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Thursday, 23 September 2010

When “Intersectionality” only goes one way

Intersectionality and pointing out intersectionality fails are vital. Far too many progressive or rights movements focus on one form of oppression and ignore the others – therefore ignoring their members and the issues of their members that straddle several different oppressions, as well as causing no small amount of harm with their own privilege.

If we’re supporting marginalisation while we fight against our own oppression, then we’re achieving little and only helping those who would oppress us all.

Every movement does this (though some are called out on it considerably less than others). I have yet to see a single movement for the marginalised that DIDN’T have occasionally through some spanners in the works. That’s privilege for you, it will blinker you and it means the clueless moments are all but inevitable. Which is why working towards and educating oneself on intersectionality is important – and calling out intersectionality fails.

But in some cases I’m beginning to wonder at their “calling out.” Because it’s amazing the wonderful ways and means people will use to put a cover over their own prejudices – whether unaware or not. And I’m seeing some “intersectionality fail” criticism that, frankly, is looking like just an excuse to exercise their own prejudice. And sometimes, the criticism is done so poorly that no matter how well motivated it is, it is going to plug straight into the oppression the group faces and not be well received

So I’m looking at these and thinking of some of the ways that these essential criticisms can be done grossly wrong. The times when calling out intersectionality fails looks more like an excuse to stick the knife in, when the double standards loom so large that it makes me think the “intersectionality“ is just a tool. Like I’ve said before on legitimate criticism there are ways people can indulge their prejudice even when rightfully criticising something that deserves it.

Be very careful when calling our a movement or group on the basis of the actions of one person. Maybe you will use their actions as a springboard to talk about a commonplace problem, but be very careful about implying that you think that the actions of one person are some how indicative of the group as a whole. A pervasive form of prejudice is to hold marginalised people accountable for the individual actions of all marginalised people everywhere – to treat us as one body, responsible for each other and sharing blame for all misdeeds.

Be very careful when declaring that a community supports someone who has done something arseholerish – especially when you’re not part of that community. How do you know who and what that community supports? I’m amazed at the number of people I’ve never even heard of who I am supposed to support and uplift.

Ask yourself whether you cast that same critical eye on other movements?

See, intersectionality fail can, alas, be found in nearly all progressive movements. I have a group of blogs and sites on my RSS that I think have great information on some issues, but I keep them in a separate feed because they fail so grossly on others they can be outright triggering. Maybe there are some movements out there that don’t fail occasionally, maybe there are some that don’t let their own privilege blinker them to the harmful and prejudicial things they say.

Maybe there are. But I haven’t seen them, personally.

So, with intersectionality fail in (nearly, or probably) every movement – are you continually hitting on one and grossly ignoring the fails of others? Why are you doing this? Do you think their fail is worse? Do you think it is more serious? Do you look for it more? Are you just more willing and ready to criticise them?

And this applies equally to people who are a member of a marginalised group and pushing forwards with a progressive agenda. If you’re willing – nay, eager – to point out the many intersectionality fails of other movements, do you ever cast that same criticism on your own?

And if you do, is it as often? Or do you only give partial scrutiny every now and then, a token gesture, a vague nod to overall intersectionality before you return to sticking your knife in other movements?

For that matter, does your tone differ? Will you attack the intersectionality fails of a movement you don’t belong to with both barrels, fiercely criticising the privilege, the prejudice and the whole community for its failure? Will you make sweeping statements, display large profile, inexcusable actions of a celebrity and make it about the whole movement? Will you then turn to your OWN group and speak gently? Will you make many justifications and excuses? Will you make sure that the actions of an individual are always confined to them and them alone?

Will you talk about how utterly non-diverse a movement’s leaders are, while ignoring the unified conformity of your own movements‘ leaders?

Because I see a lot of this. A lot of intersectionality warriors who’s furious gaze will fall everywhere but the mirror. I see a lot of people calling intersectionality but obviously playing the Oppression Olympics with all they have. They elevate one oppression above others, clearly consider some oppressions less “real” or “important” than others – even demean other oppressed people as just “seeking privilege” while, of course, THEIR oppressed group are fighting marginalisation.

And it damages them – a lot. The double standard they put pout means their criticism – their real, legitimate criticism – is severely weakened and even lost because their motives are suspect. And, perhaps worse, they bring down the already fragile idea of intersectionality because they’re using it as a weapon. They’re using it as a tool for prejudice, as an excuse to lash out at marginalisations they do not share.

Intersectionality is important – vital. And it deserves a lot better than it gets from some of its “advocates.”