much, much bigger than the tiny bit of it I’ve talked about here. Also, intersectional theory is… well, it’s just fucking awesome. If I were writing for Schoolhouse Rock, that would be my song topic of choice.

And finally, here's a link to
IBARW. Now I shall go back into listening mode...

nigitanigita on August 10th, 2007 08:26 pm (UTC)
You remind me of a newspaper article I read when I was about 13. When asked why so few black women were visible and active in the femmist movement (this would be early 1980's, ERA era), the Feminist Leader (whose name I did not commit to memory, unfortunately) explained that it was a shame, but that sooner or later, "Black women will realize that they are women, too." My mom and I had a good laugh over that one.

Who is that in your icon, by the way?

cimmerians: Zoeycimmerians on August 10th, 2007 08:57 pm (UTC)

Yes. That would be *exactly* what I'm talking about. GRRRRR!

My icon: that is the lovely and talented Rachel Luttrell as Teyla Emmagen on SGA. There's an episode in which the team leader is enthusing about how they could all be different superheroes, and he tells Teyla "You could be the Invisible Woman!" and she says, totally deadpan and a little threatening, "I am Not Invisible." Brilliant moment.

My turn: who painted your icon?
nigitanigita on August 10th, 2007 09:39 pm (UTC)
I see. I've read that you kinda sorta like SGA, a little bit. I'll have to check it out. Might be awhile, since I'm only halfway through the first season of Buffy. I watch while I workout indoors (go me on my recumbent bike!), but I don't do that much in the summer, seeing as it's so not-rainy (can't say warm) out. There are 9 months which make for great indoor workouts and TV, so I don't have to wait long.

By the way, you are *most* welcome to stay with us when you make it up to the rainy city. Would be fun!

The icon is Van Gogh's Room at Arles.

cimmerians: Faggotrycimmerians on August 10th, 2007 10:30 pm (UTC)
Aww--thanks so much for the kind invite! That's very kind (and very courageous) of you! :-) I believe my ex-girlfriend would beat me to death with one of her substantial limbs if I went to your fine city and didn't stay with her, however.

Also: YAY BUFFY!!!

Also: Yes, I like SGA, although I'm having a hell of a time writing it. C'est la vie. J'suque.

Also: I never would have pegged that as a Van Gogh. I was guessing Modigliani. Which is why I fail at art appreciation, sadly.

And finally: In case you get tired of babbling via LJ, I am accessible at: melissa [dot] dase [at] ia.ucsb.edu

I hope you have a smashing non-rainy weekend!
nigitanigita on August 11th, 2007 05:24 am (UTC)
Um...Modigliani who? I'm pretty limited in my scope of art knowledge. (OK, just googled. I recognize exactly one of M's paintings, none of his sculpture. But now I know who he is!)

If you saw a photo of the painting in my icon, you'd recognize it. The icon crops the edges of the painting, and the colors are way off...

And, what does d.v. (below) mean by saying "not enough to get you out of the corner?" What corner are you in?

cimmerians: Zoeycimmerians on August 11th, 2007 10:23 am (UTC)
Back in the '70s, it seemed like every hippie hangout I landed in had either a Modigliani or an Alphonse Mucha on the wall (along with posters of Janis and Jimi, of course), hence my moderate familiarity. I checked out your Van Gogh, and I wouldn't have recognized it--but I will now :-)

On me being in the corner: let's see... I believe my recent banishment to the corner was for speculating on the erotic possibilities of Ronon Dex slashed with Jabba the Hutt (Ronon is another SGA character, played by the absolutely delectable Jason Momoa, viz: http://delux-vivens.livejournal.com/458991.html ). Of course, somebody else started it, I just exacerbated the problem because I knew it would make Delux do a big girly shriek of outrage and send me to the corner. Delux's smarts, snark and gravitas somehow inspire me to acts of boundless irreverence (and yes, I realize this is along the lines of I-tug-your-braids-'cuz-I-like-you, but I never said I wasn't, like, five).
nigitanigita on August 11th, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC)
OK, that's a good reason to be in the corner.
delux_vivens on August 14th, 2007 01:10 am (UTC)
delux_vivens on August 11th, 2007 02:05 am (UTC)
Excellent post.

Not enough to get you out of the corner, but a good post.
cimmerians: Teylacimmerians on August 11th, 2007 10:40 am (UTC)
Thank you! And: I *like* the corner. We have nachos. Plus that Holzman guy. :-)
rupertbirkhaeu on October 17th, 2008 04:39 am (UTC)
" That's know you have, not feel like you have. If you're married, you know you are because you made a conscious commitment to your spouse.
reynaldomaccur on October 17th, 2008 06:59 am (UTC)
Major rewrites are sometimes necessary— if you’ve painted yourself into a corner, but going back can get you out, it’s good.
Krisquiet000001 on August 11th, 2007 02:26 am (UTC)
This is an interesting post. I had never heard of intersectionality. I don't have time right now, but I'll be trying to come back to this when I'm online again in about a week. :)

I just wanted to be sure to thank you for the post. (If I waited a week, I'd forget to do it. :) )
cimmerians: Zoeycimmerians on August 11th, 2007 10:42 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for letting me know it piqued your interest! I hope you enjoy checking it out--and enjoy your week away from teh internets!
decarnin: Liberty Justice - Westmindecarnin on August 13th, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)
women of color have been continually told by white feminists that there’s no room to address issues of racism (or issues of racist feminists) because sexism has to be dealt with first.

This is not true in my experience. Perhaps it's the word "continually" that I disagree with, but through many many years of feminism I've seen it constantly in a struggle to understand and respond to issues of race, class, sexuality, etc. I have no doubt that it HAS happened, here and there, but in my personal experience, feminist activism is excruciatingly sensitve to issues of exclusion and discrimination etc. That hasn't always been the case, for sure -- feminists as much as anyone have been liable, in their history, to racism, homophobia, whatever. But the dialog takes place and they work on it, at least in the instances I've seen. Not trying to start a big fight or anything, at all, but I think the "let's you and her fight" potential in that statement is really high.
cimmerians: Teylacimmerians on August 13th, 2007 09:57 pm (UTC)
I think the "let's you and her fight" potential in that statement is really high.

Undoubtedly so--I do tend towards those types of statements. Still: I stand by it, at least as far as my own experience goes. Even at this present time, I have chosen to move away from the majority of the feminist online community, for this very reason. Unless the community is maintained by a woman or women of color with an explicit anti-racist agenda, the unthinking privilege-steeped racism drives me right 'round the bend, and depresses the hell out of me to boot.

There is also history here of white feminists being unwilling and/or unable to understand the way that sexism can operate very differently within the lives of and upon the bodies of women of color. That the choices and ideals of feminist women of color may differ significantly from the 'typical' choices and ideals of whites. My understanding of the origins of intersectional theory is that it was created specifically to address the needs and concerns of Black feminists, and feminists of color in general, and that that had to happen because their needs weren't being met (or considered) by the white feminist community.

I am not at all looking to discount your experience, and if your experience of feminism has been an inclusive and welcoming one with regard to race, that is of course Of The Good. But my own has not been that way, and the stuff I learned when I started digging was some nasty shit--I'm passionate as all hell about my feminism, but I had to find another way to do it.
decarnin: MedusaCameodecarnin on August 13th, 2007 10:22 pm (UTC)
Hm, this may make sense, because I've never had much contact with (overt) feminist activism online. Mine has all been in person, you know, groups and whatnot, mostly in San Francisco. Some of them pretty far out there on the edge, too, which could well make a difference in their perception of, well, difference. *g*

I totally understand about the depression and bendroundiness. In high school, reading books like "Look Away, Look Away" etc. etc., I remember that rage and disbelief -- "How can they DO that! How can they stand to lie and be unjust that way!" And so on. And I still don't really get it. I guess I understand making mistakes out of ignorance, but not by freaking *choice*. That and stupidity is where intersectionality would perhaps make a little cross-mark for "go nuclear" in my brain.

Looking back, maybe "inclusive and welcoming" would be a little too perfect a description of what I've seen. More like "listening and trying to get it and fix it". :-)
cimmerians: Faggotrycimmerians on August 14th, 2007 02:35 pm (UTC)
Hey there, M.--I took overnight to mull this all over, but having an undisciplined brain, what I've got to say is kinda incoherent. Here I go anyway.

I don't know the book you referenced. A Google brought up 'Look Away - A History of the Confederate States', but I'm not sure if that's what you were talking about, and it's a moot point as I haven't read that either. But at any rate: I want to be clear that the racism within feminism that I am making specific reference to in this post isn't an 'overt' sort of racism (people of color not allowed here, use of racial slurs, etc.,) but rather the sort of racism that comes from white privilege--the kind of racism that liberal white feminists (including me) can commit without ever thinking that they're being racist, but which nevertheless disempowers and eventually can drive away women of color. It's a system of dominance, an unthinking assumption, an unspoken and unacknowledged (because unthought of) power disparity. That's the kind of stuff that sends me running for the hills. And yes, sadly, I run into it everywhere. In RL and online.

On the history of feminism: it was during my initial digging phase that I also discovered that there's a big chunk of homophobia in feminism's history (my apologies if this is old news to you--it kind of knocked me back a bit when I found out). Due to a staggering dynamic known as 'mainstreaming', yes, there was a time when feminists and the feminist movement sought to separate themselves from queer women, and insisted that there was no place for queers within the movement: because there was no way for feminist ideals to become an accepted part of established American culture if queers were a part of it. What does that have to do with racism? Well, on the face of it, nothing. But it is illustrative of not only American feminism's history, but also the overall fallibility of social movements when they are seeking validity, seeking permanent change, and aren't getting the way in which all these oppressions relate to each other.

It was really, desperately important for me to know all this about feminism. Like I said in my post--it didn't make me less feminist, or not a feminist. I am, and ever shall be, a fire-breathing nut-squeezing sack-blistering vagina-adoring woman-loving Feminist Fiend (to put it in the most broadly gendered terms). And now I get to be that kind of feminist while I have criticisms of feminism, feminists, and the movement itself. This is what helps me remember that, for me, in order to really and truly honor my feminist passion, that passion has to cover all forms of oppression, not just one.

I'm glad that the feminists in your community are committed to listening to/dialoguing about race, and I wish I could say that about the activist community here. That's a tremendous advantage to actually participating in stuff!
decarnin: MedusaCameodecarnin on August 15th, 2007 08:56 pm (UTC)
I can't find the book online either (at least not after a cursory search) but it doesn't matter -- I only remembered that one because of the clever title, I recall it as not as good as some of the others I was reading at the same time (1960s). :-) Basically about the Civil Rights movement, so the Confederate States book probably isn't it.

It's a system of dominance, an unthinking assumption, an unspoken and unacknowledged (because unthought of) power disparity.

Yes, I can see that. Actually I do, all the time, around men. I notice I have not been hanging out much with men for the last, oh... THIRTY YEARS, bwahaha. sigh. The exclusion part? It works.

Okay, depressed now.

But yeah, though some of that stuff IS old news to me, it's important that it be remembered and I guess re-learned -- the thing to hold onto, IMHO, is that even in the worst cases, there was ALWAYS somebody over *here* going Hey! WTF? You can't do that! and so on. That should be in the history too, but I'm not sure if it is. Because that too was feminism, so it gives an innacurate picture if it's left out. It was usually from the hullabaloo that I found *out* some dastardly thing had been done, it's not like I was ever on the cutting edge or whatnot when stuff was happening. It was *within* feminism that a lot of the analysis of all this stuff was originally done, including, if you go back to pre-Civil War, racism, but always there was a bunch of struggle and "me first" stuff to contend with on all sides. And contend with it people did! You are a wonderful example of an oldtime hardline feminist, in my eyes. :-) Complex and impassioned.

I am pretty sidelined right now, so apart from fandom (and can we say: SAME problems here/there -- e.g. people of color feeling excluded or marginalized at cons) can't claim to have a feminist community good or evial. These are reminiscences, for me.
delux_vivens on August 14th, 2007 01:08 am (UTC)
I have no doubt that it HAS happened, here and there,

I think I have to say that its happened much more than here and there. Women of color have been describing their experiences of white feminism as something that excludes their needs, concerns, and voices for decades-- and responding to it accordingly.
ky_fried_womanky_fried_woman on August 14th, 2007 08:18 pm (UTC)
Another absolutely brilliant post. And I have to say that I think folks who see racism happening in the feminist community only "here and there" have to be operating from an extremely priviliged position, because it is all around us! And I think that it is such important and crucial work to work from within on the many isms that occur in the communities that you are a part of, rather than spending all of your time pointing to the many isms in the communities that you are a not a part of, so my wish is that folks really address the many types of isms that truly exist in their own communities and really work on them. I am sure there are probably a few fairly utopian communities out there that truly are inclusive to all types of people and are therefore composed of all types of folks. But my guess is that racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, body fascism, ageism, etc. exist in most communities and it is up to the members of that community to be vigilant in acknowledging them honestly and with great forthrightness and trying to irridicate them. And that is my .02 xox
cimmerians: Faggotrycimmerians on August 14th, 2007 08:35 pm (UTC)
WOOT! Oh, K., why am I not there where I can offer you liqueured chocolates and footrubs and general adoration in person when you spread yourself in this way? Now I will perforce endure the pain of longing to pamper you and your fabulous brain and amazing heart while being All. The. Way. Over. Here.

Thank you for your kind words, for your support, and for your expansion on this theme. You, as always and ever, Rock On.
ky_fried_womanky_fried_woman on August 14th, 2007 08:40 pm (UTC)
Ah shucks. Now you make me feel all blushy and stuff. I sure think you are great beyond belief. I find myself fantasizing about what it would be like to live closer to you and get to snuggle in your divine bosom while we talk about politics, slash and fabulous pets. But I feel thankful that the internets at least lets me say hello every now and again. Mel and I went to Portland this past weekend and had the best time ever. I got to go to a county fair and eat a bloomin' onion and see my first demolition derby! It was amazing! There was great eating (smoked salmon eggs benedict anybody?), shopping (fat chick frock shops) and adventures all weekend long. Now I am back in work land and getting geared up for the academic year to begin and getting ready to welcome my new students. xox
cimmerians: white privilegecimmerians on August 14th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC)
Point the First: YOU ARE ALWAYS WELCOME IN MY BOSOM. Seriously. I'd move stuff out of the way for you (cats, feather boas, random books, what have you) :-)

Second: I'm so glad you go to go play with Mel, and have good foods and good shoppings and good Mel-time! Plus, Fair. And adventures. Awesome.

I hope that this new year with your students is as rewarding and adventurous, if not quite as whoopjamboreehooish as, well, Fair!

It looks like I will be venturing Northwards for BASCon, in November. I'll send you my itinerary via e-mail--I hope we can meet up for dinner or coffee and babble! I know November is finals or something...
mallorymalloryl on August 14th, 2007 09:42 pm (UTC)
Oh how I miss your rants, feminist or otherwise...
cimmerianscimmerians on August 14th, 2007 10:18 pm (UTC)
And how I miss having you to rant at! Mark and Tom just kind of look at me with these huge, long-suffering eyes...

::smooches you::
Laura Shapirolaurashapiro on August 14th, 2007 10:18 pm (UTC)
Brilliant post, and sadly true.
cimmerians: Teylacimmerians on August 14th, 2007 10:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Laura. I sincerely appreciate the support!

Also: is your humandesign addy still valid?
Laura Shapirolaurashapiro on August 14th, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC)
::support, support::

And no, I'm at laurasha at laurasha dot com now.
cimmerianscimmerians on August 14th, 2007 10:38 pm (UTC)
Purrrrfect! I have updated my listy things. Thanks!
cryptocryptoxin on August 22nd, 2007 12:20 am (UTC)
Hey there -- I meant to comment on your great post when I read it, but wandered off to think about it and forgot to come back (no doubt distracted by something shiny).

I like intersectional analysis; I haven't read any for a while, but the stuff I remember coming across was always smart and useful. Though I never could shake a certain misgiving -- when I read specific analyses, they were always persuasive, but when I though about it in the abstract, it always seemed too -- mathematical, I guess. And I like math! I still think intersectionality is an important and valuable move; I'm just not sure it's the endgame (not that I have anything better to propose).

My experience with activism is that if you don't figure out how you're going to take on issues of race, gender, etc. within your group/movement up front and proactively and collectively, you're in for some painful times all around. If you're wondering why there's so few people of color in the room with you even when you're always talking about how important your issue is for communities of color and how it disproportionately affects "them" -- well, maybe it's time to think about how you're framing and organizing around the issue. And maybe you need to spend some time focusing on your whiteness & privilege as a question and potential problem viz. your activist default/norm/process/structure/culture instead of waiting for "them" to show up and devising yet more "not our fault" excuses or patronizing explanations for "their" persistent absence. And maybe it's time to ask whether and why your message may not be resonating -- may even be alienating or infuriating -- to the people (or, in condescending activist-speak, "the folks") on whose behalf you profess to be working.

["You" in general and not you cimmerians, and by general I mean inclusive of "me"]

And it's still just as easy for me to forget this as it is to rant about it. The best I've gotten to so far is trying to train myself to think, what would this campaign look like if people different from me/us were organizing it? How much of what I'm doing is about my priorities? Are my strategies tailored to my skills and status and style in ways that marginalize or devalue other people's? Who am I talking to, and when am I listening? How are we implicitly or explicitly granting status/influence and recognizing leadership?

I think I can keep training myself to do that, but it's like exercise -- it's still far too easy to find justifications to skip it when I don't feel like it, even though I know how rewarding and even enjoyable it can be when it's become part of my routine.
cimmerians: Zoeycimmerians on August 22nd, 2007 10:33 pm (UTC)
The paragraph above on activism, organization and privilege (your experience with activism): well, I just don't have words to say how bloody perfect that is, other than, hey, that's perfect!

Thank you for the lovely rant--I sincerely appreciate it :-)
cryptocryptoxin on August 22nd, 2007 11:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you -- I'm glad my ranty run-on sentences didn't run you over!

I'm still figuring out how to write about this stuff on LJ -- I've made a decision to prioritize my anonymity at the expense of speaking fully from my experience. I'd had a topic for an IBARW post in mind related to some issues I've worked on -- but I never wrote it, because I realized that a lot of people who know me in real life would be able to figure out who I am if they stumbled upon it. And it's not as though I'm embarrassed by anything in my LJ or have anything to lose; more that I want to preserve the freedom to write here without worrying that someone I know in a different context might be looking over my shoulder.

So I couldn't say what I wanted to say about that topic -- and if I erased my experience and point of view, I'd just end up with some dry facts and statistics that wouldn't contribute to any meaningful discussion. And I'm conflicted -- especially as I saw so many people speak very personally and draw upon their lives very concretely and movingly during IBARW. They're sharing things, and taking risks, in profound ways that I've opted out of. And what does that say about my priorities?

And this reads like a parody of the navel-gazing anti-racist wannabe caught up in white guilt and self-recrimination.... What I really wanted to say is thanks for inspiring and making room for me to leave my original comment -- it opened up some space and possibilities for me that I'd been struggling to find in my own LJ.

Oh, hell -- apologies for the TMP (too much processing) -- next time I promise I'll stick to a simple thank you very much!
rubynye: Me sortarubynye on October 10th, 2007 02:00 pm (UTC)
It has a name!

All my life I've thought that different kinds of oppression are interrelated and linked. I'm really glad to find out that this concept has a name, and doubly glad to read your absolutely awesome post about this. Thank you for this!
cimmerians: Rononcimmerians on October 10th, 2007 02:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Intersectionality!
OMG icon *LOVE*! A-Dorable!

And: yeah, it was kind of a stunner for me to twig to the fact that this weird gut instinct I thought was all mine was, in fact, an established branch of social justice and activist thought (I think my first thought was 'well, that saves me a whole lotta time'). Thanks so much for letting me know that you enjoyed the post--I'm so glad it came in handy!

revbobbobrevbobbob on March 16th, 2008 11:03 pm (UTC)
We were suckered
a paradigm that ignores intersectionality is an easy victim for the kind of coalition busting that the wealth and power elites rely on.

The fewer people who get intersectionality, the easier it will be to pull off a scam like the current Clinton vs Obama wars. In this case Clinton and Obama fell for it themselves. As did I.

Did y'all fall for it? too.